Secrets of Softball Savvy Written By Matt Lisle
Is your team as Softball Savvy as you think during games? I watch a lot of college, travel and high school softball games and am amazed at some of the things I see during games. Here is a break down of things that I notice Championship teams do to stay focused in games and display high levels of Softball Savvy that go highly unnoticed to the common set of eyes.
Savvy on Offense
Championship teams have a lot going on in the dugout that most fans don’t see. Not only are the coaches charting and working off scouting reports to call pitches and position the defensive, the players have a lot going on as well. There are always a few players that are working on trying to decipher the signs given by the opposing pitching coach to the catcher as well as a player and/or coach focusing on watching the pitcher to see if she gives away any of her pitches by pre-gripping or by tendencies in her delivery that might give away a pitch. They always have a few players charting tendencies as well.
Cheering, chants and songs are a big part of softball and I’m all for it. But if your team does those things the expectation is that everyone participates. Not just a handful.
On Deck Batter & Foul Balls
Most players and coaches know that the task of the On Deck Batter and In-The-Hole Hitter are to begin the process of getting focused in on their upcoming task of hitting with focusing on timing and approach. What most coaches and players don’t realize is that there are a few other “jobs” they have on a championship team.
The On Deck Batter has to know that if there is a play at the plate they will be behind home plate directing traffic to the runner letting them know whether to slide or not. It is also their responsibility to get any foul balls that come to their side. There aren’t too many things that irk me more than seeing a catcher run after a foul ball twenty five feet away that lands a foot from the on deck batter’s feet. By the on deck batter securing any foul balls on their side it’s sign of respect to the game of softball, the other team and especially the umpire by helping the game have a healthy tempo.
A key teaching point on retrieving foul balls in general: Anytime a coach or player on your team retrieves a foul ball, make sure to HAND the umpire the ball. Do not throw it even if you are only three feet away and are under handing it. We’ve all seen throws into the catcher or umpire that are errant or get dropped. Not only is it embarrassing but it also slows the tempo of a great game. Umpires appreciate and respect coaches and players that will run up to them and hand them the ball.
Championship teams also make sure to shag the foul balls down the foul line on their side of the field. My eyes roll back into my head when I see a foul ball go down into the corner of the field and the corner outfielder runs 100 feet to get it, throw it back in and then head back to their position. I love seeing a player fly out of the dugout as soon as it happens yelling “I got you” or “let it go” so that the game doesn’t have to wait and can continue without delay.
When an at-bat ends we want the In-The-Hole Hitter to go directly to the on deck circle so that they can begin their process of getting ready to hit. What we don’t want is for them to head towards home plate, pick up the bat of the previous hitter, and then walk all the way back to the dugout before finally proceeding to the on deck circle. To fix this issue we have the new In-The-Hole Hitter retrieve the bat. It seems like a simple step, but I see very few teams even at the collegiate level do it.
Pick-Up Your Teammate
When your team scores a run, or a player executes a sacrifice bunt or moves a runner over, everyone should get up in the dugout and pick up that player by giving her a high-five, fist pound, “thatta girl” or something positive to her regardless of the score. It shows that you’re focused in the game and also a great encouragement to your teammates. This is especially important for when players execute a quality at-bat that they don’t reach base on. On a non-championship team there are times that a player will hit a sacrifice fly to score the run and everyone high-fives the girl who scored and forgets the girl who drove her in. This sends the wrong message that only base hits help the team win.
Organized Dugout & Hustle
The dugout is your teams’ sanctuary. It should be kept extremely tidy. If possible, keep all bags out of the dugout or hang them to maximize your space. The only items that should be out of the bags are gloves and bats. Anything that is not needed in the game should not be in the dugout or at least not out of the bag. I see dugouts that have shoes, clothes and personal items strewn about and coaches and players tripping over them while trying to get in and out of the dugout. Which leads into next thing that championship teams do. As soon the defense gets in from the field, all outfielders should have their gloves placed together somewhere in the dugout and all the infielders gloves in a separate pile so that when the inning ends your nearest fielder can pick you up without having to look all over for your stuff. So much warmup time is lost when players spend a minute or longer looking for their glove between innings. Having your gloves organized allows the last batter of the inning and runners that are stranded on the bases to head directly to their position without having to run all the way back into the dugout. Players can your helmet to the nearest base coach and sprint out knowing that another player is going to pick them up.
A lot of coaches & players will read the above paragraph and say, “I don’t think those things are that important”. Championship teams think they are important. Championship teams know that they want to maximize every little detail of the game and want to use their 90 seconds of warm-up between innings getting as ready as possible for that inning. That’s why championship teams demand that as soon as the last batter of the inning gets out, they expect all 9 defensive players to be at their position in less than 15 seconds including the catcher and last batter (sometimes the same person).
In the next game that you play, stopwatch the amount of time you get to warm-up between innings and then stop watch how long it takes your team to get to their positions. Are you maximizing your time on the field? If you add this into your practice schedule every once in a while, you will notice how much this improves your teams over hustle and in the games you’ll notice that the umpire will appreciate your team even more and everyone wants the umpire to like them at least a little more.
Savvy on Defense
While on defense there are a few key things that championship teams do outside of just playing defense.
A championship team has players in the dugout working on deciphering the sign system of the 3B coach while also keeping a close eye on the batter and runner to communicate anytime the offense is up to something. They always have a player designated to give the CF and 1B a ball when they run in to have them prepared for the next inning’s warm-up.
Keeping with the theme of hustle, competing and respecting the game as soon as the third out is recorded on defense, we expect the entire defense to be in the dugout in less than 10 seconds. I love seeing defenses that are so excited to go hit they literally have a race to the bat rack. You can even incorporate this into your practice as a conditioning drill. Player’s love to see what their time was and if they beat the record.
Want to have the savviest team around? Start by having a classroom session teaching the little things, post a list in the dugout and then go out and practice it. You’ll find that your teams’ hustle will increase. You’ll find that your games go faster and have better tempo and you’ll see that they are so much more focused which will translate into a few more W’s in the win column as well.
Matt Lisle: Matt is a coach, writer, clinician and scout that works with collegiate and professional baseball and softball players. He formerly worked with hitters & catchers at the University of Oregon (2013 Pac-12 Champions) and now serves as the lead Assistant Coach at Cal State East Bay. He is also an Associate Scout for the Detroit Tigers. Keep up with Matt Lisle by visiting his site at CoachLisle.com. Like Coach Lisle on: Facebook and follow on Twitter.
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