Preparing Your Defense for the Season
Written by Scott Brown
The weather is starting to turn (except here in Minnesota where it’s getting colder), rosters are set, uniforms ordered, tournament talk has started – yes the 2008 softball season is almost upon us. Are you ready to play? As a Major level player I train harder during the off season than during any other time of the year. Proper fitness and skill development during the winter months will inevitably lead to success and greatly reduce early season injuries and recovery. Are you going to be 100% prepared for your first game?
You can drop the excuses now, as there are plenty of places to train beyond the snow covered diamonds. There are hundreds, if not thousands of baseball training facilities, squash courts, school gyms, garages and basements. You may have to get creative but no one has the excuse of not having anywhere to train.
The most important aspect of anyone’s game, or at least should be, is defense. You don’t make the Majors by simply being able to hit bombs. If you’re a defensive liability you will never reach the upper levels. Defense does win championships. A great drill to decrease your reaction time and soften your hands is to throw a tennis ball (or better yet a racquetball) against a wall and catch it with your bare hands. A warmed up racquetball will come back at you just as fast as a grounder, and always at a different angle. If you can’t react to the ball in time you will never be able to make the play.
Everyone of us should be hitting the gym 3-4 times a week, including 30 minutes of cardio and stretching. I see many hamstrings pulls and other muscular injuries during the first few weeks of the season, all of which are preventable. How many times do we just not get there quite fast enough? Hitting the gym will not only prevent these injuries but also allow you to make the play. It sounds basic enough, we all have gym memberships, but do we use them and use the facilities properly? If you need a softball specific training regiment check out the one used by the all time greatest player and hitter in the game Mike Macenko. It can be found at HYPERLINK "http://www.bigcat844.com" www.bigcat844.com and is well worth the read.
We have covered 2/3rds of the defensive game now, but you can’t forget your arm. At the gym we are increasing our strength and flexibility, working those smaller shoulder muscles to stabilize our rotator cuffs but going thru the actual throwing motion is key, and finding a partner to play catch, will help tremendously. Hopefully there is a proper baseball training facility in your area but if not simply tossing around a ball in a gym or your basement will help. Try to use an actual softball, not a foam or whiffle ball, as lighter weight balls won’t help increase or maintain muscular strength.
Now let’s start working on dropping some bombs!! Stepping up to the plate is probably the most exciting part of the game, and whether it’s pulling the ball, shooting the gaps, buzzing the middle or putting it over the fence, every player can improve their performance at the plate. Here are a few of the off season drills that helped me hit 804 in 06’.
Who remembers the days of tee ball? You were 5-6 years old learning what it feels like to find the sweetspot, teaching your muscles the basics of the swing, figuring out how to place the ball and although we are a few decades older, the same principles apply. Weekly tee work will help you keep and develop your hand eye coordination. Try concentrating on hitting the bottom half of the ball and not the tee, as this will help train your eye to focus on proper impact location. Another trick is to use a wood bat, as this will help you find the sweetspot and improve contact.
Apart from general mechanics, the most important aspect of increasing ball exit speed and distance is your swing speed. Get yourself a bat weight and dry swing in your basement or garage. Never stray from your swing mechanics but once the weight comes off you will notice an increase in your swing speed.
With all this training, make sure you have some fun and get yourself to the cages. Once you are there make sure you make it a training session and not just smacking some balls around. Work on placing the ball, shooting the middle, pulling the ball, and making proper contact. Remember to save some energy at the end to drop a few bombs!
During the 06’ season I joined Team Combat and with a combination of the best bats I have ever swung (seriously you have to try one), top level coaching, and a heck of a lot of training and practice I won the National Batting Title with an average of 804. Hopefully my advice can make you a better player and increase your love for the game.
Until next time,