Softball Skills & DrillsThe following is an excerpt from Softball Skills & Drills, Second Edition (Human Kinetics, 2011), written by Judi Garman, one of the most successful coaches in college softball history and the winner of 7 national championships as a player and coach; and Michelle Gromacki, the head coach of Cal State Fullerton softball, one of the most prestigious programs in the nation.
The right bat makes it easier to hit well. Each player should choose a bat that’s the right weight, length, and size for her and that fits her budget. The bat is an extension of the arms; it must feel right. It must be of a size and weight that the player can swing hard and can easily control throughout the entire swing.
As a general rule, bigger, stronger players prefer a heavier bat for maximum power. Smaller players usually benefit from a lighter bat that allows greater bat speed. Batters often use a bat that is too heavy, which leads to mechanical problems and sometimes injury. To determine whether a bat is too heavy, the player should grip it with one hand at the knob and hold it straight out parallel to the ground at shoulder height. If the bat wavers, or if the player cannot hold that position for at least a minute, the bat is too heavy. As weight increases, bat control usually decreases. In terms of length, the shorter the bat, the more control a hitter will have, but she will sacrifice power. The longer the lever, the more power the hitter will have, though with less control. The bat must also be long enough to allow full plate coverage when the player swings. Can she hit a ball hard off a tee placed low on the outside corner?
Most bats are built with a specific ratio of length and weight. Youth bats range in weight from 16 to 22 ounces (453 to 624 g) and in length from 25 to 31 inches (63 to 79 cm). College players usually swing a bat that weighs 22 to 26 ounces (624 to 737 g) and 32 or 34 inches (81 or 86 cm) long. Manufacturers use negative numbers to show the weight-to-length ratio (e.g., –9, –10, and so on). The length subtracted by the negative number is the weight of the bat. This means, for example, that a 31-inch bat with a –9 ratio weighs 22 ounces. Selecting the correct weight really depends on two critical factors: strength and hitting style.
Because the player will be swinging the bat many times, it must feel comfortable in her hands. The size of the hands will determine the thickness of the handle that a hitter can grip and manipulate comfortably.
The barrel size and location and the size of the sweet spot are other attributes to consider. The sweet spot, or “center of percussion,” is the place where contact with the ball gives the hitter a good feeling rather than a sting. It is also the place that sends the ball the farthest. The bigger the barrel, the larger the hitting surface and the larger the sweet spot. The smaller the hitting area, the more bat control required to be successful. A bottle bat provides a large hitting surface and is an excellent bat for bunting and for beginners.
The type of grip that bat manufacturers put on the handle of their bats also affects the way the bat feels when the ball is hit. Leather or synthetic leather gives a tackier feel for a surer grip. Rubber grips absorb more of the shock on impact, and cushioned grips decrease the shock even more.
The composition of the bat helps determine how far the ball goes when hit. New materials, with names that seem to change every year, allow manufacturers to make bats with very thin walls. But rules vary, so players must be sure that the bat is stamped “Approved” for use in their league. The two primary categories of materials are aluminum alloys and graphite or titanium lined. Aluminum bats come in a variety of alloys, each with a different weight, but generally aluminum alloys are thinner and more durable and have a larger sweet spot. They come in single-layer or double-layer construction. Double-layer bats offer more durability and power because the ball rebounds off the bat with more authority. Graphite and titanium are sometimes added to thinner-wall aluminum bats to decrease weight and therefore increase the batter’s hitting speed. The addition of these materials also reduces vibration and the sting a batter may feel on contact with the ball.
The thinner the wall, the greater the trampoline effect. The bat gives at contact with the ball and propels it away faster. The greater the trampoline effect, the greater distance the ball can go. And a bat with thin walls dents more easily. College players often get a new bat each year. We recommend that players save a good bat for games and use an old bat for practice. Players should use softer balls for hitting practice, if possible, and should never use their good bat on the hard plastic balls at commercial batting cages.
Many philosophies are used in teaching players how to hit. Hitting coaches have their own ways of saying things, and many batters have distinctive styles. Through computer and video analysis, we are able to break down the swing and study the basic elements that all successful hitters use.
When gripping the bat, the hitter should apply pressure with the fingers, not the palms. She grips the bat where the calluses are. The bottom hand (left hand for a right-handed batter) controls the bat, and the top hand supports the bat loosely. The bottom hand grips the bat as a person would grip a golf club (see accompanying photo). The top hand is placed against the bottom hand with the door-knocking knuckles (middle knuckles) of both hands in a straight line. The arms are not crossed. The bat is gripped loosely—no white knuckles—and the wrists have flexibility. Some hitters curl the index finger of the top hand so that it only lightly touches the bat. For better bat control, the player may choke up on the bat by moving both hands several inches up from the knob. Of course, a choke grip means a shorter bat and less power.
Called “a must-have for every player” by Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup champion Jenny Topping, Softball Skills & Drills, Second Edition is now available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at www.HumanKinetics.com. The book is packed with new content, including more than 200 full-color photos and illustrations.