6 Steps to Improving Your Softball Game: Basic Hitting Mechanics
This past summer I was forced by NCAA eligibility by laws to make the bitter sweet transition from dedicated Student-Athlete to first year Collegiate Coach. Although I did manage to squeak an extra year in by redshirting my junior season (best decision ever!). Needless to say, the change has brought many dreams into a struggling reality, but it is only the beginning of a long coaching career.
Being fresh out of college, my young mind cannot wait to share all the knowledge, drills, techniques, and strategies with coaches and players out there looking to gain insight on the game that has brought so much to my life. I have to credit the current staff at my alma mater UMass Lowell, who are on their third year with the program, for making me a true student of the game and teaching me all I have learned. They continue to give support and offer their knowledge to me not as a player anymore, but as a growing coach. Always a proud Riverhawk!
Hitting has always been my specialty, I have a knack for analyzing little things in life and that is exactly what your swing is composed of. Small, specific movements triggering each other to assemble a mechanically sound swing. There are many different styles or stances but once analyzed you will see all great hitters will come back to the same basic mechanics. Here is a 6 step breakdown of basic hitting mechanics:
Before we break down the swing, lets make sure the player is set up the right way.
Knuckles- The bat should be held on the inside of the the knuckles with a loose grip. The knuckles you would knock on a door with should always line up on both hands.
Hands- Make sure the hands are at the top of the strike zone, close to their body. If the bat is resting on their shoulder the player can pick it straight up, relatively close to their ear.
Shoulders- Shoulders are always even, square to homeplate and front shoulder pointing to the pitcher. Both eyes on the pitcher.
Feet- Feet should be shoulder width apart and even, or no more than 2inches open from big toe to big toe. Stances should never be closed (minimizes visibility of pitcher/ball).
Pre Swing- The batters ready stance, hands up, shoulders square and weight back. We call this our "load." About 60% of their weight should be on the back leg.
Okay... now for good stuff, the break down of the actual swing
- Step, Stride, or Tap: Whether the player takes a small stride towards the pitcher, a small step closing off their open stance, or just an up down tap it is all the same! It only depends on how the hitter begins their stance. Toe should be planted as ball is in the air, prior to the swing, and is a good timing mechanism. When planted, foot remains square to homeplate, making sure it is not opening towards the pitcher.
- Nothing should move except the front foot. 60% of their weight should still remain on their back foot. Very important to make sure weight is not shifting forward during their stride!
- The hitter needs should only be on their toe, with their front heel off the ground. I like to say focus on staying on the inside part of your front toe, but the heel off the ground is the real focus point.
2. Hips: Front heel drives hard into the ground starting our swing. As the player starts to open their hips the back heel will start to come up. This is only the first step to rotating the hips, we do not fully open just yet. Head, hands, weight/load do not move! It is important that the hitter does not rotate or open up their shoulders along with their hips, and everything stays where they started.
- This step can be very confusing and takes a lot of repetition to fully understand it. Instead of thinking, "rotating my hips" the girls I coach had better image of the back knee collapsing into the front knee. This will stop them from over rotating their hips, but force them get the back heel off the ground beginning the hip rotation process.
- An easy way to see if their hips are open at this step is the "squish the bug method." If the bug is fully squished, back foot pivoted, then their hips are open. No squishing just yet! Back knee leaning towards front knee!
3. Elbow: Very small movement, but very important! Front arm/elbow goes straight out, directly to the pitcher, allowing the hands to follow in the "slot." Hands should stay close to their body, only moving straight towards the pitcher and never out away from their body. This keeps the hands inside of the ball at all times.
- The key in this movement is not moving the front shoulder at all! A lot of players will want to open up their front shoulder as their elbow comes through, causing whole upper body to open and rotate. The front shoulder needs to stay in, leaning into the pitch. As the elbow comes through and hands follow in the slot, shoulders should still be square to homeplate.
- An easy way to show this is to have the player put the thumb of their front arm on their ear, simulating their hands high and close in the beginning on their stance. The only movement is to now drag the thumb and outline the jaw to the opposite side of their chin. As they do this they can see the proper elbow direction and movement, along with their hands following in the slot. Players tend to immediately drop their hands from the starting position and develop an "L" shaped direction to the ball, rather then a diagonal curve.
4. Contact Point: The front shoulder still stays in, keeping the entire front side still square to homeplate for as long as possible. As we finish in step 3, and our hands travel through the slot to contact, our weight begins to shift from back to middle. The shift in weight comes fromdriving the back hip, sharp, hard, and quick, really driving the back knee as far into the front knee as possible to ensure full power and hip rotation. At contact, hands are PALM UP/PALM DOWN!! and barrel of the bat is slightly behind the ball, not even, to create a "whipping" motion for more power.
- At contact, it is all about the wrists. You want as much wrist snap as possible, just as pitcher rely on their sharp wrist snap, this is where hitters gain their bat speed.
- Think you're throwing a frisbee: you are not going to start with your wrist straight or even with the rest of your arm because you are eliminating half of the "snap" or power. You are going to cock the frisbee back as far as you can in your wrist and snap it at the last possible second as your arm comes through. Hitting is the same thing!! At contact, the wrists want to stay cocked back, slightly behind the ball, setting us up for our next step.
5. Extension: In contact we are PALM UP/PALM DOWN, our extension is pushing through the ball, or through contact zone staying PALM UP/PALM DOWN as long as possible. The extension is where we either get full snap, or no snap. Always think back to throwing a frisbee, keeping your wrists cocked back as long as possible.
- Instantly you may see a lot of hitters getting to contact fine, but then stopping their swing or rolling their wrists over right after contact. Rolling the wrists is the easiest way to tell if a swing is lacking extension. An easy way to pinpoint rolling the wrists is if the hitter hits their front arm or back as they finish.
6. Finish: If the hitter has developed good extension within their swing, their physical body movement will make them finish their swing high and over the shoulder. The player should be able to kiss their back bicept once their swing is finished.
Breaking down the basic hitting mechanics by each step slowly is something any serious softball player should train doing. They only way to do each step fluidly in a game is by gaining muscle memory, REPETITIONS!! These exact steps are universal across age groups and skill level.
Now that you know the basic mechanics, be sure to check back for some drills you can use at home by yourself, or with your team that individually focus on improving each step!