The big thing when we teach is I feel there’s not a great deal of difference anymore between baseball and softball.
It’s still taking a good, powerful, aggressive swing, trying to hit the ball as hard as you can, whether it’s baseball or softball.
There are some slight differences between different pitches, between high pitches and rise balls in softball and more off speed differences in baseball. But for the most part, the basics, the mechanics of the process are pretty much going to be the same.
We’re going to start off with our batter’s stance in the order of the steps we go through.
Here are the various things for your hitters to keep in mind when it comes to batter’s stance:
- Our feet should always be in a straight line, toe to toe.
- All of our toes should be pointed toward home plate.
- Our feet should be a little bit wider than shoulder-width apart to give ourselves a good solid balanced base.
- We should be standing about 12 inches or about one of your player’s shoes away from home plate. A good rule of thumb is no more than 12 inches or about one of your player’s shoes away from home plate–this will allow you to hit any pitch.
- We’re going to make sure that our hips and our shoulders also stay on a straight line.
- Toes, hips, shoulders should all be pointing to the pitcher.
- Another good rule of thumb is that if I’m a pitcher, I should be able to see my player’s hands out in front of her body.
Here are some common flaws to keep an eye out for in your batter’s stances:
- The feet being at an angle.
- The hand position. We want to make sure that our hands start above our shoulders and no higher than our ears.
- We also want to make sure that our bat is in a good position of torque, which means we don’t want our bat standing straight up, we don’t want it falling behind. We want to keep it tucked behind our head at about a 45-degree angle and maybe even brought in slightly toward the head. A good way of remembering this is to teach young hitters to point the tip of the bat or the cap of the bat down at the catcher’s shoes. If we start going too far, and that’s not going to do us any good either, that’s going to make our bat a little bit too long in her swing.
- Another one that you hear a lot is back elbow up or we started getting into a position where both elbows were up. Our elbows should be in a nice, relaxed position here where these muscles are nice and loose, with the hands up high. The first motion when we make the hit is to bring that elbow into our side, and the higher that thing goes, the more we have kind of a collapsing motion back here.
Once the pitcher starts his pitching process to throw, your hitter’s been taught to load to start her swing to get her hands into a hitting position. The loading process is going to start when the pitcher goes to throw and goes to separate to the apex before coming forward to throw.
So your hitter is going to get in her stance, she’s going to get her body in a good, comfortable, balanced position, and she’s going to shift her weight back and stop. When she loads, she’s going to use her body to move her hands back and not move her hands. We want to use our body to move our hands. Once they get back into what we call our hitting position, then we’re done and we would continue on from there.
Some of the things to look for, troubleshooting items in the load, is a wrapping. Where we come set here and we load back and we take our hands behind our body, which is going to make our swing longer, or we load down with our hands. Again, we want to use this whole body to stay in one motion, fade back and stop, and then we continue on from there.
Watching the Ball
The next step in our process is probably the most important one in hitting. The ball is probably the most important thing. Watching the ball all the way into contact, keeping our head still through a swing. So we’re watching the ball to determine whether it’s a ball or a strike, whether it’s fast or slow, and whether we’re going to swing or not. Once we get into our good stance, the hitter’s going to be watching that pitcher’s body, and from the softball position we’re going to find that release from the hip and we’re going to try to pick that ball up as it comes through. Sometimes we use the focus of a window; they have a square or rectangle right at the hip. That’s where we want to pick that ball up. And we want to try to watch it as it comes through.
One of the things we want to teach is trying to pick that ball up and let the rest of our body take a good natural swing. But let that ball dictate whether we’re going to swing at it and trust our body to take a good swing at it. So this step is the most important one: seeing the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand.
Our stride is one of those things where it’s not quite as important as keeping our eye on the ball. The stride is used as a timing device. And for teaching young athletes to hit, it’s probably the one where you see a lot of focus go into that between stepping out, maybe being afraid of the ball. When we hit, we want to keep that stride as small as possible. That’s one we talked about in our stance. If we stay a little wider to help us take a smaller stride, that doesn’t affect our swing as much.
So our hitter’s going to get in her stance, and after she loads her body back, she’s going to see that ball come in and she’s going to take a small step. Now when we step, we want to lead the way with our ankle bone straight toward our target. Keep it nice and small. Keep it going straight. We want to try to avoid stepping out. Sometimes it’s okay to step that front foot open just a little bit, where she takes and points it toward first base just a little bit. That’s not as big of a problem. When we start getting off line and stepping over here, that’s when we have a problem. Our front side going that way, and our hands are usually going to follow it. We’re going to swing too early or we’re going to take our hands off the path of the ball.
So when we hit, we’ll start over again, and we want to really work on load back, step straight. Now we’re in a position to where we can just rotate and hit it.
After we get through our stance, seeing the ball, our load, and our step, what we want to do is the swing portion. It’s the rotation of our body. It’s the swinging of our bat. We’re using our legs, our big muscles in our legs, to push that bat forward through a swing to hit that ball hard.
We’re going to get in our stance and we’re going to load our body back in a good position, then we’re going to stride. Now from here we have three parts of our body that are going to rotate. Our back foot’s going to turn, our hips are going to come around with it, and then our bat is going to swing while our shoulders rotate. And we’re going to finish that swing all the way around to the hitter’s opposite shoulder.
When we finish, we want to try to get her hands up just a little bit higher so we create a downward angle to the ball and then a high finish when we swing. We don’t want to get too high when we do this and over-exaggerate it, but we want to stay down to the ball and finish. It’s really important, especially on a pitch like in softball, the rise ball or a high pitch, that we stay above it and swing down to it and then finish. The higher you finish, the more opportunity you have for a lift to hit the ball and get it up in the air and hit line drives. When we finish with our hands down low, it keeps that hand over the top of the ball to where we hit top spin on the ball and hit more balls into the ground.
The next part of it is swing. Once we get loaded up, we step back, then we’re going to swing all the way around and use the good rotation of our body. We rotate on our back foot, hips, hands all the way around.
Batter’s Mental Approach
The last one is the mental approach. It’s not a step or a rotation, but it’s a thought process. As I’ve grown to learn through teaching and playing myself, your thoughts control your actions. What you’re thinking about in your mind is what’s going to happen when you’re in the batter’s box. So if a hitter goes up in the batter’s box saying, “Oh, my, it’s 0 and 2; I’m going to strike out,” she’s not going to produce a good swing. If she goes up with a good clear goal or an idea of what she’s trying to do at each at-bat–this is really important, especially in the younger hitters.
The mental approach is probably one of the biggest ones. It’s what’s going on in your brain when you walk into the batter’s box. The mental approach or the mind is what’s going to control the hitter’s body to be able to take that swing and have success.
By going over these six softball hitting fundamentals with your team, you can ensure that they’ll be able to approach hitting during practice with a renewed attitude and understanding of technique and fundamentals.