James Polly spends quite a bit of time scouring the Internet, especially YouTube.
He’s always on the lookout for a great instructional video on how to better teach certain aspects of softball to young girls. When he finds good examples, he’ll piece together his ideas and lay out a plan.
One thing Polly, who coaches the 10U Tri Valley Twisters travel team out of North Branch, Michigan, has focused on is coaching proper posture and stance for a hitter.
Polly uses building blocks as a reference for his 9- and 10-year-old players, because the girls can relate and visualize what their coach is talking about.
“You’ve got to keep it simple for the small kids,” said Polly, who has been coaching young softball players for 10 years. “You start with a firm foundation from the ground up.
“Just like building blocks, if you keep stacking them on top of each other – you can go as high as you want – but once you start moving one way or the other, you have a weak spot. I think it has the same effect as your batting stance. Building blocks have to be stacked right up over top of each other to begin your stance.”
The first block represents the feet, followed by the knees.
“One thing that I tell them to help them keep their knees slightly inside their feet is, ‘No pony rides,’” said Polly, who has used the building block approach for eight years. “That will help them to remember not to have their knees bowed out.”
The third block is the hips. The fourth, the elbows, need to be relaxed and stacked right over the top of the hips. The fifth block Polly explained as “knocking knuckles.”
“The knuckles on their hands that they knock with need to be lined up when they are gripping the bat,” Polly said. “Their elbows need to be nice and relaxed in an upside down V pattern.”
The sixth and seventh blocks are the shoulders and head.
Hitting stance and posture are one of the first aspects Polly addresses with his players in the first practice of the season. After going over the building blocks diagram with his girls, Polly will watch his players get into their stance. He’ll tweak a player, if needed, from that point.
“If it’s something dramatic, I’ll just start them over,” Polly said. “I start from scratch, I guess.”
Polly is a big proponent of suggesting basic hitting drills for his players to work on outside of practice. He loves having his girls use tees – something a player can do on her own – and soft toss, which adds a timing mechanism into the swing.
“I think the most helpful thing for a batter from any age, from 5 years through professional, is tee work,” said Polly, whose 15-year-old daughter generally hits 100 balls per night off a tee into a net. “I don’t think you can do enough tee work. Live pitching is good, but tee work is important. It takes away all the other extra elements that you’re trying to focus on – the movement of the ball, the spin on the ball. All those things that come with live pitching, you take those right out of it. So you can concentrate on nothing but the proper techniques, the proper form.”
Polly also likes to get his players’ parents involved in helping their kid away from the diamond.
“I talk to the parents and I will oftentimes send them videos that I’ve found and that I think would help in different situations,” Polly said. “If you can have the parents, the coaches, and the kids all on the same page, it just makes my life a lot easier.”
Some advice Polly would give coaches in helping young girl softball players with posture and stance is to keep it simple.
“If you don’t now, search it out,” Polly said. “YouTube, Internet, you’d be surprised how many good videos are out there that show you exactly what you need to be doing or what you’re doing wrong. There’s a ton of information out there for coaches that don’t know.”