Hitting A Fastpitch Softball

Hitting A Fastpitch Softball

Hitting A Fastpitch Softball Written By Rick Fitzpatrick

The first thing we need to talk about is the stance. It’s the most over coached aspect of hitting. There is no one perfect hitter’s stance, and there is room for some individual expression within reason. To demonstrate a beginning starting point, we will line up in a neutral position with the belly button near the middle of the plate. The toes will be squared and close to the inside batter’s box line, approximately 6 inches from home plate. The inside of the feet should line up on the outside of the shoulders, and wider if you don’t stride. You should be balanced at this point, with the weight being 50/50 from the front to the back leg, and the weight distributed on the inside of our knees. The bat should be on the back shoulder, and a young hitter should line up their door knocking or middle knuckles at this time. The bat should rest on the pads of the fingers and not deep in the palm of the hands. The batter should have a good two eyed look at the pitcher, or level head. When the pitcher’s hands come together, we should raise our bat off our shoulder. In machine pitch, the batter will raise her hands when she has set her feet, and is comfortable in the box, and looks at the pitcher. The hands on the handle of the bat should be somewhere close to the point where our top hand thumb should be around our right ear if you’re a right handed hitter. A lefty of course is just the opposite. The bat should be at a 45 degree angle, if you are looking at the batter from behind her. The barrel of the bat should be in the back middle of the helmet. The hitter should be in a good 50/50 balanced athletic position with flexion in the knees and waist. Check here for slightly more weight on the balls of the feet than on the heels. Just as a side note, have the hitter bend at the waist first before bending at the knees. This will help prevent the hitter sitting their weight back on the heels.

The next phase of preparing to hit is the negative move, or moving backwards before moving forward. Think of a golfer moving the golf club back before swinging forward with the club and hitting the golf ball. The negative move is made by the batter, when the pitcher begins her forward movement during her wind up. In machine pitch, it will be after the pitcher had raised or shown the ball to the batter, and lowers the ball to feed the pitching machine. The negative move begins from the neutral stance. Then the batter simply shifts the weight rearward slightly, keeping the back knee inside the back foot. The weight will be approximately 60/40 or so to the back side, and the weight should be felt on the inside of the back knee. At the same time, the hands will shift rearward, and the top hand will be somewhere near the top of the back shoulder. The lead hand will be lined up somewhere around the arm pit, inside the lead elbow, like in a Frisbee throwing position. The top hand wrist should be cocked, like hammering a nail, so the bat will be at a 45 degree angle, crossing the back half middle of the helmet. The head should be level and will move forward past the center of the body, as the hands move rearward. The front shoulder should be below the back shoulder by no more than 12 degrees, and the front shoulder turned in slightly. Now that the weight is transferred to the back side, with the hands back and the head forward, you are in a strong position to attack the ball.

The positive move, or a positive linear movement forward to the ball, is the next phase of hitting a fastpitch softball. During this phase is where things usually start to come undone with young hitters, so pay close attention to the fine details from this point on. The timing or beginning of the positive move depends on the speed and delivery style of the pitcher. Just for our discussion here, we will say it begins somewhere near the pitchers release of the ball, and you can adjust accordingly from there. In machine pitch, the pitching machine is set at approximately 35 MPH from a distance of 35 feet. The beginning of the positive move will vary from player to player. It may be when the batter first sees the ball come out of the machine, and they can adjust from there, depending on the athlete. It’s better to be early than late with the positive move when swinging away. What sets this phase in motion is the toe touch of the stride foot, or when the stride foot lands. If the batter does not stride, then it is simply a weight transfer moving forward from the back to the front side, while the feet remain in place. If the batter strides, then the stride foot should land softly on the inside ball of the foot with a slight flexion in the knee, and the heel slightly elevated. Landing softly like stepping on thin ice, and be slightly open at this point at a 45 degree angle or less. Then after toe touch occurs, and the body begins its positive linear motion forward, the head should once again be centered back over the body. The weight should now be balanced on inside of the knees, and the knees on the inside of the feet, as the athletic base is reestablished. The hips should remain square to the plate during the positive move, with the shoulders slightly inward. If you had your batter freeze at this point, the inside eye should be lined up in a straight line with the belly button, the crotch area, and to the ground centered between the feet. Something interesting to point out that occurs during the toe touch phase of the swing. It doesn’t matter if you are a contact hitter or power hitter. All great hitters in our game look similar in their mechanics at toe touch on film.

The positive linear movement is stopped by the heel plant of the stride foot and rotation begins. The first thing that happens after heel plant of the front foot is the heel of the back foot begins to lift only, and not rotate, or “Squash the Bug” immediately . Then the front leg begins to stiffen up to create a firm front side, but there is still small flexion in the front knee. The lead elbow now begins to move forward and up, while the lead hand remains inside the lead elbow, in the Frisbee throwing position. The lead hand inside the lead elbow, is the most efficient position to keep the hands inside the path of the ball. Simultaneously, the back elbow moves forward and down to the slot position, or to the stripe of the pants, after the hips have begun to rotate. Think of the back elbow and arm in a position as if you were going to skip a rock on the water, with the elbow leading the hand, or the hand behind the elbow. Regarding the top hand, I need to further emphasize here, “The top hand ELBOW is in front of the top hand after the beginning of rotation”, not the top hand in front of the elbow!! If you freeze the batter here, the top hand should be slightly behind, to no more than even, with the elbow of the back arm. This angle puts the back side in a strong position to attack the ball, just after rotation and acceleration of the hips begin. The barrel is still above the hands, the hands are above the ball, and the top hand wrist is still cocked. Next is Connection, this is where the top half and the bottom half of the body line up and begin to work together. At connection, all batter mechanics should look the same on film. Regardless if they
are a contact or power hitter, or even a left handed slapper! Connection occurs just as the hands begin to move forward past the back shoulder. You can freeze the batter once more. Now look to see if the hands, the ebow of the back arm, and the back side hip line up vertically. All three should be in vertical alignment at this point, just as the hips begin to open and accelerate. Also, check here to see if the inside eye and the belly button line up, that straight line should continue on to the ground between the legs. Then as the hands continue forward during the swing, the front shoulder will raise above the back shoulder. The lead elbow is now raised above the hands and will remain there through the swing, no matter where the pitch is located, creating spacing between the elbows. Now, as the hands continue on past the center of gravity (belly button), inside the path of the ball, this creates bat lag. Bat lag is where the barrel of the bat lags behind the knob of the bat, and the barrel enters the path of the ball. During bat lag is the last time the barrel of the bat will be even, to very slightly above the hands. If you break the swing down on film, the very next time frame, the barrel of the bat will drop below the hands! The top hand wrist is still cocked and not yet released the energy created by the hip rotation to the ball. Then as the ball enters the contact zone, as the hips continue to rotate, the top hand wrist finally releases the barrel of the bat toward the ball.

At contact, the front elbow will be above the hands, the hands above the barrel of the bat in a palm up and palm down position, with spacing between the elbows. You can freeze your hitter’s in drill work at the point of contact and check these points. You can also check and look for something at contact called Vertical Stacking. What you should see in Vertical Stacking is the back side shoulder, back side hip and the back knee should be in a vertical straight line. Then after contact and follow through, you are looking for a firm front side, weight transferred forward, back side heel lift and rotation, a slight lazy L of the back leg, good hip rotation, a C position to the inside of the body, chin on the back shoulder, eyes at the point of contact, hands over the lead shoulder, plus balance and control. A safety note to point out here, is to make sure the hitter directs the bat over the shoulder, and not through the shoulder at follow through. Extension of the arms and wrist roll should not occur until well after contact and during follow through.

We have all used the phrase “Squash the Bug” in times past, and on occasion still do. However, elite college coaches in clinics across the nation are asking instructors at all age levels to stop teaching this concept to young hitters. Due to video study of biomechanics, and after analyzing the swings of many elite hitters in softball and baseball, the facts are this concept was simply flawed. In closing, I would like to say, that hitting is the greatest challenge in all sports. So don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult, keep a Green Mental Light. It takes many years and tons of dedicated work to master, and even then you will fail more than you succeed. Remember, hitting a softball or baseball is the only athletic endeavor that I know of, that being successful only three times out of ten attempts is considered a good performance. Good luck this season, stay positive, and work on your hitting every chance you get!

Bullet Points
1. The basic mechanics of the swing are the same, no matter the location of the pitch.
2. Hitting is Linear and Rotational.
3. Always look high and in, adjust low, or out.
4. There is no squashing the bug.
5. Stance DNA, not all stances will be identical.
6. At toe touch is where all great contact and power hitter’s mechanics look the same.
7. At connection, on film (all) batters should look the same in their mechanic’s. Regardless if they are a contact or power hitter, or even a left handed slapper!!
8. The Negative move, I have to go back before I go forward.
9. My body follows my head.
10. The Strategy is to think attack at toe touch. Thinking swing at every pitch, last second the only decision is not to swing.
11. Good 2 eyed look at the pitcher or head level.
12. Hips stay square to the plate during the positive move.
13. Knees stay inside the feet.
14. At toe touch, the head goes forward and the weight is transferred from the back side.
15. Rotation begins at the heel plant of the stride foot, the heel plant stops the linear movement from going forward.
16. When the front heel goes down the back heel comes up.
17. Connection is where the bottom and top half of the body line up and begin to work together.
18. At connection, or the just after beginning of rotation, the hands, back elbow, and back hip should be in vertical alignment. I should also be able to draw a straight line from the inside eye through my belly button, on to the ground between the legs.

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Rick FitzpatrickRick Fitzpatrick has over 25 years coaching experience at various levels of travel and high school fastpitch softball, as a parent and
non-parent coach. The majority of his travel ball experience was with the Oklahoma Original Ultimate Gold, primarily working with catchers, outfielders, slappers, and recruiting. He also served over ten years as a volunteer assistant for the Rush Springs,Ok High School Fastpitch Team, being part of several state tournament appearances, one 2A High School State Championship, and producing 12 All-State Student Athletes.

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