Below is a collection of tips for softball players. They should be helpful to everyone, to new folks who may not have played much ball as well as to veterans who may have forgotten a few things. We’ll all play better together if we’re using the same principles. The list is by no means complete so, if you’ve got any additions, please forward them to Ed Nielsen, either in person, by phone (698-3448), or by e-mail at email@example.com.
By the way, I’m not the world’s foremost authority on softball—I’m just regurgitating wisdom imparted to me by one of the best baseball coaches in the country. I had the privilege of playing for him for years and I’m sharing his wisdom with you.
1. WARMING UP
- Throw for a bit before playing a game to loosen up your arm. Start with easy lobs and gradually progress to harder throws. Once you’ve reached maximum power, either quit or back off on the strength of your throws. Sustained hard throwing could cause injury.
- Jog a moderate distance to loosen your legs and elevate your heart rate.
- Stretch all the muscles and joints in your body (suggested routine in separate essay).
- After jogging and stretching, do several short sprints, accelerating slowly on the first one.
- Try to have an objective in mind, imagine the perfect pitch, and picture driving the ball to an exact location. If a fielder is giving you the foul line—take it. If there’s a gap between fielders—hit it.
- If the batter ahead of you just got on base, consider taking the first pitch to give him a chance to catch his breath, especially if he’s had to run hard.
- If there’s a runner on first, try going to right field if you get a pitch you can handle. If you’re successful, the runner will likely be able to take extra bases.
- Going to right is easier if it’s an outside pitch (for right-handers). To enhance your chances, move slightly toward the pitcher, back away from the plate (making just about everything an outside pitch), and swing late while striding toward first. It may also help to restrict your wrist snap.
- If the opposing pitcher is having a tough time finding the plate, take a pitch or two, anything to get on base. No sense helping him out if he’s having problems.
- Keep the ball up in the air; use as much arc as the umpire will allow. The higher the arc, the tougher to hit.
- Try to throw strikes as often as possible in order to keep your defenders alert and on their toes, not to mention avoiding free passes to the opposition. Possible exception: game situation, good hitter.
- If you’re confident of your pitching accuracy, try to put the ball where the batter can’t do what he wants to do. If the batter stands toward the front of the box and back away from the plate, chances are he wants to go to the opposite field so keep the ball inside on him. Conversely, if the batter is deep in the box and close to the plate, chances are he wants to pull the ball so keep your pitches outside. Don’t forget 2.a. above.
- When the ball is hit, go someplace—don’t just stand there. Back up whatever base the throw will likely go to.
- Quickly cover first when the first baseman handles the ball. Train yourself to automatically break for the bag on any grounder to your left. Head for a spot about 10-15 feet up the baseline toward home so that, when you reach the line, you can turn and run toward first making it an easier throw for the first baseman. Be careful not to obstruct the runner.
- Try to keep ground balls in front of you rather than playing them off to one side. That way you can at least knock them down.
- If the ball isn’t hit to you, stay near your base unless you’re acting as cutoff. Be careful not to obstruct the runner.
- If the runner has already advanced beyond your base, help out somewhere else in a backup mode.
- Right and leftfielders should position themselves relative to the foul lines, depending on the batter and possibly the pitch count. Most players will not go to the opposite field with two strikes. With a fast centerfielder next to you, you can shade toward the line a bit more.
- The centerfielders should position themselves relative to the other outfielders. If a fellow outfielder is considerably slower than the one on your other side, move closer to the slower man. The idea is to equalize coverage, not necessarily distance. Check fellow fielders positions frequently, especially when the pitch count reaches two strikes, and adjust accordingly.
- Stand with your feet comfortably spread, at least shoulder width, and then crouch slightly with each pitch, possibly with hands on knees. This will shift your weight forward and, along with the spread feet, will help you get a quick start if the ball is hit your way.
- Always talk to your fellow outfielders, advising them if they need to move forward or back to handle a fly ball, and to alert them of their distance from the fence.
- Advise your fellow outfielders of a hitter’s tendencies (good power, likes to pull, etc.) and the same goes for base runners (good speed, winning run, etc.).
- When a fellow outfielder is handling the ball, advise him where to throw after he’s caught it. You don’t want him to look around while he’s catching the ball or have to try to figure out what to do with it after he’s caught it.
- When a ball is hit between you and a fellow defender (infield or outfield), talk to each other. Tell him you’ve got it if you can make the catch—tell him to go for it if you can’t. Someone has to call for the ball to avoid a collision. If the other player calls for it, veer behind him to get out of his line of vision and to back him up.
- Always back up each other, and back up the infielders, too. We’ve all seen good defenders let the easiest ball get past them. If you’re already moving, chances are you’ll keep the runner from advancing an extra base.
- Continually review the situation in your mind (e.g., outs, runners, score). Anticipate all possible events and plan what you’ll do in each case.
- Never pick up a dead ball or slow roller with your glove. Rather, use your bare hand. You’ll handle it much more surely, whereas you’ll likely drop it trying to pick it up with your glove. Besides, you’ve got to move the ball to your throwing hand anyway, so why waste time.
- A cap, sunglasses, or eye black will help reduce the glare when you have to look toward the sun. Also, practice blocking the sun with your glove.
- Always charge ground balls to prevent runners from advancing an extra base. If you won’t have to make a throw, keep the ball in front of you. If you will have to make a throw, field the ball on your glove side so you can maintain momentum. In either case, use only your glove to handle the ball; keep your throwing hand out of the way.
- When you’re positioning yourself to catch a fly ball and know you’ll immediately have to make a throw, back up a few steps. Then you can make the catch running forward giving you extra momentum for a strong throw to the infield. Also, reach across your body slightly and catch the ball on your throwing side; this will give you better coordination.
- When you have the ball, your first priority should be to get rid of it, especially with runners on base. Holding the ball, even momentarily, will allow runners to advance.
- The shortstop normally goes onto the outfield grass to act as cutoff when the ball is on that side of second base. When the ball goes to right or right center, the second baseman will usually go out.
- The cutoff man tries to get directly between the outfielder handling the ball and the base to which he’ll likely be throwing. The cutoff man does not touch the ball unless so directed by someone else—the thrower and the defender covering the base have the best perspective—he has his back to the infield and doesn’t know what’s happening behind him.
- Anyone can advise the cutoff man to intercept the throw for any of the following reasons: the throw is off-line, there is no play, or the throw needs to be redirected to another base.
- Never cut off a throw just because it won’t make it to the base in the air. An accurate six-hopper will reach the bag quicker than a relay throw and offers less chance for error.
- The cutoff man should go out only as far as necessary to be able to intercept the throw on the fly. That distance is a factor of an individual outfielder’s arm strength.
- Outfielders can act as cutoff men, too. When an adjacent outfielder is retrieving a ball at the fence, move into position to relay his throw.
- If you’re the guy retrieving a ball at the fence, listen for directions on where to throw. You’ll probably have more than one cutoff man available—throw to the furthest one your arm will reach in order to shorten the relay throw.
- Throws from the outfield should be directed toward a base, usually second. Possible exception: winning run going to third or home. Anyone but the cutoff man should advise the fielder where to throw.
- The throw should be low enough so that the cutoff man can intercept it if necessary (possible exception: winning run trying to score and only a throw to the plate will stop him).
- With a runner at first, normal strategy is to prevent the hitter from reaching second on a single. To do otherwise will probably result in runners at second and third, rather than first and third. Violate this rule only in special circumstances (winning run) or when you’re absolutely certain you can nail the runner going to third or home.
- When rounding a base, train yourself to tag the bag with your left foot. This will allow you to swing your right hip in a sharp pivot. As a result, you’ll turn the corner more squarely and reduce the distance to the next base.
- Run the bases as quickly as you can without taking unnecessary chances (“controlled aggression). If the defender knows you loaf on the base paths, he can take his time, be more careful in picking up the ball, and then lob it back to the infield. On the other hand, a runner who hustles puts great pressure on the defenders. An outfielder, for example, must charge your base hit, pick it up cleanly, and make a quick, accurate throw. This pressure often leads to a defensive error and an extra base for you.
- Don’t overrun the runner in front of you. There’s no bigger waste than having two runners at one base and having one or both tagged out. If you’re the lead runner, do not round a base unless you fully intend to advance to the next base (pick up your base coach early). Your actions are the only indicator the trailing runner has; if you round the bag, he may advance and that can cause big problems if you decide to return.
- Listen to your base coach, especially if the ball is behind you.
- You’re on your own when the ball is in the outfield and you’re rounding first. You can see exactly what’s going on and know better than the base coach what you can do.
- Be alert running the bases—nothing kills a rally like getting doubled up on a line drive.
- With less than two outs, don’t advance until you’re sure the ball will hit the ground.
- With two outs, you can usually saddle up and take off at the crack of the bat. Possible exception: you’re on second, no one on first, and there’s a grounder to your right. No sense running into the ball—make the defender throw to first and see what happens.
- Plan ahead. Try to anticipate all possible scenarios (e.g., grounder, deep fly) and know before the pitch what you’re going to do in each case.
- Keep runners advised of the number of outs, even if you just told him before the last batter. Let them know who has a strong arm in the outfield and who has a weak one.
- Keep the runner alert to avoid double plays.
- Through suggestions, help the runner anticipate the next play.
- Know your base runners, especially their running abilities. Extra bases are nice—extra outs aren’t.
- Base coaches must be vocal and give timely signals to runners. No signals or late signals often lead to disaster.
- Be a little conservative about sending runners an extra base with less than two outs—be more aggressive after that. Occasionally, the batter in the on-deck circle will shade your decision one way or another. Be less aggressive with a good hitter on deck.
- It’s okay to talk to the umpires and even discuss calls you may not agree with, but be respectful. They’ll likely be more responsive to courtesy than to abuse or intimidation. Remember, they’re just calling what they saw, and who’s to say you saw it correctly?
- Whether you’re running the bases or trying to make a putout, hustle! Umpires don’t like to call close plays and, if you’re loafing, the call will probably go against you.
- Show your appreciation when an official hustles getting into position to make a call. Umpires are human, too (honest), and respond to positive reinforcement.
- Go out of your way after the game to thank them for a great job, even if it wasn’t.
- Always talk to each other, that is, to everybody on your team. It’ll help you keep your head in the game and theirs, too.
- Frequently advise your teammates of the number of outs and where the runners are. They may have forgotten or maybe you did!
- Advise your teammates of an opponent’s offensive tendencies (e.g., good power, likes to go to right, slow or fast runner).
- Talk your team up; don’t talk the other team down.
- Keep your temper to yourself. If an umpire misses a call or an opponent gets on your nerves, just remember that it’s only a game.
- Always cheer a good play, even if an opponent makes it. It’ll pay dividends.
- Play as hard as you possibly can, but not at the physical risk of anyone.
- If a teammate makes an error, be encouraging.
- Be very stingy and diplomatic about providing constructive criticism, maybe offering it only when requested. If you must volunteer advice, do it privately.
- When the game is over, congratulate everybody on a good game. If your team lost, wish the winners continued success.
- Don’t bring any baggage to the next game. Forget any lack of success or slights by other players from previous games. Treat each game as a new start. A positive outlook produces positive results.