Michele Granger may be one of the most dominant athletes that ever played in any sport! Her list of accomplishments in the game of softball is long and distinguished. We'll hit a couple different highlights from when she played.
She made her first Team USA Softball roster and played in the Softball World Championships of as a high school sophomore in the summer of 1986. While in high school she established (and still holds) national top-10 records for career ERA (0.10), no-hitters (36) and strikeouts (1,635 )for women's softball. She continued her ascendancy in the sport of softball at the collegiate level when she chose to pitch for Cal, where she Set records for Wins, Innings pitched, shutouts and strikeouts and became the most decorated pitcher that ever played for the Bears softball program. She holds the Pac-12 innings and shutout records, as well as strikeouts for both her single game and total strikeouts. Finally, she holds the no-hitter crown at 25, ranks second all-time in shutouts, third in perfect games (5), 6th in innings and 9th in strikeouts for NCAA Division I softball. She put the Icing on the cake when she played in the sports inaugural Olympic fast pitch softball tournament for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. The first-ever pitch for the sport of fast pitch softball in Olympic history Came from her hand as she lead Team USA to 10-0 win in game 1 over Puerto Rico. Granger struck out 10 only giving up two hits and a walk. Pitching her second game, she became a softball icon in the gold medal game by leading Team USA over China 3-1 . In 16-innings of Olympic Softball, Granger had two wins, gave up two earned runs, collected 25 strikeouts and brought home the gold medal in softball for Team USA, all while three-months pregnant.
The Search For Speed-
I worked a clinic over the weekend and it made me stop and consider how we reach out to young women of various ages and help them develop speed? More often than not, when I work with groups of players or even kids individually, I find that young women between 14 - 18 have really just settled in to throw in the 50s. I believe that every pitcher at some point, can hit 60 miles an hour. Every mile an hour after that is about hard work and fine tuning. It's not a given. But getting to 60, in my view, is a an attainable goal for nearly every pitcher. As with all sports, developing speed as a pitcher is about building your foundation and improving mechanics.
People that keep telling players and parents that speed doesn't matter are wrong. They default to that position because they don't want to hurt player's feelings. I believe that sports should build young women up too, but It is, after all, a sport. If you want to get better, be competitive, build confidence and you love your sport then set a goal and work to achieve it. Players need to throw the ball as fast as they can. Can every kid pitch 70 miles an hour? No, (most women can't either). Can every kid pitch 65 miles an hour? No, but every kid can reach 60. Every single kid with proper mechanics and work ethic can build-up enough power to get to 60 MPH.
Women and men that I meet ask "How do I help my daughter?" Short answer, you have to do drill work (no need to search you can see the drills I designed.
In sports, you need to vary your workouts and softball is no different. Young women need to practice. Reps develop skills and power. Both are necessary to pitch fast. You need to develop a strong base and the proper mechanics to support moving faster and more efficiently. You also have to change the way you think about throwing a softball.
I've coached recreation softball, high school softball, junior college softball, and college softball, pretty much any level of softball that you can think of. Everywhere I've been (Even at the Rec level) I've heard the same thing from well-intended coaches and parents, which is "I need you to throw strikes". Kids these days start playing travel ball very early. Does a pitcher need to throw strikes? Absolutely. However, do I care if they search for the plate at the age of 10 if, by age 16, they're throwing over 60 miles an hour, can locate the ball and move it? I don't.
We need to start looking at the development of a pitcher over a period of time, not just what they can do for me now.
All young women are different so there's no good answer. The real question for softball coaches maybe, what are we doing to help them pitch fast? First, if a kid on your team that wants to pitch, try to facilitate that.
I know it can be hard, but if you have a good lead, even if a kid can't pitch a Strike, let her walk the bases loaded before you take her out. Players need playing time, to keep them going and encourage them to practice on the side. Making sure that pitchers are practicing their sport on their own is a baseline for getting into a game. We can handle giving a kid a little time and watching her walk a few batters, even if it's a little painful as coaches. No need to search for ways to encourage her. Playing time helps players develop self-esteem and passion for their sport.
As for drills, Interval training is the way to go. By interval training, I mean, you want to make sure that your pitchers aren't just throwing off the mound 100 or 200 times a day. That's really not going to do anything and oftentimes may reinforce bad mechanics.
As coaches, we should also rethink the way we practice. Make sure that you're changing the length of time that your pitchers are throwing. Ten minutes of hard practice is better than an hour of slow, no progress practice. Also, changing practice routines produces huge results in all sports. Change the intensity of practice, change the length of practice, and of course, the variety of drills your pitchers perform make a big impact.
There's a right way and a wrong way for a beginning pitcher to start off. Don't do a bunch of wrists for 20 minutes. Do it for five pitches. You may have your players do walk-throughs for five to 10 pitches then change the distance and do it again. You can also add some jog-throughs, some run-throughs, run one stadium or one lap in between drills. Search for anything that's going to develop strength, especially lower half trunk or core strength and keep practice interesting and challenging. That way you avoid repetitive injury and keep it fun while you help a pitcher throw harder over a longer period of time. It is critically important in the development of a softball pitcher that we're mindful of encouraging those pitchers to try and throw hard when they pitch even if they're less accurate at the beginning. Check out my drills at:
I've developed programs that focus on building speed. Change the way your pitchers practice. Put more emphasis on how hard they throw and a little less emphasis on where the pitch goes every time. The search for precision tends to blunt speed development in every sport. It's easier to make a fast softball pitcher accurate than it is to make an accurate pitcher fast.
Here's a good process for pitchers to get there. Just like all sports, reps are the key to success in softball too. I like kids to calendar when they pitch practiced. It can be a 10-minute session or a 30-minute workout. It doesn't have to be the same length of time every day, but they need to do something. The next key would be to design active strong practices. Let's make sure that we pitch with a plan. When we throw we should have a goal and a strategy in mind. Sports get boring when we do the same thing all the time and softball is no exception. It's okay to just throw fastballs in practice to work on developing pitch speed but add variation to the drills.
While I'm at it, why are we even asking our pitchers to make the softball move until they're throwing in the mid-50s?
A 52 or 53 mph pitch that moves a little is fine when you're at a U12 level and you're trying to help your team out, but long term is a 52 mph curve really going to do a pitcher any good? It's not. So let's go with more fastballs and practice on speed development and make the moving pitches secondary until we're throwing at a fast enough rate to really make that softball move.
When I played I reached 70 mph by focusing on getting faster first. Like all sports, improvement in softball comes in gross motor skills first. Softball is one of the most popular sports for girls in this country. Let's help them develop properly so they have a lifelong love for it.
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