** HELMETS MUST BE WORN ANY TIME PLAYERS ARE DOING HITTING DRILLS! **
DRILLS FOR ANY AGE
From the Tee (Even professionals will go back to the basics of using a tee. It helps batters focus on their target area on a softball as well as swing mechanics.)
Set Up: A batter, a tee and a bucket of balls.
How it Works: Place the tee so that the batter is hitting into the backstop. Raise or lower the tee to reflect the different heights in the strike zone. The intention is not for a player to smash the ball against the fence - it is for ironing out kinks in the swing. Focus on hitting on top of the ball, striding towards the field (not the ball), swinging down on the ball and making solid contact with the ball.
Results: If a player isn't so focused on on hitting it out of the park and strives toward making solid contact with an easy swing and focusing more on the fundamentals of hitting, their improvement will be obvious. Ultimately, the result is to get players to stop swinging for the fences all of the time and to learn that basics of hitting. A player must learn to make regular and solid contact first - they will gain power as the grow older and gain strength. Contact is more important at this stage in their development.
BEGINNER DRILLS (U6)
Eye on the Spot (Teaching young players the need to "keep their eye on the ball" might not always be as effective as coaches would like. This drill focuses things on a much smaller area of the ball.)
Set Up: Set up a tee at waist height for the batter. Put a dime size dot on the backside of the ball, just above the halfway circumference of the ball. Always place the ball so the spot faces the backstop.
How it Works: Often, younger players don't fully grasp the concept of keeping their "eye on the ball," so this drill has been designed to get them to keep their eye on a certain spot on the ball. Once they focus on a target smaller than the ball itself, they can swing at the spot using the fundamentals they have been taught to this point.
Results: Kids see the ball as a target that needs to be hit. When they aim for a bigger target, they have larger room for error. When they have a smaller target, they naturally assume a smaller margin for error. This helps build confidence in hitting the ball and also develops muscle memory when they are swinging.
Grounder, Pop Up, Line Drive (Knowing how to hit each of these balls is going to give younger players an idea of why they are supposed to swing the bat the way they are instructed.)
Set Up: You need a tee with a ball, batter and a few fielders to shag balls.
How it Works: Start by demonstrating what happens when you hit certain areas of the ball and when you swing a certain way (up, down, level). Give each player the opportunity to hit off the tee and see first-hand what happens when they hit certain parts of the ball and swing certain ways.
Results: Once the players understand what happens when they strike the ball in certain areas, it will be easier for them to understand that you want them to strike the ball in a downward fashion in order to create more grounders. Many of them will want to swing for the fences, because home runs are cool, but explain to them that once they can make contact with the ball wherever they want, then hitting for the fences is right around the corner.
Batter Stance (Although this drill can be used in different ways at different levels, it still underlines the fundamental importance to make sure that a player's stance is adequate.)
Set Up: A group of 6 batters with lined up evenly-spaced along the third baseline.
How it Works: This is more of a clinic drill or a "mini-competition." The coach will call out "stance!" and all players will get into their batting stance. The coach(es) will then go through the line of players and make any adjustments the first few times. After doing it three or four times, the coach can then call "stance!" and if any of the players still need the same corrections, they are eliminated from the game.
Results: The repetition alone is good for the younger players. The stance is one of the most important elements of setting up a good swing. By learning the right stance, it sets up a great foundation for solid batting in the future.
INTERMEDIATE DRILLS (U8 & U10)
Balloon Drill (Helps teach the players the right stride length to take when they are hitting.)
Set Up: Line up 6 batters with nearly filled balloons evenly-spaced along the third baseline. Don't fill the balloons up too much or they will pop too easily.
How it Works: The balloon should be placed between the thighs of the batter and then they should assume their batting stance. When a batter strides forward into their swing, they need to keep the balloon from falling to the ground.
Results: This drill helps players learn to not overstep when they are going to strike the ball. If the balloon drops, the player needs to recognize that they have taken too large a stride and that they need to shorten it up. Balance is extremely important in making solid contact with the ball and will help a player develop hitting consistency. Striding too far throws off that balance and doesn't allow for power hitting.
Bunt Drill (The bunt is one of softball's lost arts - it can come in very handy and is a good skill for your players to learn.)
Set Up: The batter will stay at home plate and the coach will pitch for this drill.
How it Works: The coach will set up different point areas near the first and third baselines. This will be according to the optimum areas for a bunt to be placed. For example: 5 points for within 12 inches; 3 points within 24 inches and 1 point within 36 inches of either baseline. Also, the ball will have to reach halfway down the baseline in order to collect points. If it is too far, the third baseman has an easy out; likewise, if it is too short, the catcher will be able to make the play.
Results: As a coach, you will be able to find yourself a good bunter for those tight game situations as well as teaching each player an important softball skill.
Opposite Field / Pull Hitting (Teaching player how body position and timing can affect the direction their ball will travel, will help them become better all-around hitters in the future.)
Set Up: This drill can be set up with a tee or with the coach pitching. The tee will help players with their positioning and the coach pitch will help with timing their swing.
How it Works: By showing players how their body position and timing can affect the direction the ball will travel, players can develop the skill of hitting the ball to different places on the field.
Have each batter open her shoulders and stance (while staying in the batter's box) and point it towards the third base side of the field (pull for RH batters; opposite field for LH batters). Then have them swing and watch the ball head to left field.
Then have each player close her stance and aim towards right field. When hitting off a pitch, have them swing slightly ahead of time to get ahead of the ball and pull it into left field (right field for LH batters). Alternately, to hit to the opposite field, have them wait for the ball to hit it later.
Results: Once a player realizes her body position and the timing of her swing has a dramatic impact on the direction of the the ball, it will eventually give her greater control over where she places her hits.
ADVANCED DRILLS (U12 & U14):
Hit and Run (The hit and run is an excellent play to teach at this age, because it builds on some of the skills that have been learned in prior years.)
Set Up: To start, you might want to hit from a tee, just so the hitter can aim her swing where the hole is going to be. You will need a runner on first base and full infield.
How it Works: Like any hit and run play, the object is to have the ball hit through the hole when the second baseman goes to cover the steal. The runners will be awarded one point if they execute a good hit and run, with both players being safe on their bases. The defense will get three points for a double play, two points for getting the runner out going to second and one point for getting the runner out going to first. No points if all runners are safe.
You can change this drill a little by putting the hit and run on with a runner on second or on first and third, with the hit and run in the middle of the field. Further, you can add a pitcher to make it more difficult to hit the ball into the hole. This is a great next step for batters in this drill.
Results: This drill achieves two primary things:
Helps batters and runners learn the effectiveness of the hit and run and further helps batters realize their skills of hitting to a hole.
Helps the fielders learn how to react to a hit and run situation and how to play the best defense against it.
Hold Your Shirt (Often times, batters over-extend themselves when trying to hit the ball. Keeping your hands in the proper position in relation to the ball is important for consistent hitting.)
Set Up: A tee, batters and the players should be wearing a loose shirt (you may want to bring one to provide), bucket of balls
How it Works: When a batter sets up next to the tee with the ball on top, they are prepared to hit the ball. If they grab their shirt and wrap it around the bat handle and get into the ready position to hit the ball, this begins helping to keep the hands in line. When the player goes to swing, while holding their shirt, they release the shirt upon contact with the ball. If the contact point is solid, by holding the shirt, they will learn the proper proportion to have between the ball and the hands.
Results: Too many players reach for balls, or they swing at balls that are in too close to their bodies. This drill should help players understand that they get the best contact and the most power if their hands stay at a certain distance from the contact point.