Do you want to hear my answer, their answers or the right answer? Oh sorry if you are just joining us for the first time this month we are in the middle of a 3 part series on slapping. The question of course is “How should a slapper hold the bat?” I'll skip the silly answers from me and them and jump right to the right answer … slappers should hold the bat where it allows them to have the most control.
The reason so many coaches yell “choke up a little bit” when players have two strikes on them is that the closer your hands are to the head of the bat the more control you have. That principle applies to slappers as well. My recommendation for players learning to slap is to have their hands choked up as high as they need to. As the player gets more advanced they can slide those hands back down to a normal grip.
Hopefully after a month of working on the footwork we discussed last month that part of the skill is already muscle memory. If you didn't read last months article be sure to go back and do that, everything else is going to be based on good foot work. This month we are actually going to put the bat on the ball. Well almost, we are going to catch the ball with the bat and set it down, where we want, as softly as we can. Our goal is to have “fast feet and soft hands.” I stole that phrase from a dear friend of mine named Shawna Norris who said it often to help players visualize the separate and distinct actions that they needed to in order to perform a “drag bunt.” Basically the same kind of bunt that a normal batter would attempt, you are just doing it while moving about 100 miles per hour.
Stand in position with the bat ready to go. Slide your right foot back, as you've been practicing. As you take that step with your left leg, that will get you into your track star starting position.Slide your left hand up to the barrel of the bat. Hopefully that right shoulder is automatically staying in by now over your left foot. Now bring your left foot back into position, and as you do, put the bat back on your shoulder. Just as we practiced that footwork by itself last month, you should practice those steps now, learning how to slide that hand up and down the bat in rhythm with your footwork.
“Ok enough of this constant footwork … wanna start slapping.” I hear ya. I hear ya. Well then go grab your bat, your batting tee and some rolled up socks. Set your batting tee up as though it will be a very low, very outside pitch. And start practicing. Your goal isn't to drive the socks across the room, it is to touch them just hard enough to make them fall off the batting tee. In other words “soft hands.”
Once you've practice indoors you are ready for the field. At the field be sure that you set that tee up way low and way outside. That's the worst pitch for slappers so you might as well practice it as you get started. It will force that right shoulder to stay in, and will keep you from pulling away from the ball and trying to run up the first base line. At the field it is important that you have complete control of where the ball goes. Your first target is going to be right up the third base line. You want to take advantage of a third basemen who may be playing to far back, and your goal is to keep it close enough to the line that she has to turn her back to first base to field it, or she has to take extra steps trying to round the ball. A controlled, soft drag bunt up the third base line is a great way to start having success as a slapper. One secret that I have all my players try is to keep their eyes on the ball until it is actually on the ground. Your feet keep moving but you keep those eyes on the ball.
As you get more and more comfortable, start moving the batting tee to different locations and different heights. Each new position will force you to adjust your hands and the angle of the bat. At this point you are still always trying to softly move the ball off the tee in a direction that rolls right near the third base line. After you feel that you have done that enough to do it with your eyes closed, then you are ready to move on to the next step. Drag bunting the ball right up the middle into an area that will force the third basemen, Pitcher and first basemen to communicate in order to figure out who is supposed to take it. As always you are trying to do this softly. If you poke the ball back to the pitcher then it will be obvious that the ball is hers. If you don't have control and it goes clearly to one side or the other the 38 or the 1B will know it's their's.
Our final step, and the bunt that works 99 times out of 100 (when it's executed correctly) is the drag bunt up the first base line. Notice I put the phrase “when it's executed correctly” in brackets. The hardest part of doing this bunt has to do with the angle your bat comes to the ball. If your hands just naturally come all the way around from your shoulder to the ball to try and get it up the first base line then the bat will have a lot of speed on it. Yikes!!! We want “soft hands” and “fast feet” not “fast hands.” A fast bat means a sharply hit ball that is going right at the first basemen. Easy out. A trick that has worked out well for my students for years is to bring the bat off your shoulder into the position that you want to make contact with the ball. That's not very natural and takes a lot of practice. In fact it's not even very easy to explain in an article. Fortunately Graham is going to demonstrate exactly what I mean in the video so be sure to pay attention to the demonstration and practice it a lot. Help yourself succeed by setting the batting tee up inside initially as you are starting this.
If you have someone who can soft toss to you then that is a great next step. But your best friend is going to be that batting tee as you start mastering the art of “fast feet and soft hands.”
Dalton Ruer: Coach Ruer has been using softball to encourage and motivate athletes for 15 years. Throughout the year he is a private softball instructor to many college bound athletes in Georgia. He facilitates team based clinics and instructs at many elite and college recruiting softball camps. His specialties are helping players verbalize their dreams and establish a plan to achieve them and helping players overcome the fears that are holding them back from being exceptional athletes. He has produced 6 instructional DVD’s covering all aspects of how to win the short game and how to dive for the ball. Keep up with Coach Dalton by visiting his blog and resource site at CrossTrainingSoftball.com. Join Dalton On: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube
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