Conditioning without conditioning

As I watch and hear about various practices, it’s amazing to me how much practice time gets wasted on pure conditioning. For example, coaches will have their players line up on a foul line, then have them run endless rounds of 60′ sprints. In the meantime, the clock is ticking and you’re not solving any of your other softball-related concerns, such as throwing and catching.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t see the value of conditioning. I do. I wouldn’t be checking out the Softball Performance web site all the time if I didn’t. But when you’re in-season, or even preparing for the season, running to run is just wasting time. Don’t even get me started on distance running!

Last night we ran a drill that on the surface is aimed at improving our ability to throw and catch on the run. It’s a variation of the four corners drill, where you set a player on each base and throw the ball around. Normally when this drill is run you stack two or three players at each base and alternate. Sometimes you throw to the left and run to the right, or throw right and run left to the next base to get a little movement in. But with two or three players waiting at the next base there’s no sense of urgency to get there, and the running is more of a job.

So we took it down to its bare essentials. One player on each base, throw left and run right. Now it’s a sprint, because that ball can get thrown around the bases a lot faster than anyone can jog. Depending on where you are, you barely have enough time to get there.

We ran the drill three times with each group. Do the math. Four sprints, three times each, equals 12 sprints. To make sure they were full sprints, we timed each set with a stopwatch, and on the third go-’round we offered a prize (a page of coupons to Dick’s Sporting Goods that I’d gotten for free) to each participant on the winning team. Later we used different people for baserunners in a fielding drill, which increased the amount of running considerably. But never, at any time, did we say “now it’s time for conditioning.” Everything was done within a softball context.

Imagine trying to motivate your team to run 20, 25, 30 sprints just for the sake of conditioning. You could find yourself mightily challenged. But put it into the right context and you won’t have to motivate them. They will motivate themselves and each other. And you’ll improve the conditioning of your athletes.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on June 27, 2007, in Coaching, General Thoughts, Throwing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I liked your ideas about the sport-specific running you implemented in your practices the other day.However, I do not share in your opinion about distance running (“Don’t even get me started on distance running!”) Running some amount of distance increases character. It gives athletes a sense of accomplishment, and allows them the opportunity to set and achieve tangible goals. It also fosters team cohesiveness, especially when a specific team goal is set prior to the run. If you test your athletes, and they accept the challenge, their mental strength and gumption will grow.I recognize that training with an aerobic type of activity will, *eventually*, have an effect on the reassignment of fast twitch muscle fibers to slow twitch. However, in just about every sport, softball included, endurance is an important foundation. By training with some distance work in the off-season, your athletes will increase their physical endurance. Many may contend that softball is not an aerobic sport; I would agree. However, hard-nosed softball players will have broken a sweat and maintained an elevated heart rate through out the game with their constant movement and chatter.Athletes need to be conditioned in order to perform at their optimal potential. Running distance can create physical gains and will also foster a stronger and more goal-oriented mentality in your athletes.

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  2. Kate,You make some good points on distance running. I should have been clearer. In the off-season I think it’s a very good thing, primarily for building enduance and a solid aerobic base. You are correct about athletes needing to be conditioned to perform their best. Pitchers especially need to be running distance to build the endurance they need to use their legs effectively during a long season.Where it gets off-track, in my opinion, is the pre-season and especially during the season. I have seen coaches send their kids off for five mile runs practice after practice when they should be working on skills. They’re training their bodies to be slow when they should be training them to be fast, and they’re wasting time on top of it. During the season, speed and quick recovery time is essential. That requires sprints — sport-specific training as you say. Each type of conditioning in its time.

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