Strength and Conditioning for Softball: Why Are We Behind? Written By Jenna Straight
It's time to wake up and smell the iron softball world! Every day, the successful practices of professional and collegiate teams are adopted by high school and youth coaches. This passing of information happens with everything from game strategies to practices drills. In sports such as football, baseball, soccer, and volleyball, the emphasis on a quality strength and conditioning program has been widely adopted by coaches at the high school and youth level. Why is softball not on that list?
If you ask any of the top NCAA softball coaches if they are strength training, the answer will be unanimous. Yes, they are strength training and it is a big part of their success! So why are high school and club coaches not implementing and preaching about the importance of strength training? I believe there are three main issues:
A lack of knowledge regarding why softball players should train and the benefits it will have on performance.
A lack of understanding what distinguishes a softball training program from “working out”.
A lack of access to these programs.
Why should both players and coaches start devoting time to strength training at the high school level?
It is difficult to get anyone to commit their time to training, unless they believe it will benefit them in some way. So, here it is in a nutshell.
* Training is the only way to prevent injuries, such as ACL tears. No injury means no missed practice or playing time. No time lost on the sidelines means more time spent improving your skills. Better skills mean better chance at playing in college. Playing in college is the highest level most softball players will ever reach. Only 7.8% of high school softball players will even make it to college1. Do you want to be a part of that 7.8%? TRAIN.
* Training will improve your muscular strength, thereby improving your performance. That means hitting further, throwing harder, and running faster. ALL GOOD THINGS.
* Training is challenging and fun. Good training programs allow you to set individual goals and give you a roadmap to reach them. Athletes enjoy this type of competition, otherwise they wouldn’t be athletes!
* Every female athlete I have worked with has told me how much more confidence they have, both on and off the field, after they start training. They feel powerful, athletic, and have high self-esteem. These are traits I think every girl growing up in our superficial, appearance driven world could use some more of!
At a majority, if not all, of the top softball universities there is a full-time strength and conditioning that trains all of the athletes in the school. These strength coaches are well educated in not only how to improve the performance of their athletes but also how to keep them healthy. They design programs that take into account the special considerations that should be made for each sport.
Why do softball players need “special considerations”?
* Softball an “overhead” sport, meaning the shoulder is prone to injury. The best way to prevent these injuries is to implement a softball-specific training program. These programs are designed to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles, strengthen the surrounding musculature, and correct any muscular imbalance.
* The softball population is predominately female. (Exclusively female, if you take out the beer league slow-pitch enthusiasts!) All female athletes require appropriate ACL injury prevention training because not only is the number of ACL injuries in sports rising, but that number is significantly rising in the female half of the population. Research has shown a number of possible reasons for this gender difference. Many of which can only be prevented through specific training.
Injury prevention is only one of many the factors that distinguish a quality training program from simply working out and lifting weights. An effective training program should also include strength training, power training, rotational power development, mobility and soft tissue work, agility and speed training, as well as appropriate periodization and progression. Sounds like a lot, right? That is why the top teams in the country work with strength and conditioning coaches. You teach softball skills and we train the body to execute those skills.
What about my high-school “strength program” or “weights class”?
I have worked with over 200 athletes from 30+ high schools. Not one of these high schools has a “strength program” or “weights class” run by an NSCA Certified Strength Coach. This is the certification I have, and the only fitness certification specific to athletes. With very few exceptions, the high school strength programs at all of these schools are run by the football or wrestling coach. While these coaches may understand basic training principles, often they are not well-educated in the complexities of strength and conditioning. Each sport is different and each athlete is different. Their training programs should be specific to their sport and specific to the individual.
Many of the athletes I've worked with attended their high school “strength program” and/or “weights class” only because it was a requirement by their varsity coach. I commonly heard complaints about the lack of individuality, supervision, and proper coaching. Granted the athletes I work with are training in a private performance facility so they have experienced what training should be. In the coach’s defense, most are doing the best they can. A group of 20 or more students at a time, ages 14-18, athletes and non-athletes, and athletes from a variety of sports is not even close to an ideal training situation for a coach. Even so, the lack of proper program design is appalling. These classes should be renamed “Bodybuilding 101”. Although it may require more after school time taken away from tweeting and snap chatting, serious athletes are better off training at a private facility or finding a sport-specific program and training on their own.
What if I don't have access to, or cannot afford training in, a private performance facility?
Thankfully, the amount of softball specific training information available is steadily growing. Soon we will start seeing more programs available for individuals and coaches to use in their local gyms. I encourage you to look for a program that has all of the factors I discussed above.
There are also great resources available online. In fact, you are reading this article on one right now. Knowledge is power. Educate yourself and your athlete.
The time for change is NOW!
As coaches and parents, we want the best for our athletes. We want to give them all of the things we didn’t have. We want to teach them all of the lessons we learned the hard way. I speak from experience when I tell you, training is absolutely necessary for a long and healthy softball career.
As softball specific training information and programs become more available, teams and individuals are going to start training. Stay ahead of the competition and get started educating yourself today!
Jenna Straight is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with 12 years of playing experience and 6 years of coaching experience. During her college career, Jenna suffered two season ending injuries that could have been prevented had she been using a softball-specific training program. Determined to help other athletes avoid these injuries, she majored in Strength and Conditioning and began working in a private facility before graduating. Since 2012, she has trained over 200 athletes from a variety of sports. She now runs JennaStraight.com, a Softball Strength and Conditioning website dedicated to improving the performance and health of its readers. You can connect with Jenna on her site and Twitter.
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