Fast-pitch softball is a difficult sport to teach. The skills required can take years to master. From intermediate levels on up, this is a tactical sport that puts a premium on precise execution and split-second responses. Well-drilled teams can beat more athletic teams again and again. What you accomplish on the practice field is critical to individual and team success.
Create a Season Game Plan
Select a variety of drills to use during the season. Map out your practice frequency. Teach your assistant coaches and volunteers these drills so everybody works off the same page. "Preparation produces successful results when it comes to the coaching staff," Shannon Murray, assistant coach at Lake Forest College, wrote on the Fastpitch TV website. "Before the season starts, design and come to an understanding of a team management system (for warm-ups, how drills are run, expectations of the players and parents, etc.) so that everyone understands how the team is run."
Create a plan for each practice. Start and end on time. Show players and parents that you are highly organized. Break each session into 15- to 20-minute chunks, stressing fielding and hitting fundamentals. Start with the most basic drills and gradually mix in more involved exercises. Create enough variety to prevent monotony while providing some continuity to maintain order. Finish each practice with team activities such as situational defense, base-running and hitting.
Start with Dynamic Stretching
Open each practice with a slow team jog to get the blood pumping. Then spend 10 to 15 minutes doing a variety of dynamic exercises. Possibilities include high knee pulls, forward skips with arm swings, shuffling side lunges, swinging side skips, forward lunges with a twist, walking quad stretches, high kicks, skip kicks and walking arm circles. This prepares the players to go hard in practice.
Work on Throwing, Catching
Stress proper throwing mechanics and solid receiving fundamentals. Do not use playing catch as a mere warm-up exercise. Teach players to shift from their receiving position to throwing position with good footwork. Stretch the throwing distances as they improve. Use the chain throwing drill to emphasize catching the ball in a good position to turn and throw. You can never practice throwing and catching enough.
Break Drills Into Stations
Keep your players busy. Do not allow much standing around. In hitting drills, for instance, break the team into thirds. Perhaps work one group on bunting, another on swing mechanics and the third group on hitting simulated pitching. There are dozens of simple hitting drills to choose from. Move players from station to station every 5 to 7 minutes. Do the same with fielding drills, splitting infielders and outfielders for individual work. Turn drills into games to make them fun.
Finish With Game Situations
Teach the mental side of the game at each practice. Use drills that stress situational reaction and execution. "We’ve all seen that part of fielding a ball -- an accurate throw -- destroy not only the play, but in some cases your entire season," long-time collegiate and professional coach Cindy Bristow wrote on her Softball Excellence website. "So it’s important to set up defensive situations in practice that give our players opportunities to practice fielding and throwing as well as concentration and focus."
Instill Discipline, Build Tempo
Teach players to pay attention, practice well and remain responsible to the group. Speak clearly and firmly to the group but don't yell. Insist on hustle. "Your team could be a first-year 10U team that just learned how to catch the ball in the outfield the day before your tournament. Just because you and your team know that, doesn’t mean other teams need to know that. Giving a presence of hustle shows that your athletes are disciplined enough to know they need to run on and off the field," Keri Casas, an instructor at All American Softball, wrote on the Coaching a Female Athlete blog.