Scoop Drill (Helps younger players learn which way to use their glove)
Set Up: Plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut out. One half also needs to be cut out. It should resemble the set up of a softball glove, with one side cut out, so it looks like a scoop.
How it Works: Since a scoop is something that is carried outside the hand, younger players will be able to maneuver the scoop easier than having a glove on their hand. With the scoop shaped similar to a glove, they will begin to understand glove positioning.
Results: What you want to show the players is how their glove is just like the scoop. When they have the web side down for grounders, the ball rolls into the glove, etc.
Past Ball (Teaches younger players that they have to get in front of the ball in order to field properly)
Set Up: Gloves and tennis balls (or softies); two pylons about 10' apart
How it Works: Explain to the players that they cannot let the ball get past them and cross the imaginary line between the two pylons. Coach rolls or bounces the ball towards the player in an attempt to get the ball past them. Instruct them how to shuffle from side to side with their glove in front of them to get their entire body in front of the ball. Using the tennis balls or softies should remove most of the fear of getting hurt.
Results: Players need to learn at an early age how to shuffle their feet to get in position to field the ball. Keeping them between the pylons will help them gain range in their shuffle and help them learn to keep the ball in front of them.
Step Away Toss (Learning to throw and catch are two of the most basic elements of softball. This drill will work on both skills as well as help the players' arms condition themselves to throw longer and shorter distances. One of the frustrating parts of coaching young players is they don't have a sense of throwing softly for closer distances and throwing harder for longer distances.)
Set Up: Balls, gloves and an even number of players set up facing each other about one stride apart to begin.
How it Works: With the players facing each other about 3' apart, they should be instructed to place the ball in the other player's glove to start. Once both players successfully execute this part 3 times each, they take one giant step back from one another.
Results: Each time the players take a step back, they must learn to adjust the force of their throws and get used to catching the ball from differing distances.
INTERMEDIATE DRILLS (U8 & U10)
Lead Runner (After players master the throw to first, they need to learn how to throw out the lead runner. This drill will help them see the lead runner and also be able to make a decision on throwing to first base or to second/third base.
Set Up: Set up a regular infield with all positions on the field and a runner on first base.
How it Works: Pretty straightforward - With the runner on first base, you can hit to all of the positions and have them throw the ball to where the lead runner is headed (second base). Go through all of the positions and force them to not only field the ball, but to make the decision to throw it to second base rather than immediately to first. Note:To make this drill more interesting, you can either put a player on first and second or just on first. The first option makes the player throw it to either first, second or third, depending on the lead runner AND if they can make the throw accurately and on time. The second option can be done with the player on second base making a decision to run or not to run, making the fielding player decide to play the runner on second or make the throw to first.
Results: After continuing this drill over several practices, your players will learn to make the play and react to the different running situations they are going to be faced with during a game. The repetition will help the players learn to instinctively make the right play over time.
Hit the Relay (One of the most common plays that lead to errors in youth softball is hitting the cut-off man when a ball is hit to the opposite field and player is tagging up on either second or third base)
Set Up: Set up the field with a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, right fielder and a base runner on second base.
How it Works: At first, the coach can start by giving the ball to the right fielder and then signaling for the play to begin. This takes the element of trying to focus on catching the ball out of the equation until the players understands the concept of hitting the cut-off man. The right fielder should throw the ball to the cut-off man (second baseman) and then the second baseman throws to the third baseman to try and get the tag out. (This drill can also be run with a left fielder and a base runner on third base. Then the drill would be from the left field to the shortstop and then to home plate.)
Tag Out (Players at this age often understand how to throw players out at first base and some may have also learned the basics of a force play. They must also learn about tagging players out at bases. Before this drill, you will need to teach the players the difference between a force out and a tag out.)
Set Up: Set up your infield players and put a runner on second base to start.
How it Works: Hit grounders to the infield with the runner on second base. The players must understand that the runner can stay at second or run. If the player runs, then they can throw to third for a tag out. If the runner doesn't go, then the infielder can the look the runner off and throw to first. (There are several different variations of this drill that you can use - you can hit shallow fly balls into the outfield and then try and tag out the tagged up runner; you can hit line drives through the infield and if the players catch it, they have to throw to the base with the runner to try and get them out.
Results: Your players will have a better understanding of when they should be tagging out a runner and when a force play is warranted. This is an important element of the game and the younger you can teach it to a player, the better off they will be in softball.
Know Where To Go (Sometimes when the ball is hit, players just don't know where they are supposed to go. Often times, they will just sit around and watch the play develop and not go to where they really should be. This is a great drill to help them understand their responsibilities on the field)
Set Up: Set up your entire infield to start - you can add runners and outfielders later.
How it Works: As the players are in the field, you call out situations (assuming the situations have taught.) For example, what happens when a player hits a dribbler up the first base line? First base runs after the ball, second base or pitcher covers first, shortstop covers second, etc. You can go through several situations to get the players used to realizing that they have a responsibility on the field and they aren't supposed to be just standing around watching what everyone else is doing. Note: Make a game out of it by rewarding the players who get to their positions first after a scenario is called out.(To make it more interesting, add batting into the mix - you can run two drills at once - this one and batters trying to hit ground balls through the infield.
Results: The players will learn where they need to be during a play. They will learn that even if they aren't a part of the play, they should be. One mistake can make things go crazy on the field and if players aren't backing each other up or in position, it will affect their success.
Catch and Throw (It's good to show outfielders, at a young age, the appropriate way to approach a fly ball - especially if there is a base runner in scoring position)
Set Up: Set up three lines of players to indicate left, center and right fields and hit fly balls to the players.
How it Works: At first, you might want to start with the lines closer and hit soft low flies so the players can work on footwork. The footwork for this drill should be taught beforehand. It should be: back up a couple of steps behind where the ball is anticipated to drop and keep on foot behind the other, ready to take a step forward to catch the ball with momentum. Once they are ready to receive the ball, they should be stepping forward with their gloves prepared and their throwing hand ready to get the ball. Just prior to catching the ball, the player should take a couple of steps into the ball to build momentum and throw with momentum. It will take the players and a little while to catch on, so at first the drill should only be done from about 25 feet away and do short pop ups for them. As they gain confidence in preparing to throw right after the catch, you can move back and hit higher fly balls. You can add the runner that they have to throw out at second base or use the "Hit the Relay" drill to work on both areas at once.
ADVANCED DRILLS (U12 & U14):
Throw Them Out (This combines several concepts - Fielding the ball and making a throw while there is a runner running to different bases is a skill that needs to be repeated over and over in order for the skill to improve and become second nature)
Set Up: Set up an entire infield to start this drill, along with a line of runners at home plate.
How it Works: This is your standard throwing drill - except this one has a runner headed to first base. Now the pressure is on. The runners try to outrun the throw. The coach will go through each position and hit a grounder to them to field to first base. Award one point for the fielders if they can complete the out or one point for the runners that outrun the ball or make it to first base. Make it a competition between runners and fielders. What should be stressed is collecting the grounders, making sold and accurate throws and catching the ball.
Results: By adding the runners and testing the players' composure, they will quickly learn to make the right play and make it well. One of the most common reasons for losses in softball are errors. While errors are a part of softball, limiting them is one of the keys to victory.
Double Play Ball (The double play is one of the most exciting and effective plays in softball. It gets a team out of a jam when they need it the most, but it takes excellent timing and a lot of practice in order to execute it effectively)
Set Up: Set up an entire infield, a runner on first base and at home plate.
How it Works: Hit balls to different positions and the players need to make the throw to second base and then turn it to first base for the double play. The runners will try to disrupt the play and/or outrun the ball being thrown to their destination base. (Add a little variation by having runners on first, second and home plate and when the ball is hit, the players have to make the decision of whether they will take the lead runner and double play or if they take the easier double play and leave the lead runner. Further variations would also include having line drives hit and caught and then throwing to the bag where the runner was. For example, you can have a runner on second and when the line drive is hit, they fielder attempts to catch the ball and then make the double play at second base.)
Results: Once players that realize that a double play is just a series of single outs, it won't be as difficult to convince them they can do it. If you go through the motions and they understand what takes place during the double play, you will see a lot more of them turned in your games.
Pickle (Run downs are common situations in softball - a player caught between two bases - either one of them being safe. Executing a proper defensive backup set up is important to getting the out)
Set Up: Set up a number of stations that is divisible by three. You will need three people per station (2 fielders, 1 runner); all distance between bases is 30 feet in all directions. ((((DIAGRAM))))
How it Works: Fielders need to work the ball back and forth in an attempt to get the runner out. The runner needs to try and advance to third base or get back safely to second. You can award the fielders two point if they get the runner out; one point if they get the runner back second; zero points if the runner gets to third base. Play the game until the fielders get 5 points and rotate the players. Note: Once the players master this aspect, then you should advance it to the standard tactic where players are backing each other up and rotating as the rundown advances.
Results: Both runners and fielders will understand what they need to do when they are in this situation - both on offense and defense. Rundowns occur often and it's important for young players to know how to get the out.
Pepper - For Fielding (This drills is great for building hand-eye coordination, quick reaction and teaching older players the value of knocking the ball down at all costs)
Set Up: Have one or two groups set up with 5 or 7 players in a line facing the coach. Gloves on and players are spread out about 10-15 feet apart. One player should be snagging balls for the coach.
How it Works: The coach will be about 15 feet away from the player and will begin by hitting grounders and line drives to the players in random order - the players do not know where the ball is going to be hit. They need to react quickly and then throw the ball to the player fielding balls for the coach. The coach will the ball as quickly as he or she can to the different players. Players are eliminated from Pepper for missing balls or making errant throws. The players must also communicate with one another so there is no problem with collisions on the field. This happens in softball and can be avoided if players talk to each other while on the field. Focus should be on: reading, reacting and making good throws to the player catching balls for the coach.
Results: Your players will improve their coordination, reaction to the ball and working under pressure to make a good play, not to mention improving the reaction time to get to the ball. This is a good drill to round out the fielding skills of your players.