The challenge is hitting a fastpitch softball. A fastpitch batter has the same amount of reaction time from the time the ball is released from the pitchers hand and crosses the home plate as a baseball player has. This is based on a comparison of a 60 MPH fastpitch vs. a 90 MPH baseball pitch. Add the rise ball to the pitchers arsenal, baseball pitchers do not have a pitch that rises, and you have one of the toughest challenges in sports. The batter must constantly work on developing a good compact swing.
The coach has to be able to teach the compact swing and in order to do that, the coach has to be able to break the swing down into small teachable components.
Choose the Right Bat
The batter should pick out a bat that is not too heavy. Here is a good rule to follow. Have the player hold the bat with one hand. Extended the bat and arm straight out in front of her. If she can hold that position for 25 seconds, the weight of the bat should be good for her. There could be other considerations like cost if you are buying. Good bats are not the cheapest bats. Also, if you are spending money on a bat, make sure it is approved by the league. Make sure it is a fastpitch bat and then look for any label that may be required by your league. Example: ASA Approved
The first component of hitting is the grip. When you grip the bat, it should rest in the fingers, not down in the palm of the hand. The best description is to line up the “door knocking knuckles” from both hands and let the bat rest in that area. This is similar to a grip used on a golf club minus the interlocked fingers.
The grip for batting with Coach Mike Candrea
The stance is the next hitting component. The feet should be about shoulder width apart. When the batter steps up to the plate, she should be able to touch the outside of the home plate with the bat. The front upper portion of the arm should be pointed down from the shoulder toward the inside corner of the plate with the front forearm going straight back parallel to the ground. You should be able to see a 90 degree shape from the upper arm to the forearm. The back arm should hang straight under the shoulder also forming a 90 degree angle between the upper arm and the forearm. When relaxed between pitches, the batter should rest the bat on and over the back shoulder at roughly a 45 degree angle. When the pitcher is ready to start her pitch, the batter should elevate the bat off her shoulder an inch or two by simply pointing her front elbow at the outside corner of the plate and her back elbow should also shadow that movement. The batter should flex her knees slightly in a more athletic balanced position with 60% of her weight on the balls of her feet and 60% on her back foot.
As the ball is released by the pitcher, there should be a natural “negative” movement, that is the arms moving in unison toward the catcher maybe an inch. That should be followed by the front foot making a small “trigger” step toward the pitcher. While the barrel of the bat remains back over the shoulder, the hands should start toward the level that the pitch is coming in at. The batter has to rely on her training to feel if this pitch is a ball or a strike and whether she should hold off her swing at this point or continue on with the rest of the swing components in order to hit the ball. If she continues on, she will start to shift her weight to the front foot and rotate her hips toward the pitcher by pivoting on the ball of her back foot. This pivot is sometimes referred to as squishing the bug. The hands continue toward the level of the ball and the barrel stays back until the elbows are nearly straight. It is at this point that the most explosive component of the compact swing comes into play. The barrel of the bat has lagged behind until the arms are just about extended toward the ball and the lower body rotation and weight transfer to the front foot all come together at the same time the barrel releases through the ball all at the same time. The final component of the compact swing is the follow through. Allow the bat and your rotation to go around to where the bat is pointed back toward the catcher. Hitting is just that simple.
The following 3 videos by Sue Enquist will shed a lot of light on the compact swing.
In order to train the young athlete to put this swing together, we must be able to teach each of these components to them in a way that it becomes second nature, that is they do not have to over think every component.
One hand swinging drill
One of the first drills I use to teach the compact swing is one hand swinging. Because a regular bat is too heavy to be doing this drill, I use a plastic bat and wiffle balls. We are isolating the arm movements including the timing of releasing the barrel of the bat. To do this, we will take the lower body completely out of the drill by having the athlete kneel on her back knee. The front foot should be pointed down the first base line. The athlete assumes the normal starting position with both hands on the bat and the bat over the back shoulder at 45 degrees. Now the athlete will release the bat from her back hand. Wiffle balls will be used for a soft toss that should be 6 inches in front of home plate. The athlete will swing the bat using only her front arm and focusing on keeping the barrel of the bat back until the last moment. After the athlete has several repetitions using the front arm and hitting the wiffle ball, the athlete will switch to the back hand and repeat the drill several times, hitting with the back hand only. Finally, we will have her swing the plastic bat with both hands for several repetitions. Again, our focus is to keep the barrel of the bat back until the arms are just about extended and then combining the full extension with the powerful whip of the barrel of the bat coming through the ball right at the point of hitting it.
Tee work (Behind the back swing)
The next step is to incorporate the legs and lower body into the swing. For this we use a tee, regular bat and balls. First, we have the athlete trap the bat against her lower back at about belt level. Her arms will be extended down and reach back behind her hips in order to trap the bat to her back. The barrel will extend out as far as possible toward the catcher. She will have to stand relatively close to the tee. From this position, she should flex her knees and take a small trigger step. The trigger step is the movement of her front foot about 3 inches that initiates the swing. She should then start a rotation of her hips to bring the barrel of the bat toward the ball sitting on the tee. In order to get a strong rotation, she will need to pivot on her back foot in what we call the “squish the bug” manor. Several repetitions of this behind the back/squish the bug swing should be done until she is hitting the ball off the tee with confidence and is getting the leg work built into her muscle memory. At this point, she can assume a normal stance with the bat over her back shoulder and hit several balls off the tee. She should let the muscle memory of the trigger step, rotation, squish the bug moves take over and incorporate the arms into the swing. We want to keep the barrel of the bat back until just before the contact with the ball and bringing the timing of the hips, legs and torso into a perfectly timed explosion of power at the point of impact with the ball.
The Fence Drill
The batter will step up to a fence with her feet parallel to the fence. She should be close enough to the fence to touch one end of the bat to the fence while the other end is touching her belly. Then she assumes the stance with the bat over her shoulder. She proceeds to swing without the bat touching the fence. The only way she will do this is if the barrel of the bat is lagging behind her hands until her hands have reached a position out in front of her front foot where she wants to make contact with the ball. A good swing with good hip rotation and the proper bat lag will insure that she will be putting all of the energy generated on the ball.
The batter assumes her starting position. The coach assumes a position across from her and just off her front foot making sure he or she is out of the range of the swing of the bat. The coach gently tosses the ball up in the strike zone in line with the front foot. The batter proceeds to hit the ball using food form.
Focusing the eyes for the ball (Broom stick and wiffle golf balls)
One drill I like to help the athletes focus is to replace the bat with a 30” broom stick and replace the softballs with golf ball size wiffle balls. Doing several repetitions of soft toss with the undersized bat and balls make the athlete really have to focus.