Short Hops with Madison

Editor’s Note:Coaches, parents, young athletes, If you’d like to submit a question for consideration to YSPN360.com’s Madison Shipman—one of our elite coaches and a world-class softball player herself—please do so by using the submission form below. And be sure to include your first name, your age (if you’re one of our young athletes; we don’t require coaches and parents to reveal such facts, should they want to keep that information private!), and the name of the state from which you are sending the question. Ready? Ask away!

Jim Taylor

Madison’s Mailbag

By Madison Shipman, YSPN360 Softball

 

Talia, age 11, from Marietta:
Sometimes I can’t find anything to fire me up. Is there anything you think I could do to solve my problem???

Madison:
Hi Talia, when it comes to what “fires you up” for a game or practice, everyone is different. Some players like to listen to their favorite music, and some players like to do a loud cheer. I had teammates that liked to listen to motivational podcasts to get them pumped up before games! You have to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try different things!

One thing that always “fired me up” to play were the goals that I set for myself each day. Every day is an opportunity to get better so, before every practice or game, I would come up with a tangible goal that I could reach that day, and I was determined to meet that goal. The goals can be something as small as charging through every ground ball or making sure all of my throws hit my partner in the chest. Coming up with a goal ensures that every time you step on to the field, you have a purpose!

At the end of the day, you have to love playing the game! If playing and practicing is more of a chore for you, then it will be complicated to get fired up. You want to make sure that you are still enjoying every moment on the field. Even after playing for nearly 20 years, I was still excited about every opportunity I had to run out on that field. Positive energy is contagious, and when one player has it, it can spread throughout the rest of the team! Be that player who fires up the rest of the team with their love for that game!

 

Grace Bender, age 9, from Sullivan, Ohio:
Hi. Sometimes I feel scared that I won’t make a good play, or throw the ball perfectly or strike out, how can I get over that fear?

Madison:
Hi Grace! That is a very good question. One way to get over that fear is with confidence. As players, one of the ways that we gain confidence in our abilities is by practicing those plays and putting in the hard work. The more you hit, throw and field throughout the week, the more confident you will be when it comes time to play the game!

Another tip is to do what I call a “pre-pitch thought.” In the game of softball, there is a lot of time in between pitches and innings, and this is the time that negative thoughts can enter our minds. One of the ways that I used to avoid those negative thoughts were by thinking about the play ahead in between pitches. If I were out on defense, I would look around to see what runners were on base and think about where I would throw the ball if it were hit to me. If I were on deck, I would think about some of the fundamentals of my swing that I had been working on that week. The more you fill your mind with positivity and knowledge, the less time negative thoughts have to enter our minds.

When you are on the field, instead of thinking things like “Don’t strike out” or “Don’t throw the ball away,” think of things like “Hit the ball in play” and “Throw it straight to the glove.” When your thoughts are only focused on the negative outcome, a lot of the time, that is what is going to happen. Simply rephrasing these things into a more positive way can help you succeed.

At the end of the day, the sport of softball is filled with failure. Even the greatest players in the world fail every six to seven at-bats out of 10. The difference between being a good player and a great one is knowing how to handle that failure and never let it discourage you!

 

Abby, age 8, California:
Sometimes when I am fielding ground balls, I am scared of the ball hitting me. Is there anything I can do to help me not be so scared?

Madison:
I was scared of the ball when I was younger, too. I think it’s something that a lot of ballplayers go through. One of the things that always helped me was to charge the ball whenever possible! You want to go GET the ball. Otherwise, you risk allowing the ball to get you! The more you charge the ball, the faster you get to the ball, and that gives the ball less time to take a bad hop on you. Do bad hops happen? Absolutely! And sometimes there’s no way to avoid it! But whenever you can be aggressive and proactive rather than waiting back and reacting, the odds of getting hit by the ball drop in a major way!

 

Jenny, age 12, Oklahoma:
My coach is really tough on me. What are some ways to make sure that it doesn’t get me down while I play?

Madison:
Great question, Jenny! I’m sure many young athletes are wondering how to handle such a situation, so you’re helping them just by being willing to admit you need help. One thing you should try to do is remember why your coach is there. He or she is giving of their time, attention and energy in an effort to make you better at your chosen sport, and that will help you enjoy yourself that much more! Your coach is there to help push you to be the best softball player you can be! My toughest coach when I was your age was, hands-down, my Dad (and still is)! There were times where I would let it get to me, and I ended up playing worse because of it. I had to sit back and remember that he was only trying to make me better, and I am forever thankful for it! He continues to push me in everything that I do, and trust me, you WANT a coach who will push you to be your best!

 

Abby, age 8, California:
Sometimes when I am fielding ground balls, I am scared of the ball hitting me. Is there anything I can do to help me not be so scared?

Madison:
I was scared of the ball when I was younger, too. I think it’s something that a lot of ballplayers go through. One of the things that always helped me was to charge the ball whenever possible! You want to go GET the ball. Otherwise, you risk allowing the ball to get you! The more you charge the ball, the faster you get to the ball, and that gives the ball less time to take a bad hop on you. Do bad hops happen? Absolutely! And sometimes there’s no way to avoid it! But whenever you can be aggressive and proactive rather than waiting back and reacting, the odds of getting hit by the ball drop in a major way!

 

Jenny, age 10, Florida:
I strike out a lot during my games. What’s something that I can do to help me make contact more consistently?

Madison:
If I had a chance to watch your at-bats, I’m guessing that I would see you pulling your head away from the ball. It’s a very common mechanical flaw among young hitters, so please know that you’re definitely not alone! So how do you fix it if that is indeed your problem? Well, keep in mind that when your head pulls away, your bat is going to follow! The key here is to make sure that you keep your eyes on the ball. If you keep your eyes on the ball, your head will stay still, and your bat will stay in the “hitting zone” for a longer period of time. You want your bat to stay in the zone as long as humanly possible, because the longer your bat stays in the zone, the longer the ball will “stay” on your bat — and the farther the ball will go when you hit it!

 

Peyton, age 12, Kentucky:
Is it better to slide feet-first, or head-first, into the bag?

Madison:
It depends on what the situation is! I think that it’s better to slide head-first when you are stealing a base. The reason I say this is because I believe that when you dive, you can get to the base faster and get most of your body flatter to the ground. The flatter you are, the harder it is for someone to put a tag on you! I also think that most people have better control of their hands than with their feet, so you can avoid tags easier. … When sliding into home, however, I think it’s better to go in feet-first. The catcher has tons of gear on — and you don’t — so if you’re coming in head-first, the highly padded and protected catcher will win that battle the majority of the time, and you’ll be putting yourself at great risk of hurting your hands, arms and/or neck!

 

Claire, age 13, Virginia:
My arm hurts when I try to throw the ball long distances. Are there any drills that can help my arm not be so sore?

Madison:
A lot of arm soreness comes from not having proper throwing techniques, especially when throwing long distances. When I throw the ball a long way, I try to use everything in my body — even MORE than my throwing arm! Crazy, I know! And I’m sure there are a lot of young players out there wondering how the heck that works, so let’s start from my feet. I want to make sure that my feet are going the direction I am trying to throw, because not having my feet lined up with my target can put unnecessary stress on my arm. I also try to use as much momentum as I can generate with my legs. In fact, the majority of my power comes from my legs, so I want to make sure I use them. I use my glove arm for momentum as well. Leaving your glove by your side doesn’t do you any good! Make sure that glove is tucked, and you want to pull down on that “lead elbow” as your arm comes through. Lastly, when throwing long distances, make sure that you are throwing the ball higher in the air than with a shorter throw, which you want to deliver on the same kind of path you see in line drives. The ball will go a lot farther when you throw it with more arc, like a fly ball!

 

Brooke from New Mexico, Age 14:
When I throw the ball, it tends to go to the right? Why is it doing that?

Madison:
If the ball is going to the right (and I am assuming you are right handed) there are a couple of things that could be happening. One could be that you are not stepping directly towards your target. Your arm is going to go where you step. If you step to the right, that is where your throw is going to go! Check to make sure that your step is going straight to the target. Another thing that could be happening is that you are not following through properly. I like to use the term “dot-to-dot’. Imagine that there are dots on both your right and left shoulders. When you start, the dot on your left shoulder should be pointing to your target. When you finish your throw, the dot on your right shoulder should be pointing towards your target. This will ensure that you are finishing your throw properly and should prevent the ball from going to the right.

 

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