For the first time since 2011, the Heard County High School softball team failed to win at least 20 games.
This offseason, coach Matt Hornsby is being creatively proactive in the hopes of producing a bounce back campaign.
Heard County, which won the Georgia state championship in 2014, regressed below .500 at 14-16 last season.
As a result, the players are all ears when it comes to improvement.
“This past year was actually a wake up call to them that we weren’t where we had been in the past 5-6 years and we need to get back to that,” Hornsby said.
Hornsby demanded his players get some much-needed R&R after the grind of a long season.
“I tell our girls that I want them to take two months off at least. I don’t want them to touch a softball. I don’t want them to go hit. I don’t want them to do anything. Just do your weight training class. Outside of that, I want their bodies to rest,” Hornsby said. “These girls have been playing travel ball since probably April. So their bodies are going through this extremely long period. I want them to recover first.”
Now that the players are refreshed and revitalized, a new challenge awaits them.
Hornsby is implementing an offseason testing system that will hold the players extremely accountable for their personal development.
Each position group will be drilled on various skills and then re-evaluated on Aug. 1, just before the start of the softball season in Georgia.
The testing breaks down into four basic areas, as Hornsby described:
Pitching: “I’m going to take their best two pitches but it can’t be a changeup. They’re going to throw those two pitches five times. I’m going to take the best or the fastest pitch out of those five times and that’s what I’m going to chart down. Then we’ll move on to their second best pitch, do that five times and chart that down.”
Batting: “Our position players are going to go through an exit velocity test on them hitting off of a tee. It’ll be in our batting cages. I’ll be behind them with a radar gun. They’re going to hit five balls right back at me and I’m going to take the fastest one that they hit and that’s what I’m going to jot down.”
Arm strength: “We’re just going to put all of our mid-fielders at shortstop and have them throw across to first base. We’ll chart that mile per hour and take the highest one.”
Foot speed: “Our position players will also be tested on run times from home to first. And on stealing a base from first to second.”
There’s severe ramifications if a player doesn’t elevate her game during the offseason.
“If their numbers have not increased, then the only way that could’ve happened is by not working like they should have for the last six months,” Hornsby said. “They’re not going to get a jersey until their numbers have increased.”
Hornsby understands why some might deem this approach as radical but he astutely explained his reasoning.
“I know that seems kind of extreme to say that but I think in our program if they know what to expect on Aug. 1 they’re not going to just halfway do a workout or halfway put in effort,” Hornsby said. “If they understand that they’re not getting a varsity jersey, my guess is that they’re going to tone it up a notch when it comes to working hard in the weight room.”
The biggest takeaway from all of this is the lesson that nothing in life is going to be handed to you.
Anything that’s worthwhile is going to come at the price of hard work and tireless dedication.