One of the biggest challenges for softball coaches is keeping practice interesting enough to avoid boring their players. Many times coaches find a handful of go-to softball drills that they use on a regular basis, but this can make practice feel mundane, especially for younger athletes. The younger the players, the more the importance in keeping practice new and exciting, while still effectively improving their skills. That being said, older players still need to be kept on their toes as well. I know that for me, after years of the same old drills, I get so pumped up when my coaches introduce something new. So to avoid becoming that coach who is painfully predictable, here are 20 defensive drills you can implement into practice that are effective & fun.
- 1 Against the Fence:
- 2 Scatter Ball:
- 3 Belly Ups:
- 4 6 Cones (Fly Balls):
- 5 Round Robin:
- 6 All-Purpose:
- 7 Gatekeepers:
- 8 Knock the Ball off the Tee:
- 9 Last Man Standing:
- 10 Beat the Time:
- 11 Fielder’s Form:
- 12 4 Corners:
- 13 Front-hand & Backhand Toss:
- 14 Bucket Target:
- 15 Star Drill:
- 16 Soft Hands:
- 17 Team Relay:
- 18 Range Work:
- 19 Trashcan:
- 20 ‘Tweeners:
Against the Fence:
This is one of my favorites because it’s fast-paced, challenging, and fun. The good part about this drill is it only requires one extra person outside of the player participating in the drill in order to do it. It is an easy workout to do before or after practice for some extra reps. It can be used for all skill-levels as long as they know how to field a ball, but is better for an older-aged player because it’s designed to be quickly paced.
- 1 player stands a safe distance away from the fence. 3 feet is a good general distance.
- The distance should ensure that if a ball gets past them, it will not bounce back too hard or fast for them to react. For an older and more skilled player, this will be less of an issue.
- If the fence becomes too much of a problem, the player does not have to stand in front of one. Standing in front of a fence is mostly for an easier clean-up with no balls to chase down on the field.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stands about 15 feet away from the player against the fence with a bat & a bucket of balls.
- For a less experienced player, you can simply throw the ball rather than hit it with a bat.
- The closer you get to the player, the faster the ball will come. For a more skilled player looking for a challenge, feel free to move closer.
- Hit/throw the ball to the player creating short hops.
- To do this, aim at the ground about a foot in front of where the player is standing.
- The closer you hit the ball to the player, the less reaction time they will have to the short hop, creating more of a challenge.
- Start off easy, feeling out the player’s capabilities and what they can handle. Be sure not to hit/throw the ball too hard or too close to the player’s body until they prove that they can handle it.
- Hit as many balls to the player as needed.
- If you have multiple players participating, a good number to hit to each is about 5.
Against the Fence is designed to quicken reaction time to hard-hit balls while working on the ability to field short hops. It requires fast hands and quick feet. Because it consists of hard-hit short hops, this is good for players who play closer to home plate, such as corners (1st baseman & 3rd baseman) or pitchers. You can modify this drill for a catcher, simply have them wear their catching gear and have them block and stop the balls hit/thrown to them. It is also beneficial for any infielder because short hops occur all over the infield. My main position now is middle infield and this is still one of my favorite drills to do whenever I get the chance, especially when I am having trouble sticking the ball in my softball gloves.
Focusing on one player at a time has a greater power to build confidence in their glove skill and lessen their fear of the ball more so than a full-team workout. Starting Against the Fence with younger players is good for this reason.
This workout is very simple and easy to carry out, only requiring one extra person outside of the player participating. Scatter Ball is as fast-paced as the player allows because it’s dependent on their speediness in the act of picking up a ball while mimicking fielding and throwing the ball accurately to the target. Players of all age levels can participate in this drill and it’s even better for younger ones trying to hone in their throwing accuracy after properly approaching a ground ball.
- 1 player stands at their main position on the field.
- Scatter Ball can be accomplished at any position on the field.
- Place a number of balls scattered around their position in areas where they would possibly field it during live play or practice.
- 5 is a good starting number, especially for younger players to ensure they do not get overwhelmed.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stands at any base where the player needs to focus their throws.
- Focusing on 1st base is beneficial because this is where the majority of throws go most of the time.
- Working on throws to every base is always helpful.
- The player sets up in fielding position where they would normally stand before a ball is hit.
- The player runs up to a ball of their choice, mimics fielding it, sets their feet, and makes the throw to their target in as little time as possible.
- The player repeats this until “fielding” and throwing all the balls in front of them.
- Reset as many times as needed.
This drill focuses mostly on footwork when approaching a ball and setting up properly to throw. Along with working on throwing accuracy. If a player is struggling with quick footwork in their approach to a ground ball, foot set-up once a ball is fielded, or throwing accuracy once a ball is fielded, this one will help greatly. When I was first learning, I did Scatter Ball to make sure I had quick footwork when I set my feet for a throw or to practice my throwing accuracy. The excitement and possible awkward positioning resulting from fielding a ball can cause a player of any age to throw wildly. Taking it back to the fundamentals with a workout like this allows you to help your player have a direct focus on their footwork & throwing mechanics. Here they can make sure they set-up correctly so that they have the best chance of making a good throw.
This is one that I did not experience until college softball but is definitely useful for many skill-level groups. You can use the Belly Ups workout with a single player, or an entire defense, but it focuses on the infield only. When we do this drill, my coaches focus on all the infielders on the team in their main positions. As long as your players can successfully field a ball and make an accurate throw, you can try this workout with them. This one emphasizes speed in all aspects needed for defense because it places a time crunch on the players participating, while also getting in a little extra cardio.
- Your player(s) take the field in their main position.
- Your entire team can do this workout so have them all take the field.
- Extras outside of the first 6 on the infield can simply stand behind the player in front of them at their main position. They can act as backup for missed balls.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stands at home plate with a bucket of balls & bat in hand.
- You can modify Belly Ups for younger & less experienced players by rolling balls to them rather than hitting balls.
- The player who will receive the first ball hit to them gets on their belly.
- They lay belly down, facing the person at home plate.
- They can keep their heads lifted and arms ready for push off.
- Like a push-up position, except the body is resting on the ground.
- The person at home hits to each player on the field.
- 1 player at a time.
- In any order you wish.
- Hitting/throwing at random means that every player in the first 6 needs to be on their bellies.
- As soon as the hitter/thrower reaches the end of their motion, the player lifts up to their feet as fast as they can.
- The player fields the ball and makes the throw to 1st base.
- To add difficulty, make the 1st basemen lay on their bellies then stand once the ball is hit and cover their base.
- You can have each player take 1-3 grounders. Going back to the belly before each one.
- Once one player has gone, if there is a line, the next will go, until all infielders have had their turn.
- You can have the players throw to all the bases for more work, but this does take up quite a bit of time.
Emphasizing quickness in getting to a ball is very valuable for every softball player. This works on range and quick footwork, while also ensuring that the athlete makes a good accurate throw. Creating this time crunch could be stressful for younger players, which is why it would be a better idea to roll the ball instead of hitting it to them. For older players, this is great for working on their speediness while on defense. The act of getting up as fast as you can is needed for this game. Once you make a diving catch, you have to get right back up and make the play. All around, Belly Ups will improve an infielder’s defensive skill. It’s also a fun challenge and change of pace from the usual way of taking infield reps.
6 Cones (Fly Balls):
The great part about this one is that it can be used for all types of players. It works for infielders and outfielders because everyone needs to be able to read balls hit in the air from all angles. It also is effective for getting some softball-oriented cardio into practice. 6 Cones only requires 1 player, although an entire team can participate, and 1 outside person. It is good for most skill-levels, as long as they can catch a fly ball without getting hurt.
- Place 6 cone in the outfield grass in a rectangular shape.
- Long ways: 90 feet
- Short ways: 60 feet
- Distribute the cones evenly in a line: 1 cone starting the 90 feet, 1 ending it, 1 in the middle of the 2. Repeat 60 feet away from that line of cones.
- Make a line of players at the bottom left cone.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) will stand behind the bottom center cone with some softballs.
- The players will run diagonally to the top right cone.
- While they are running to the cone, the person will throw a ball in the air, mimicking a fly ball to the player. (You will do this every time they run to a cone)
- Try your best to lead the player by throwing slightly in front of them, but still along their running path.
- Take into consideration each individual player’s speed, so you know how much to lead them.
- This will take practice and sometimes you will throw balls that they cannot catch. This is okay, they are still practicing reading fly balls on the run.
- The player will lightly throw it back to the person throwing fly balls.
- Once all have gone, they will run back to the cone they started at (bottom left).
- Throw a fly ball to them.
- Once all have gone, move the line to the top left cone.
- Players will run diagonally to the bottom right cone.
- Throw a fly ball to them.
- They will run back to the top left cone.
- Throw a fly ball to them.
- Once all have gone, move the line to the bottom middle cone.
- The players will run to the top middle cone.
- Throw a fly ball to them.
- Make sure they run forward and look over their shoulder to catch the ball. They may turn to face the ball only if they have reached where the ball will land.
- Do not allow players to back-peddle, this is a bad habit causing players to run slower and miss more fly balls.
- Players will run back to the bottom middle cone.
- They will face you as you throw the ball.
- This is where you can lead them the most, especially players willing to dive.
- Make sure your players call for the ball.
- Although only 1 player will be going for the ball, get them in the habit of calling anytime the ball is in the air.
- They can say “I got it,” “Ball,” or “Mine.” They may repeat multiple times while the ball is in the air.
- Make sure they are loud when they say it, as this will be important in a game or practice to avoid injury.
- Make sure players use 2 hands to catch every ball unless the stretch is just too difficult.
6 Cones drill takes up quite a bit of time but is very useful and fun. It works on reading fly balls from all possible angles and running to them in a straight line. This is a great time to work on fundamental mechanics of catching fly balls, such as running with their glove tucked, using 2 hands, and never back-peddling. Although this might not be a drill for a very new beginner, it is great for younger and older players who can catch fly balls or protect themselves from getting knocked in the head if they misread it.
Here is a diagram of how to perform 6 Cones:
Take note that the starting player and the waiting line are in the very first position of this drill. They will shift to every cone throughout the drill as the instructions state. There are 2 yellow arrows for every pink arrow and every pink arrow has 2 different directions.
This image of a player on my collegiate team shows a perfect example of how to catch a fly ball with 2 hands, which was mentioned in the previous drill. This makes sure that the ball is secured and is necessary whenever a player is catching a ball in the air, unless it is absolutely impossible to reach their other hand to their glove.
This is one that I did nearly every practice when I was around 12 years old. It really builds confidence on the field because it makes a player work from all positions on the infield. This is an infield workout and does require at the very least, 5 players. It is all about getting reps and seeing what grounders look like from every position on the field while making throws to every base from every position as well. Round Robin does take a while to do, especially if your entire team participates, which they can. This is a great drill for younger players who have not been nailed to a position yet. They can all play multiple positions because they all have about the same skill-sets.
- Have a player stand on every base: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and Home plate.
- Have the rest of the players in a line in the foul territory around 1st base.
- 1 player will be in the 1st baseman’s position (they are first in the line)
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) will be standing at home with a bat & bucket of balls.
- The player playing 1st baseman’s position will field 4 ground balls hit by the person who is standing at home.
- 1st ground ball, they will throw back to the player at home.
- 2nd ground ball, they will throw to the player standing on 1st base.
- 3rd ground ball, they will throw to the player standing on 2nd base.
- 4th ground ball, they will throw to the player standing on 3rd base.
- The player who was in the 1st baseman’s position takes the spot of the player standing on 1st base.
- They switch:
- Player standing on 1st base goes to 2nd base.
- Player standing on 2nd base goes to 3rd base.
- Player standing on 3rd base goes to home plate.
- Player standing at home goes to the back of the line that is in foul territory.
- The next player in the front of the line in foul territory goes to 1st baseman’s position and repeats what the first player did: 4 grounders & 1 throw to every base.
- This continues until everyone has gone at the 1st baseman’s position.
- Move the line to 2nd baseman’s position.
- The line can stand in the outfield, so they are safe and out of the way.
- They will repeat the same process as before: 4 grounders, 1 throw to every base, take the spot of the player standing on top of 1st base, the rest switch.
- Move the line to shortstop position.
- Repeat the process as above.
- Move to 3rd baseman’s position.
- Repeat the process as above.
As said before, Round Robin will take up a lot of practice time, but is an excellent workout for younger players needing to become comfortable on the field from every position. Errors are going to occur and it’s up to you on how you want to handle it. You can give them more hits until they finally complete the play, or move along to the next base they have to throw to despite not throwing to one due to a missed grounder. We always moved along because it would take too much time to redo every mistake. This can teach young players that they need to make it count every single time, there are no take-backs in a real game.
This is another one that I did not come across until playing college softball, but it can be used for younger and older players who can handle a more complicated task. The name is very telling of what this workout focuses on, which is every aspect of defense. It requires at least 5 players and 1 outside person to hit the ball to them. The goal is to complete the All-Purpose drill with less than 3 errors and in a speedy time frame.
- Place the players on the field:
- Have a player standing in left field position
- A player standing on 2nd base
- A player standing a few feet behind the person standing on 2nd base (for backup)
- A player standing on home plate
- A player standing on 1st base
- The line is in left field in foul territory
- 1 person stands around 3rd base to hit balls to the player in left field.
- The player in left field catches the fly ball or fields the grounder and throws to 2nd base
- Once they release the ball, they run to take the spot of the player backing up 2nd base.
- The player catches the ball at 2nd base and throws to the player at home
- The player at 2nd base then runs to shortstop position
- The player at home rolls the ball to shortstop
- The player at home runs to 1st base
- The player who is now in shortstop position fields the ball and throws to 1st base
- They run to take the spot of the person who was standing at home when they release the ball.
- The player standing on 1st base catches the throw and sprints to the back of the line in left field.
- They can drop the ball off around the area where the person is hitting to make it easier.
- The next person in line in left field repeats (this will happen during the process of the previous cycle)
- It’s up to you when you time the next player to go, it should be a constant rotation, which adds pressure on speediness.
- Continue this process until everyone has gone.
Practice with a softball pitching machine if needed for more precision.
All-Purpose drill creates, as my head coach calls it, “controlled chaos,” which is very game-like. Softball games can become chaotic and confusing, but that is the perfect reason to practice a workout such as this. So that your players will be able to think and work under extreme pressure and excitement. It also is a nice cardio workout, as every time they run it should be a dead sprint. This one is challenging and confusing, so some slow, practice runs is a good idea. Again, All-Purpose is better for players who can handle this level of complexity without getting overwhelmed and hurt.
Take a look at this diagram to better understand how All-Purpose Drill works:
This image shows how chaotic this drill can truly be, but that is the point of it. Creating chaos for your players is a must due to the fact that they will have to undergo even more chaos in a game. Putting this much pressure and craziness into a practice will allow them to better work under such conditions. Eventually, they will get used to it and excel with ease.
For something very competitive and fun, this is an awesome drill for your players. It works on range and quickness to a ball, while also working on fielding really challenging grounders. This can be used for most skill-levels but works best with players who are willing to dive for balls and have the ability to avoid getting hurt by tough grounders. This is mostly an infielder workout, although it could be modified for outfielders.
- Place 2 cones on the infield about 6 feet apart creating a horizontal line
- Then place 1 about 4 feet behind the other, turning it into a diagonal line.
- Split the number of players you have into 2 evenly numbered teams
- Each team will stand at 1 of the 2 cones.
- The front cone team is the first defenders
- The back cone team is the backup
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) will stand about 15 feet in front of the front-most cone with a bucket of balls & bat.
- The person hits the ball between the 2 cones.
- The goal is that the players will do whatever it takes to stop it.
- The players will take turns doing whatever they can to stop the ball.
- Keep track of how many times each team stops the ball.
- Make sure every player gets a chance.
- Once they all have gone, say the winner (first defenders or backups)
- The teams will switch cones and do it again.
Gatekeepers works on really stretching and pushing your players’ range and quickness to the ball. Because it only counts when they field or stop the ball, it will emphasize the importance of sticking the ball in their glove even when they dive, which only truly happens through practicing it. Sometimes this drill will build a player’s confidence in diving because it doesn’t seem as scary as a ball hit from home plate. Any player would gain from this workout, no matter how skilled they are.
Knock the Ball off the Tee:
This one is beneficial for infielders and outfielders. Effective with all ages, but can be much more frustrating for a beginner who cannot control their throws well yet. It’s very simple and solely requires 1 player; they can do this workout all by themselves as long as they have a tee and a few softballs. Although it only takes one person to make this drill happen, many players can participate. If you are in need of a workout that does not need any coaches to help, like in a practice with different stations, this could be a great addition to the practice plan.
- Place 1 tee at any base or any distance to which you want the player(s) to practice throwing.
- Place 1 ball on the tee.
- Have the player(s) stand at their normal position on the field or at whatever distance you wish from the tee.
- The player(s) will have a bucket, or simply a good amount, of balls next to them.
- They will go through the motion of fielding a grounder or catching a fly ball.
- You can decide whether they keep the ball in hand the entire time, or if they must actually pick it up off the ground/toss in the air to themselves.
- Then they will throw the ball and try to knock the ball off the tee.
- You may decide how many chances they get or how many they must knock off before they are finished.
Knock the Ball off the Tee works on throwing accuracy from long distances, which is a very needed skill in the game of softball, especially for outfielders. It is important to focus closely on the throwing mechanics of your players when they are doing this drill. Make sure outfielders are crow-hopping correctly and all are setting their feet well. This will help with their accuracy as well. It can turn into a fun competition between the players on who gets the most, while still effectively working on an important skill. Feel free to use this with any skill-level of player.
Last Man Standing:
Although Last Man Standing can work in different ways, by setting up an entire defense on the field or placing all players in one line, the purpose is the same: field the ball cleanly. It is useful for all age groups and skill-levels. It creates healthy competition between the players and within themselves, as well. It requires 1 outside person along with at least a few players, to create more of a competition.
- Have the players take their positions on the field. Extras can create lines behind the person in their main positions. Or place all players in a single line anywhere you like on the infield or outfield.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stands around home plate (or home plate distance) from the players with a bucket of balls & bat.
- The person at home will hit grounders and fly balls to the players.
- It will be 1 hit to each player.
- It should be fast-moving.
- The goal is to field the ball cleanly (no bobbling)
- If a player bobbles the ball or misses it completely, they are out.
- If you wish to add to the difficulty, have someone stand at 1st base or home to catch-in and be the target. Then you can count accurate throws as well.
- The throw cannot hit the ground or go over the target’s head.
- For more skilled players, the throw cannot be below the knees or require full arm extension to catch it.
- If the player makes a bad throw, they are out.
- Continue this until there is only 1 player left standing. They are the winner!
Creating competition is one of the best ways to keep players interested and excited in practice. These are athletes, they are obsessed with winning, so drills like this are a blast for them. Feel free to create an extra incentive outside of bragging rights, like the winner does not have to clean-up after practice. The emphasis here is simply to avoid errors. Put to work everything that they have learned so that they perform well. Last Man Standing is wonderful for all ages as long as the competition is fair by making sure everyone is around the same skill-level.
Beat the Time:
The only difference between this one and normal reps is simply adding in the factor of time. You will need a stopwatch in order to properly complete this workout. It does not require a whole team, a single player can work on this as long as there is a person there to hit grounders and another there to catch the throws by the player. This is something that every player should understand, though, so it is beneficial to try it out with your whole team.
- Have your fastest player run from home to 1st base and time it. This is the time that all the players must beat when they field the ball and throw it to 1st.
- If you do not have a fast player to time, use about 3 seconds as your mark.
- Have your players take the field in their normal positions. Extras create a line behind the person in their main positions.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stands at home plate with a bucket of balls & bat.
- 1 person stands at 1st base with a glove & stopwatch.
- If you have another person, they may have the job of keeping time but if not, it is better for the person catching in to have it.
- They can press the stop button as soon as they catch the ball more accurately.
- The person at home will hit grounders to each player, just like normal reps.
- 1-2 hits for each player.
- The players will field the ball & make the throw to 1st before the time runs out.
- This is focusing on speed, not so much accuracy.
- When players rush, they will likely make errors, this is okay.
- Do this until every player makes at least 1 play within the time frame.
- If a player is really struggling, look at their footwork, speed of their transition of ball in glove to ball in hand, and wasteful movements like extra steps.
Beat the Time is not needed for beginners as they are simply learning the basics of how to field and throw, but younger players with slightly advanced skill and up are great for this. This drill was introduced to me when I was around 10 years old. I just began playing select tournament softball, so you can use this as a reference. As your players advance through softball, one of the most important concepts to understand is the fact that the game only gets faster and faster. If you want your players to compete at a high level, they must be able to play quickly. Softball is all about speed, as is Beat the Time.
A huge part about successfully fielding ground balls is making sure that your knees are bent and not your waist. Along with this, ensuring that your glove is under the ball instead of right at it or on top of it, is what allows the ball to actually enter the glove. A drill that I learned at a young age was this Fielder’s Form drill. It focuses on these 2 areas to make sure your players really understand the basics of good fielding mechanics. This workout only requires 1 athlete, 1 glove, and 1 ball, although you can do this with your athletes in pairs if you wish for your whole team to work on it together. This drill also does not require a field.
- Have your player grab a ball & their glove.
- They will get in the “ready to field” stance.
- Knees bent, back straight, nose pointing down.
- The player will then close their glove and make it flat.
- Thumb-side up.
- They will bounce the ball on the ground and get their glove underneath it in the air so that they can catch it on the top of their flat glove.
- Do this as many times as you wish.
Fielder’s Form is extremely simple and easy to accomplish, but might actually prove to be a bit difficult, especially for beginners. This drill is great for reinforcing bent knees and making sure to approach a ball by getting their glove under it. When your players are doing this workout, it is a good idea to really look at all the intricacies of their form. Making sure that they understand their back needs to be straight and their nose should be down. Make sure you can see the top of their head if you are looking straight at them from the front. Beginners need to grasp the small details of fielding mechanics in order to become a skilled fielder later on. This is a great way to do just that.
Here you can see one of our infielders fielding a ground ball in a game. Although this image does not show the very initial contact of the ball to the glove, this is the moment right after that. It shows her knees bent almost to a right angle. The ball is perfectly in the pocket of her glove, which means she made sure to get her glove under the ball, either on the ground or on the bounce. Her nose & eyes are pointed directly at the ball. Her back is straight. Also, she has very long legs and many young players who are lanky may say that bending their knees that far is too hard. Sadly, it is necessary to bend their knees this much for success and for the avoidance of back pain.
If you are looking for something that is simple but still effectively helps your team’s defense, 4 Corners is the drill for you. It only requires players, no outside people need to be involved, except to time it, if you desire that. This workout is for the whole team because it works on throwing mechanics while adding in some cardio. All skill-level groups can participate in 4 Corners as long as they have learned how to catch & throw a ball.
- Split the players as evenly as possible into 4 groups.
- Each group will go to a base on the infield.
- They will create lines at each base.
- The 1st player in line at the base will be standing right next to the base.
- The 2nd player in line will act as backup (for safety purposes).
- The rest in the line will simply pay attention & yell out where the throw goes next as they wait for their turn.
- The 1st player in line at home plate will receive the ball.
- Once they throw it, the drill starts.
- The player at home throws to the player at 1st base.
- The player at 1st base throws to the player at 2nd base.
- The player at 2nd base throws to the player at 3rd base.
- The player at 3rd base throws to the player on home.
- As soon as the players release the ball, they run to the base that they threw it to and get in the back of the line at that base.
- Every run should be a sprint.
- This cycle goes on until the player who started at home, who started 4 Corners, receives the ball for the 2nd time at home.
- Timing how long the players take to complete this drill is highly recommended.
4 Corners drill exists to reinforce the importance of accurate throws, quick footwork, proper foot set-up, quick transition (ball in glove to ball in hand), and communication. This allows the players to focus on fine-tuning their throwing mechanics, which improves their ability to do it faster. Making sure that all players are vocalizing where the throw is going next is a huge part of 4 Corners because that skill is needed in gameplay. The players must communicate on the field to their teammates on where the play is, where to throw, what to do etc. Starting this habit at a young age will prove to be very beneficial in the future. Teach your players that it is okay to be loud. Softball players are supposed to be loud on the field for their teammates.
Front-hand & Backhand Toss:
Softball players must learn how to properly & accurately toss a ball. There are two different ways of tossing a ball: front-hand and backhand. With the front-hand toss, the player faces where they toss; it is right in front of them. With the backhand toss, it is more to the side of the body, which requires the wrist to flip backward. This workout is beneficial for the whole team no matter their position because this skill is vital for efficiency & safety on the field. You can use this drill on nearly any skill-level as long as they have already learned how to field & throw a ball. Front-hand & Backhand Toss requires at the very least, 1 player and 3 other people. Although, working the whole team on this is probably a good idea.
- Set the player(s) up in shortstop or 2nd baseman’s position.
- If there are more players, they can create a line behind the player in position.
- Have 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stand on the left side of the player. About 10 feet away.
- Have 1 person (coach/parent/another player) stand on the right side of the player. Also, about 10 feet away.
- You can use cones as markers if you wish.
- Having these people stand on top of the bases on both sides of the player would be too far for this drill to accurately focus on tossing only.
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) has a bucket of balls & a bat. They stand about 15 to 20 feet in front of the player in position.
- They will hit easy grounders to the player.
- You can lead the player to one side or the other with your hits if you wish.
- The player will field 3-5 ground balls, tossing them with the front-hand or backhand technique.
- Once finished, they will go to the back of the line and the next player will step up.
- Do this until all players have gone, at least, 2 times each.
In some gameplay situations, tossing is a much better option than throwing, due to close proximity to the target or a time crunch. This skill is needed for softball players who wish to go far in this game. Understanding when it is appropriate to use this technique can be learned by incorporating tosses into everyday reps on the infield. Front-hand & Backhand Toss allows players to become comfortable with the idea of tossing. That way, they may feel more comfortable doing it during practice reps or in live gameplay situations.
Another drill that was introduced to me once I started college softball is Bucket Target. We usually just call it “the bucket drill,” but that could translate into a variety of things in the softball world. This workout only requires 2 people (1 to catch the ball & 1 to hit the ball) and 1 player, although it would be useful for the entire team to try it. This drill is more beneficial for players who have already learned how to field and throw a ball. It can be great for all skill-levels, outside of the very new, first-time beginner.
- Place player(s) in their main position on the field.
- Extra players may create a line behind the player in their main position in a safe place.
- Have 1 person, with a glove, (coach/parent/another player) set a bucket on top of 1st base. Then, they will sit on the bucket.
- They will stay seated & be the target for the player’s throws.
- Have 1 person stand at home plate with a bat & a bucket or many softballs.
- They will hit grounders, line drives, and fly balls to the players on the field 1 at a time as if in live play.
- Hit 1 to 2 balls to every player within 1 turn.
- The players will field the balls and throw to the target sitting on the bucket.
- The throw does not count if it is uncatchable for the person on the bucket.
- Each throw that is accurate enough to be caught is 1 point.
- Do this until all the players have gone.
- You can do this for as long as you like.
- It takes about the same amount of time as normal defensive reps.
- Once everyone has gone, tally up who has the most points. The players with the most points at the end win!
Creating fun competition in practice is always a good idea, which is why Bucket Target is so useful. It truly works towards the betterment of each player’s throwing accuracy, while giving them the joy of competing. If a player is having a difficult time with their accuracy, make sure to pay close attention to their foot set-up before their throw. Not setting your feet correctly will lead to throwing errors. If that looks good, they might just be rushing themselves too much. This drill is not a race, nor a speed workout. It is to focus on making good throws.
This one is a little similar to 4 Corners except it is a bit more difficult. It is useful for all ages as long as they have already learned how to throw accurately. It only requires 5 players but can be used by the whole team. No outside help is needed for Star Drill. This workout focuses on throwing mechanics and how to get rid of the ball quickly. Remember, softball is all about speed and learning how to play the game faster is how you make your team better.
- Set up players on the infield standing at Home plate, 1st base, 2nd baseman’s position, Shortstop’s position, and 3rd base.
- If you have extras, divide them up and have them create even lines in a safe spot around each of these positions.
- The player at Home will have a softball in hand.
- Make sure all your players have gloves on and are ready.
- The player at Home will then throw the ball to the player at Shortstop.
- When the player releases the throw, they will run to the position to which they threw.
- Home will run to Shortstop.
- The player at Shortstop catches the ball & throws it 1st base
- Shortstop runs to 1st base.
- The player at 1st catches the ball & throws to 3rd base.
- 1st base runs to 3rd base.
- The player at 3rd base catches the ball & throws to the 2nd baseman.
- 3rd runs to 2nd baseman’s position.
- 2nd baseman catches the ball & runs to Home.
- Repeat this until all have gone through.
- This can be done without the running and is suggested that way for younger players.
- To create more of a challenge for older players, use a stopwatch to keep track of how long it takes them to complete the entire rotation.
- Make it a goal to beat or meet the time whenever they attempt this drill.
Having the ability to throw accurately and get rid of the ball quickly is very important for the game of softball. Star Drill is simple and easy but also works on these much-needed qualities in your players. When doing this workout, pay close attention to their footwork when they receive and throw a ball. Make sure they do this in as little moves as possible, thus skimming down the time it takes to make the throw. Be sure, like in the 4 Corners workout, to have players vocalizing where the throw goes next, to avoid confusion while also working on the skill of communicating with their teammates. The benefits of this one are very similar to the 4 Corners but adds some complexity for the players if they seem to get too comfortable doing the 4 Corners drill.
Here is a diagram to better show how this drill is completed:
As you can see, the running and throwing path of the drill creates a star shape. Give your players a few dry runs in order to really get the feel of how to do it before going full speed.
This workout actually does not require a softball field, you only need a tennis ball and either a wall or someone to toss the ball. This can benefit any type of fielder, infield or outfield. It is to better their skill at fielding the ball, making sure to use the technique of having “soft hands,” hence the name of the drill. No gloves allowed for this one. Just the player’s bare hands, to really enforce having soft hands that give to the ball.
- Have the player stand a close, but comfortable distance from the wall and/or the person tossing the ball.
- If you are tossing your player the ball, it will be in the form of all kinds of ground balls.
- Short hops, multiple bounces, slow rollers, and fast rollers.
- Just focus on rolling it straight to the player at first, then maybe start working their right & left sides into fielding.
- Roll/toss the ball to the player in the “ready” fielding position.
- They will have to field the ball (left hand as primary, just as if they were using a glove).
- When they field it, they need to give with the ball, bringing it into their stomach area.
- Think of it as cradling the ball into their body.
- Do this about 10 times, or until you feel as though they have it down.
Soft Hands is a good workout for a player who is struggling to keep the ball in their glove. They are on it, they get it in their glove, but it bounces out. This could be happening because they are pushing at the ball with their glove, rather than giving with its movement. By giving with the ball, they are ensuring that it stays in the glove. This is a very small key technique to include in your player’s mechanics. This is a great way to fine-tune some talented and skilled players who are beginning to start more competitive softball. It is even better to start teaching this technique from a young age so that it is always second-nature.
No matter what position your athlete plays on the field, they will have to be a part of a throwing relay at some point. This is why it is necessary to go over how to do this quickly & accurately. This drill only requires players, no outside assistance. It needs about 3 athletes to complete it, but can be used for the whole team by simply making teams of 3 and turning it into a competition. This can be used for all ages as long as they can safely throw to one another.
- To start out easily, have 3 players standing in the outfield in a straight line.
- Have the 1st standing on the foul line.
- The 3rd standing a few feet away from the fence.
- The 2nd standing in the middle of the 2.
- They will need a ball and their gloves.
- The player on the foul line can start with the ball.
- They will throw it to the player in the middle.
- The player in the middle will receive the ball and then throw it to the player on the fence.
- Making sure to use 2 hands when catching and good footwork/form when throwing the ball.
- This is a great opportunity to teach them to stand with their feet sideways (ready to throw to the next person) while catching the ball.
- This makes the transition much faster.
- The player on the fence will catch the ball and throw it right back to the middle player.
- The middle player will then do the same as before when throwing it back to the player on the foul line.
- Then they all switch places.
- Foul line to the middle, middle to the fence, fence to the foul line.
- Do this until all have gone.
- If you only have 1 team of 3 athletes, use a stopwatch to show them how fast they can complete it. Then they can attempt to beat that time.
- If you are including your whole team, the first team to finish all the way through wins!
Every player on a softball field must learn how to quickly relay a ball, especially middle infielders. This workout focuses on throwing accuracy, catching the ball with 2 hands, and, most importantly, quick footwork. This is a small aspect that will make your players stand out among others, especially if they learn this at a young age. My ability to have very quick hands & feet has been one of my biggest advantages in high-level softball. So starting them young on making quick movements and throws can prove to be very beneficial.
Although range is very individualized for each athlete, there is always room for improvement. That is where drills that work specifically on range come into play. This workout was introduced to me in college, but all players who can field a ball cleanly while in motion should be able to do it. This may be tougher for beginners but will work well for most younger athletes. Range Work is meant for a larger group of athletes simply because it requires a bit of running. With more players, you will have longer lines, which means more resting time to catch their breath. This works best with two outside helpers to roll the ball to the players fielding in the drill.
- Create 2 lines of players:
- 1 standing behind 1st base (they will run towards home plate)
- 1 standing behind 3rd base (they will run towards 2nd base)
- 2 people (coaches/parents/other players) will stand close to the pitcher’s mound with plenty of balls in a bucket or pile.
- 1 facing the line at 1st base
- 1 facing the line at 3rd base
- Both helpers will begin rolling balls to the players 1 at a time.
- Roll the ball going away from the player, causing them to push themselves to reach it.
- For the line at 1st going to Home, roll it closer to home.
- For the line at 3rd going to 2nd, roll it closer to 2nd.
- Keep it doable, taking into account each player’s speed.
- It is OK if they cannot reach it every time.
- Once the player has gotten a ground ball in one line, they will run over to the other line.
- The running pattern should create a circle around all the bases.
- Do this until all have gone once or twice in each line.
- You can then reverse it by having each line start at the base which they were previously ending.
- Line starts at Home and goes to 1st base.
- Line starts at 2nd base and goes to 3rd base.
- This will work on their backhand (for right-handed players)
Be sure to give your athlete water breaks after drills like this, especially on hot days. Although it may not seem like a lot, this constant running can be really tiring. This drill is great for stretching the range of your athletes. It allows for some cardio while working on useful fielding techniques. Sometimes simply including a rolling ball can make a cardio workout seem less awful for softball players. The usefulness of this drill does not fade with an athlete’s age or skill-level. This is because there is always room to get faster and learn how to better approach a ball that may seem out of reach.
It can be difficult to simulate game-like dilemmas in practice, which can lead to your players being unprepared when something challenging happens in a game. One way this can show itself is with runners getting in the way of your player’s throw. A lot of athletes don’t know how to deal with this situation when it happens and end up trying to throw over the runner’s head, which can lead to disaster (i.e. the ball hitting off of the runner’s helmet and flying in the wrong direction, allowing the runner to advance further on the bases). This drill can help with this by forcing your players to get used to creating a throwing lane to the side of the runner. It requires 1 big trashcan, and at least 2 athletes. An outside person can help by throwing balls to players to start off the drill. This drill is more for those who will have to throw along the basepath such as catcher, 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, shortstop, and 3rd baseman. Although all softball players will be faced with this situation at some point, so it is good for everyone to work on it.
- Allow your players to take their normal positions on the infield.
- Let extras and outfielders find the most relevant place for them.
- Left fielders can go to 3rd base because sometimes they will have to cover it.
- Center fielders to 2nd base.
- Right fielders to 1st base.
- Place a trashcan about 5 feet from 2nd base (as if a runner advancing to 2nd from 1st)
- This is where shortstop and center field will attempt to throw around the runner (trashcan)
- 1 person (coach/parent/another player) will throw a ball to the shortstops or center fielders who are in the motion of running to 2nd base.
- Try to make it realistic by making your player run at least a few steps from the direction of their position.
- They will be practicing how to make a double play here.
- The player will catch the ball, touch 2nd base, and take a step to the side to ensure they have a clear throwing path to 1st base around the trashcan.
- Do this about twice for each player in these positions.
- Place the trashcan a few feet in front of 1st base (as if a runner beginning to advance to 2nd) and do the same thing with the 1st basemen and right fielders.
- They will catch a ball thrown to them, touch 1st, and create a throwing lane to the side of the trashcan in order to throw to 2nd base.
- Do this about twice for each player in these positions.
- Move the trashcan to 3rd base, about halfway down the line (as if advancing to home).
- This will be for the 3rd basemen and left fielders.
- They will catch a ball thrown to them, and create a throwing lane for a clear view to home plate.
- Do this about twice for each player in these positions.
- Move the trashcan to about 5 feet in front of home (as if a runner advancing to 1st)
- This is for the catchers. They will catch a throw or pick up a ball (as if a bunt) and create a throwing lane to 1st base.
- Do this about twice for each player in this position.
The benefits of this drill are teaching your players how to maneuver around a runner in a quick time so that they can still make the play. This happens in games a lot, so it is vital to prepare your athletes for this situation. As they get older, the competition gets a little meaner and the opposing team will start to slide, cleats first, into your players if they are in the basepath. This makes it all the more important to teach your players to make the play, get out of the way, and get onto the next one. This is a great drill for younger athletes because it can be intimidating for them to have an opposing athlete running directly at them as they are trying to throw the ball. This drill will show them that they have time to get out of the way without that runner affecting them.
Introduced to me once I started playing collegiate softball, this drill has helped my game a lot in the small window of time it has been in my softball career. Life as a middle-infielder and outfielder is hard enough, but it gets even tougher when there are those little dinky hits that fall right between the 2 of them. It happens a lot and can make a team look pretty lazy and silly if they don’t practice it enough. This drill is huge on communication because that is one of the biggest factors in dealing with these “‘tweener” hits. I suggest not practicing this with your players unless they are decently experienced as this drill can become dangerous with collisions. You will need a full outfield and middle infielders for this drill. You will also need someone extra to throw or hit the balls in the air (‘tweeners).
- Have your players take their positions on the field.
- Shortstop, 2nd base, all 3 outfield positions.
- If there are extras who also play there, have them stand on the side in a safe spot.
- 1 person stands wherever they need to on the field in order to throw the right kind of pop-ups that will land in tough spots on the edge of the grass in the outfield.
- This is a little difficult to do, so as a coach, be patient while you’re trying to figure out the perfect place to throw it.
- The worst case scenario is you make it too easy for them to catch, so don’t sweat it.
- Throw at random ‘tweeners on the left and right side of the field.
- The players will run to the ball and call it if they can catch it.
- Make sure your players communicate by saying “yours” or “mine.”
- Do this As many times as you like until all players have had a chance to catch a few for themselves.
This drill requires quite a bit of hard sprinting to the ball, so making sure your athletes get a water break is a must. They will have a lot of fun with this workout because it creates a challenge. These hits happen a lot more often in games than you would like, so prepare your players for it by working this drill with them. There is no worse feeling for a pitcher who throws a great pitch that the batter just barely snags and hits so softly, but it lands right in no-man’s-land (a ‘tweener). Training your athletes to read these hits while implementing effective communication will save your pitchers some heartache and you’ll have fewer runners on base to worry about.
This picture shows exactly how difficult a ‘tweener hit can be. In this image, you can see our 2nd baseman and right fielder crashing in on a fly ball. They are very close to collision, which is why communication is so vital.
Take the advice of a girl who has been that bored softball player at practice. Try out some drills that are outside of the normal routine with your team! Don’t get too stuck doing the same thing every single day. I am sure that your players will be so thankful for shaking up the repetitious routine and creating a challenge for them that is new & fun. The best thing about these drills is that they are extremely effective for making your softball players better defensively. I truly hope that this has given you plenty of options for when you are creating your next practice plan and that you will refer back to it often for new ammo.