Changing Softball By: Deven Boland – Assistant Coach, NIACC Softball
Awhile back while scrolling through “softball Twitter” I came across this Tweet from Deven Boland – click on the link and check out this Twitter thread, it is worth your while – that stirred up great thought and good conversation. Boland tracked and recorded defensive data from a subset of 2019 NCAA DI regional round contests to look at, “how [best can we] avoid increasing, or better yet, decrease the number of opportunities it takes on our way to 21 outs?”. We asked Boland if he’d like to share his results with our audience here at FPN, below is his piece.
Big thank you to Deven Boland for sharing this with FPN and our audience!
By: Deven Boland – Assistant Coach, NIACC Softball
Nestled between cornfields, underneath turning windmills, and set out from the hidden metropolis that is Mason City you will find North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC). Why do you need to know about this NJCAA Division II school NIACC? Because we are the most analytically driven and innovative softball program in the nation and our staff, Dan Gratz (Head Coach), Halie Greenwood (Assistant Coach), and I are here to change softball. The companies we work with and products we use include: Rapsodo, K-Vest, BlastMotion, Elite Baseball, Dominate the Dish, Diamond Kinetics, Longworth Velo Lab, V-Flex, DriveLine, and Jaeger Sports. What is the purpose of all these services, technologies, and products?
Our mission is to develop better individual softball players. If we cannot measure it, then we do not know if we are improving. We have numbers and programs for every facet of the game, and it is all individualized. Because each metric is measured and programmed to the rep, we can easily duplicate things that are working, or quickly correct things that are not. Our method completely removes any guessing or bias from our player development. We also follow a constraint-led approach to our development. Allowing constraints to do the work not only allows for more efficient motor learning, but also stops us from the using the unsuccessful cue-led approach that dominates our game. The game continues to change, and we will always be ahead of the pack because of our acceptance of change and never-ending adaptation to new innovations. There is no roadmap for the work we are doing at NIACC because we are the only program in the country doing all that we are doing.
I oversee our pitching and defense while our head coach, Dan, oversees our hitting and offensive skills (If you want to know more about the work we do with our offense, you can check out his twitter). Thanks to the work of Joshua Johnson, S2 Breakthrough, and Dr. Kaila Holtz, I am able to follow in their footsteps in developing our pitchers. Defense is a different story. Tucker Frawley and Kainoa Correa do great work in baseball, but I had to create the blueprint myself for softball and that led me to my best project to date.
I charted every out opportunity I saw as I watched the 2019 NCAA Division I Regionals to determine what was and what was not important for defense. Here were my findings:
With everything we do at NIACC, these numbers are used as a guide. The numbers are not the end-all-be-all, but it helps us draw a roadmap for what we need defensively. This defensive data allows us to better utilize our players’ skillsets at the position they best fit or train the skills that they may be lacking at a position. Not only does it tell us what does happen and when, but it also allows us to eliminate certain things from our practices that are not useful.
When I tweeted about this project, I had some pushback on some of the data and it is troubling that people in our sport still argue with data. That does explain, however, why we still have many coaches that believe a sacrifice bunt is a productive outcome – there is data that proves it is not – but that is a topic for another day. The sport of softball is lagging in innovation, but thankfully I have the opportunity to work with an innovative leader that is helping to grow the game along with the others mentioned above and many additional forward-looking people I did not get the opportunity to list.
Our program is where it is because of Dan’s tireless drive to learn and develop. We also receive great support from our Athletic Director and we are fortunate enough to be able to partner with our baseball program which is a player development machine because of the leadership of Travis Hergert. It takes everyone to develop a culture of player development and innovation.
If would like the PDF version of the data or have any questions/comments you can find me on twitter (@Bolandev3). Listed in the article and their Twitter Handle:
Dan Gratz (DGratz13)
Halie Greenwood (halieg_27)
Elite Baseball (Elite_Baseball)
Dominate the Dish (Coach_Coxy)
Diamond Kinetics (@DiamondKinetics)
Longworth Velo Lab (@ClongBaseball)
Jaeger Sports (@JaegerSports)
Joshua Johnson (@JJPower19)
Dr. Kaila Holtz (KailaHoltz)
S2 Breakthrough (@S2_Breakthrough)
Tucker Frawley (@INFchatter)
Kainoa Correa (@ThatGuy_Kai)
Travis Hergert (@CoachHerg)
NIACC Trojans (@NIACCTrojans)