Hitting a softball is not easy if you don't have the right fundamentals nailed down. Coaches emphasize correct softball hitting fundamentals because they know: for players to be successful at the plate they need to have the fundamentals properly aligned.
If you're a softball player and want to learn more about the hitting fundamentals of the game here is a quick review of what you need to know:
Softball Fundamental No.1: The Right Grip
When gripping the bat, the hitter needs to apply pressure with the fingers, not the palms. She grips the bat where the calluses are. The bottom hand which would be the left hand for a right-handed batter controls the bat, and the top hand supports the bat loosely. The bottom hand grips the bat just like a person would grip a hammer or a golf club.
The top hand is placed against the bottom hand with the door-knocking knuckles (middle knuckles) of both hands in a straight line. The arms are not crossed. The bat is gripped loosely and the wrists have some flexibility.
Some hitters curl the index finger of the top hand so that it only lightly touches the bat. For better bat control the player may choke up on the bat by moving both hands several inches up from the knob. A choke grip means a shorter bat and less power.
Softball Fundamental No.2: Hand Position
The hands start close to the body about three to four inches in front of the chest and between the shoulders. Both elbows are down, and the shoulders are tension free. Some players prefer a little movement back and forth with the hands and shoulders to keep them loose. This position is known as the power position, or power alley.
Softball Fundamental No.3: Stance
The player positions herself in the center of the batter's box so she can swing at pitches all over the strike zone. The batter keeps her feet parallel to the direction home plate is pointing and digs them in around shoulder-width apart.
She bends her knees slightly, and keeps her weight evenly distributed on the balls of her feet. She moves her hands about 5 to 7 inches away from her body and approximately even with her shoulders. She points the bat upward and angles it slightly toward her body and then turns her head toward the pitches and focuses her eyes on the upcoming pitch.
Softball Fundamental No.4: Stride
As the pitcher is moving toward the release, the hitter is starting to make some preparatory movement -- the stride, which moves the front foot to establish momentum into the pitch. The stride should not be more than eight inches.
At the same time with the stride, most hitters will cock their hips and also have some movement with the hands. The hip cock is the inward turn of the front hip. The front shoulder also turns in a little as the front hip turns in. The hips remain parallel during this cocking action and the front shoulder should be a little lower than the back shoulder. The front knee turns in slightly and points at home plate, and the back knee remains firm but flexed.
As the hips and shoulders are turning, the hands are moving as well. Just after the stride, the hitter's top hand turns slightly so that it is closer to the pitcher than the bottom hand. As the pitcher releases the ball, all preparatory movement should be completed.
As the stride is completed, the hitter's weight is back on the inside of the rear foot. The hands should now be in the hitting position, just off the rear shoulder as the ball is released. The knees should be flexed and ready to initiate the swinging motion.
Softball Fundamental No.5: Swing
The swing begins with the leg and hips (the hands and shoulders stay back). The hitter pushes off the ball of the back foot as the softball approaches the plate. The back knee will begin to move in and the hips begin to rotate. During rotation the hips remain parallel to the ground.
During the movement of the legs and hips, it's important that the head and eyes remain level and still. As the hands begin to move the knob of the bat toward the ball, the hitter does not allow the bat head to fall below the hands. The lead arm maintains a 90-degree angle. This method of approaching the ball guarantees a shorter arc and a more compact swing.
One of the most important body part is the front shoulder. Stress to the hitter to drive the front shoulder to the ball. If the front shoulder pulls away from the ball, the following problems might happen: the head will come out of the proper position and eye contact with the ball will be reduced, the back shoulder will drop down and that makes an unlevel position for the shoulders in their approach to the ball, the hands will drop which creates a loop in the swing, the back leg will collapse and eliminate any positive hip action in the swing. The batter should therefore allow the front shoulder to track the ball from the pitcher's hand to the contact zone.
As the bat approaches the ball, the arms remain bent. If the arms are extended too early in the swing, the swing arc will be too large and the hitter will sacrifice bat speed and power. As the hands move closer to contact, the top hand begins to rotate so that at contact the palm is nearly facing up. The hips continue to rotate as the hitter approaches the contact point. The back leg continues to drive into a now firm front leg, and the back toe begins to turn toward the pitcher.
Softball Fundamental No.6: Contact
The contact spot for a pitch down the middle is directly opposite the front hip. If the player were delivering a punch, she would want the recipient to be standing at this spot to get the maximum blow. Contact for an inside pitch happens sooner, in front of the body, and the hips must open earlier.
On an inside pitch the batter should drive the back elbow into the body to get the hands out sooner and open the hips more quickly. For an outside pitch the contact spot is between the center of the body and the back hip, so the batter must wait on the ball. The hips stay closed until contact, and then the back hip drives through. The hands are well ahead of the bat head on an outside pitch.
The batter must be patient and wait for the ball to come to her. By using good rotation of the hips, the hitter can hit just as hard to the opposite field as she does when pulling a pitch. The player must understand where to make contact with different pitches so that she hits the ball hard at each location.
At contact, both arms are bent close to 90 degrees and the bat is driven through the ball on a level plane. After the ball has left the bat, both arms are fully extended. Both arms are straight, and the hitter should be looking down both arms and the barrel of the bat.
The thumb and forefinger of the top hand are on top the bat, and the V between them points directly at the contact spot. As full extension of the arms is reached, deceleration occurs and the bat loses speed. The hitter moves her head down at contact and feels her chest go to the ball while maintaining a firm and rigid front side.
The action is like when a boxer drives his back hand and body into an opponent. Due to the pivot the back foot and knee are pointing at the front leg. Most of the weight is transferred to the inside of the front foot and leg. The body is in a balanced position with weight on balls of the feet. The body flows into the ball.
Softball Fundamental No.7: Follow-Through
After contact the hitter must concentrate on hitting through the ball. The bat continues to move in the direction the ball is hit. A full weight transfer occurs with the majority of the hitter's weight over the firm front leg. This weight transfer helps ensure a long, full follow-through and a quicker time to first base. After contact is made and the follow-through is complete, the hitter's weight is balanced between both feet with the hitter's ear, back shoulder, hip and back knee in line with one another.
Marc Dagenais, MHK, CSCS, is a softball peak performance coach that helps players and teams hit with more power, run faster, throw harder, become mentally tougher, and be more dominant on the softball field.