Creating a Plan for In-Season Softball Training

Softball vs baseball

Having grown up immersed in the baseball community—participating both as a player and a coach—I gained a profound appreciation for the significance of comprehensive training methods aimed at optimizing athletic performance. In my early coaching days, I initially perceived baseball and softball as closely intertwined sports. However, my perspective has slightly shifted as I have worked closer with softball athletes. This has pushed me to further refine my training framework and approach.

Upon examining and reverse-engineering the sports of both baseball and softball, I recognized numerous obvious parallels between the two. Nevertheless, a critical yet often disregarded difference lies in the positional aspect, particularly in the contrasting qualities required of the pitchers.

A critical yet often disregarded difference between baseball and softball lies in the positional aspect. Click To Tweet

As I prepare to strategize and train the Simon Fraser University (SFU) softball team for the upcoming season, I’ve structured their developmental approach into four perspectives via a position-based analysis:

  1. Positional Reverse Engineering
  2. Key Performance Indicators
  3. Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Performance Tracking
  4. Stress Management

1. Reverse Engineering Sport

In dissecting the sport of softball, I identified areas crucial for development. These specific areas of focus encompassed:

  • Arm Angle: This is defined as where the ball is released in respect to the position. From a pitcher’s perspective, the arm angle is below and will have a high stress point on the elbow, in comparison to fielders who have an arm angle which releases the ball high and places a higher amount of stress on the rotator cuff.
  • Hip Movement: From a pitching perspective, with the unilateral movement involved, there is more extension that places a higher demand on the joint. From a fielder’s perspective, the major focus then shifts to the hitting side, which will still involve extension but considers a larger amount of rotation in the movement.
  • Sling Aspect: This is in reference to the oblique slings (core), which are used differently depending on the position of the athlete: for stabilization to secure the pelvis in pitchers vs. being more ballistic and requiring more of a rotational component for fielders.
  • Speed: This area differentiates between training in more of an acceleration phase for pitchers in comparison to fielders, who are required to touch on maximum velocity training more frequently.
  • Output: Pitchers are required to produce a higher amount of power at a repeated level in comparison to fielders, who require more maximal force production.

Throughout the season, my intent is to evaluate and refine these aspects to propel performance forward.

Having established these key focal points, I proceeded to dive deeper into the difference between fielders and pitchers. To achieve this, I embarked on a more detailed breakdown to discover how these identified areas differ in their significant between the positions. The examination, presented in figures 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3, describe how these aspects will be distinctly emphasized and targeted for training throughout the entirety of the season.

Moreover, this comprehensive analysis not only seeks to optimize individual player performance, but also aims to tailor training methodologies to suit the specific demands associated with

The major point where we see a difference is in the pitching position with the arm angle, hips, and sling involvement. Click To Tweet

As mentioned previously, baseball and softball have always been viewed quite similarly. The major point where we see a difference is in the pitching position with the arm angle, hips, and sling involvement. As described above, as we notice with a softball player, the definitions of arm angle, hip movement, and sling aspect for a pitcher in the sport of baseball are almost flipped and more reflective of that of a fielder in the sport. Arm angle and hip movement will be more rotator cuff focused and from a higher release point, with the hips requiring a larger amount of dissociation and rotation to generate power.

Figure 1.1. Arm Angle & Hip Movement; Figure 1.2. Sling Aspect & Speed; Figure 1.3. Outputs.

2. Key Performance Indicators

An integral aspect for any sports performance division to consider revolves around identifying and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) specific to the team and the sport. Tailoring them to align with the positional requirements within the sport is critical. As I established both KPIs and Performance Monitoring (discussed below), I emphasized the value of simplicity and advocated for a streamlined approach without additional complexity.

During the selection of KPIs, I focused on pinpointing the primary areas that exert a significant influence on softball games. Notably, I singled out speed and arm strength, particularly emphasizing velocity. Speed in softball is a game changer, particularly due to the base paths being 60 feet (20 yards). For the majority of team sport athletes, this is now cracking into the distance where maximum velocity is reached. By having speed as a KPI, you can alter the game by simply making your athletes become better through acceleration (batter’s box to first base).

Arm strength (and thus throwing velocity) can counteract speed from the perspective of team defense. The faster you can throw the ball across the diamond may play a role in getting an out or extending an inning, with athletes only needing to cover 20 yards of distance to be safe from base to base. These elements offer straightforward assessment and lend themselves to consistent monitoring that can be recurrently executed throughout the course of the game.

Figure 2.1 describes the different KPIs between pitchers and fielders, highlighting their direct correlation to the essence of the game itself. This graphic representation serves to showcase the distinct yet interconnected performance metrics vital for both positions in softball, emphasizing their relevance within the sport.

KPIs can be quite difficult to fully integrate if your sport and strength coaches are not on the same page. Having a planned and structured timeline on when to take KPIs is critical. In my program, KPIs and monitoring will be taken on a biweekly basis and speed KPIs will be taken on Game Day-1, as this allows coaches to ensure speed training residuals are not lost throughout the season. When it comes to velocity tracking, this can be done on Game Day-2 or during a pitcher’s scheduled bullpen session.

Figure 2.1. Key Performance Indicators.

3. S&C Performance Monitoring

Similar to the approach taken with KPIs, simplicity underlies the establishment of performance monitoring protocols. I’ve chosen to categorize elements into seven distinct categories:

  • Power
  • Neuromuscular
  • Vertical Displacement
  • Horizontal Displacement
  • Max Strength
  • Reactive Strength
  • Anthropometrics

Avoiding fixation on a singular metric and embracing a range of straightforward data points enables a more comprehensive assessment when implementing a peaking protocol.

Avoiding fixation on a singular metric and embracing a range of straightforward data points enables a more comprehensive assessment when implementing a peaking protocol. Click To Tweet

The specific metrics slated for monitoring throughout the season with the SFU softball team are illustrated in Figure 3.1. The primary objective involves gathering information continually over the year. While the aim is to see advancement across all categories, the data, whether indicating progress or setbacks, will illustrate a picture that indicates where an athlete should focus their attention in terms of training. The goal is to progress in all areas, and the data collected plays a vital role as an assessment tool and direction for programming, whether it reflects advancement or challenges.

Figure 3.1. S&C Performance Tracking & Monitoring

4. Stress Management

The role of the strength and conditioning coach transcends that of just making athletes bigger, faster, and stronger. Upon utilization of periodization, advanced methodologies, and techniques, it becomes evident that an S&C coach must possess a profound understanding of stress and load management. I have always viewed my training and periodization system as a large puzzle piece, offering a visual framework to easily structure weekly plans. To further enhance this approach, I’ve meshed my system with Daniel Bove’s quadrant system to incorporate stress management—in this case, specifically tailored towards softball athletes.

The role of the strength and conditioning coach transcends that of just making athletes bigger, faster, and stronger. Click To Tweet

Stress assessment is simplified by breaking it down into four quadrants: Quadrant 1 denotes low tissue stress in conjunction with low neural stress, Quadrant 2 signifies high tissue stress with low neural stress, Quadrant 3 represents low tissue stress paired with high neural stress, and Quadrant 4 indicates high tissue stress coupled with high neural stress. Overlaying these quadrants with my own training system became apparent as an effective approach.

Figure 4.1. S&C Quadrant System.

Figure 4.1 illustrates the correlation between my training system and stress management represented within each quadrant. The subsequent step involved dissecting the equivalent stress within the sport itself.

Figure 4.2. Sport Quadrant System.

Figure 4.2 describes how I segmented the game of softball through gameplay, practices, and individual training, factoring in the distinct roles of pitchers and fielders. This newly integrated system aims to analyze weekly stress totals to distinguish between “high” and “low” stress weeks. By monitoring loads not only in the weight room but also during practices, this approach fosters improved communication among players, coaching staff, sports medicine personnel, and performance staff, ultimately fostering holistic athlete development.

Final Thoughts

The holistic approach, centered on training methodologies tailored to the unique demands of softball and specifically structured around different player positions, serves not only to optimize individual performance, but also fosters improved communication. This multifaceted strategy, intricately woven into the developmental plan for the SFU Softball Team, represents a step toward understanding and enhancing athlete performance.

By deconstructing the sport based on its specific needs and positional requirements, this approach contributes significantly to advancing the field of strength and conditioning, paving the way for more targeted and effective training methodologies in the realm of softball and potentially other sports as well.

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Bove, D. (2022). The quadrant system: Navigating stress in team sport. Athlete Framework.

Bove, D. (2023). Takeoff: A Visual Guide to Training and Monitoring Lower Body Power. Athlete Framework.

Robertson, K. (2022). Athlete Monitoring. Lecture.

Care, T. (2023). Holistic Performance Management Concurrent Model. Lecture.

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