How To Pick The Right Softball Pitching Coach

Dr. Kaila Holtz is a Canadian Olympian, pitching coach, and Sports Medicine Physician. She started coaching younger pitchers in high school and after playing at the University of Massachusetts under Hall of Fame Coach Elaine Sortino she stayed on as an assistant. Throughout medical school and residency, Dr. Holtz has taught pitching lessons helping teams win both Provincial and National Championships as a consultant. She is a Master Coach Developer for Softball Canada’s National Coach Certification Program and a member of the World Baseball Softball Confederation Medical and Anti-Doping Commission. 

Follow her on Dr. Holtz on Twitter @KailaHoltz

The Vetting Process

Coaches are one of the most important people in a young athlete’s life. Outside of a family unit, coaches are often their first exposure to a new style of communication and discipline. As a parent, I can’t over-emphasize the importance of vetting individuals involved in shaping your child’s values and self-confidence. 

When looking for a coach I would suggest first opening your ears. During a competition, effective coaches actually say very little. I remember 2018 National Champion Florida State Head Coach Lonni Alameda telling me at the beginning of my coaching career, “Homework is done at practice, in the game just let them play.” If you’re a parent or player looking for a good coach, go to a game and listen. Do the coaches observe and direct players as needed? Or are they out on the field yelling adjustments every play? Micromanaging the game sends out signals of mistrust and incompetence. Game-yelling is a huge red flag for me.

In practice, my best coaches taught me through inquiry. “What are you trying to do?” Denise Davis of Planet Fastpitch, a large softball training facility in Uxbridge, MA, asks her pitchers. Curiosity and self-reflection is part of the culture there. I credit her and this approach in helping me make the Canadian Olympic Team. I call this “intent coaching,” and it almost always reveals the underlying reason for a technical or tactical error. Coaching an athlete’s intent shapes the internal and external cues players give themselves to produce a complex movement like delivering a pitch. A more reactive style of coaching provides feedback on a movement pattern rather than viewing the movement pattern as feedback itself. 

Biomechanics vs Style

Good coaches use video analysis with discipline. When watching videos of Monica Abbott vs. Yukiko Ueno good technical coaches can tell me the fundamental similarities that exist between them and what differences amount to style. If they take video of pitchers they do so from three angles: the side, the front, and the back commenting on the most important technical flaws, rather than all of the technical flaws they see. 

Lastly, effective coaches make logical suggestions given what we know about the principles of sports biomechanics. Picking two or three key teaching points per video analysis session to help shape an athlete’s intent is critical in not overwhelming them. 

Pitch Calling

I was once asked at a coaching seminar, “At what level is it appropriate for coaches to call pitches during the game?” After a long pause, my response was, “The Olympics.” But coaches don’t call pitches at the Olympics like they do in 14U travel ball. The catcher’s role isn’t simply to relay signals from the bench to the pitcher who executes them like a robot. 

Both the pitcher and the catcher have already a pitch in mind and if a signal comes from the bench it’s a confirmation rather than a brand new idea. Over-calling pitches from the bench at the youth level robs athletes of critical tactical knowledge needed to compete at an elite level. Unless you’re coaching at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, I don’t see a reason to put winning over development. 

Which Numbers Matter?

In keeping with teaching pitchers and catchers how to get ahead of hitters, chase bad pitches or set them up for a ground ball, good coaches appreciate meaningful data. Some stats to look at are the number of first-pitch strikes, the percentage of strikes, the count when hits are given up, the sequence of pitches where hits are given up, walks per game, etc. 

Sure, throw 65 mph riseballs and this stuff doesn’t seem to matter that much. But eventually, pitchers will find themselves at a competitive level where pure technical skill is secondary to tactical skill. And when that happens good coaches will have taught them to have a pitch in mind and be able to execute it.

Lastly, good pitching coaches appreciate the personality type the position attracts. While pitchers are extremely driven, they can easily get wrapped up in the pressure of the position and lose their cool. Through direct eye contact and an empathetic response to failure, great coaches show they care about their pitchers as individuals, no matter their successes or failures on the field. 

I tell parents my job is to help their daughters become successful, well-adjusted adults. With the long-game in mind, individual ups and downs can be put in perspective. Excellence reflects a consistent daily effort to improve and support that endeavor is a coach that appreciates the privilege of teaching capable girls to become powerful women.

Final Thoughts

The minimum standard for working with youth athletes should be a recent background check and completion of basic sports ethics training. Beyond that good coaches behave professionally and challenge athletes both physically and emotionally in ways consistent with published long-term athlete stages of development. 

JUCO 2019 Sophomore Hot 100 Rankings 50-41

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be recognizing the top sophomores from Junior Colleges across the country. 

Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Did We Witness The Craziest Regionals In Softball History?

What a wild weekend of postseason play with eight regions going to game seven. We saw everything from pitching duels to walk-offs, and thrilling upsets in 2019. Here are some of the top moments from last weekend.

Florida State Advances To Supers After South Carolina Regional Thriller

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a postseason slugfest that came down to the final out, No. 4 Florida State (54-8) came from behind to defeat No. 21 South Carolina (38-19) by a score of 7-6 on Sunday to win the NCAA Tallahassee Regional and advance to the Super Regional round for the seventh consecutive season.

Florida Gators Advance To Super Regionals To Face Tennessee

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – No. 5-seed Florida topped Boise State 5-0 on Sunday afternoon to advance to the 12th Super Regional in program history.

Wild Trick Play Sends Trine To NCAA Division III WCWS

ANGOLA, Ind. – The Trine University softball team finished off their NCAA Division III Super Regional with a bit of trickery to clinch their third trip to the Division III Women's College World Series (WCWS).

Oklahoma State Advances To 2019 NCAA Super Regionals

STILLWATER – The No. 13 Oklahoma State softball team defeated Tulsa, 2-1,  for the second time in two days to clinch its first super-regional berth since 2011 on Saturday at Cowgirl Stadium.

Texas A&M-Kingsville Defeat Cameron To Advance To DII WCWS

KINGSVILLE, Texas – In a year full of firsts for the Texas A&M-Kingsville softball team, the Javelinas reached yet another program benchmark with a 6-5 defeat of the Cameron Aggies on Friday at Hubert Field in Kingsville, Texas, capturing the program's first-ever South Central Regional Championship. This title punches the Javelinas' ticket to the Division II Softball Championships, which will begin on Thursday in Denver, Colo.

LIU Post Tops Saint Anselm In Extras To Reach NCAA DII WCWS

MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Cardiac Kids kept their historic season alive with a 2-1 victory in extra innings against top-seeded Saint Anselm College to claim the NCAA Division II East Region title for the fifth time.

Young Harris Advances To NCAA Division II WCWS

HARROGATE, Tenn.  — The Young Harris College softball team overcame a six-run deficit to defeat Lincoln Memorial University 12-6 as they captured their first-ever NCAA Division II Southeast Super Regional title Friday (May 17) afternoon at Dorothy Neely Field.

JUCO 2019 Sophomore Hot 100 Rankings 60-51

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be recognizing the top sophomores from Junior Colleges across the country. 

Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In