Coach Robin Brady always knew she had a special talent in shortstop Taylor Thom. Vista Ridge High School in Texas went from a really good softball program to one of the state’s best during Thom’s tenure.
It all started with defensive preparation, instinct and arm strength. And it didn’t take long for opposing coaches to know who Vista Ridge’s best player was — they figured that out by watching her in warm ups.
Thom attacked ground balls and threw rockets to first base during warm ups. And on the throw down from the catcher, she would snag any ball within reach and place a tag on a fake runner. She had quick hands and feet to turn a double play.
Then again, not all players are as good as Thom, who became a four-year starter at shortstop for the Texas Longhorns — where she was the 2014 Big 12 Player of the Year — and now plays professionally for the Dallas Charge after a stint with the U.S. national team.
Coaches often use an opponent’s warm up drills as a way to scout their defense. These warm ups may be before the game or simply in between innings.
Lisa Marek, a former infielder at Sam Houston State University and current varsity softball coach at Navasota (Texas) High School, said she always watches her opponents to see who’s got strong arms and soft hands.
“We look to see where the outfielders line up and who has good footwork and arm strength,” Marek said. “We watch the catcher’s throw down to see if we’ll be able to steal bases.”
During the game they might look for a player’s defensive tendencies, but it’s the warm ups where they get a fairly good look. For instance, when the first baseman throws grounders to other infielders in between innings, it’s good to notice if any players hesitate before throwing, or if their throws aren’t consistently sharp and accurate.
Coaches watch outfielders to see if the players have strong throws or lobbed rainbows to each other.
Marek said the best time to really watch teams is during down time at tournaments. Her assistants watch several teams warm up and play. She said she’s also learned from watching other teams during warm ups — drills or techniques she can implement into her own program.
And then there’s scouting teams at higher levels. Marek said a few times each season she and her assistants go watch local college teams practice, and once a year she takes her team to watch either Texas A&M or Sam Houston State play a game.
“We get there early enough so our team can watch how the college players warm up and approach the game,” Marek said. “College players work hard in practice and warm ups, and it becomes routine in the game. I want my players to be able to watch and learn from that.”
With that said, watching warm ups isn’t just for coaches. Players can learn a little bit for themselves as well.