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Drills for the sake of drills

Check out any fastpitch softball flyer or website offering instructional materials and you will find tons of books and DVDs focused on drills, drills, DRILLS! It almost seems like an arms race sometimes to see who knows the most drills.

Don’t get me wrong – drills can be very helpful. But like anything else they need to be used strategically.

Drills are only valuable when they answer an actual need (other than keeping some players occupied while you work with others). Here’s what I mean.

Take a hitting drill that focuses on extension after contact. Seems like a worthwhile way to spend your time. But if the player already has good extension after contact, it can actually be wasting time that would be better spent on another aspect that isn’t as strong.

The same goes for pitching drills focused on the arm circle. While it can always be a little better, players only have so much time to practice. That circle drill might have already hit the point of diminishing returns, where time spent increases sharply while actual gains don’t rise much at all.

The other issue with doing drills for the sake of drills is that softball skills typically require multiple combinations of movements, whereas drills are designed to isolate movements. As such, drills are great for working on isolated issues.

Sooner or later, however, those individual pieces need to be rolled back into the full skill. Spend too much time on the drills and you won’t have enough time to develop the actual skill that’s required. Sort of like spending the bulk of your time cleaning your boat instead of taking it out on the water.

Once the player has learned the basics, my recommendation is to spend as much time as possible practicing the full skill, end-to-end, and then use drills to address problems you’ve identified within them. As opposed to just running through a set of drills because you saw them on the DVD.

It will be a much more efficient use of time, and will help you turn out more game-ready players.

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Pitching, conditioning and mental toughness all in one drill

First of all, let me admit that I haven’t actually used this drill yet. But I was thinking about it the other day and thought it might be a good idea for that softball pitcher who wants to take her game to the infamous “next level.” I have a few girls in mind who I think would benefit from it.

Here are the basics. The pitcher throws a pitch as per usual. It can be any pitch – fastball, change, drop, whatever. After she throws it, rather than the catcher throwing it back the pitcher sprints to the catcher, the catcher hands her the ball, and the pitcher sprints back to the pitching rubber.

Once she is back she can follow her usual routine to throw the next pitch. You don’t want to rush that and risk poor mechanics.

Continue until the pitcher is winded – or maybe one more pitch beyond that.

This drill will do several things. Obviously, it will help the pitcher with conditioning and building up her endurance in a sport-specific way. Pitching is basically a one-step sprint. Having the pitcher sprint down and sprint back (rather than conditioning with long runs) will help encourage that quick burst and quick recovery. It will also help her build length strength to drive off quicker and more powerfully.

It will also help the pitcher gain experience with pitching when she’s tired. All too often in lessons or practice sessions the pitcher goes for a half hour and is done. It’s not too tough to maintain good mechanics in that timeframe, especially if there are water breaks or chats in-between.

But in a game, or especially at a tournament, fatigue can set in quickly. If the pitcher isn’t used to pitching through it she can struggle. Her mechanics can break down and she’ll be doing anything she can to chuck the ball at the plate. Including things that could hurt her physically. But if she learns to pitch through fatigue in a controlled environment she’ll be much better prepared for the afternoon or evening of the last day of a tournament.

Finally, it will help her mental game, showing her that she can push past her normal breaking point and learn to focus even when she’s sucking wind. Especially if, as you should, you insist that her control, speed and movement remain consistent no matter how tired she gets.

Now, this is not the sort of thing I would recommend for every practice session. But every now and then – maybe once a week if she’s practicing regularly – it can make a huge difference.

If you want to give your pitcher a good workout, especially after the holidays as many are preparing for the high school season or the summer, give this drill a try. And be sure to let me know how it goes.

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