I love adult kickball, almost to the point of obsession. Combining co-ed athletic competition, a childhood staple, and the social atmosphere after games, I was hooked almost immediately after being re-introduced to the game a few years ago.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept (and if this is the case, I am so sad for your lost childhood experience), kickball is a combination of baseball and dodgeball – kick large rubber ball, run around bases, score runs. The defense attempts to catch the ball and throw you out, but they can also throw the ball and hit you.
There is a World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA), a sanctioning body that organizes leagues all across the country (and world, presumably). I first started playing adult kickball in Columbia, South Carolina. Their league used to be sanctioned by WAKA but the city’s parks and recreation department took the league over when the cost of WAKA proved to be a hindrance. I’ve played in Columbia since 2008, save for the spell I lived in Ohio (and started a team in a nearby league with the local young professionals’ group).
My team in Columbia featured Stefon, the best pitcher in the league. He could throw crazy curveballs left or right, could pitch fast or slow, and made a lot of kickers look silly on wild leg swings. Here’s some old footage of his talents:
After I left for Ohio my old team disbanded. When I returned to the south I joined another team in the Columbia league. Unfortunately they no longer had a viable pitcher so I volunteered. The first game I attempted to pitch was against the best team in the league and defending champion (a team whose name is tasteless and not viable for public consumption). I tried to emulate Stefon’s style, using both trickery and accuracy, and failed miserably. I had seen someone else succeed with this activity in the past from far away, but without having practiced it I was unsuccessful in replicating that success. I clearly did NOT know how to pitch.
So as the season went on and we rotated pitchers (not unlike throwing noodles against the wall and seeing what sticks) I continued experimenting with different concepts:
– Arm angles
– Hand placements on the kickball
– Pitch selections (first time through a lineup everyone sees just one type of pitch, and the second time through it changes)
– Pitch bounciness
I kept a mental note of what combination of pitch style, speed, and starting location provided the best probability of success. I defined success as both a combination of accuracy (called a ball or strike) and what a kicker does with the pitch (what direction they kicked the ball, whether it was a pop-up or a line drive). Ideally I want to throw strikes, but the more important outcome is getting kickers to pop their kicks up and kick the ball to the left side of the field (relative to standard baseball strategy) so they are more likely to create outs.
By learning by doing, I had a better understanding of what what works and what doesn’t. I had a defined desired outcome (accuracy of pitches for each pitch style I elected to use) and had identified and created techniques to accomplish those outcomes. Was everything perfect? Certainly not, but over the season the improvements were notably significant.
The biggest test of success came in our second playoff game, which happened to be against the Tastelessly Named Team previously indicated. They had finished the regular season undefeated, plowing through all of their opponents along the way. The first time our teams had played (when I had pitched poorly) they probably had their biggest blowout victory of the season.
This time was clearly different, though. Between our improved defensive alignment and my better control (not mastery!) of my pitches, along with dictating where the kickers would kick the ball relative to our defensive alignment, we shut them down.
Our offense was just good enough to give us an extra innings win at 2-1. This was the lowest run total they had all season by far, and while it wasn’t just the improved pitching that made all the difference it certainly played a big part in allowing my team to move on in the playoffs.
By using a Kaizen mindset on kickball pitching and identifying what concepts and activities will provide the best means for on-field success, we were able to stun the defending champion when it mattered most.