Speed makes a huge difference in every softball game. What is half a second? It is the difference between being out by 10 feet or being safe by 10 feet at first base or in softball terms, out by a mile or safe by a mile.
Knowing how to run is the first step to improving speed. The first step is running on the balls of your feet. A strong initial push off one foot to get your momentum going the right way followed by picking your knees up and putting them down as quickly as you can is a paradigm shift for many people. Try running in place by concentrating on picking one knee up belt high, then pick the other knee up belt high. The first leg automatically goes down without thinking about it. If it didn’t, you would fall down. Run in place for a while using this thought process. See just how fast you can pick your knee up. Train your “twitch” muscles in the front of your upper thigh to “twitch” your knee up. Then see how fast you can switch lags with just a twitch. The next things to think about are the hands and arms. The fingers should be relaxed, not rigidly extended or clenched in a fist. The arm swing should be so that your hand goes from by your hip up to by your ear. The arm swing helps with balance. When the right hand is by your ear, your left leg will also be up.
Jessica Mendoza demonstrates good body leen and leg pump (high knees) running. Notice that her focus is not on the kick as much as picking up the knees.
Jessica Mendoza demonstrates the arm swing when running.
Another training method is to find a gradual hill. A 10 degree slope is just about perfect. Running up the hill creates resistance and strengthens the legs. It also makes the players pick their knees up so they do not stumble.
When they get to the top of the hill, give them a moment to catch their breath, then race them down the hill. Down hill running (AKA over running) makes them stride out longer. Now you have the formula for increasing speed. A quicker and longer stride equals safe by a mile.
Teaching the athletes to take a little wider path toward first in order to make it easier to turn the corner toward second and step with her outside foot on the inside corner of the base. This shortens the path to the next base and reduces the chance of tripping on the base. A shorter path means she will get there faster.
The nice thing about softball is that, if you use your practice plan, you can plan in little competitions, drills and exercises that will condition your young athletes and they won’t think of it as conditioning. Conditioning doesn’t even sound fun so let’s not call it that. I have used a base running relay race that the kids just love.
The base running relay race
Split your team into two equal size teams. Have one team line up in foul territory by 1st base and the other team by 3rd base. Each player on both teams will run the bases one at a time. The second player can not start until the first player has touched the base they started from. The winning team is the team that finishes first.
The coach is the person who communicates with parents, players, umpires, other coaches and your local associations. You facilitate the team by making sure all the equipment is there when it is needed. Most important are the players. You are teaching more than the skills and strategies of fastpitch. The ability to gracefully deal with success and failure, the persistence to keep trying and the confidence that these young ladies learn from you is priceless.
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