By Greg Bach
Most young softball players will go through dreaded slumps at some point during the season, suffering through frustrating stretches of strikeouts and groundouts where reaching base suddenly seems impossible.
SportingKid Live checked in with Jen Fisher, head women’s softball coach at Colorado State, who shares one of her favorite drills – and one of their most effective ones – for boosting players’ productivity at the plate.
And get this: it doesn’t even require a bat.
“An outstanding drill that we started doing with our team and have really seen positive benefits with is to have the player stand in the batters’ box – without a bat – in a bunting or hitting stance and then catch with their glove only the pitches that are strikes, and let the balls go, just as if they would when they are hitting in a game,” Fisher explains. “Start with pitches down the middle of the strike zone and at a speed that is about the speed your hitters see on a daily basis. Once the hitters are doing this well, have them work on catching some pitches on the inside part of the plate and then on the outside part of the plate.”
If your team has access to a pitching machine you can add this variation to the drill: “You can begin to crank up the pitching machine so that maybe they can catch balls that are even 5-10 mph faster than what they typically might see,” Fisher says. “This will help tremendously with the ‘fear’ many hitters have that causes them to jump or suppress one of their eyes, disallowing them to be ready to hit.”
Since being an effective hitter requires seeing the ball well and then of course reacting to, this drill helps players hone in on those visualization skills that can be the difference between getting on base or grabbing a seat on the bench after making an out.
“Most problems in hitting really do begin with a lack of seeing the ball well,” says Fisher, the 2012 Mountain West Coach of the Year. “When a young player, or a Division I athlete for that matter, is struggling at the plate, I like to start with their ability to see the release and to track the pitch.”
The above drill forces hitters’ eyes to track the ball rather than remain focused elsewhere for that split second that can prove costly and make it really difficult to make contact with the pitch.
“Make sure that they are picking up the release point and tracking the pitch – not leaving their eyes on the pitcher after the release,” Fisher says.
Here are a couple of other suggestions Fisher shares to bolster your team’s plate production:
“We like our hitters to do a couple of sacrifice bunts at the beginning of their batting practice rounds,” Fisher says. “The players can take just two minutes to do it at the beginning of their batting round to get them dialed in. If they swing and miss a few times in the middle of the round, we have them go back to getting a good bunt or two down.”
“The skills of vision and timing are so crucial that it is never too young to start teaching them and helping your hitters have an understanding of them,” Fisher says. “If the hitter focuses on just these two things, you will likely see drastic improvement.”
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery shares his practice exit strategy to help bolster players' mindsets and build confidence
The quiet eye and predictive control: how they impact performance
Understand these stages – cognitive, associative, autonomous – to help lead your young athletes to greater performances
Three-time Olympian Leah O’Brien-Amico on helping young athletes take ownership of their efforts and perform at their best