Game Winning Defensive Strategy for Softball
Knowing where to focus your energy as a softball coach is hard. Tim Walton gives you solid advice on defensive strategy on the softball field.
A system for softball coaches to ensure their defense is prepared for every situation.
Knowing where to focus your energy as a softball coach is hard.
Your actions should have the maximum positive impact on your team possible. But particularly at the high school and collegiate level—there are endless competing priorities a coach must juggle.
Skill building. Mindset. Personal development. Physical conditioning. Teamwork. They all need attention. But figuring out where to allocate your limited time and resources can seem like an impossible decision.
In the face of this confusion, many coaches double down on pitching and hitting.
These are, after all, the most obvious ways softball games are won and lost. They’re also the easiest areas to get buy-in from the players during practice.
But such a narrow focus can have disastrous consequences.
Relying solely on pitching and hitting to win games can instill a false sense of confidence in players and coaches.
Wins can initially come easily for teams that excel in either area—especially early on in the season. But as the weeks roll on. And the countdown to the playoffs starts. Things tend to go horribly wrong for teams that haven’t done the work on defensive strategy.
When two teams that are evenly matched in pitching and hitting go head to head, the team that is stronger defensively always comes out on top.
As the unprepared team starts to feel the pressure, a vicious cycle of fielding errors and poor decisions can start to unfold. This often leads to an embarrassing cascade of giving easy runs.
Very soon, all that promise, momentum, and progress from early in the season is erased. And the coach and players realize it's too late to go back and do the work on defensive strategy that could have carried them through to the championships.
If you are a softball coach who wants to avoid ending up in this situation. Or, if you are looking for some solid advice on defensive strategy from one of the most successful collegiate coaches of all time—keep reading.
A Title Winning Machine
Tim Walton is in a league of his own when it comes to building title winning teams in softball.
In his 17 years with the Gators, Walton has taken eight of his ten teams to the Women’s College Softball World Series.
In 2021, the Gators racked up a Southern-Conference leading ninth regular season title. Plus, they have won the SEC Regular Season Title a whopping five of the last six seasons.
With this level of playoffs experience. Combined with the fact that he recently became the second fastest NCAA coach to rack up 1000 career wins. There’s no doubt that Tim Walton is a coach who knows a thing or two about helping players and teams succeed in softball.
Tim has been hard at work with Versus developing a suite of exclusive video training sessions for softball athletes and coaches. Some recent topics include:
- How to Coach Third Base
- Fundamentals of Hitting for Softball
- Developing Into a Power Hitter
- How to Develop the Ultimate Practice Plan
We’ll cover the main points from his video on defensive strategy for softball in a moment. But if you want to check out the full session this article is based on—choose a plan and download the app to start learning.
Our free plan gives you access to one video session of your choice. While the standard and premium options include the full library of video content from our star-studded roster.
In addition to video sessions, all Versus plans let you utilize our advanced AI-powered technology to ask interactive questions from our team. These conversations are more personal in nature and cover information from different angles than our videos and articles.
As well as Walton, you can use the app to talk to other titans of softball, such as Jennie Finch, Jessica Mendoza, and one of the best hitters in the game today, Amanda Lorenz. Collectively, they answer over 1000 questions, spanning more than 40 softball related topics.
If you’re ready to level up in any aspect of softball—Versus has everything you need to get better.
Until then, let’s take a look at Tim Walton’s advice on how to develop and implement game winning defensive strategy for softball.
Be Prepared for Every Scenario
Tim’s overall philosophy on defensive strategy is simple: “You have to get prepared for everything, otherwise you’re prepared for nothing.”
Walton’s approach focuses around, “Practicing for that one moment when we’re in a position that the game is on the line if we do the wrong thing.”
That’s how he uses defensive strategy to win games.
Tim’s athletes know that every play counts. And while a fielding error that gives up an easy run in early innings might not always be the deciding factor of a game—it could be. So every defensive play requires the same level of considered precision.
Walton provides the following scenario to highlight just how many factors need to be considered in defensive strategy:
“I’ve got a left handed batter at home—she might bunt.
There’s a really fast girl at first base—she might steal.
I’ve got a really powerful hitter at the plate who I just said can bunt, but she also has power. That impacts what the outfield is going to do.
Because she’s [the hitter] left-handed—that impacts what my first baseman can do.”
In this common situation in softball, there’s no “right” or “wrong” defensive strategy. There is just being prepared and not being prepared.
“Ultimately, you have to put your team in the best strategic position to defend everything that can happen,” states Tim. “At the plate, with the ball, with the bat, and with a runner.”
To help create some order out of the mass of possibilities, Walton breaks his planning for defensive strategy down into 3 stages:
- Pre-pitched positions (Plan A)
- Responding to what the batter does with the ball (Plan B)
- Where the fielders will throw the ball (Plan C)
He develops a plan for every possibility, then uses technology to assist in communicating the strategy to his players. Tim recommends the program InMotion Playbooks for this task.
Refine Communication Protocols
Effective communication is central to Walton’s approach to defensive strategy and
Communication starts with ensuring that every player knows their responsibilities pre-pitch (step 1 above). It’s essential to get this first step right, as it is what the rest of the defensive strategy is built upon.
Once pre-pitch responsibilities are sorted, Walton advises coaches “to create a good standard communication for defense.” In the case of the Gators, he explains,
“We have non-verbal signs to allow us to switch our defensive coverages to play whatever situation we get.”
In defending the short game, for example, you would need a way to communicate plans for defending the bunt, steal, and both at once.
Tim states that his goal is,
“To have all my defensive position players—pitcher, catcher, shortstop, 1st, 2nd & 3rd—doing the same thing in unison.”
Pulling this off in-game requires well-developed and effective communication protocols, alongside a firm commitment to refining defensive fundamentals.
Defensive Fundamentals Are Key
When it comes to practicing defensive strategy and fundamentals, Tim’s advice is, “Show. Then do. Then teach. Then re-teach, Then show again.”
This applies to every aspect of defense—including strategy and planning. Plus fundamental skills, like how to:
- Catch, then tag
- Catch, tag, throw
- Prepare to be a receiver after a throw
“If your players don’t have a good fundamental skill set,” he warns, “It’s going to be really hard to create a sound defensive strategy.”
Defensive Strategy In Practice
Let's take a look at a scenario to demonstrate what Tim’s approach to defensive strategy might look like in action.
“When you have a runner on second,” states Walton, “A coach's worst nightmare is that the ball is hit to the outfield, and you’re in the wrong position with a fast base runner and fast hitter.”
Without a plan, he explains, the likely scenario is,
“You throw the ball home. The runner’s safe. And now you’ve let the batter get to second base.”
In this scenario, having a comprehensive defensive strategy allows you to decide to give something up in the play that’s likely to happen regardless—the runner getting from second to home—to minimize further losses in the play.
In softball, it’s often these secondary consequences of poorly thought out defense, that leads to giving up preventable runs.
So with the above example, if it’s a ground ball to center and you can’t throw the runner out at the plate, prepare your team to execute the following:
- Throw the ball to second to keep the batter at first.
- Use your shortstop or second baseman to cut the ball so there’s not an unnecessary throw.
- Use your pitcher to catch the ball and make the throw to second.
- Use your first baseman to catch the ball so the batter doesn’t go to second (or relay to the plate).
You won’t know which of these is the right decision until the play begins. But if you don’t plan and practice beforehand—-your opponent will likely force you into a compromised defensive position.
Tim finishes the session with a recap of important takeaways about defensive strategy for softball coaches.
“Number one, is the coach’s communication,” he explains. “Create objectives and make sure your team understands exactly what we’re trying to accomplish in every situation.”
Second, “Prepare your players pre-pitch, pre-situation, pre-game,” urges Walton. “Don’t be an after the fact coach that yells at a player for not doing A, B, or C—when you didn’t prepare them.”
Third, develop a set of non-verbal defensive communication signals to utilize in-game.
“You’re going to have to make in-game adjustments because the other team is also practicing their offensive strategy,” states Tim.
Finally, Walton explains,
“To have a really good defensive strategy—you must have sound fundamentals.”
This includes defense specific skills, like tagging, throwing, and catching. Also, it means you’ll need to practice defensive plays and drills until they can reliably be performed in-game without a hitch.
If you want more advice and support to take your coaching game to the next level—sign up for one of our plans.
With any Versus subscription, you can watch the full video this article is based on. Plus, you’ll get direct access to exclusive advice and training resources from our roster of elite athletes and world-class coaches.
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