Softball hitting: being early to be late

In the past I’ve written about the need to get your front foot down on time when hitting. It’s critical to ensuring you can drive through the ball, because if you’re late you end up defending against the ball instead of attacking it. Which is pretty common, especially when the pitcher can really bring it. 

But there’s another phenomenon that can affect the timing on hitting. I call it “early to be late.” What that means is the hitter loads too soon, then gets “stuck” (usually on the back side) waiting before making a positive move. At which point she winds up making the positive move too late, the front foot gets down too late, and the swing is late. 

Usually when the swing is late you assume the hitter started too late. If that were true the solution would be to start sooner. But in the “early to be late” situation, starting sooner will only make the problem worse. 

What ends up happening is a loss of momentum that slows you down. Think about hitting a nail with a hammer. If you want to hit it hard, you start with the hammer close to nail, pull the hammer up then bring it down immediately. It all happens in one continuous motion. 

Now think about what would happen if you started with the hammer in the same place, pulled it up and then paused before bringing it down. There would be a loss of power. 

It all has to do with physics and Newton’s laws of motion. The purpose of the load (of the hitter or the hammer) is to break inertia. You know – a body at rest tends to remain at rest, and a body in motion tends to remain in motion. Getting the swing started requires a lot of energy to be expended just to get going. That’s basically energy that can’t be applied to the swing if you swing from a standing start. But if you load first, you can come off of that and have more energy to put into the swing. 

That all requires you to be in continuous motion, however. If you load and stop, you haven’t gained anything. You’re just starting a static swing from further back. In other words you moved back, but when you stopped all the advantage you gained by loading stopped with it. Now you have to expend energy to get going again; you’re slower, and despite the fact that you started early you wind up being late. 

So what’s the adjustment? It’s actually changing your timing to start a little later so you can remain in continuous motion throughout the swing. You want a smooth swing, not a herky-jerky motion with stops and starts. 

Normally this is an adjustment you need to make with pitchers who are a little slower than you’re used to. If you start at the same time as you do on a faster pitcher you’ll be early and you’ll get stuck. 

I’ve used the phrase “early to be late” with a number of hitters and it’s helped them to understand how to make the adjustment. If you (or one of your players) is late on slower pitchers, give it a try. 

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 May 5, 2014, in Hitting. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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