So your team coach has suggested switching your fast pitch softball player to becoming a slapper. Or you have observed a team member or a player on an opposing team having great success slapping. In any case, as a player you are thinking this might be a good change. As a parent or coach you are wondering if slapping would be right for your player.
A good slapper will typically hit around a 600 batting average in High School. This feat is rarely possible with stand and hit hitters. Even though slappers are not typically power producers like some stronger and larger athletes, slappers are in high demand by travel ball teams and colleges because of their ability to get on base and then steal. For the smaller athlete, if the desire is to “open the door” for a possible college scholarship, slapping may be the best route.
Slapping is fun. Especially for the competitive and strategically minded player, finding the hole in the defense and exploiting the weakness time after time adds an extra element of excitement for the game. Opposing teams hate to see a good slapper coming to the plate.
But before rushing into making the switch to slapping, think through this important softball “fork in the road”. In this blog, Building Rome Series will offer a list of ten considerations, some “food for thought”, to help you make the best decision for whether to convert to slapping. Here goes.
#1 Slapping is a big project with a large learning curve.
Becoming a high average slapper is much more than getting a running start from the left side of the batters box and taking a swing at the ball as the hitter runs through (see upcoming article The Five Essential Weapons of Slappers — and When to Use Them).
If the hitter is a natural lefty, the learning curve is somewhat reduced. The initial period of awkwardness all righties go through when switching sides is eliminated, but complex slapping skills must still be constructed and game confidence developed. This is a large project.
A slapper must also learn to a proficient hitter. The slapper who can’t hit the ball out of the infield can be easily defended by bringing the entire infield defense inside the baselines and the outfielders into the infield or to the edge of the grass.
The slapper has not one but two offensive projects. They must 1) be able to stand and hit with high average and some power, and 2) be capable of successfully executing each of the other four slapper skills (drag, soft slap, hard slap, and bouncers) as the situation dictates.
The oldest a player should make the switch to slapping is sophomore year of high school. If the change is made later, skills will not be fully developed before the search for a college scholarship begins. Or the slapper is just becoming productive but is now is ready to move on with priorities in life other than softball. In short, a lot of work with too little time to reap rewards.
The earliest I recommend is age nine. Starting before this age puts at risk confidence and the beginning player’s growing love of the sport.
#3 What position?
Fast pitch softball pitching is another difficult and complex skill which typically takes year round practice, tremendous desire and commitment to succeed. Mixing pitching and slapping is not recommended except for the athlete who lives and breathes the sport and has little or no other activities outside school.
#4 Already too busy?
Is the prospective slapper heavily involved in music, theatre, or other sports? If so, think about how time will be carved out for additional slapping practice and lessons.
Relying on your team coach, or a hitting coach whom may not have a comprehensive understanding of what slapping is all about, will likely be a frustrating experience in the long run.
As one of many examples, slappers use a different angle of their bat on a running drag bunt than a sacrifice bunt. When slappers don’t use skills appropriate for running starts, instead applying only what the team coach may be familiar with, effectiveness is reduced. This is becomes especially evident as the level of play increases, arms grow stronger and more accurate, and defenders quicker and smarter.
Find a good slapping coach. This will require expenses for weekly lessons and possibly travel expenses (and time!). The typical slapper will need about 75 to 100 lessons before they will be ready to compete successfully at the High School Varsity level.
#6 Patient team coach?
During the first season of slapping the developing slapper’s offensive production will most likely fall below previous years. Yet it is crucial the slapper get game exposure to begin applying their new skills. Will the player’s coach stick with the player and be patient as expertise grows? Will the coach think of how much better the team will be once the slapper reaches their potential?
Or will the coach outright bench the player after a few unsuccessful tournaments. This can be disastrous for confidence and love of the game.
Coaching is an important consideration before deciding to switch to slapping.
#7 Initial period of awkwardness for righties.
At first swings will feel very unnatural for right handed hitters switching to the left side. The less dominant arm is now the rear arm, stride is now with the right foot, and rotation occurs in the opposite direction. It will feel like learning to swing all over again, only worse. Bat speed will be slow and barrel control inconsistent with lots of swing and misses.
But with these expectations set, it is amazing how fast kids can adapt. With consistent practice, this initial period of discomfort will last only a couple months. Within six to nine months most right to left converted players are hitting the ball as hard, and often harder, than they did from the right side.
If the hitter is already looking like they could be a powerful slugger, then stay the course and don’t switch. Good power hitters are also at a premium.
Speed is essential. The softball athlete should be one of the top two or three fastest runners on their team.
Now to speak frankly in regards to the athleticism required to be a successful slapper. If the young hitter is lower on the athletic scale, taking longer to learn new athletic skills than other kids, don’t make the switch to slapping. The complexity of slapping and body control required may end up frustrating the athlete. There are better paths to take.
In my books, Building the High-Level Swing, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, I describe how the less athletic hitter can be very successful, hit with power and average, and develop a love of the game. To summarize, they can do this by keeping mechanics simple and focus on building strength. Their confidence will grow and softball will be a life experience they will look back on fondly.
What is the hitter’s desire to learn slapping? If desire is in question, a good idea is to try four slapping lessons then make a decision for proceeding further.
What are the athlete’s goals for softball? Are they old enough to be thinking about playing into college? Are they trying to get on an A travel ball team? Or, are they playing the game primarily for fun and camaraderie? Don’t switch to slapping if the athlete isn’t serious about the sport.
If academics are the player’s forte and the student has their sight set on a rigorous high school and college education, slapping requires a degree of mental focus which may cut into academics.
How does the player take to coaching? Are they willing to make a lot of adjustments to their movements? What is their frustration level when these adjustments and game success doesn’t come easy? To learn slapping, hitters must be patient but persistent.
#10 Time of year.
The best time of year to start learning slapping is in the fall. If the player is playing fall ball they can try out their budding abilities in the more relaxed environment of fall competition. Then the player has all winter to develop and hone techniques and be prepared for the next spring season.
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Building Rome Series wishes you the best in all your pursuits!