It was baseball instruction at its best. Dozens of coaches rose from their grandstand seats at the Austin Armstrong Field of Dreams on a warm January Saturday afternoon and took imaginary swings with imaginary bats. But they weren't swinging at pretend baseballs. They aimed, instead, at an invisible rising yellow fastpitch softball. On the field below, surrounded by some of NYO's finest young fastpitch players, John Tschida held court. Tschida, head coach of the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) softball team, is a legend in fastpitch circles. On Saturday, Tschida and Austin Wasserman, equally renowned as a throwing instructor, conducted a clinic for 60-or-so members of the Georgia Fastpitch Coaches Association. NYO hosted.
The three-hour clinic stood as testimony to the seriousness with which NYO takes this game, played by 500 young women on our Chastain fields in 2016. NYO Fastpitch Commissioner Brian Raley and veteran coach Danny Gershwin are among the game's apostles. To land Tschida for this clinic was a big deal, according to Danny Gershwin. 'He's regarded as one of the brightest minds in fastpitch.' Tschida and Wasserman also scheduled clinics for the softball teams at Georgia Tech and Georgia State University over the weekend.
Tschida, who has coached more than 1,000 college softball games, winning over 80%, is the first softball coach to win NCAA championships at two different schools. Named NCAA Division III Coach of the Year twice, he occupies a spot in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. It's no wonder the coaches in the stands and the young ladies on the field hang on his every word.
Like every good hitting instructor, Tschida taught the importance of balance, loading the back leg for power and driving the trunk of the body through the swing. He used frisbees, batting tees and plastic softballs as props. His instruction was as relevant for baseball as it was for softball. But if you listened carefully, you learned things that make coaching young women special.
'If you've got a group of girls who aren't hustling, tell them 'good hustle,''he said. 'And they'll start running. Compliments work.'
In fact, the longer Tschida spoke, the more obvious it became that his lessons applied to baseball as well as softball. How does a coach deal with a player fearful of being hit by a pitch? 'That's called intelligence,' Tschida replies. 'I can teach a way for a hitter to load (torque and turn the body and to minimize being hit), but it's natural to be afraid. We need to teach (hitters) how to be confident and courageous.'
Nearby, Wasserman taught coaches how to improve throwing skills. NYO's Coach Gershwin put it in simple terms for the benefit of an old baseball coach. 'Imagine trying to throw a basketball,' Danny says. 'You'd pass it, rather than throw it.' Given the difference in size between a softball and a baseball, that's the same initial instinct many young women have when they throw a softball for the first time.
NYO has developed a first-rate fastpitch program. The young ladies on the Field of Dreams moved with the grace and confidence of their NYO baseball counterparts. Danny Gershwin, like Brian Raley, is fond of talking about girls they once coached who have returned to NYO as coaches. Danny, who is beginning his 24th year as a volunteer NYO coach, also runs the middle school fastpitch team at Pace Academy. He works full-time as a court reporter, but estimates (conservatively, one imagines) that he devotes 20 hours a week to his girls and the game. More than 50 have gone on to play collegiate softball.
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, delights in seeing young women get the same quality instruction boys have long received. He wonders and wishes why someone didn't teach him to dance when he was a kid.)