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Lighting a spark

Ken Krause

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May 7, 2008
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Mundelein, IL
This is one of those stories that again reminds me why I like coaching so much. It's for those little breakthrough moments that crop up now and then.

I was getting ready to start a pitching last night with a girl named Ashlee. Her catcher didn't show up so I told her I would catch for her. We did some warm-ups and she started pitching.

Now, Ashlee has developed a habit of stepping forward (off the pitching rubber) as she goes to launch. We've been working on correcting it for a while now, but nothing we tried seemed to work. She takes a very aggressive stride and as part of it would tend to shift her weight forward early. Her foot would move, then she'd plant and launch. The problem went from small to severe in various stages. And it is a problem for two reasons: 1) it's illegal and 2) she loses drive and therefore speed (even though she feels strong doing it).

I came up to work with her on it, saying it was a good night to do it since her catcher wasn't there, and she agreed. As I stood there, a sudden idea hit me. All this time we'd been trying to get her pivot foot to stay in place instead of moving forward. Whatever we'd tried just didn't process with her.

So this time, I suggested that she start with her pivot foot well forward, with just the heel barely touching the pitching rubber. She would then go to her negative move like that. But as she brought her hands down below her waist, and before she made her positive move, pull the foot backwards so the pivot foot would wind up in the spot most pitchers start from (ball of the foot touching the rubber). That seemed to do it, at least last night. It helped her gather her energy more effectively, and transfer her weight with better timing. We walked through it a few times so she could get the feel of it, then started trying to go more aggressively off of it -- none of this with the ball. You could see the light bulb come on for her.

As we stood there, she looked at me and asked, "Did you just come up with that right now?" I paused for a moment to think if I'd heard it anywhere, but couldn't come up with a source offhand so I said yes. She got a little smile on her face, raised her hand and said, "Give me a high five on that one."

Ashlee is not the sort who does that lightly, so it was pretty rewarding to have her feel that way. After the lesson she said, "We had a breakthrough tonight." Of course, only time will tell if it sticks, but I think it will. I asked her to practice just that movement during the week and she said she would. I believed her too, because she seemed to like it. It felt "right" to her where previous ideas we'd tried just didn't.

So yes, fixing the problem (we hope) was satisfying. But more satisfying, to me, was the reaction. I think Ashlee felt good that I'd come up with something specifically for her, and something she could buy into. Her high five gesture wasn't a huge one. But it was very sincere. If I can help one pitcher make one breakthrough on one night, it's a pretty darned good night.

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