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HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SOFTBALL SWING

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SOFTBALL SWING

MEGAN WIGGINS - Career Home Run Leader | National Pro Fastpitch Softball

There are a wide range of ways to improve your softball swing, but today we will focus on 4 of the most important aspects of hitting and developing high-level swing mechanics.

As you’ve probably heard, “Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is THE most difficult thing to do in any sport”.

… and while that may be true, by incorporating the following 4 tips into your training, you will be able to take your hitting to the next level!

 

 1. Vision

VISION - AN ESSENTIAL PART OF HITTING

VISION - AN ESSENTIAL PART OF HITTING

In my opinion, vision is one of the most important aspects of hitting and probably the most overlooked. Although it may sound simple, in order to be a successful hitter, you have to swing at strikes and take balls. The players who are able to recognize pitch type, speed and location earliest are the ones who are oftentimes the most successful. You will generally find the best softball and baseball players have a high number of walks, or an amount of walks that is very close to their number of strikeouts. While mechanics play a major role in becoming a great softball hitter, improving your vision will allow you to gain a competitive advantage and improve your hitting. There are several different training programs available today, but during my professional career I found a performance vision training program called Slow the Game Down to be particularly useful. The program offers a number of fun and unique drills that had a significant impact on my performance. You can check out their website below: 

https://www.slowthegamedown.com/


2. Grip

GRIP - BEGIN BY LINING UP YOUR “KNOCKING KNUCKLES” & THEN ADJUST FOR COMFORT

GRIP - BEGIN BY LINING UP YOUR “KNOCKING KNUCKLES” & THEN ADJUST FOR COMFORT

Using a correct grip also may sound simple, but it’s an extremely important part of your softball swing. When gripping the bat, you should try to hold the bat primarily with your fingers and not deep in the palms of your hands. This will keep the bat loose in your hands and ultimately allow you to generate a quicker and more powerful swing. Most high level players use this method because they understand the tighter you grip the bat and the more pressure you feel, the less bat speed you will have. They also realize that your hands will naturally tighten around the bat as you begin to swing and make contact with the ball. When gripping the bat, a good visual cue is to line up your second row of knuckles on the bat, and then adjust them slightly if it’s necessary for you to find a more comfortable, natural position. This will places the bat in your hands in the best possible position to initiate your swing and make consistent powerful contact with the ball. Overall, you should focus on keeping a nice loose grip and remind yourself that the more relaxed you are at the start of your swing, the more violent your swing will be at contact with the ball.

 

3. Stance

When you turn on the TV and casually begin watching a softball game, you will tend to see a million different stances and each one is unique to the particular player. If you more look closely, however, you will begin to notice a few key similarities that most successful players share. 

Megan Wiggins Demonstrates a Classic Softball Stance

Megan Wiggins Demonstrates a Classic Softball Stance

  • Square feet- Most professional softball hitters start with their feet slightly open or perfectly square to the pitcher. The reason for this is so that they can stride directly at the pitcher to maximize their swing and ensure proper mechanics. If you start too far “open” (with your front foot much closer to the outside of the batters box than your trailing foot), you will likely have problems hitting an inside pitch. You will have a tendency to get “cut off” on inside pitches and have a difficult time getting the barrel of the bat to the ball on time. On the other hand, if you start too far “closed” (with your stride foot positioned much closer to the inside line of the batters box than your trailing foot), you will likely have problems hitting outside pitches correctly to the opposite field because your stride foot will tend to step out away from home plate, which will cause you to “bail out” on pitches and prevent you from effectively covering the outside half of the plate.

     

  • Shoulders and hand placement- A common problem you will see in softball is the level of the player’s shoulders at the start of the swing. Young softball hitters tend to keep their front shoulder buried down and too far in toward the strike zone as they take their stance and move into the “loading” phase of their swing. Unfortunately, when the front shoulder gets into this position early, the only direction it can go is up and out away from home plate, and as the player begins to swing, you will often see the back shoulder drop and the front shoulder fly open. This causes the swing to begin on an early uphill plane and take a long path to the ball which typically cuts across home plate and negatively impacts bat speed which prevents the player from hitting faster pitching and covering the outer half of the strike zone. For this reason, it’s important to have square shoulders at the start of the swing, with both shoulders should at or near the same height and perpendicular to home plate. When starting from this position the front shoulder will naturally drop as the stride foot moves away from the back leg and begins to land which makes it much less likely for the player to drop their back shoulder and fly open at the start of the swing. In regards to hand placement and arm position, your hands should be near your trailing shoulder at approximately shoulder height, the elbows are typically down or in a neutral position and the bat should be at about a 45 degree angle. In other words, not too high above the head or flat behind the back. 

     

  • Knees and upper body- Being in a strong athletic position with the lower half of your body, and at the same time keeping your upper body relaxed, are extremely important aspects of being a great hitter. Maintaining some bend in your knees and feeling balanced and athletic is a great place to start as you take your stance. Your body position should feel somewhat comparable to squatting a barbell in a squat rack with your upper body in a relaxed and mostly upright position. When hitting, having a tall chest and upper body will prevent you from leaning out over home plate and then losing your posture and coming out of your swing too early. Having too much bend in the upper body can also result in the player swinging underneath the ball and continuously hitting weak fly balls to the outfield. 


4. Swing Plane and extension

Getting on plane with the softball early in the swing and reaching extension following contact are critical to a high-level swing. Getting on plane early means the barrel of the bat enters the hitting zone quickly and and begins traveling on the same trajectory as the incoming pitch. Keeping your bat on the same trajectory as the pitch for as along possible allows the hitter to have more room for error in terms of being on time with the pitch. It also allows them to adjust to off-speed pitches better. From a technique standpoint, getting on plane is accomplished by leading with the front elbow and taking the knob of the bat to the softball. When this occurs the player’s trailing elbow will level out resulting in the barrel of the bat getting on plane early. When done correctly, the barrel will remain in the hitting zone for a significant portion of the swing and the player’s arms will reach full extension after making contact with the softball. This extended arm position is commonly referred to as the “Power V” position. You will see all good softball hitters reach this position, and many players use it as a visual cue to make sure they are swinging correctly.

 

Photo showing Megan Wiggins in the “POWER V” position following contact with the ball

Photo showing Megan Wiggins in the “POWER V” position following contact with the ball

5. SWINGRAIL - How It Helps

The SWINGRAIL batting trainer checks many of the boxes that are required for players who want to develop high-level swing mechanics. First, SWINGRAIL ensures your hands are in the correct position near your back shoulder at the point your stride foot lands and you begin to initiate your swing. By providing a distinct visual cue, as well as, a small amount of tension between the bat and trailing arm, SWINGRAIL trains players to keep their hands and body “connected” which allows the player to use their hands, arms and body in the correct sequence to produce an efficient, accurate and powerful swing.

Second, SWINGRAIL helps players get on plane with the softball early and then extend through making contact with the ball. SWINGRAIL guides the players hands through this critical phase of the swing and is designed to provide immediate feedback when the player needs to make necessary changes to their swing. When the player swings correctly, the plastic “rail” component on the bat slides out of the strap that is attached to the player’s trailing arm. When the player swings incorrectly, a small velcro tab on this strap will release to notify the player that an aspect of their swing mechanics needs attention. As we’ve discussed, it is essential for players to take their hands on a short path to the ball while at the same time keeping the barrel of the bat in the hitting zone for an extended period of time. SWINGRAIL trains a player to use these critical swing mechanics during throughout this phase of the swing, and because the “rail” disengages with the arm strap prior to contact with the ball, a player is able to complete their swing and extend their arms into the “Power V” position following contact.

Listen to what National Pro Fastpitch player Megan Wiggins had to say about SWINGRAIL and why she incorporates it into her routine: “It’s a really good tool to keep your mechanics in check. It allows you to keep your hands connected before contact. I see a lot of players lose power and efficiency when their hands get away from their body.”

 

Paul Hoenecke - Author
Paul was the State of Wisconsin’s High School Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2008. Following his senior year he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, but elected to play Division 1 baseball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he was name a First Team All League selection in 2012. Paul was then drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to play in the Dodgers organization for 6 seasons in which he was selected to his respective league’s All-Star team 4 times. Paul retired from baseball in 2018 and now owns an advertising agency in Milwaukee, WI.  

 


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