Team drills for softball are not always easy to find. I have compiled many drills from various sources that you can use for your team at any time of the season.
Team Drills for Softball
PITCHERS, BATTERS AND SELF-DEFENCE
Pitchers get hit by line drives and screaming one-hoppers. Batters get hit by wild inside pitches.
The key to big improvements in pitcher/batter reaction times does not lie in extending the pitching distances. It lies in improving the player’s reaction time. A 5 year old student of the martial arts can be trained to have very quick reactions from an attack coming from as little as 2′ away. They react to the attack because they have had experience defending/deflecting the attack. They are experienced at it from being placed in the exact same situation hundreds of times at their practice sessions with their instructors.
A batter and pitcher can also be trained to have very quick reactions to an attack from a softball coming from 35′ to 46′ away. However, they are seldom put in that EXACT same situation in their practice sessions. They do not have the experience dealing with that exact situation, therefore, they do not react well, they react too late or they do not react at all.
The pitcher is the closest fielder to the batter, the closest in the line of fire. They stand directly in line with the center of the playing field. Therefore, they have the least amount of reaction time to a ball hit back at them. When the ball is hit, at that instant, the pitcher is also the only fielder that is NOT in a down, set and ready defensive posture/stance. The other fielders are already in their defensive stance, down, set and ready. The pitcher has just finished throwing the pitch and, at the moment the ball is hit, probably still has a little forward momentum/travel going on, still a little off balance and is standing up. I think it is safe to say the pitcher has everything going against them as far as defense is concerned.
These are all contributing factors to pitchers being hit. Despite these things going against them, there is one simple fact that cannot be denied; if they reacted in time, they would not have gotten hit or at least might have deflected the ball a little and not gotten hit so hard.
The key word here is REACT. You train your infielders to react to a line drive or a fast one hopper. They don’t have to decide what to do; they just react and defend themselves because they have been through that exact same situation hundreds of times at practice. Drilling your pitcher while she is in a down, set and ready position, like a 3rd baseman, is good and will surely help a little. However, this is NOT a realistic game situation for a pitcher that will have to defend themselves at the very end of their pitch. How often do you have your pitchers practice receiving line drives and fast one hoppers WHILE SHE IS PITCHING? She is not going to be set and ready for one back at her when she is pitching. She is going to be forced to defend herself while she is standing up, off balance and maybe even still moving forward. More than likely she will be moving when she will have to defend herself from the ball.
I have heard numerous responses to the safety issues regarding the recent pitching distance change from 35′ to 40′.
In pitching, the ball travel time is measured from the point of release (usually around 4′ in front of the pitcher’s rubber) to the point where it will/might be hit by the batter (usually around 1 foot in front of home plate). So, the distance that matters, the ball travel distance, is normally around 5′ less than the regulation distance. This can be easily calculated if you know the ball speed and distance. The same formula is applied to calculate ball travel time from a pitch thrown to the batter, or a hit ball coming towards the pitcher (the pitcher is now 4′ closer to the batter).
The batters and the pitchers at the 12 under level now have an extra 5′ of ball travel time to react to a wild inside pitch, a screaming line drive or one hopper coming at their body.
Let’s do the math and see just how much more time they will have to react at different ball speeds.
At 30mph a ball will travel:
158,400 ft per hour (5,280 x 30)
2,640 ft per minute (158,400 divided by 60)
44 ft per second (2,640 divided by 60)
At 35′ (30 divided by 44) the batter has .681 seconds to react.
At 40′ (35 divided by 44) they will have .795 seconds.
A difference of .114 seconds more at 40′.
At 35mph, using the same equations:
51.3ft per second
At 35′ – .584 seconds
At 40′ – .682 seconds
A difference of .098 seconds more at 40′
58.6′ per second
At 35′ – .512 seconds
At 40′ – .597 seconds
A difference of .077 seconds at 40′
At 50mph73.3′ per second
At 35′ – .409 seconds
At 40′ – .477 seconds
A difference of .068 seconds
At 60mph88.0′ per second
At 35′ – .341 seconds
At 40′ – .397 seconds
A difference of .056 seconds at 40′
At 70mph102.7 ft per second
At 35′ – .292 seconds
At 40′ – .341 seconds
A difference of .049 seconds at 40′
I am going to carry this out to 80mph. I have seen girls that have just turned 13, have a bat swing speed of 75mph.
At 80mph – 117.3 ‘ per second
At 35′ – .256 seconds
At 40′ – .298 seconds.
A difference of .042 seconds at 40′
So, a ball coming at a pitcher/batter, between 30mph and 80mph, will have an additional .042 seconds to .114 seconds with the extra 5′ of ball travel time. If the thought of that extra 5′ made you feel very comfortable for your pitcher’s/batter’s safety, I hope you realize how little added time it actually gives them.
Anything that gives even THAT slight amount of extra time WILL help and prevent some injuries. The ASA has done about all it could do to help make the game safer and still keep the game as nearly the same as it was. I applaud them for that but it is only the first and a very small step towards a noticeable improvement/reduction in these types of injuries.
If you think moving the pitching distance back 5’ will make a tremendous amount of difference for a pitcher/batter that does not react well now, it probably won’t. The ones that get hit the hardest and hurt the worst are not the ones that did not have time to react, that is not the case. They are the players that failed to react AT ALL!
I see coaches practice their pitcher’s defense skills by hitting line drives to them while the pitcher is in a down, set and ready position, like they were playing 3rd base. That is good and it helps but it is not nearly enough. The fact remains that this is NOT a realistic game situation for a pitcher that has to react in self-defense of a hard hit ball.
A pitcher must be trained to react to a hit ball at the end of their pitch, while they are off balance and standing, just like when the balls are hit back to them in a real game. If a coach thinks training their pitchers to defend themselves, like they were a 3rd baseman, is doing everything they can to help prevent injuries, they are sadly mistaken. The overwhelming vast majority of the responsibility to keep pitchers safe falls onto the shoulders of the parents, coaches and instructors of softball players, exactly where it was before any pitching distance rule changes were made.
You cannot point at a rule, rulebook or any softball organization and simply say; “You must make it safe for my pitcher to play the game”. If you do not do everything to teach the player to react to the self-defense situation they will encounter during the game, you have yourself to blame.
FORCE THEM TO REACT AT PRACTICE AND THEY WILL REACT IN THE GAME. You must change their response from a decision to a reaction. The worst hit players I have seen are the ones that do not react at all. Their eyes open up real wide, their mouth drops open, then they get their nose broken, having never made an effort to defend themselves or get out of the way. I urge all coaches to make sure you practice your pitcher’s/batter’s self-defense EXACTLY like they will have to defend themselves during a game.
Here are a few ideas to help train your pitcher in a realistic self-defence game situation.
1. Have them pitch at practice, have them pitch the ball to their catcher. Stand just outside the batter’s box and fire a wiffle ball back at them with a tennis racquet, just as fast as a hit ball would be and at the same exact time it would be hit by the batter. Make it a random thing, just like the game. Don’t fire one back with every pitch. Instead, make it a surprise attack just like the game. Chest, waist, knees and one-hoppers. Swing the racquet sidearm so the ball comes back from the same level as a hit ball would come.
2. Stand about ten feet in front and just to the side of the pitcher and throw a woofle ball back at them sidearm to duplicate the same thing. Again, make this random.
3. Set up a pitching machine just to the outside of the batter’s box, one that can fire woofle balls. Do the exact same thing. Leave the lock downs loose for the left/right and up/down adjustments so you can fire them at their chest, waist, knees, one hoppers etc.
4. This drill will not exactly duplicate the game situation but it is great for developing hand to eye coordination for pitchers that must defend themselves while they are in motion. Have your pitcher doing a jogging motion on a single person trampoline. Fire the woofle balls at them as they are jogging and in motion. Make them defend themselves while they are moving, just like they will have to do in a real game situation. (This is also a great drill for ALL the infielders to help develop quick eyes and hands for defence AND self-defence.)
The numbers above are the exact same amounts of time a batter has to react to a wild inside pitch coming at them at the same speeds. Now, for the batters, here is what I do to prepare them for wild inside pitches during the game.
When I throw batting practice, I throw from a bucket of balls. The bucket is to my side, sitting on a chair. Mixed in with the softballs are 2 softball-sized woofle balls. When I grab another ball I secret it into my glove so the batter does not know what type of ball is coming. At random, I will pull out a woofle ball and intentionally throw right at the batter. I make it a big surprise and I force them to react and deal with the self-defense situation. I place them in the exact same situation they will face in the game.
I do this as a test to make sure they react as taught and to make sure they react PERIOD. I also do it to give them experience dealing with a wild inside pitch. I urge every parent/coach/instructor to duplicate the exact same self-defense situations, in practice, that their players will encounter when it happens in their games. You might be very surprised at how badly some of your players react. You might get very worried to see how many of your players do not react AT ALL.
Experience dealing with the exact same self-defense situation in practice is the ONLY thing that will give the player the experience necessary to develop the quick and appropriate self-defense reactions needed when it happens in the game. Teaching the players to react is the ONLY answer for a big reduction in these types of injuries.
Although the numbers above illustrate the 12 under distances and times, the same training can be applied to every level of play.
Start by placing your infielders at their positions (except the pitcher). The ball starts at the catcher, she throws to the second baseman, she throws to the third baseman, she throws to the first baseman, she throws to the shortstop, and she throws back to the catcher. The whole time this is going on you have a runner run the bases. They leave at the same time as the catcher starts the cycle. It starts out easy for the fielders because they tend to start in kind of close and creep in. I let them do that for a while, till it gets too easy, then I make them start backing up. After they get a few steps in the grass the faster runners start making it close. The runners like to see a dropped or missed ball.
This really helps on the infielder’s learning to get rid of the ball quickly and is great as a part of your team drills for softball.
This is a good game for all aspects of stealing. Put players at each of the infield positions. Have the rest of the team put on helmets and line up at 1st base. The base runners will each run the bases in this pattern: lead off, steal. You may only have one runner on the bases at time. The first runner gets ready on first. The pitcher pitches the ball and the runner takes a lead. The catcher attempts a pick-off at first and the runner tries to get back in time. On the next pitch the runner attempts to steal second and the catcher tries to throw her out. The runner proceeds with a big lead at second, stealing third and big lead off at third. The final pitch for that runner is a deliberate passed ball/wild pitch, which gives the catcher and pitcher a chance to practice this play.
To encourage the runners to take big leads and to teach them what they can get away with we will place little pieces of candy in the dirt as a challenge. If they can grab the candy and get back safely, they can keep the candy. After they have done this drill a couple of times, allow the runners to do a “delayed steal” on their lead offs. If the catcher throws to first, the runners can attempt to go to second. This way the catchers learn to recognize the delayed steal and run the base runner back.
The drill gives the catcher a lot of practice throwing to the bases, allows the infielders to practice positioning themselves for and putting on the tag, and allows the base runners a chance to practice leading off, sliding.
3 TEAM SCRIMMAGE
I have coached girls softball for Little League for 4 years starting in B-ball. With at least a 12 girl team, young girls can become bored with drill after drill and yet they want to experience every position.
I have a scrimmage that is made of 3 teams of 4. One team consists of the outfield, the second, the infield and the third bats. After the 3 outs, the outfield moves to the infield, the infield bats and the batters go to the outfield. Etc., etc.
It has worked our terrifically in building excitement for game situations, letting them experience both outfield and infield and be competitive. We can have ourselves a game without hunting for another team to play against.
1) Have two players stand 10-20 feet apart.
2) Player one throws a ground ball to player two. Player Two fields and throws back to player
3) Player Two then runs toward Player one. She will circle player one, returning to her spot. Player one will throw fly ball as a quarterback to a receiver. We also throw short and long and to right and left.
4) Then after player two gets the ball she throws it back to player one. Then player one throws back to player two. Then player two gives the ground ball to player one repeating the process.
END YOUR PRACTICE THE RIGHT WAY
Softball is not all total concentration or a constant onslaught of drills, drills and more drills. There is a time to have some fun in our team drills for softball and still learn or polish some skills. I like to use the end of practice for a fun game that can create some team bonding while still focusing on softball fundamentals.
One of the best games I have used is called “Barney Bop”. The tools needed are a sturdy chair, a large stuffed toy (I use Barney, hence the name) and preferably a backstop or net to place behind the target. Start by placing “Barney” in the chair and if needed, prop him up to get him about 3-4 feet off the ground and place the chair with Barney straddling 1st base. Place a net behind the chair. Now divide your team up into 2 groups and have them line up in 2 columns at the shortstop position. Have the 1st player from team 1 take the first play. Hit a grounder the player 1. She must cleanly field the ball and make a throw to 1st base trying to knock Barney out of the chair. If this is done, her team scores 1 point. Then the 1st player from team 2 takes the next play and does the same thing. Do this until all of the players have had at least one turn. You can move the players from shortstop to 2nd base and do the same game. I have also had the players set up out in the outfield and place the chair at 2nd base to teach a good throw to 2nd. Try to have some type of prize for the winning team, like not carrying the equipment or something like that.
Another game I like is called “3, 2, 1, Run”. In this game, again divide the team up into 2 teams. One team is at bat and one team is lined up behind 3rd base. Take 3 balls and line them up at intervals of about 5-7 feet apart from 3rd base toward home plate. They should end about half way between 3rd base and home plate. The team at home is called team 1 and the ones on defense are team 2. Have the 1st player from team 2 stand on 3rd base with her glove while the 1st player from team 1 is at home plate. When the coach says, “Go”, the defensive player must run to the 1st ball, pick it up and make a throw to a teammate standing at 2nd base (I have a bucket there to drop the balls into), then go to the 2nd ball and do the same thing and on to the 3rd ball. The player at home starts running at the sound of “Go” and runs to 1st base and on to 2nd. The object of this game is to throw all 3 balls to the defensive player at 2nd base before the offensive player gets there. This is a LOT harder than it sounds, but it teaches making fast, accurate throws while under pressure.
After all members of each team have had a turn, switch places. You may have to adjust the distance between balls to make it fair for each team.