All softball players have pitches that are historically better for them to hit than others. An important part of becoming a better hitter is to learn what works for the batter, and coaches play a huge role in working with players to define those pitches.
The first way to define what pitches to hit is to figure out what pitches make the batter most comfortable. Some appreciate the straight-forwardness of the fastball. Others appreciate the quickness of the curveball. Rotate players through every pitch so they know what makes them comfortable and what makes them uncomfortable.
Once players have their favorite pitches in mind, work with them to develop the patience necessary to hit those pitches and only those pitches. Learning patience while in the batter’s box is extremely hard, because batters naturally want to take a swing at what is coming toward them, even if they know logically it is not the best pitch they are going to get. Instead, prepare players for this reality by drilling them in practice with a variety of pitches until they can recognize and wait for the pitches that really work best for them.
A broader theme connected to learning what pitches to hit are recognizing strikes when they come and only swinging at those. When players are new to the game or are trying to compensate for some other shortcoming, they will often reach for balls that might be hittable but should be let go. The same idea of patience is important here because without it, players will chase after every pitch that looks good—even when you as a coach know that it is a poor pitch.
The best way for batters to know what pitches to hit at is simply through practice. There should be days when pitchers are told to switch things up and try to confuse the batter, so that they get practice reading pitches and making decisions about which ones to hit. There should also be days where the pitchers strive to only throw strikes, and players must determine which of those strikes are the best ones to hit.
Batting for the Good of the Team
Sometimes, even a strike is not the right pitch to swing at. Depending on what the team needs, a player should or should not swing at balls where they know what the probable outcome will be. If a player knows that he generally hits a long, high ball on a certain pitch, but the team needs a grounder, he should not hit.
This also requires the coach and batter to know how to get the hit they want. Perhaps the perfect pitch will never come, but the batter can compensate by adjusting his hold on the bat. With preparation and help from the coach, batters can know when and how to adjust their swing to get the hit they need.
How To Read the Pitcher
One of the first things a fastpitch softball batter should do before a game begins is to watch the opposing pitcher and getting a feel for his pitching style. Because all pitchers are different, your team’s opponent may have certain characteristics about him that set him apart from other pitchers. Look for his tendencies, his strengths, his weaknesses, and his habits.
When watching a pitcher, both the coach and batter should search for anything that gives away which pitch the pitcher is going to throw. Watch the way he throws and detect any changes in his stance, grip on the ball, or preparation that might indicate how he is going to throw. Knowing these tiny characteristics about a pitcher is sometimes all it takes to win a game.
Be Prepared for the Good Pitches
The times a batter will have a perfect pitch thrown to them are few and far between. For this reason, a batter must be ready to aggressively go after a ball they believe is perfect for what hit they need and their personal hitting strengths. Aggression is essential in batting because players need to believe that they can successfully hit the ball they are being pitched.
Preparation for the good pitches comes first in practice. Coaches must help develop confidence in their players, which is discussed later in tip 4, Prepare Mentally.
Coaches can help batters prepare for good pitches by building their confidence in practice. If you encourage players to hit the balls they think they can hit, you show them that you trust their judgment. If you congratulate them when they have a good appearance at the plate, you show that you recognize and appreciate their good technique and hard work.
By teaching players when and where to hit a ball, as well as helping build their confidence during practice and in games, you will soon find that your players are ready to jump all over good pitches when they come. Those players with less encouragement and support hesitate more at good pitches and are not prepared to meet the challenge with confidence and the aggression necessary.
Stay Focused in the Box
While in the batter’s box, players should be thinking of nothing more than connecting with the ball and doing their job properly. All thoughts of technique and preparation should be gone, because the player has focused on this during practice to the point that all motions come like second nature.
The batter should also keep his focus on the pitcher. Once in place, the batter should look only at the pitcher, so as to better read what pitch is coming and how to hit it. Finding a central focus point like the pitcher also helps batters tune out the noise and other distractions threatening to take the player’s focus from the ball.
Now tell me what YOU think by leaving a comment in the box below. I’m always interested to hear what smart coaches think about topics like this. And when you’re done, don’t forget to check out this free softball drills video. Inside, I’ll show my favorite hitting drill for teaching my girls a line drive swing.