By Tom Mauldin
What’s your favorite softball drill? We all have them. Many we like because we immediately see the benefit. Or as coaches often say, “once you feel it, you own it.”
That’s the goal of every drill and if done properly, the benefits are many.
Here are a half-dozen from some of college softball’s most successful coaches.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea:
“I can’t say I have a most successful drill. I am very drill oriented and all about the process. The game is game of repetition. If you look at a game, first thing is to play catch - it’s the foundation of playing defense and learning how to communicate. We spend most of our time on those basic things. One drill we do often is the 21-out drill with a goal of playing perfect defense. I hit a ball and the play has to be made perfect ... perfect throw to first, perfect throw to pitcher, perfect throw to catcher. Goal is to get 21 outs in 15 minutes. If they don’t reach their goal, they run foul lines equal to the number of outs they did not get.”
Greg Stewart, Oregon Institute of Technology head coach:
“When it comes to hitting, we do a lot of tee work, but one drill I like for young players and advanced players is doing soft toss and tee drills off a balance platform.
PURPOSE: To work on hitters having proper explosive rotation with their lower half while limiting head movement and staying balanced from contact to the finish of their swing.
EXPLANATION: Here is how our platform is built: First, find or cut to length a 1” (3/4) thick by 12” wide by 4 foot long piece of shelving wood. Second, cut a 4X4 square post into three 12” long blocks. Attach the post blocks (which raise your platform off the ground) at both ends and in the middle of the shelving wood by drilling wood screws through the top of the shelf into the post blocks. The 12” block length is to match the 12” width of the shelf. Then, you can cut a piece of turf or carpet the same dimension as your platform and either nail or screw it on so that it is attached very tightly. The platform can be up to five feet long if you prefer.
Now that your platform is built, your hitters can do Tee, Soft-Toss, and Front-Toss drills while learning how to properly engage their lower half. If they do not stay balanced throughout their swing, they will simply step off.
Some coaching points we emphasize are:
- Proper pivot, drive, and rotation of the back foot (pushing off the ball of the foot and getting their heel to the sky)
- Proper hip rotation on inside, middle, and outside pitches
- Proper weight transfer/rotation from the load to hitting with a firm front side while staying balanced with a long extension (Have players hold their finish for a one second count every time they take a swing on the platform to ensure balance)
- Work on keeping head and eyes quiet with very limited movement Helps hitters to stride the same whether you prefer a no stride/heel lift or short glide step. (It prevents striding into the plate or “In the Bucket”).
Monte Sherrill, Pfeiffer College head coach:
“During our practices, players experience something entirely different than any program ( whether it be travel ball, middle school ball, or possible transfer) they have ever been a part. The number of batting cuts that we take each practice tallies upwards of 400 balls, and this one mere factor allows a player to have both repetition and instillation of the skills in which their individual swing requires. One drill in particular that allows qualitative and quantitative swings to be enforced is referred to "The Georgia Drill." This is a drill that I saw work extremely efficient at the University of Georgia's softball practice, and I altered a few things to make it applicable to our practices. This is simply a system of five pitching machines sectioned off by screens so that each player can move in an assembly line to the next pitching machine with efficiency and safety.
Another drill that we find valuable is the Rundown Drill in which our players run a mock rundown with runners at every base, and the priority being the runner on third heading home. The rundown drill brings into play every defensive skill set with the pressure of the rundown.
Mike Larabee, Central Washington University head coach:
Two of the most beneficial drills that we use are front toss with the V-Flex hitting model and we also use the V-Flex pitching model for our pitching workouts. Using the V-Flex for hitting conditions our hitters to swing at strikes through early pitch recognition. We use the V-Flex device three times a week and I have seen our hitters continue to get a better understanding of the strike zone and an acute awareness of the difference between a ball and a strike. The most important thing to be a great hitter is to get a good pitch to hit. The V-Flex pitching model provides our pitchers with brain generated targets. These targets represent an absolute depth value for the brain so it no longer has to guess, imagine or mentally visualize the strike zone. We also train with the V-Flex pitching model three times a week. Our location dramatically improved in three weeks.
Clackamas Community College coach Jessica Buel:
“We like to do live situations. We hit live at least twice a week. Gives our hitters more situations instead of just throwing to catchers. We do a lot of live running to stimulate live play for game time. And we do a lot of little, very basic fundamental drills. We work on tweeners and bloopers often as well.”
College of Idaho coach Al Mendiola:
“Short Game Scrimmage – allows our hitters to work on shortening their swings or bunting and at the same time it gives our infielders multiple ground balls. We can put our defense in a first and third or bunt defense situation. It also allows us to work on double plays with all infielders especially the pitchers and catchers. The thing I like about this drill is it allows our offense to put a lot of pressure on our defense in a controlled scrimmage.”