Fundamentals of Hitting for Softball

Written by VersusWed Aug 24 2022
Fundamentals of Hitting for Softball

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Tim Walton teaches you the keys to building your swing in softball and the fundamental drills to help you improve.

Teaching the fundamentals of hitting for softball can be a challenge for coaches and parents.

There’s so much to cover. Grip, hand-eye coordination, timing, swinging mechanics, lower body positioning, and much more. 

It’s difficult to know where to begin—let alone what to focus on for each athlete.

And while we all know there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to hitting: There are fundamentals that every player must master to perform well and continue to progress.

It takes an experienced coach to strike this balance between foundational skills and personalized instruction. One who’s worked with enough hitters to know what aspects are non-negotiable and what can be adjusted according to individual preference.

Coaches with this depth of experience are rare. And even if you do find one—getting the opportunity to work with them is no easy task.

Fortunately, we can help out.

We secured an exclusive video training session on the fundamentals of hitting for softball, with world-renowned coach, Tim Walton.

Committed to Excellence

Tim Walton is a titan in the softball world.

He’s been a head coach in college softball for more than two decades. Much of his career has been spent with the Florida Gators, who’ve become a national powerhouse with him at the helm.

Walton has amassed some impressive personal achievements as a coach. He became the second fastest NCAA coach to rack up 1,000 career wins in May 2022. And he’s won the SEC Coach of the Year award no less than five times. 

Players coached by Tim consistently overdeliver. Under his leadership, student athletes have received numerous accolades, including:

  • 2 x USA Softball Player of the Year
  • 3 x Honda Award Winners
  • 46 NFCA All Americans
  • 67 All-SEC honors
  • 10 SEC Player & Pitcher of the Year

As a former professional baseball player, Tim Walton is one of those rare coaches who can teach a skill like hitting to anyone.

This article is based on one of Tim’s exclusive video sessions with Versus. He covers a lot of ground in the video. And while we’ll outline the main points shortly—anyone serious about this topic will want to check out the video by signing up for one of our plans

The standard and premium subscriptions come with unlimited video sessions. Plus, you can ask interactive questions for additional information and advice from our roster of elite athletes and world-class coaches.

If you’re driven to reach your full sporting potential—Versus contains everything you need to improve—all on a slick digital platform that’s accessible anywhere.

But now, let’s get back to Tim Walton and the fundamentals of hitting for softball.

You Can’t ‘Cookie Cut’ a Hitter

This is of those things that’s easy to say, yet hard to put into practice.

But the fact that it’s Coach Walton’s first point in the video—before getting into anything related to skills—highlights just how important it is.

We all know intuitively that each hitter, each player, is different. But when you’re coaching a whole team. Or a busy parent of a student athlete. It’s easy to default to a standard approach for everyone.

It’s not that this won’t get results. We’ll cover some of Tim’s standard tips about hitting in the following sections. But for an athlete to reach their full potential—they will need more personalized instruction as they develop.

To illustrate the differences between players, Walton details the varying input needed by three of the biggest hitters he’s coached: Lauren Hager, Amanda Lorenz, and Kelsey Bruder.

To perform at her best, Hager needed to keep her front side unusually wide open when hitting.

Lorenz would say,

“I don’t want to talk about my hands,” as she got into the batter's box. She was all about the timing of her stride and gather before a big swing.

And Bruder was worried about something being wrong with her swing—when she actually needed coaching around her contact point with the ball.

Walton sums up his thoughts on this point, stating. 

“All hitters act differently. All hitters think differently. And when you’re working on somebody’s fundamentals of hitting—allow them to have a little bit of their own personality. That personality will translate into confidence. And confidence will translate into being a really good hitter.”

This doesn’t mean athletes get a free pass on sloppy form and technique. But make sure you’re not doing more harm than good, by giving cues that don’t align with individual preferences and hitting style.   

Pitch Recognition Is Essential

“If you swing at strikes, the likelihood of impacting the ball at a better rate is going to improve,” states Walton.

Simple, right?

Except anyone who’s tried to teach pitch recognition—especially to younger athletes—knows this is easier said than done. 

The mistake most people make is using subjective terms like ‘middle’, ‘in’, and ‘away’ when training strike zone recognition. These terms aren’t necessarily wrong, but they’re not precise enough to help a hitter really dial in their swing.

Pitch recognition isn’t just about being able to call a strike from a ball. It’s about learning which positions across the plate a player is most comfortable hitting. And which they tend to struggle with.

So how does Tim teach pitch recognition? He creates a common language, with this device. 

He places the device on home plate (ps. we’ve told him he needs to come up with a better name and trademark it!).

Then together with the athlete—identifies the balls as number one through to seven. The closest ball to the athlete (while they’re standing at the plate) is number 1, furthest is number 7.

When that common language is established, the coach can guide the athlete through some simple pitch recognition drills using front toss or a machine. The goal is for the athlete to be able to correctly identify the number of each pitch (strikes are number 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6; balls are 1 and 7.

Once a player’s strike zone recognition is dialed in—spend some time helping them figure out where they like to hit the ball best. In most cases, swinging mechanics will be ideal on the most comfortable pitches. As the ball moves further out of the athlete’s comfort zone (especially into numbers 1 and 7), mechanics will start to alter.

Use this as a learning opportunity to show hitters how swinging at bad pitches breaks down their mechanics. This can help both of you gauge if adjustments to technique need to be made, or if form is simply breaking down when swinging at less than ideal pitches.  

Tee Work and Side Toss

If you’ve been following along with our recent articles, you’ll already know that Tim Walton and our athletes are big fans of tee work and soft toss.

Tim covers the basics here. But for a deeper dive—check out some of the other articles in the Expert Advice section of the Versus website.

We’ll list out Walton’s main tips for tee work and side toss below and round out with his instructions on pulling it all together.

Hitting off the Tee

Tee work is about practicing under controlled conditions. The hitter should swing with full power and force, while paying close attention to body positioning and swing mechanics. 

“We’re going to hit the ball with maximum effort. Creating maximum distance and velocity. While doing it in complete control of the body,” explains Walton.

Here are some of the main points Tim covers in the video.

Grip - It’s personal preference whether players line up their knuckles. But make sure they’re not holding the bat in their palms. 

Tee Position - Set up the tee to work the middle of the field (or cage).

Stance - Make sure the hitter is in a good starting position, with weight balanced between the insides of the knees. Eyes should be centered on the pitcher.

Contact Point - Set the ball up in the two-seam position pictured below. Get the hitter to work on the lower inside third, to deliver it to the back side of the field or cage with a good amount of backspin.

Follow Through - Pay attention to body position on follow through. The hitter should finish in a balanced position. Head over the chest. Not leaning over the plate. And not leaning back either. The aim is to use the most direct and efficient path from beginning to end of a swing. 

Here’s what the hitter should look like at the end of a swing.

Angle Side Toss

Once a hitter is competent from the tee, angle side toss is a good progression to work with. The goal is to create a straight swing, while now incorporating the dynamics of hand-eye coordination.

Here are Tim’s pointers for angle side toss.

  • Normal Stance - Make sure the hitter’s stance doesn’t change up from tee work. They should be in their normal, strong, balanced stance.
  • Consistent Throw - From about 12 feet away, throw the ball to the inside of the hitter’s back knee, keeping it over the plate. Take care not to direct the ball too far inside to the hitter's body.
  • Connect the Body to the Ball - Guide the hitter through developing a connection between their body and the timing of the ball. Intense focus will be required for this.
  • Don’t Rush - This should be a slow, deliberate drill. Keep an eye out for the hitter starting to rush their swing. If needed, guide them back to a powerful, but controlled movement. 
  • Change it Up - When the hitter is comfortable, vary your timing and hold, and try simulating a change up. If the swing falls out of sync—bring it back in line.

Control Is Key

Walton’s closing comment ties together the overall goal of mastering the fundamentals of hitting for softball.

“Ultimately, you want to have the hitter be in control of what they’re doing, not the pitcher in control.”

Your training approach for different hitters might vary. But as long as your main focus is on helping them develop control—they should continue to see improvement.

Here’s a recap of Tim Walton’s lesson on hitting fundamentals for softball:

  1. Don’t Cookie Cut a Hitter - Help them master the basics, but allow room for individual variation and preference. Every hitter is different.
  2. Work on Pitch Recognition - However you do it, helping a hitter learn to swing at strikes—and avoid bad pitches—will greatly improve their mechanics and performance.
  3. Utilize Tee Work - Any hitter can benefit from tee work to dial in the fundamentals. Focus on grip, stance, contact point, and follow through.
  4. Progress to Angle Side Toss - Once a hitter is competent on the tee, progress to angle side toss. This will help develop hand-eye coordination, timing, and control.
  5. Control is Key - The fundamentals of hitting are all about improving control. Remind the hitter the aim is for them to be in control in the game—not the pitcher.

If you want to access the full video this article was based on—head over to Versus and sign up for one of our plans.

Our standard or premium packages give you access to unlimited video sessions from our roster of elite athletes and world-class coaches.

Sessions cover everything from coaching and mindset tips, skills training advice, warm-ups, and injury prevention, overcoming adversity, and much more.

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