Pocket Radar Review: Smart Coach

Two significant changes in the newest Pocket Radar, called the Smart Coach Radar are:

  1. You can now power it with a 5 volt USB battery pack or plug it into an A/C wall outlet with a USB cube.
  2. It hooks up to an app, which records video and ties the video to the speed of pitch or exit velocity of a softball off a bat!

Having used the original red button Pocket Radar for years and frequently getting frustrated with trying to catch in one hand and time holding the red button down (while timing when the pitcher’s arm was in the 12 o’clock position) in the other it will come as no shock that I was ready to try something new. The red button Pocket Radar, for your information, turns out was never designed for tracking softball pitch or bat speed. It was designed for use by law enforcement to give a pocket-size device for use to check traffic speeds.

I put some time into a Smart Coach Pocket Radar review because I’ve spent a few months testing it out directly in my softball pitching and hitting lessons. There’s a lot of information and tips on different ways to use the device out there, but that is not the intent of this post. The intent of this post is to give a broad overview and to evaluate the product’s worthiness priced at  $399, and base any recommendation off of my testing.

Smart Coach Pocket Radar on tripod with iPhone
Smart Coach Pocket Radar on tripod with iPhone using the tripod accessory sold separately.

Continue reading “Pocket Radar Review: Smart Coach”

3 things that can make a great pitcher look, well… not so great

From my experience as a head softball coach, a pitch caller, and from giving instruction to catchers over the years I thought I’d share a few thoughts on a few things in the game of fastpitch softball that I’ve noticed can make a great pitcher—one that has worked her butt off over many years to become great—look not so great, even just plain bad at times. And on the other hand, when these 3 ‘planets’ align with the great pitcher, championships games are coming!

Take, for example, the softball pitcher Giselle “GJuarez . When I saw her pitch a couple years ago at Arizona State University I quickly noticed she had great, late-breaking spin on her pitches, some of the best I’ve seen around the college game at the time, but then I didn’t hear much more about her in the news or highlights for the rest of the year, so I forgot about her. I didn’t hear about her breaking any records. I didn’t see her go far into the end of the season, the playoffs, the World Series, etc., etc.

Fast forward to 2019 after she joined Oklahoma, and you can see quickly the difference a great coach, a great pitching coach/pitch caller — Jennifer Rocha (who just left Florida, ouch Tim!), and a great catcher can make for the same pitcher. It doesn’t surprise me that when she joined Patty Gasso’s posse that she really started to shine and show her potential to the world, making it all the way to the College World Series and throwing almost every game against SERIOUSLY good competition. Gasso is one of the greatest softball coaches of all time. Imagine… if “G” didn’t make the move to OU. Would she have stood out so strongly? Would she have gotten all that fantastic circle experience, game after game? Would she be in such a great position to play after college, in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League? I argue not. And this is just a high-level example of how a different situation really helped a great pitcher look great to her potential.

3 things that a great pitcher needs to look great as she can be[.]

  1. The head coach. Since the head coach has control over the pitch calling and the catcher, that will lead into my next two items… but at the very top level a good coach that keeps their cool and gives great advice and enables great bullpen practices makes a huge difference on the queen of the circle, whereas a bad coach can cast a shadow over a great pitcher and cause continual misery and frustration. Mediocre head coaches can make a great pitcher look bad.
  2. The pitch caller. I can’t overstate how important great pitch calling is, especially when you get into the late season where hitters become really, really strong. Pitchers need to keep hitters off-balance, getting them to swing at balls and watch strikes. Obviously, a pitch caller that’s not strong will not be able to discover a hitter’s weakness quickly and exploit that weakness. Conversely (s)he will accidentally throw to their strengths (typically at the wrong, key points in a game, LOL), just guessing what to call; because they didn’t do their job by building good scouting reports. Poor pitch calling can make a great pitcher look bad.
  3. The catcher. A great catcher will frame spin pitches at the right moments, which can be an advantage for a pitcher in a tight game. But that’s not the biggest reason a great catcher can team up with a great pitcher for really great results. What about becoming a dynamic duo? From my experience, I’ve seen catchers that just did not get along with the pitcher — at times really disliking each other! It’s a fact not everyone on a team gets along, but these catchers would do things to undermine the pitcher because of either jealousy or personality conflicts, and the bottom-line of whatever the differences may be the pitcher-catcher relationship cadence could never be strong, the team suffered, and the pitcher looked bad because of this.
    Furthermore, good catchers will fight for their pitchers. For example, when a pitcher hits the mark and pitch is a strike, again and again, but the umpire calls it a ball, the catcher needs to be able to be vocal enough to turn to the umpire and say “hey, where did that miss?”.
    Great catchers are smart too. If pitchers and catchers aren’t wearing armbands, then the catcher needs to relay the signs. And if the pitcher isn’t comfortable with the pitch called the catcher and pitch caller need to flex, and quickly. These signs need to be relayed correctly and quickly, without getting stolen so that the pitcher can keep her rhythm. A poor catcher can make a great pitcher look bad.

Also, with a pitch caller (and the catcher somewhat), signs need to be protected. Whether a coach at third base or girls in the opposite dugout or even a runner that’s on second base is able to pick signs, especially the change-up it defeats the pitcher and all her hard work that she has put in, and it’s just not good. Protecting signs does matter, and any coach that says it doesn’t is a rookie, at best.

So, in summary, I can tell you that when you see a great pitcher in the championship game, I want you to look around at the head coach… I want you to look at the pitch caller (most likely it’s not the catcher; usually, none of these three are the same person at this level of success), and I want you to look at the catcher… I guarantee that you will see all three of those are supportive to the pitcher, and none are a detriment to the pitcher, at least two out of three in any case.

Queen of the Hill: Softball Leg Drive Product Review

Increase pitching velocity, reduce arm stress, shorten the hitter’s reaction time… all by more effectively using leg drive!

But how?

When I give pitching lessons to young pitchers including 8-year-olds or 10-year-olds or even some 12-year-olds it is not always easy to simplify certain parts of the explosive pitching motion into words that young pitchers easily grasp, and I would say that one of the concepts that is the hardest to translate for students is the idea that a lot of pitching speed comes from using their lower half, their legs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the phrase “drive out, don’t step out”, but when I look down at their young faces, I can tell in their eyes that they don’t fully understand what I’m saying. And I know for sure as with most other technical learning opportunities for athletes that when they feel it,  they understand it. What I mean is: I can say to a youth pitcher, again and again, to “use your legs”, “use your legs”, “use your legs”, but until they feel what I’m trying to communicate they usually don’t actually understand how to do it correctly. Continue reading “Queen of the Hill: Softball Leg Drive Product Review”