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Indoor Drilling

by Dave
Thursday, February 23, 2006

If you are anywhere that the daytime high temperature doesn't exceed 50 and you are a softball player or coach, you probably are either not yet practicing or you are stuck inside some sort of gym.   Any kind of sport practice can become drudgery if the coaches don't come up with interesting variations on the normal drills but this is even more the case while you wait for the frost to melt on ball fields in the northern part of the country.   As a coach, part of your responsibility is to make practices more effective which means more interesting.

Hitting

Excessive machine-pitched batting practice not only has limited benefits, it can result in your hitters actually taking a step backwards after a certain number of repetitions.   That's because a bored hitter tends to allow her fundamentals to falter when she is not fresh.   Three rep.s of 20 pitches inside the batting cages is about the limit for most hitters.   You can do better if you allow your pitchers to pitch batting practice and you make each at-bat into a real at-bat, not just twenty pitches and get out.   I strongly urge the use of safety balls (rubberized regulation size and weight softballs with seams) when running indoor live hitting drills.

You can even make a contest out of live hitting drills.   Form up two teams of hitters and develop a scoring system.   For example, require hitters in particular innings to hit to the left, right or through the middle in order to score.   The first inning might be a "rightfield" inning where the batters have to hit a certain section of the net to her right side in order to gain one point.   Everything else is an out.   Three outs and the other side hits.

Alternatively, you can side up the pitchers against the hitters.   Give the pitchers 3 points for a K (looking or swinging) and the batters points based on some predetermined scoring system.   Rotate your pitchers so that each throws against each batter at least one.   When we do live hitting drills, the idea is to have batters get used to picking up the ball from different looking release points.   Machines don't help that skill.

You can also try some bunting contests.   For this, it is best if you can actually lay down some targets.   If you have mats or carpets of relatively small size, these should work.   But if you don't, you can use balls and require the bunter to hit the ball in order to score.   I assume you have already run bunting drills using machine pitched or soft tossed balls.   The only way your bunters are going to be able to gain skill for games is to practice bunting with live pitching.   For bunting contests, it's probably not a good idea to run hitters against pitchers but if you try it and get results, well, more power to you.

If you do not have circumstances which allow for these sorts of live hitting drills, I want to suggest to you that simply sticking your girls into a batting cage is not going to achieve the results you want.   A better idea is to have your kids do as many varied hitting drills as possible.   Don't ignore the tee as most serious mechanical work should really take place there.   the idea with a tee is to develop muscle memory that doesn't break down when hitting live or machine thrown pitching.   The hitter is able to avoid all the timing and other issues which come up with facing pitchers and concentrate on pure hitting mechanics.

Soft tossed should also not be ignored as it does add just that one more layer to the mechanics.   You can use regular balls or safety ones if you have a net into which the hitter hits or you can even use whiffle balls.   A decent drill is using golfball-sized whiffle balls as it makes the batter concentrate.   try soft tossing from the usual places and then move behind the hitter for a few repetitions.   The hitter doesn't see the ball until it enters her normal field of vision (no peaking) and this help her to develop hand speed.

Fielding

There is a simple problem with conducting fielding drills indoors, environment.   You have neither the real ground and all that it does to grounders nor a realistic background for picking up the ball.   If you have some sort of artificial turf on which to field grounders, that's great and you should use it but it doesn't nearly mimic what real infield dirt does to the spin of a ball.   Also, there is nothing you can do inside a gym which is anything like picking up a hit ball out in natural light with all that a real ball field has around it.   Concentrate on fundamentals like agility, body position while fielding and quick release on making throws to other fielders.

One agility drill I like uses tennis or any other kind on bouncy ball.   One partner assumes a push-up position with knees on the floor and arms fully extended.   Another stands 15 feet away and bounces the ball in front of her partner or just to either side.   The girl in the push-up position jumps to her feet and tries to retrieve the ball before the second bounce.   25 rep.s should be good for this one.   then partners trade positions.   This quickens reaction times and can be used for conditioning as well.

Another good agility drill involves a fielder and a partner.   The partner stands about fifteen or so feet away and alternates rolling the ball to the fielders left and then right.   The fielder assumes good ready position then scoots to the right or left and retrieves the ball in good fielding position, then returns it to the partner.   The ball can be any sort of ball and there is no reason for the fielder to use a glove.   The benefits of this drill are using proper body position on fielding "grounders" and conditioning since the fielder should work up a good sweat performing 25-50 repetitions, then switch places with her partner.

You can also do various drills meant to improve hand speed.   If you are in a real gymnasium with a full sized basketball court, you can chose up sides and play a game like a basketball drill where your girls pass the ball to each other.   Again, use safety balls for this and don't throw near any windows - don't allow shots at the basket as you'll ding up the backboard and likely lose your practice space.   You can set up "goals" at each end using buckets or some such.   The idea here is to get your girls running short sprints and throwing the ball to each other.   No running with the ball - that's traveling!

Another way you can use indoor space is to run a game with regular sized whiffle balls where the pitch is soft tossed and the fielders use bare hands to try to catch the hit ball.   I'm sure you can use your own imagination to develop ways to make this into a scored competition.

Another game you can use to develop hand speed and throwing accuracy is a sort of "monkey-in-the-middle" game but you'll need some cones to mark out where players are allowed to roam to.   The purpose of this sort of drill or game is not specific skills but rather fun while developing skills you can use later in pickle and other drills.

One final thing you can use to drill indoors is a game of pepper where three fielders and one hitter take turns in each position and the fielder soft tosses the ball to the hitter who hits it lightly back at the three fielders.   This isn't a game with a score but rather another drill you can use.   You can do a variation on this where the hitter bunts rather than taps the ball back to the fielders.   Pepper gets boring after about 15 minutes but it is a good drill for fielders to develop hand-eye coordination while warming up.

Throwing

Probably one of the easiest skills to work in a gymnasium is throwing.   that is unless you don't have at least 60-90 feet of floor.   if you do have ample space, you should try to work realistic distances.   if you do have 90 feet of distance, you can work your catchers and other fielders out completely.   if you have close to that, you can still work throwing but you have to consider that you may cause your fielders to get used to too short of a distance.   If you suffer from a lack of space, a better way to approach things is to either focus on throwing fundamentals or work on speeding up getting the ball out of your glove and making a quick release.   Have your players play a game of catch while on one or both knees.   Use some sort of padding (like a base or sweat shirt) to avoid knee problems.   Focus on throwing fundamentals and accuracy.

One drill you can use to build exchange speed between players in a relatively small space is the three ball drill.   Two players position themselves say 40 or 50 feet apart.   One has two balls and the other one.   The player with two balls initiates play by throwing to the other who catches one ball and immediately throws the other to the initiating player who then does the same.   A dropped or missed ball is left where it falls.   the game ends when all three balls have been dropped.   This would be a boring game of catch if you just let it proceed apace but you are encouraging even yelling at your players to move the ball quickly.   You can just run this drill with nothing else or you can use a stop watch to see how long the players can keep the thing alive.   Additionally, you can have someone count the exchanges and write down the results.   If you want to make a contest out of this, score the players who make the most exchanges in the shortest period of time the highest.   And make sure that each player has at least one repetition with each other player.   if you run this drill often, you can even handicap a contest in order to reward improvement.   And prizes also encourage good effort.

I have seen the three ball drill as a way of teaching catchers and pitchers to work together.   It can also be a good conditioner for pitchers.   For this the pitcher does not use a full wind-up motion but rather uses a full windmill off a single step like she might if she were just beginning to warm up.   If you have space to spare, your pitchers can do "walk-ins" where a righty would step first with her left, then her right, then pitch from there without the wind up.   Your catchers can be in full gear in you like or just be in their sweatpants or shorts.   This kind of drilling teaches quick hands for pitchers and catchers but it is also a good way to drill your pitchers on dealing with line-drives back at them, especially if your catchers throw very hard.   It also helps catchers to get to know the kind of ball movement they can expect from their pitchers.   the one rule to follow, whether you are running this as an all-player drill or a pitcher-catcher drill, is never let this game become a simple game of catch and put a time limit on each iteration.   Players will eventually get tired, even out of breath, and begin tossing the ball more and more slowly.   This is a waste of time after about a minute.   Three ball drill can be a very effective way to condition pitchers since a lot of pitches can be thrown in a short period of time.   But don't stop with one iteration per player.   Allow rest in between and as many rep.s as the time for this segment of practice allows.

Conclusion

As you contemplate your next indoor practice, remember that if you, the coach, are bored with your team's drills, your players were bored with them three practices ago.   And if your players are bored with the drills, they are either moving sideways or backwards.   This is to be avoided at all costs.   Use your imagination and search the web and publications to develop some alternatives.   Once you have a few and work them in, you're pretty much done because as long as you vary each practice's drills, you can go back to a previous sequence and still avoid your players getting bored.

Good luck.   We'll be outside in no time!


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