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Technology Is Transforming The Game Of Softball

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(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

While the use of baseball analytics in coaching strategy has been on the rise ever since the release of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, analytics in softball are just beginning to take center stage.

Recently, softball coaches at every level have begun to increasingly use data and analytics to make their coaching decisions. From deciding whether it is worth it to sacrifice an out and bunt with a runner on first base, to deciding which pitcher to start depending on the team they’re facing, analytics help coaches make important decisions that allow their teams to win games.

The abundance of technology available at our fingertips has allowed coaches to easily analyze situational statistics as well as to evaluate player performance.

Here are three ways coaches have already begun to use these technologies to their advantage, a trend that will likely increase in the future.

Player Evaluation

Many high school players didn’t have to go far to get recruited when COVID-19 hit. Instead of traveling to far-away tournaments, many players aimed to get recruited from the comfort of their own home. Through emailing coaches and posting updates on their social media channels, many players became reliant on technology to gain a roster spot at their dream school.

“It’s as real as you’re going to get,” said University of Oklahoma Assistant Coach JT Gasso, referring to the advanced statistics now available to many players. “It gives meaning to everything.”

Technologies that evaluate player performance such as Rapsodo or HitTrax allow coaches to evaluate players without even seeing them play live because the numbers speak for themselves.

When University of Illinois pitching coach Lance McMahon is in contact with a recruit whose numbers are too low for his program, instead of not responding to them, he will give his recruits specific numbers to shoot for. If they are able to come back and reach those numbers, McMahon says it tells him the player has two of the most important qualities needed to play at the next level: coachability and adaptability.

Player Development

Even after being recruited, players will continue to deal with the numbers once they get into college. Several colleges at the Division I, Division II, Division III and JUCO levels have made investments in different technologies to further the success of their softball programs.

For the Mississippi State softball program, both the hitting and pitching Rapsodo technologies have become a part of their daily training routine. The individualistic nature of Rapsodo allows the Mississippi State coaches to personalize each player's practice plan by relying on concrete data, rather than just using a generalized guess.

“For them to know exactly what they’re working on, why and then to see the results automatically,” said Mississippi State head coach Samantha Ricketts on why she uses Rapsodo. “It’s a really tight feedback loop.”

Yet, these technologies do not only need to be used on an individual level—the data-based nature of these programs allow players to create competitions with each other in order to improve their own performance.

Through game modes, home run derby and just the raw statistics themselves, players will often compete with their teammates on these platforms to create a fun and competitive environment, in which they are able to push each of their teammates to get better.

Game Strategy

Through stat-keeping programs such as GameChanger, many softball coaches are able to track their team’s statistics in order to form their lineup as well as their game strategy.

Do I start a lefty power hitter or a slapper in the leadoff spot? Is the risk of getting caught stealing and sacrificing an out worth it? Have squeeze bunts historically worked for my team?

Looking back at the data for scenarios like these can give coaches confidence in their decision-making rather than just relying on intuition. The numbers will never lie, so it is crucial for coaches to make use of them in these revolutionary new ways in softball, or risk being left behind.

As Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy once said in an interview: “If you’re doing the same thing you were doing five years ago, you’re getting run over by the competition.”

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