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Important Fastpitch Hitting Practice Tips

by Stacie ~ May 13th, 2013. Filed under: Coach Softball, Softball Hitting, Softball Tips, Stacie's Thoughts.

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Over and over and over again I get emails from coaches and parents telling asking for help with players that hit well in practice but not in the game.

In a previous post I mentioned that a lot of that can be mental.

However, it could also be that you never practice hitting the way it’s performed in a game. Granted you can’t recreate a game environment entirely, but the mistake many coaches make is they take the decision making process out of all hitting drills. They do soft toss, tee work, front toss, hitting off a machine and in NONE of those drills do their hitters need to make a decision on whether or not they are going to swing.

That’s a HUGE problem which WILL show itself in game performances over the course of the season.

You see, in a game, a player must..

– recognize a pitch (speed, spin, location, etc)
– make a decision about whether or not they are going to swing
– THEN execute a good swing

When you only do hitting drills such as the ones mentioned above, this process NEVER happens in practice. Then in the game you expect players to flawlessly progress through this process and execute a good swing. That’s not a fair expectation.

Now I get that live hitting practice takes time and many coaches don’t want to do it much. In live hitting practice, players often get less hitting reps over a longer period of time. It’s certainly not the most efficient way to groove a good swing or practice hitting technique.

That’s why coaches constantly look for the best drills and gadgets that allow their players to take the highest number of reps in the shortest amount of time for maximum effieciency. This is not a bad thing it’s just that…

1) the point of live hitting isn’t to groove a good swing/technique (that’s what other hitting drills and stations ARE good for)

2) more is not always better – being able to take a high number of swings in a short period of time is great, but remember what the point of your hitting practice is. Most times you’re trying to develop GOOD hitting technique and mechanics. That is NOT always accomplished by high reps in a short period of time which often leads to rushing through drills with little to no true engagement with what you’re doing.

In fact, I’d rather have a hitter take their time and get 10 solid, good reps in than go fast and get 20 reps in but 10 are good and 10 are not so good.

Any time you take a rep that’s “not so good” you’re training yourself to perform the skill “not so well.”
As much as possible, design your hitting drills and stations so your players are practicing a higher ratio of GOOD swings vs “not so good” swings. Minimize the “not so good” as much as possible.

If this means slowing down and taking less reps for higher quality, so be it!

Back to incorporating the decision making process in your hitting practice…
I DO like live hitting as a way of doing this. Do some kind of fastpitch hitting drill where the ball is coming toward the hitters and not every pitch is an automatic swing.

If you’d rather not do live hitting and prefer to keep most your hitting practice in smaller quarters and stations…

One of the simplest ways you can include the decision making process in your hitting practice is with a colored ball or numbered ball drill.

Colored ball drill
Mark your hitting practice balls with colored dots. If possible, use three different colors (only use one color on any given ball!).

Have one color represent “hit,” another color represent “take one,” and the last color represent “bunt.”

You can use these in soft toss or front toss. The hitter will have to identify the color of the dots on the ball, then perform the appropriate action. Obviously the more/bigger dots you have on the balls, the easier this drill is. Remember, you can always start with smaller/less dots and increase the size/number of dots if you need to, but you can’t go the other way!

Numbered ball drill
The numbered ball drill works similarly to the colored ball drill only with numbers (perfect for if you only have one color marker available). It may be a little tougher to do three different numbers, but it can be done.

The simplest way to use numbers is to write either 1’s or 0’s on the balls.

When a hitter sees a “1” they hit, if they see a “0” they take or bunt (your choice on any given day/drill).

You can also number the balls higher, then use even numbers for “hit” and odd numbers for “take/bunt.”

Obviously, that’s a little more difficult. Now the hitter has to recognize the number, think about whether it’s odd or even, THEN execute the proper action. Yikes!

Last but not least, you can number the balls with three different numbers instead of three different colors and assign hit/bunt/take as in the colored ball drill above.

For example, use 1, 2, 3 (little tougher) and assign, hit/bunt/take accordingly.

OR you can use 0 (take), 5 (bunt), and 10 (hit). This set up seems to be easier for players because it’s pretty simple to associate 0 with “do nothing/take.” Big number/double digits/10 with “YES! Hit the ball!” and the small number, 5, with the “short game/small ball/bunt.”

No matter what method you choose, just remember to incorporate some kind of decision making process in your hitting practice from time to time. Don’t remove it completely, make every hitting practice rep a “go” ball, then expect your team to be “choosey” or “disciplined” on game day. Give them a chance to develop their brain and their swing in practice.

Pick a color drill
This one requires a little less thinking but still adds some decision making process to your hitting practice. Front toss two different color wiffle balls at the batter. AFTER you release (or right on release) you call out the color of the ball you want them to hit. The batter’s goal is to hit the correct ball. Simple but fun and challenging at the same time šŸ™‚

Happy hitting!

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About the Author
Stacie Mahoe shares lessons learned from decades around the diamond. Enjoy her unique insights on softball and life from years as a player, coach, parent, and fan of the game.

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