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. 

THE Spring Games Announces 2020 Logo Selection Contest Participants

What You Get With Your PRO Subscription

THE Spring Games, the World’s largest college softball event, announced Monday that it has officially opened it’s 2020 Logo Selection Contest for public voting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Rising Star: Speedster Reagan Johnson Is The Lightning For The Thunderbolts

When Jay Roberson took over as head coach for the Birmingham Thunderbolts 16U squad this season, he inherited a team loaded with power. Through the first 20 games this fall, the Bolts have already hit 32 home runs.

Head Softball Coach Mike Smith Resigns From Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss head softball coach Mike Smith has resigned from his position. Ruben Felix will step in to be the interim head coach for the upcoming 2020 season, announced Sunday by athletics director Keith Carter.

Easton Diamond Sports Announced As 2020 Top Gun Invitational Title Sponsor

Shawnee, Kan. – Top Gun Events, the national leader in premier youth fastpitch tournaments, is excited to announce that they have reached an agreement with Easton Diamond Sports to become the title sponsor of the 2020 Top Gun Invitational. As part of the agreement, Easton will provide prize packages worth $5,000 to the champions of the 12U-18U Maverick competition divisions. 

Cast Your Vote For The Best Dressed Club Team Of 2019

What You Get With Your PRO Subscription

Last year, the Texas clubs dominated the votes for best dressed and this year is your chance to shake things up.

Cast Your Vote For The Best Dressed Division I Team Of 2019

null

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the swaggiest one of them all.

The Ultimate Gift Guide For Softball Players

What You Get With Your PRO Subscription

'Tis the season to gift to your favorite softball player.

The History Of The Division III Softball Dynasty: The College of New Jersey

Mark Allister will be covering DIII softball for FloSoftball this upcoming year, and he would welcome your story ideas at his email address, allister@stolaf.edu. Allister is a professor of English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and the author of Women’s College Softball on the Rise: A Season Inside the Game.

Canadian Wild Return To NPF For Second Season

Behind The Canadian Wild

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

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Marion, IL (November 20, 2019) – The Southern Illinois Miners are proud to announce that their partnership with Softball Canada will continue into 2020, as the Canadian Wild of Southern Illinois will return to Rent One Park to play their second season in Southern Illinois and National Pro Fastpitch (NPF).

Rising Star: Arizona Storm 2022 Shortstop Viviana Martinez

Arizona Storm coach Corey Mathis remembers the first time when college coaches started taking notice of Viviana Martinez. The left-handed-hitting shortstop lofted a routine fly ball to center field that was about to be caught.