When you’re following in the footsteps of a successful coach, it’s important to establish your own identity.
That’s exactly what Shawn Graham is doing at Sneads High School in the Florida Panhandle.
Graham is taking over the perennially dominant Lady Pirates softball team from legendary coach Kelvin Johnson. Graham worked alongside Johnson for a majority of his nine-year stint as the Lady Pirates amassed three state finals appearances and five district titles.
Now that the keys to the kingdom belong to Graham, he’s eager to prove his worth to the players and the community.
“The tradition has been set for a long time here at Sneads High School. So to me, it’s a blessing and it shows they have a lot of faith in me to continue this tradition,” Graham said. “That’s something that I take pride in, that these girls can continue the tradition and stay on top in the softball world.”
Graham intends to do that by keeping Johnson’s core offensive tenets in place while also providing significant attention to the side of the ball he truly loves: defense.
“If you can make 90 percent of the routine plays, you’re in good shape,” Graham said. “When you make an error, usually that’s a routine play. You let it go through your legs or bounce out of your glove into the outfield. That’s my main focus coming into this season.”
As he prepares his Lady Pirates for the upcoming season, Graham shared five tips for how to be fundamentally sound on defense.
“I want your feet separated a little bit, about shoulder’s width apart. You’re bending your hips and your knees slightly. Your glove is midway. I want us to be creeping. The first baseman and third baseman take one step. The shortstop and second baseman take three steps. So as the ball is being pitched you’re moving and already thinking about attacking the ball.”
‘’Lowering the drawbridge’’
“You’re in a set position. Your glove is pretty much positioned where you’re ready for that ball to come to you. So your glove is already down there kind of going to it. We work to it and through it is the way I put it. If you do it right it takes away some of your bad hops.”
Pinching the middle outfield
“When I’m out there coaching I don’t want them on the line. They’re going to be at least 20 yards off the line so we can cut down the gaps in the outfield. I’ll give you the gaps down the line, which I think can be much harder to hit, especially with the way we pitch. You’re not going to pull a pitch down the third base line.”
Establishing trust between pitcher and catcher
“You don’t have to be best friends but you have to trust each other. For example, especially as a pitcher, you have to trust the catcher that when you call a pitch low and away that if I put it in the dirt you’re going to have to be the one that stops it to not let anyone advance. The catcher has to also trust the pitcher that if we have a runner on first, you’re not going to throw one in the dirt.”
Working the strike zone
“I want to see how far outside the umpire is going to call strikes. I’m going to inch it off the plate as much as I can. I’m willing to throw a changeup in any part of the count. I think the changeup in softball is one of the most underutilized pitches. If you can throw 55-56 and above you can work the top of the strike zone and be very effective with a strikeout pitch. You need to work down first and then you come up to get that strikeout pitch.”