Softball Hitting Drills
Power and Productivity
Softball Hitting Drills for Power and Productivity is excerpted from our drill and game books, The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide, and Skill Building Competitions (click to learn more).
This article presents five functional softball drills to improve batting skills: inside pitch, pitch selection, maintaining a steady head, how to adjust timing for different pitching speeds, and a skill-building team game. We change the drills in this article regularly, so check back!
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Before diving into the drills, here are a few hitting terms we reference:
The ready, starting, or set up position the hitter is in before the pitcher begins their pitching motion.
Elements of the gather phase include:
- The hitter shifts weight rearward, preparing their muscles to execute a forward approach. The rearward loading motion of body weight generates energy in the form of muscle tension.
- An inward turn of the upper body stretches muscles and sets shoulder angle in preparation for rotation.
- Hands move closer to the optimum position to start the swing.
Stride and Separate
The stride and separate phase begins as the hitter picks their front foot off the ground to initiate their stride. Stride finishes when the front foot toe again contacts the ground. As the stride completes at toe touch and the hands move rearward, separating from the front foot, the hitter has arrived in hitting position.
Separation refers to the various movements the hitter executes, which result in the stretching of muscles. Separation techniques enable an increase in the quickness, speed, and power of body movements.
The approach phase starts as the hitter’s torso begins its forward move toward the pitcher. The approach finishes when the front foot heel contacts the ground, the front leg firms up, and forward momentum comes to a stop.
Hitting (Launch) Position
The batter’s position just before the barrel begins its journey from behind the hitter’s back towards the hitting zone. To be more precise, it is the body position when the stride foot lands at toe touch before the front heel triggers core rotation.
Margin of Error
The margin of error is the distance the bat’s sweet spot is in the path of the ball. Therefore, increasing the margin of error within each pitch location raises the rate of hard-hit balls.
Softball Hitting Drills #1 – Inside Pitch Drill
Developing hitters often perceive the inside pitch as the most challenging location. They fear getting jammed (contact on the bat handle), hung up on third strike (no swing), or hit by the pitch. In this drill, we guide the hitter through a series of progressive steps designed to construct productive inside pitch fundamentals. The goal is to be physically and mentally ready to “crush” the inside pitch – to turn hesitation into aggression. Remember,
“History is made middle-in.” (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide,Stone XXXIV: Margin of Error.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide,Stone XXXV: Optimal Contact Points.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide,Dome XXVIII: Inside Pitch.
Build confidence hitting the inside pitch.
Step 1 (Good Fitting Bat)
Confirm the bat is a good fit (click here for our article describing how to choose a bat in five easy steps). A too heavy or long bat affects solid contact rate, especially for the inside fastball.
Step 2 (Position in the Box)
Productive hitters set up a distance from the plate to control the outside corner while retaining the ability to get the barrel to the inside pitch.
Click here for our article to find the most productive position in the box.
Step 3 (Stride Even on ALL Pitch Locations)
At higher levels of competition, toe touch happens before the hitter can identify pitch location. So, regardless of whether the hitter uses an open, even, or closed foot alignment in their stance, they must stride into even alignment (image above) to cover the entire plate (especially when facing breaking ball pitchers). Then, they use millisecond adjustments in the timing of rotation to maximize the margin of error for the inside, middle, and outside fastball.
Attention Focus –
Internal focus on the stride foot stepping into even alignment.
Use a front toss or pitching machine aimed at the inside corner. The hitter performs 50 swings where they stride directly towards the pitcher (toe-toe-pitcher) – no stepping away from the plate! To construct automatic execution, repeat for at least four practices.
Step 4 (Front Foot Angle at Contact)
Front foot angle adjustments are minor and incremental yet can be surprisingly effective adjustments for optimizing plate coverage. Critically, the front foot angle sets the position of the entire front side, affecting rotation timing.
Perform Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill VIII – Front Foot Angle at Toe Touch Drill, and Tool XV: Experimental Leg Drills, Drill I – Front Foot Angle Experimentation Drill. Find this informative drill in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide,
Step 5 (Barrel Inside Pitch)
By maintaining the lead arm close to the chest and slotting the rear elbow, shoulder rotation can pull the hands in a tight circular path (image above). As a result, the barrel arrives at the optimal inside pitch contact point with the rear arm forming an “L.” If the hitter’s hands have stayed tight to the body, the hitter consistently hits the inside pitch to the pull gap (rather than pulled foul).
In short, maintaining the barrel inside the ball’s path expands the margin of error and directs the ball to the middle of the field—essential skills for hitting the inside pitch location with high productivity.
Narrow fair territory by placing cones in each gap.
Attention Focus – External Process focus on the pattern of the swing.
Take 50 swings using front toss and then 50 swings off a machine. Aim all pitches over the inside corner. Measure and track the number of hard-hit balls between the gaps. Then, the hitter tries to beat their record at four upcoming sessions.
Step 6 (Timing)
Significantly, timing the inside fastball establishes baseline timing. It is the pitch for which the hitter must be the quickest. All other fastball pitch locations and types of pitches require varying lengths of millisecond rotation timing adjustments to let the ball travel. Therefore, it is essential for growth in confidence the hitter routinely practice timing the inside pitch to the optimal contact point (inner zone).
Perform Softball Hitting Drills #4 – Timing the Start of Stride (coming up in this article).
Step 7 (Vision)
The hitter clearly sees release and picks up inside location as early as possible.
Perform See the Ball Better in Sixteen Steps (click for our free article).
Step 8 (Full Core Rotation)
Commonly, inexperienced hitters “back away” with their lower body and lead with hands to get the barrel to the inside pitch. Unfortunately, hands first “kills” bat speed, making the hitter slow and leading to being jammed frequently (contact on the bat handle).
Full core rotation is essential for getting the barrel through to the inside pitch contact point on time. Instantly, when eyes see inside pitch location, the brain signals “go hips.” Initiate core rotation immediately upon toe touch and front heel drive.
Confidence hitting the inside fastball jumps when the hitter feels and experiences turning on the inside corner fastball.
Constraints – Narrow fair territory by placing cones in each gap.
Attention Focus – External Result focus on hitting the ball hard within the constraints.
Use a pitching machine first set at slow speed (25 pitches), then typical game speed (25 pitches), fast speed (25 pitches), and lastly overcorrect at super-fast speed (25 pitches). Aim all pitches over the inside corner. Measure and track the number of hard-hit balls in the middle of the field. The hitter tries to beat their record at three upcoming training sessions. Practice accumulates, allowing the hitter to increase confidence timing and turning rather than leading with hands.
Step 9 (Linear Extension Towards Pull Gap)
Releasing hands towards the pull gap increases the barrel’s distance in the ball’s path, maximizing the margin of error and raising productivity for the inside pitch location.
Perform Tool XX: Universal Arms and Hands Drills, Drill V – Power V/Linear Extension Drill. Find this functional drill in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide,
Softball Hitting Drills #2 – Aggressive But Selective Drill
If hitters routinely train to hit the ball hard, they can let their preparation take over when it is time to step into the box. What was formerly “too much” is now baseline. Hitting is a violent but controlled movement, and it is trained with this in mind to repeat it in a game setting.
The training in this drill is not mechanical but rather adjustments to intent. As the hitter practices swinging hard, their movements naturally adapt in many power-producing ways. Constructing purpose first saves the coach and youth hitter from the direct and tedious training of many specific movements later.
This drill utilizes radars to pair the outcome of exit velocity to the hitter’s purpose. Use technology as a motivator and an objective measurement of improvement.
Step 1 (Habitually Swing Hard)
When coaching cues emphasize just making contact, protecting, and never striking out, the youth hitter ingrains the habit of swinging with less than maximum effort. The hitter has the purpose, or it may be subconscious, to swing half speed as the best insurance against the “dreaded” strikeout. But, merely trying to put the ball in play results in productivity below the hitter’s potential.
Purpose – Construct habitual hard swings into the hitter’s baseline.
Attention Focus – External Process focus on speeding the bat (click the link for our free article describing how to use attention focus to improve practice and increase performance).
Step 1 utilizes a radar to pair the outcome of exit velocity to the hitter’s purpose. Use technology as a motivator and an objective measurement of swinging hard.
Begin by measuring average ball exit speed off a tee (click the link for how to measure ball exit velocity off a tee and thrown ball); this is the hitter’s baseline to beat.
Now use a pitching machine, live BP, or live pitching. Use the same balls as for the baseline measurement. Ask the hitter to hit five line drives with a higher ball exit speed than their average measured off the tee. Swinging with maximum effort is often a new habit. So be patient with swings and misses. Repeat this step over numerous practices to allow training to accumulate.
Timing Tip – When the hitter swings harder and faster, timing needs to be adjusted so that the hitter starts their swing later, further in ball travel. Otherwise, they naturally feel the need to swing slower to avoid being early. Place a cone at the ball travel point where the hitter should start their stride. If the hitter is still hitting the ball with less than their average baseline exit velocity, try moving the cone closer to the batter so they feel that they must turn quickly to catch up to the ball.
Step 2 (Aggressive AND Selective)
Purpose – A batting cage game is excellent for focusing the hitter on:
- Swinging hard.
- Being selective.
The better the hitter does both, the higher their score.
Use front toss, machine, or live BP. The constraints are simple, but the drill is challenging.
The hitter gets twenty-five swings—any strike which the hitter takes counts as a swing. Hard hit line drives count as 2 points. Use launch angle markers between 5 and 20 degrees to accurately designate line drives (click to Measure Launch Angles in Your Cage). Hard hit ground balls or fly balls count as 1 point. No points for weak hits.
The hitter learns to check swing on poor pitches since pitches out of the strike zone are harder to drive.
Keep the hitter’s tally and continually try to beat it—confidence increases as their score rises.
Or form two teams to compete, with five swings per hitter per inning.
Softball Hitting Drills #3 – Head Steady Drill
For simplicity and confidence building, youth hitters should maintain their head as steady as possible. But keep in mind, the hitter’s head moves toward the pitcher as their approach executes. In this drill, the hitter strives to stabilize all head movement except for this forward movement.
Purpose – Maximize vision and swing path consistency as the hitter strides and swings.
Attention Focus – Internal focus on maintaining a twenty-degree spine angle from stance through swing completion.
For quickest skill development and maximum confidence-building, youth hitters should train a more athletic stance (than found in many experienced hitters).
Step 1 – (Use Noodle)
Use dry swings. Ask the hitter to take their stance with a twenty-degree inward lean (spine angle) as in the above image. The coach places a long foam noodle, level with the ground and pointing at the pitcher, against the front of the hitter’s helmet. Now the hitter executes their gather, stride, and forward movement (approach), stopping in hitting position. The hitter’s helmet should slide lightly along the noodle as they move forward. If the hitter’s head drops or pulls away from the noodle, they are changing spine angle; eyes are moving too much. Repeat until the hitter acquires the feeling of maintaining a twenty-degree spine angle beginning in stance and through stride and approach.
Here are potential issues:
- If the hitter’s head moves away from the noodle, they are straightening up (decreasing their spine angle).
- If the hitter’s head moves into the noodle, they are diving head (increasing their spine angle).
- If the hitter’s head raises higher than the noodle, they are likely straightening one or both legs as stride lands; as the hitter arrives in hitting position, they should be athletic, with both legs flexed and bent.
- If the hitter’s head drops below the noodle, they are likely striding out aggressively and flattening the V made by their legs. Proper lower body mechanics (unweighting the rear foot and dragging the rear toe to narrow up) fix the aggressive strider’s dropping head.
Step 2 – (Dry Swings Stopping in Hitting Position)
Next, use 25 dry swings (with no noodle). Ask the hitter to take their stance with a twenty-degree spine angle, move into hitting position, and freeze. The coach watches from a front view as the hitter moves. The hitter’s head should remain in precisely the same spot as seen from the front (pin the hitter’s head to a point on a backdrop). The hitter observes themselves – are they slightly bent at the waist with weight mostly over toes, and head nearly over the interior batter’s box line (athletic)?
Step 3 – (Slow, Full Dry Swings)
In this step, the hitter begins in their stance using a twenty-degree spine angle. Then the hitter moves slowly into hitting position and swings. Again, the coach watches from a front view to evaluate if their head remains steady. Gradually speed up the swing until game speed.
Step 4 – (Front Toss)
Finally, use a tee or front toss. Again, the coach again pins the hitter’s head against a point on a backdrop. As the hitter gathers, strides, and swings, only forward head movement—no movement in, out, up, or down. Practice maintaining a steady head for 50 swings. Measure and track the number of perfectly steady head swings. Try to beat this number at the next practice.
For preparation to accumulate, it must be performed routinely over some time.
Softball Hitting Drills #4 – Timing the Start of Stride Drill
The hitter’s primary timing adjustment is the exact moment when the front foot lifts from the ground (stride start). For younger age groups facing slower pitching, the onset of stride occurs somewhere between release and the ball traveling as much as three-quarters of the distance to the hitter.
At higher levels of competition, the hitter fine-tunes the start of stride to coincide with the length of time needed to execute stride and approach, along with the speed of the pitcher’s fastball. Here are standard options for when the hitter picks up their front foot for competitive fastpitch softball:
- As the ball enters the circle over the pitcher’s head.
- As the ball is in the backside of the circle, just before release.
- On release.
- Just after release.
Attain the ability to time any pitcher’s fastball within one pitch. Establish at least two baselines, one for slow pitching and one for fast.
Attention Focus – Use an Internal focus on synchronizing stride start with a particular movement by the pitcher or distance of ball travel.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Dome III: Timing Stride and Separate.
- The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Stone XXXV: Optimal Contact Points.
Step 1 (Stride Consistency)
A stride that varies in execution time (between pitches) commonly causes inconsistent timing.
Practice Drill II – Stride Consistency Drill in Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills. Find this extensive drill in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide, Move to Step 2 when the hitter’s stride is consistently the same length, height, and tempo for all swings.
Step 2 (Quick Hips For Inside Pitch)
After many years of slow pitching, the youth hitter may habitually slow or delay core rotation. So, make “quick hips” automatic, especially on inside pitches.
Use a static hitting bag. The hitter takes 25 swings rotating hips as soon after toe touch and as fast as possible.
Now use a front toss mixing inside and outside locations. On inside pitches, the hitter fires hips immediately upon toe touch and front heel drive (quick hips). Toss a few outside pitches, then surprise the hitter with an inside pitch. Complete this step by executing 25 hard-hit balls. Repeat for two practices.
Step 3 (Bat Speed Consistency)
When bat speed varies between swings, timing is inconsistent.
Ensure the hitter is habitually swinging with maximum effort by practicing Softball Hitting Drills #2 – Aggressive But Selective Drill (previous drill in this article).
Step 4 (Adjust Start of Stride to Fastball Speed)
Timing the inside fastball establishes baseline timing. It is the pitch for which the hitter has to be the quickest. All other pitch locations and types of pitches require varying lengths of millisecond adjustments to let the ball travel.
Constraints – Change the speed of pitches by 3 to 5 mph every ten pitches.
Directions – Use a pitching machine targeted for inside fastballs. Ask the hitter to be prepared to answer two questions after each speed change:
When did they start their stride (lift their front foot or, for heel raisers, lift their heel)? Did their start of stride occur in the circle, just before release, at release, just after release, or did the ball travel partway? If the ball traveled, how far (10 feet, 20 feet, …, almost to plate) before the hitter picked up their foot to begin their stride?
Were they early or late?
The hitter uses the following observations to answer this question:
- What did they feel at contact?
- Was rear elbow slotted (inner zone), or were arms extended (outer zone)?
- At contact, how far had the ball traveled relative to the body (even with front hip, front knee, front foot, or out in front)?
- Where did the ball go (foul, pulled, opposite-field)?
- Where on the bat did the ball make contact?
Ideally, for the inside fastball, inner zone contact occurs just slightly in front of the stride foot, with rear elbow slotted, on the sweet spot of the bat, and travels towards the pull gap.
Depending on the answer to the second question, adjust the timing of the stride start. If the hitter was late, start the stride at an earlier point. If they were early, start the stride at a later point. Repeat this process until the hitter makes consistent solid contact in the pull gap (on the inside fastball).
Now change speeds and see how efficiently the hitter can adjust their timing. The eventual goal is one pitch before they have re-timed and are hitting the ball hard. The hitter’s game confidence leaps when they routinely practice start of stride timing for various pitching speeds.
Establish a separate baseline for the faster pitcher and the slower pitcher. For example, the competitive hitter may start their stride, in the circle, for the speedier pitcher, and on release, for the slower pitcher. Or for youth hitters, they may start stride when the ball is ten feet away for the slow pitcher and halfway to the plate for the fast pitcher. Baselining at least two timing strategies prepares the hitter well for the different fastball speeds they face in games.
Step 5 (Hit All Speeds Hard)
Functional variability is where the movement achieves the desired result, even from multiple positions.
For instance, the hitter strives to contact varying pitch speeds with the same maximum ball exit speed. This type of deep practice is not easy, but the learning rate is high. Once the hitter has mastered this step, the player knows they hit any speed hard.
Constraints – Change the speed of pitches by 3 to 5 mph every ten pitches.
Use the same process as Step 4, only this time, measure ball exit velocity after each speed change. The goal is for the hitter’s average ball exit velocity to be the same between the several game pitching speeds.
Softball Hitting Drills #5 – 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 Competition
The 3x3x3x3 Competition is an effective hitting skill-builder focusing players on power and production. Players want to play this game at every hitting practice!
Level of Play:
Middle School and up.
Outdoors on a regulation field. Bring at least six cones to make boundaries. Two buckets of balls and two empty buckets are helpful.
- Ideally, make four teams of three players each. Three groups of three players is fine.
- Each team of three rotates through each of the four stations during one inning:
- Station 1 (optional) – On-deck hitters who shag balls that get to the backstop.
- Station 2 – Hitting team.
- Station 3 – Outfielding team.
- Station 4 – Shaggers in the outfield.
- A coach front tosses from behind a screen, mixing half strikes and half balls.
- Each hitter on a team gets five swings (fouls count as a swing). Hitters strive to pick a good pitch to hit. Fifteen swings total for each team.
- The ball must land in the outfield grass to score points. Award no points for the swing if the hit lands before the outfield or is caught by the outfield team.
- Outfielders can move in or back or shift left or right depending on the hitters’ tendencies. A shifting defense focuses hitters on hitting the ball where it is pitched.
- After each team has their 15 swings, rotate teams to different stations.
- Place a line of cones as the home run boundary (or use the fence).
- Points for each team are scored as follows:
- Count one point if the hit lands in the outfield and is stopped by an outfielder.
- Two points if the ball rolls past the outfielder to or through the boundary.
- Three points if the ball takes one bounce and goes to or through the boundary.
- Four points if the ball lands over the boundary.
- Ask an assistant to be the umpire and keep track of points for each team.
- Place an empty bucket with each group of shaggers. Hustle balls to the bucket, so there is time for more innings.
- The team with the most points is the winner. Players on the other teams run five laps around the infield.
Other Fastpitch Softball Articles:
Click the links to read free softball articles from Building Rome Series:
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
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In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become powerful and productive hitters.
Enjoy the quest!