While in the softball on deck circle, there is much more to do than visiting with friends and family in the stands, or answering a question from teammates in the dugout. Part of the job is done before the player even gets out to the circle. There are aspects of the upcoming at bat that are game related that will improve success a the plate as well as aspects that are related to the actual swing. We as coaches know that there are things that are helpful for the batter to be doing or thinking about, and things that are counterproductive. The trick is to be able to educate the players and the parents on the benefits of good communication and autonomy while on the field.
What often happens when the player comes out of the dugout is that she picks up the bat and takes a few swings, then looks around to see where everyone is, maybe says hi to parents or friends who are watching. The other and sometimes more disruptive event she needs to respond to at times, is a parent who is attempting to relay instructions to her to improve her at bat, or maybe she or he is trying help her to be confident. Something like, “you can do it” or even “home run coming right up here”
Softball On Deck Circle Preparation
Game Related Considerations:
One of the most important things that the batter needs to do while in the on deck circle, is to analyze the situation she is stepping into. Know what is happening and what her job is going to be to enhance the team’s ability to score runs. Following are some considerations:
- inning and score
- number of outs
- where are the baserunners
- defensive alignment
- history of the pitcher
- current state of the pitcher
- how the pitcher pitched to the previous batter
This might seem like a lot to remember. Part of it can actually be done before even getting to the on deck circle by being aware and following the game closely. This is why the on deck circle should be attached to the whole concept of what do we do while in the dugout. By being familiar with the entire situation before leaving the dugout, more time can be spent on the performance preparation.
Performance Related Considerations:
So now, aside from the player who is currently in the batter’s box, the player has all the information she needs to begin her at bat. Now it is time to prepare to have an effective swing at the plate regardless of what offensive signal the coach calls. Here are some preparation tools.
A common activity in preparation to swing is to use a bat that is heavier than the one the player will be using at the plate. Although this may make the actual swing seem easier, it is not effective. The practice swing is slowed down due to the weight of the bat and in reality, teaches the muscles to swing slow. By using the bat she will actually be swinging, her body will be more prepared and ready to attack the ball. This is where the timing the pitch is important.
One way that she can attempt to time the pitch, is to count during the pitch. For example … “one, two, three swing”. This may or may not happen at the plate, but it will give the batter some idea when to expect the ball at the front of the plate which is where she wants to make contact. It needs to be at whatever pattern the batter uses rather than a pattern used by someone else. It should be comfortable and natural. For example, counting for some batters a “one, two, three” might be a “one, two” because their pattern is faster.
I have often seen batters in the on deck circle swinging the bat as if they are simply going through the motions. In order to maximize the time spent in that circle, it is useful to actually rehearse the correct hitting mechanics. We have all heard about muscle memory in learning skills. This actually does count. By simply going through the motions, the batter is teaching herself and her body that it is ok sometimes to not swing correctly. We know how that can end. If we are trying to enhance consistency, we need the players to be a part of that process.
When the players are in the batter’s box, it is not a bad time to be doing video analysis. That is where you will see if they are having difficulty with the mechanics. If they know they are being videotaped, There is a good chance that they will try to swing correctly. This would be done without the stresses of being in the batters box where there are so many other things to distract them.
Mental Training Considerations
All softball coaches know that mental skills are an important part of the game. The level that we emphasize them may vary between programs but that does not mean any one coach is more or less familiar. We all know, that in the on deck circle is where the player mentally prepares to have a good at bat. Her routine or how she mentally prepares will depend on her confidence, her experience and any fear that might be lingering based on past or future performances. This will also be affected by what she hears or sees from those around her.
Teach your players not only how to use mental skills, but also how to regulate and to focus the awareness on the moment at hand. There could be any number of events that might have affected her confidence or readiness. For this reason, she needs to be able to find a way to be ready to perform to her best ability at the time. She is the only one who will know exactly what that is in the moment.