Hitting a softball is commonly recognized as one of the most difficult sports skills we have. The reason being, the batter has to be concerned with a variety of factors and mechanics in order to have a successful hit.
Softball Hitting Concept
So let’s talk about the concept of hitting a softball. First of all, visual perception. A hitter needs to take a look at the pitch as it comes in and try to determine its spin. Where is it going to cross home plate? At the same time, she needs to determine at what point is it going to be a strike or is it going to be a ball. In other words, the location as it crosses. The second thing the athlete has to look at as a hitter is recognizing the speed. Is it a change-up? Is it a fastball? And the next thing that a hitter needs to take a look at is movement time.
So first of all we have to see the pitch, we have to read it, we have to do something with it, we make a decision, and now the time it takes to process that information and actually get the bat to the ball. In other words, the bat speed. Those are the things we want to take a quick look at.
One of the things you’ll realize — and all of us coaches have seen many, many times — is when a hitter gets in the batting cage, inside or even out on the practice field, with a pitching machine and she hits it over and over and over, you’ll have no problem. You get her in a game where now the pitcher varies the speed, varies the velocity, up and down, in and out, as well as, of course, the ball spin that goes with that, and they struggle. So this is why we need to take a look at what it takes to hit in terms of perceiving what that pitch is doing. The longer we can see that pitch, the better decisions we’re going to make.
Factors for the Hitter to Consider
Let’s take a look at some factors involved for the hitter. The ball is generally traveling approximately 40 feet. Pitching distance for collegiate softball is 43. But by the time the pitcher releases the ball, by the time the batter contacts the ball out in front, maybe an inside pitch way out in front, we’re really talking about 40 feet, it could even be 38 or 39 depending on the length of the arms and legs of the pitcher.
Number two, we need to know that the average bat swing for collegiate softball players is .25 seconds. Not very long, certainly. There are some hitters who do have quicker bat speed, and you’ll have those that are close to .30. So you’ve got the variance, but the average tends to be .25, quarter of a second.
The third factor, if you take a look at a 57-mile-an-hour fastball, a pitch that comes in at that speed really takes less than a half a second, .48 seconds, for it to arrive from the pitcher to the hitter.
So with that in mind, what is a hitter’s timeframe? She has .48 seconds, or less than a half a second, to determine to pick up the ball, to see it, to determine what the spin is, to determine is it a strike — if it’s a strike, is it an outside pitch, a high strike, a low strike — so she can direct the bat to the ball. These are the things she has to take a look at. She also has to process this information very quickly and say, “I am going to swing and this is where I’m going to direct the bat.”
Now how do we battle a clock? We have a half a second, a little less perhaps. So it could be conceivably less time. So how do we battle a clock?
First of all, let’s attempt to reduce our visual perception time. How can we more quickly pick up the pitch? Anticipate a pitch. Study the pitcher. While you’re in the dugout, you see the other pitcher warming up before a game. What kind of pitches does she have? Does she throw a fastball all the time? Is her first pitch a change-up? Does she use a change-up high or change-up low? Does she use a rise pitch when there’s two strikes, less than two? Get a sense for what that pitcher is throwing and what her capabilities are so we could make a smart guess at the first pitch.
The second thing is that you may want to watch your catcher’s throw. You can also do some catching. If you’re able to catch some of your pitcher’s, see the ball in so you can start reading movement and ball velocity. Stand as a hitter and as your pitchers and catchers are working, they’re going through their routine, just stand focus on the ball and see if you can pick up those particular factors. Location, the spin, as well as the velocity.
Another thing you can do is use fine focus technique. And what I mean by that is as you’re in here getting ready for that pitcher to release the ball, I’m going to focus on a large picture. The picture in general and maybe a little back around behind her. As the pitcher gets into the top of her pitch, the circle, then I’ll focus in on the arm and the release point. That gives your eyes a little bit of a rest. If we start out by focusing at the hip and getting very tense, our eyes will tire. By the time the pitch is release, we may not focus as well. So practice these fine soft then fine focusing skills. See the big picture, see the hand, see it come through and pick it up that way.
Sometimes you simply have to check their eyesight. Every once in a while you’ll have a hitter who has great technique, does everything correctly, but just can’t pick the pitch up. Your hitter may have some kind of visual depth perception problem. That can be, generally, easily corrected.
Now when we go into reducing movement time, that’s the second step. We can reduce the time it takes to read the pitch, now we need to try to increase the bat speed, increase the movement time. And we do that, one, by processing that information quickly and developing a quick bat swing. Now we take a quick look at what we’re trying to do. We assume the pitch is here, the hitter is here. What we want to do is make that decision time closer and closer to our hitter so she has more time to read the pitch to determine if there’s any last-second movements such as a rise ball coming in and then jumping, or a drop ball coming in and then dropping at the last second.
See it as long as possible. If we can do that, we will increase our success at the plate. We will make much better decisions with balls and strikes. If we have to make the decision when the ball is first released somewhere in here, this first 10 or 15 feet, then we may make some critical mistakes because the ball hasn’t really gone its direction. We’re still struggling and picking it up. And if our bat speed is very slow and we have to swinging so much earlier, then we don’t get to read the pitch nearly as long. So the goal here is to read the pitch as long as you can, keep the hands back before you have to explode to the ball as long as you can so then you’ll know where the bat should go to the ball and also whether or not you should swing, if it’s a strike or if it’s a ball.
Do you think your hitters would benefit from learning about these mechanics and goals? Why or why not? Sound off below!