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2011 Coaches Clinic Notes, Presented by Rick Strychowski

     Lenape Valley - Rec. League Coaches’ Clinic   

Rick Strychowski- ( )

Introductory Note:

Please, do not teach “baseball” to softball players.  While there are a lot of similarities, the 10 major differences are:

 

  1. Gender - Keep in mind that you are dealing with girls.  Be positive, use the sandwich method of instruction.  (give a positive, then instruct, then give a positive again)
  2. The Field - infield dimensions are much smaller and a dirt infield is used.
  3. The Ball - it is larger and generally safer
  4. Underarm Pitching - not as fast, mound distance is shorter, more pitches are used at early ages (fastball, change-up, drop, drop curve or curve, screwball, rise ball……and there are many variations of each pitch)
  5. The Bats - the inner structure is different and the weights are generally less
  6. The Speed of the Game - with smaller infields, players must “re-act” quickly, and the “short game” in softball is extremely important (sacrifice bunts, push bunts, bunt-for-a-hit, drag bunts,  run slaps, power slaps)
  7. The Numbers of Players Per Team - usually softball teams have less players.  The typical age-group team has 12 to 14 players.  Baseball teams are generally larger because more pitchers are needed due to rules that “limit the number of innings pitched”
  8. The Durability of Pitchers - because of the underarm motion, pitchers rarely get sore arms and are capable of pitching many more innings that baseball pitchers.
  9. Game Seasons - beyond recreation leagues…. travel ball and college players often play in large tournaments and it is common to play 2,  3 or 4 games per day or 4 to 8 games in a 2-day weekend.  The typical 16U or 18U travel team can play 60 to 100 games / season.  The Div-1 college softball team will play a 50 to 60 game season in the spring.
  10. Game Rules - because of all of the factors above, some of the rules are simply different than baseball…(Ex.) no leads off the base, must slide into home on close plays, the idea and purpose of the pitching circle, batting helmets and face-guards required, etc.

 

Major Areas:  (Today we will spend about 15 min. on each topic)

 

  1. Warm-ups - (Stretching & Running for Overall Conditioning)
  2. Throwing & Catching
  3. Fielding and Position Play
  4. Hitting
  5. Bunting and the short game skills ….a MAJOR part of the game!
  6. Pitching (Presentation, Foot position, Wind-up, Release, Fielding Position)
  7. Sliding and Base Running
  8.  

 Introduction - What a Quality Softball Experience Should Look Like:

 

1. Well Planned on paper before coming to the field (It makes you LOOK GOOD!)

2. Coaches arrive early so the head coach has time to explain the practice to the other coaches

            (this could take 5 min. with coaches that are on the same page….or it could take

             30 min. if a lot needs to be explained). 

3. Players should arrive 10 min. early to practice

            so they can socialize, have some fun, and get ready with gear (bats by the cage, gloves by

            the end of the fence, cleats or sneakers on, catching gear by the backstop cage, carry bags

            in a place where they do not interfere with anything.

4. HEAD COACH - try to enlist three or four assistant coaches, and be prepared to give them

            certain responsibilities at practices and at games….first base coach, third base coach,

            hitting coach, pitching coach, infield coach, outfield coach, catcher coach, scorekeeper,

            etc.  Be ready to delegate…you can’t do it all yourself !

5. As a “TEAM” thing enlist other parents for support jobs…team nurse, snacks & drinks,

            field or dugout helper after games, e-mail sender, phone chain organizer, etc.

6. Practice should be “fast-moving”

7. Drills should be “short” ….Go by their age and double it.

            (Ex.) 6 year olds - 6 to 12 min. maximum,  (Ex)- 8 year olds - 8 to 16 min. maximum

8. Try to include all 7 MAJOR AREAS (listed above) in each practice

9. Keep the players “FOCUSED” on doing something all through the practice

10. Keep players on their “feet” all through the practice as much as possible

            (exceptions to this….injuries, heat exhaustion, interruptions to your practice, etc)

11.Allow water breaks….keep them short…1 or 2 minutes…no sitting….and on really hot

            days try to find a little shade for these short breaks.

12. Length of practices….Go by their age, be practical, be your own BEST critic.

13. As coaches….keep discussions with the team “SHORT”.  If you talk too much, you will

            know it right away….just look at the faces of your players.  Are they attentive?

- keep directions to the point of the drill or task.  Model it for all to see !

- stay positive….even when they do a drill poorly, stay positive…repeat it at the next practice

- ending practice…always meet, thank the players for their efforts, let they know your care

- always remember that “negative may make YOU feel better, but they don’t help anyone else!

14. Start practices “ON TIME”….and yes, players need to attend all practices.

15. End practices “ON TIME”….or really close to it !

 

Reminder….A team that practices well will improve, and this is what every coach, player and parent would like to see.  That is your measure of “SUCCESS !

 

      

1.  Warm-ups (Stretching and Running for Overall Conditioning)

 

- Stretching Exercises - try to do them “standing up” near the fences.  They can hold on to it

            for several stretches that require some balance.  Stretch for about 10 to 15 min. and try to

            stretch or loosen…..

            - Feet and Ankles        - Calves           - Thighs           - Quads           -Hamstrings

            - Back and Sides         - Groin             - Necks            - Shoulders      - Arms/Wrists

           

- Running - drills can be done in a whole group or in 2 or 3 stations that “switch”

            (Examples…)

            - Long Striders (walking and running)

            - High Leg Lifts (with walking…or with high running knees)

            - Leg straddles (left side first, right side first, or alternating sides)

            - Longer jogs….a field area that will take 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 minutes.

                        (let players work up to this gradually over time)

            - Spring runs (like the length of the bases)

            - Obstacle course ideas - view the field area and be creative…
 

2.  Throwing & Catching

- Gripping the ball

- Catching - Start with a TARGET AREA by putting the glove in front of the belly.  Tell players

            to put the Web “up” for high throws, “down” for low throws, go “left” and “right” for

            wide throws (which will include backhand catches and a step across the body)

- Throwing Drills

            1. Elevated Wrist Snaps (hand and ball higher than the head)

            2. Feet in Cement

            3. Archer Throws

            4. Step and Throw

            5. Infield Dart Throws - for short distances only (ex…..Pitcher to 1B)

            6. Outfield Throws with “Crow Hop”

 

- Practice Drills with the team

            1. Force Throws

            2. Tag Throws

            3. Rotation Drill - 2 lines facing each other, throw + go to the opposite end

            4. Around the Horn and Reverse it

            5. Star Drill - C, SS, 1B, 3B, 2B, C…..or …..C, 2B, 3B, 1B, SS, C

            6. Outfield to Infield Line-Relay Throws

            7. Outfield-Infield-to Catcher Drill

            8. Underhand Tosses to a base…..keep shoulders LOW !  (SS - 2B) (3B - C) (P- 1B)

            9. The Gauntlet…..a soft hands-quick hands drill

 

3. Fielding:

- Ready Positions - Infield

            1. Feet wide….body weight on the balls of the feet

            2. Knees - flexed a lot….and into a “sitting” position

            3. Shoulders and hips - LOW to the ground

            4. Glove position - in front, forward reaching, web down at 45 degree angle

- Ready Positions - Outfield

            1. Feet at shoulder width…..thinner than an infielder’s stance

            2. Knees - slightly flexed and ready to go in any directions

            3. Shoulders in a more upright position

            4. Hands and glove - in front of waist, pointed forward (NOT on KNEES !!!)

            NOTE….run with glove low….reach up to catch ball when it is “close” to you.

 

- Practice “Reactions” to the ball

            1. Straddle left / right….line up 3 or 4 players across the field  (no ball, movement only)

            2. Straddle left / right / left….(1 on 1 drill) add slow grounders - 10 at a time (rotate)

            3. Straddle drills for outfielders - same as above for grounders, liners, or fly balls

            4. Charging the ball - hustle drills and release a dart throw to any base

            5. Charging drills for 3B to C ….and 2B to 1B (two drills at the same time)

            6. Charging drills for SS to C…..and 3B to 1B (alternate the throws)

            7. Charging drills….3B, SS, 2B….all go to 1B (rapid fire drill)

                        NOTE….constant movement of players makes for a GREAT PRACTICE !

 

- Fielding POP-UPS….use softies, ragballs, tennis balls, anything “soft and light” early on.

            1. Movement to the ball….discuss the height and angle of the ball

            2. Go to the area first, then glove UP at shoulder level (not with arm fully extended !)

            3. Secure catch with 2nd hand

            4. Run it in to stop runners or throw it to a cut-off right away (do not just hold the ball)

 

Fielding Combined with  Position Play:

            1. Design practices so that EVERY position has a drill or two for each position.

            2. Keep the drills “simple”….model the drill so they know what you want.

            3. If you have 3 coaches ….one coach can do a pitcher - catcher drill

                        …..a second coach can do an infield drill

                        …..a 3rd coach can do an outfield drill

                        …..or be more creative than that !!!!  (think about your practices and plan

                                    What you want to do….talk to your assistant coaches….and if you

                                    Don’t have 2 or 3 assistant coaches….GET THEM !

 

- Catcher drills

            1. practice running in the catching gear

            2. practice squatting and getting up quickly

            3. practice catching and throwing the ball back to the pitcher

            4. practice blocking the balls in the dirt

            5. practice reaching inside and outside for pitches

            6. practice fielding bunts….and throwing to first base to get an OUT

            7. practice tagging runners coming to the plate…..coaches, throw a “pillow” from the

                        Middle of the 3rd base line so the catchers can learn to apply a tag.

1.      practice chasing balls that get past the catcher

2.      practice throwing to second or third base to get runners….again use pillows as

            the ball arrives at the base.

 

- Pitching drills

            1. cover bunts

            2. field grounders and throw to either….1B, 2B, 3B or HOME

            3. practice Dart Throws for short throws….or underhand tosses if you are really

                        Close to a base on the play

4.   practice covering HOME PLATE if the ball gets past the catcher and a runner is

            on third base.

5. practice fielding pop-ups….especially when you have to run a few steps to get them.

 

- First Base Drills

 

- Second Base Drills

 

- Shortstop Drills                     NOTE……ALL DRILLS….”BE CREATIVE” !!!

 

- Third Base Drills

 

- Outfield Drills

 

4. Hitting:  (“3” basic positions)

            1. Striding Stance…..start with feet closer together….and open as the pitch comes

            2. No Stride ….start with an open stance…just pivot the feet toward the pitcher

            3. Leg Lift…feet at shoulder width, lift front foot toward back knee to get weight shift

                        And place front foot where it started (this brings the weight forward on contact)

 

NOTE….striding stance cause the eyes to drop, resulting in less contact (used by power hitters)

………...the no-stride pivot results in a lot of contact (an excellent way to teach young hitters)

………...the leg lift stance is used by many major leaguers and is quite popular today.

 

-With young hitters focus on….

            1. Holding the bat properly - fingers and hand grip

            2. Use a resting position when you step into the batter’s box

            3. Have a SET / READY position for feet, hands, arms, and a tall body (avoid crouching)

                        (when the pitcher steps on the rubber….no before)

            4. Head UP and turned toward the pitcher (do not LEAN the head sideways)

           

-Simple drills to do with all hitters

            1. Violin Drill- rest bat on shoulder, move the knob of the bat forward, keep hands close

            2. Half Swings - Keep hands in, swing the bat forward to the pitcher, stop.  (repeat)

            3. Half swings with Babe Ruth “finish”

            4. Cradle the bat in elbows, cross hands - then rotate body forward, hold for 4 seconds

            5. Bat behind the hips - wrist behind the bat, hands hang down, rotate hips…hold 4 sec.

            6. “T-drill for the hips”

            7. Side-winder swings

            8. Step-up drill

            9. Hitting off the “T” - feet must be “behind” the “T”

            10. Soft toss hitting

            11. Power Slaps (note…this is a swing attempt….not a BUNT !)

 

5. Bunting:   (2 basic grip positions….Please teach both, let your players decide on the method)

            1. Hands separated grip - for a right handed hitter the LEFT hand will hold the bat low

                        near the knob of the bat.  The right hand will slide up to the middle of the bat just

                        below the thick barrel.  Fingers should be closed into the palm of the bat with the

                        thumb extended behind the barrel.  NO FINGERS should be exposed to the ball.

            2. Hands together grip - choke the bat high on the leather grip or a little on the thin metal

                        of the bat.  This grip allows for the wrists to move to connect with the ball

 

NOTE…..when bunting….

1.      the feet should be placed in front of home plate…bunt in “FAIR TERRITORY

2.      the body should rotate and “square-up” to the pitcher, weight on the FRONT FOOT

3.      the feet should pivot toward the pitcher

            4.   the bat should be slanted at a 15 to 20 degree angle to avoid popping up

            5.   when bunting is practiced ALWAYS have bunters run after contact so they learn how

                        to get out of the batter’s box quickly.  It should become instinctive.

            6.  the bat should be placed well in front of the hitter….not to her side.  Arms should be

                        Extended toward the pitcher with some flex in the elbows

 

- OTHER FORMS OF SHORT-GAME SKILLS…..This is the FUN part of softball offense !

            1. Bunt-for-a-hit

            2. Push bunts

            3. Drag bunts

            4. Running slaps

            5. Power slaps - (which are mentioned in the “HITTING” section above)

 

- THE BUNTING OR…..”SHORT-GAME PHILOSOPY”

            1. Bunting lets your team RUN….RUN….RUN !

            2. It keeps kids active and energetic….it is a fun game to watch

            3. It teaches kids about “BAT CONTROL” …..contact….contact….contact !

            4. It is simply a “FUN WAY TO PLAY THE GAME.

            5. If you can bunt….the other team is forced to field and throw….errors result!

 

- Bunting Drills:

            1. Line 6 or 7 players up on the 1st base line and 6 or 7 on the third base line.  On

                        Command have the players rotate their stance from their hit stance to their

                        Bunt stance using the words….HIT…..then ….SHOW.  Repeat this many

                        Times until everyone’s bat is exactly where you want them to have it.  Once

                        Coach gives the verbal commands….1 or 2 other coaches will walk down the

                        Base line checking and adjusting the SHOW position of  each individual.

            2. Line 6 or 7 players up on each baseline.  Use 2 coaches….each one having a bucket

                        Of balls.  One coach walks the  first base line….the other walks the 3rd base

                        Line.  They will pitch to each bunter as they go down the lines.  Each bunter

                        Will hit the ball and run after it (as if they are getting out of the batter’s box).

                        Reload  the ball bucket and repeat the line drill as often as you wish.

                        The Result…..batters get to bunt many balls.  This drill is meant to go quickly!

            3.Line up 6 or 7 players at home plate…..and line up 6 or 7 more at 2nd base (which

            Will serve as a 2nd home plate area.  One bunter will come to the plate at each

            End of the infield….bunt and run it out.  The batter at Home will run to first.

            The batter at second base will run to 3rd.  They will go back to the end of their

            Line with their bat and get more chances.  Since all of the ball will be going

            Toward the pitching circle (where 2 coaches are tossing the balls from), the

            Balls are easy to pick up.
 

6. Pitching:  (unfortunately most softball coaches at all levels of softball know very little about pitching, what pitchers practice, how hard pitchers practice and they rarely know how to HELP a pitcher to improve.  Yet pitching is the key to success at ALL LEVELS of softball.

 

- Drills Taught at the Lenape Valley Pitching Clinics this year (and Fury Travel pitchers)

            1. Wrist Snaps

            2. “T” Drill

            3. “X” Drill

            4. The ¾ Drill

            5. Drag and Drive Drill - a Heal-to-toe starting position

 

IMPORTANT  ITEMS ABOUT PITCHING for everyone to know…???

- The “presentation” of a pitch is what umpires look for….A Major Softball Rule !!!

            1. Pitcher steps on the mound with both feet (example to show)

            2. Hands should be by her side at this time

            3. At the start of her motion or wind-up the bare hand and the glove MUST come

                        Together and touch (or the pitch is “an illegal pitch….it is a “balk”….the

                        Penalty is that the umpire will call it a “ball” and explain it to the pitcher)

 

- A Simple Wind-up for beginning pitchers….

            1. It is easy to learn the 1 - 2 - 3 wind-up

            2. Keep the motion smooth and steady….not jumpy and overly aggressive

            3. Avoid “stopping”  or  “hesitating” during a wind-up

            4. Release the ball from the HIP area

            5. Excessive follow-throughs usually result in a great amount of  very high pitches

           

- A MESSAGE for players, coaches and parents…

            1. Pitchers should always stay calm…and so should parents and coaches

            2. Pitching is by-far the hardest thing to do in softball….no emotions needed !

            3. Pitchers should not cry, pout, get angry…and adults should always be supportive

            4. Coaches….avoid comments like….”throw strikes, try harder, not another walk!”

            5. Parents….let the kid pitch, smile, enjoy the effort, stay in your seat - PLEASE!

                        Don’t yack at her when she is on the mound…..let her have a chance to focus

 

7. Baserunning & Sliding  (Consider these 2 elements of the game together)

- Base Running:  (this is the FORGOTTEN CHILD of softball !  Teams rarely practice it )

            1. According to your league rules, know when to leave the base

            2. Foot and body position on the base are extremely important….it needs practice!

            3. Timing when to leave the base is crucial….it needs practice!

            4. If “stealing” a base is allowed….it needs practice!

            5. Be prepared to dive back to the back if you leave it…it needs practice !

 

- Drills For practicing base running skills

3.      Practice the body and foot positions by using the first base line as the first base bag.

            line everyone up on it…..tell them when to “GO”….but tell all players to only go   a certain distance (line 5 running strides).  Repeat this motion often

4.      Set up 2 coaches as the pitcher and the hitter….practice the same drill by TIMING

            when to run.    (Repeat this drill often)

5.      Every player will not be stealing a base, but they should know how to get off the base

            and they should know how far to get off the base before they decide to run or

            hold….from 1st and 3rd base….take 3 steps

            ……….from 2nd base….take 4 or 5 steps  (not fielder should be near the runner)

6.      Runners at 3rd base should be told to lead away from the base in FOUL TERRITORY.   If the ball hits them in Fair Territory, they will be called OUT !

7.      Practice runners going from …..Home to first base….first to second…..second to third…..second to home…..and  “rounding” all of the bases.

8.      When ROUNDING any base only touch the CORNER of the base closest to the

            PITCHER’S MOUND.  (show examples of this).

9.      Practice runners with grounders, line drives and fly balls….they should run on

            grounders…..hold on line drives and fly balls until they see them land on the

            field surface.

10.  Practice running THROUGH the first base bag….make sure they don’t slow down

            as they approach the bag……FULL SPEED AHEAD !

 

NOTE….RUNNING IS FUN to the kids.  They enjoy it.  Do some running drill in every practice.  Make softball an active, energetic sport.  Kids need the exercise !!!  However, do not get angry at a team and use “running” as a punishment !
 

- Sliding:  (Practice is required…use the grass….a blanket….or large cardboard sheets)

            1. Teach the figure 4 slide (show an example)  - take shoes OFF to practice this!

            2. Have all players walk in lines in the outfield and on command ….SIT….they will

                        literally sit on the grass by putting their right foot OUT  IN FRONT  and

                        bending the left leg so that the left foot is UNDER THE RIGHT KNEE.  This

                        makes the shape of a “4”.  Repeat this many times and you will notice some

                        being clumsy and afraid…while others GET IT.  Let the GET ITS show the

                        others how it should be done.  (expect giggles !)

            3. Then have the groups walk FASTER and gradually FASTER until it gets pretty

                        easy to simply SIT.  Some may jog or break into a run

4.  To fine-tune the slide….

            - slide on both bottom cheeks….not the side of a hip

            - after the sit position players should tuck the chin into the chest area and lay back

            - NOTE….the head should not hit the ground if the chin is tucked in.

            - NOTE….do not practice sliding on the dirt until players know how to slide