Productivity at the plate
By Greg Bach
During the course of a softball season many players will encounter the dreaded slump, where hits evaporate, confidence fades and frustration mounts.
As the coach, it’s on you to help your players regain their form and poise at the plate.
SportingKid Live asked Utah State softball coach Steve Johnson for the best ways – and the quickest route – to get young hitters back on track when they are mired in a slump that is keeping them off the bases and hampering your team’s ability to generate runs. Here’s what he had to say:
FREE THEIR MIND, REFINE THEIR SWING
Coaches sometimes have a tendency to pile on instructions when working with a youngster who is struggling. This can result in information overload that simply adds to the child’s problems rather than resolves them.
“Never overload them with too many things as their mind will be filled with clutter and they will never be successful,” Johnson says. “The best way to help any hitter when they are struggling is to stay positive with them and pinpoint exactly what they are doing wrong. Try to identify one or two major things they can work on to start with.”
SMALL SUCCESSES CARVE OUT CONFIDENCE
It’s important to venture back to the basics to help smooth out a player’s swing, which refuels their confidence when they experience success performing basic drills.
“Give them drills that specifically help that area and that they can be successful with,” Johnson says. “Those drills need to start very basic at first – usually either dry swings or tee work. They have to experience success in the drills to build confidence in themselves and confidence in what the coach is asking them to do.”
BUSTING BAD HABITS
As you’re leading your players through drills make sure not to jump ahead too quickly to a more complex one, which can result in a return to bad habits and unproductive plate appearances.
“Dry swings and tee work eliminate many of the more complicated variables to hitting – mainly the ball coming at them and them trying to hit a moving object,” Johnson explains. “As they progress on the tee, you can move up to front toss and eventually into ‘feel good’ live. Just be careful not to move too fast to live or only use live. During live, they will go back to what they are comfortable with, which is usually the bad habits.”
MENTAL WORKOUT – IT’S ALL ABOUT MUSCLE MEMORY
Working on the swing basics practice after practice can be tiresome for players, so keep the positive vibes going by letting them know that to be a good hitter requires having a solid foundation of the basic skills. And it takes a lot of practice.
The more time they spend working on everything from their stance to their swing, the greater the chances of being successful when they step to the plate on Game Day.
“They need to work on the small stuff first as much as possible to build muscle memory,” Johnson says. “So when they step in against a pitcher, it becomes automatic and they don’t have to think about it.”
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