Fall ball 2023 is now behind us for most teams, or will be after this weekend.
For many that will mean a welcome break from organized team activities (OTAs), at least until after the first of the year. For the rest, it will probably mean more of a maintenance schedule (e.g., once a week instead of three times) to give everyone (including coaches) a chance to unwind and refresh themselves for 2024.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the game schedule will come to a complete halt until the summer, or until high school ball kicks in for those who play in the spring. These days, the proliferation of domes and other large structures in the northern climes means teams still have an opportunity to get some games in once or twice a month. (Southern states just carry on as usual.)
So for those who will be playing throughout the cold, dark months of winter, I have a suggestion on how to get more benefit from these essentially meaningless games. Are you ready for it? Here it is:
Try something new.
Brilliant in its simplicity, isn’t it?
Wait, you don’t understand what I mean?
During the offseason many players work on new developing new skills. For example, a naturally left-handed hitter may learn how to slap in addition to swinging for power. Or a right-handed hitter may get turned around to the left side to take advantage of her speed.
A pitcher may learn a new pitch. An infielder may learn how to throw sidearm from a crouch on a bang-bang play.
A catcher may learn how to throw from her knees. A coach may attend a coaching clinic, such as the ones offered by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, and learn a new offensive strategy or defensive sets.
But then when they actually play in an offseason game, the slap, the new pitch, the new throwing motion, the new strategies, etc., get stuck in the back pocket in favor of what the player or coach is most comfortable with.
That’s a missed opportunity in my mind. What better time to experiment with something that could be very valuable next summer than when you’re basically just playing for fun or to break up the boredom of practice?
Back when I was coaching teams, that was actually fall ball. You’d basically scrape a few double headers or round robins together on a Sunday, or maybe if you were lucky you’d find a local tournament or two that would give you a chance to play beyond the summer.
Today, fall ball is basically equivalent in importance to the summer. If you’re of recruiting age it may even be more important due to all the college showcase events around the country.
No one wants to risk looking bad in that atmosphere. So even if they’re learning new things they’re reluctant to trot them out on a stage where they could embarrass themselves mightily.
Winter/offseason ball doesn’t have that same level of risk. It’s perhaps the last bastion of “who cares about the outcome?” left in our sport.
So again, what better time to put on the big girl (or big boy in the case of coaches) pants and try something you’ve been working on but haven’t executed in a game yet?
Sure, it could be disastrous. A slapper could end up striking out every at-bat, including in a situation that causes her team to lose.
A pitcher could try out her new riseball and watch as it sails into the upper reaches of the net, scoring not just the runner on third but the runner on second as well. A coach could try a suicide squeeze only to watch in agony as the bunt is missed and the runner is hung out to dry.
Again I say unto you, so the heck what?
Yes, it would be temporarily sad. But it would also break the seal on using those skills or strategies in a game situation.
It would become a learning experience as well, helping the player or coach do better with them the next time. Do it a few times over the course of the offseason and the player or coach just might have the experience – and confidence – to execute them effectively and subsequently become better than they were before.
Remember, if you do what you always did you get what you always got. You’re spending considerable time, and perhaps money, to learn new things. Those new things don’t do you any good if they never get out of your back pocket.
Take full advantage of games without real pressure or consequences to try out new things and get more comfortable with them. If you’re a coach, find out what your players are learning and make them give it a try.
Because that little pebble you toss now may have a significant, positive ripple effect for you next year.
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