Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Hitting Reset, Part I (Softball)

Image by Cheryl Holt from Pixabay

The reset, Ctrl+Alt+Delete for those Windows and Linux users out there, Open Apple+Ctrl+Reset for the Apple Macintosh afficionados (well what it used to be, I haven't used a Mac in well over a decade). The circle-y arrow inside a circle for most everything else. It's what you do when your system becomes frozen or experiences some other form of discombobulation. Often it fixes whatever problem the device was having, although it's not really an ideal solution if you have to do it multiple times a day; or a week for that matter.

I spent some time this weekend thinking about hitting reset in a different context: human behavior and response. My pondering came about while watching my daughter's team play fastpitch softball. Sports tend to have a preponderance of "reset" activities. In the case of fastpitch you have the at-bat, the pitch, the play, the base running, the call, the start of the game, the start of the inning. That's a lot of things being reproduced, a lot of miniature "resets", for each player. This gets multiplied by on a tournament weekend by at least a factor of four depending on the number of games being played. 

A lot of sports development is learning how to reset in a manner that helps the team and the players give their best effort. Most people who have watched and coached younger players remember teaching the basic "ready" position in the field. "Ready positions!" is a mantra often yelled by coaches during practices and games. It can be frustrating when little ones find it more interesting to draw circles in the dirt of pick weeds, but hey, when you're little everything is fascinating and standing in a "ready position" pitch after pitch is akin to low grade torture. Young kids just don't operate like that. Still, calling them back to the ready is likely, albeit subconsciously, programming an important "reset" needed to play the game.

As players advance, they learn the actual ready position is more like ready "prowling". Spring loading the legs and inching up on the balls of their feet, prepared to pounce at any ball heading their way. The player is no longer just looking to stop the ball with their glove, but dynamically receive it and dispense it with the utmost speed to get an out. Resetting has become more instinctive.

Another area is hitting. Everything from digging your foot rut just right, the practice swing or ninja-like bat twirling, the stance in the box, the initial bat position right up to setting and stepping becomes a near-ritualistic reset. Interestingly, my daughter's approach isn't too unlike mine: a little dirt clearing/rut making, a reach to make sure you encompass home plate with the bat and a couple slow half-swings to ensure comfort. She appears to add in a little stare-down of the pitcher for good measure. This reset is played out between every pitch. Then there's the more important reset, the set into the stance where the swing will actually occur. 

I remember my high school coaches pointing out that every player has a different stance right up until ready to swing, then most all players settle into a nearly identical position. An athletic position where they can step, rotate their hips, extend/swing/slice the bat through the ball and hopefully make contact. Again it's repetition that makes this last crucial part instinctive. There's not much room for variation as that would compromise ability to contact and ability to generate power.

Probably the most interesting to watch, and most stressful reset to do lies with the pitcher. Even high level college and professional pitchers have bad outings. Bad pitches, walks and hit batters can linger in the psyche, causing fatigue, frustration and even a few tears. The reset here needs to be physical, mental and emotional. A little bit of stoicism, something kids are great at (the author says with a glint of sarcasm), goes a long way. The reset here again becomes a dynamic process. A micro analysis of what to change if the pitch was bad is necessary as well as not overthinking what was done when they painted the corner of the strike zone just perfectly and the batter will need chiropractic work from the pretzel they contorted themselves into trying to hit such nastiness. Excitement at such a delivery can also mess with the reset. The pitcher needs to stay relaxed, but not too relaxed.

It's most fun to watch pitchers when they're "just missing". When they are in that gray area in the edge of the umpire's strike zone. Seeing that focus of what little adjustments to make. Perhaps just sliding a little left or right on the rubber? Perhaps adjusting the stride length just a little? Perhaps remembering to breathe before starting the windup? It's clear to see that pitchers have at times the most difficult, and perhaps ritualistic, reset on the field; needing to be able to reliably repeat their delivery 50, 60 or 70 times.

Another integral part to the pitcher's success is the catcher. Catchers are one part field marshal, one part backstop and one part therapist to the pitcher. A good catcher will pick up on where the pitches are missing and at least try to adjust the ball with their own glove placement. They are part of the pitching ritual and are the only player on the field who will throw the ball at least as much as the pitcher. They are also the only player who has the batter's (and umpire's) perspective, allowing them to see the runners and the overall situation. Being a good catcher is a lot of work.

While I've focused on the resets in softball/baseball here, my original intent was to extend the concept into daily life. This blog has gotten a little long though so I guess I'll just hit my own writing reset button and cover that in another part.

No comments:

Post a Comment