4 Open-Loop Drills to Build Softball Acceleration
In the sport of softball, one of the deadliest tools to have in your arsenal is the ability to accelerate quickly while being aggressive on the base paths. When your opponents know they have no wiggle room for making errors, the pressure causes a snowball effect of hurried and out-of-sync performances. A player's ability to accelerate and stretch singles into doubles or even triples in to in the park home runs can be the difference between winning and losing. Acceleration is all about increasing horizontal force and decreasing vertical force. By devoting a chunk of your time to strength training you can increase your muscle fiber size and strength which equates to a higher potential to produce greater force and the ability to have a faster jump out of the gate.
Here are a Few Ways to Improve your Jump Start
Top players have a suburb softball IQ, primarily because of their vast experience and hours dedicated to practicing technical skills (base running, base stealing, timing) and their extensive training utilizing (sprints, weights, agility drills, and jumps) in a closed-loop predictable environment. Once players have mastered drills and techniques on the field and in the weight room, they should move on to test them in an open-loop unpredictable environment. Open-loop control is useful for fast movements (batter adjusting to a changeup) and it causes the athlete to process and react accordingly to the external stimuli. Closed loop control is useful for slow movements “technique work” and listing to feedback from an experienced coach. This would be the hours spent practicing adjusting to different pitch in a controlled setting.
Simplifying Closed and Open Loop Controls
Think about the first time you drove a car in the daytime. It was a new undertaking for a while, and then it became a task with zero effort. Once you mastered daytime driving, your parents let you drive at night, in the rain, in the snow, and maybe even in a busy city. Factors such as darkness, weather, and traffic added unpredictable external stimuli that you had to come to terms with. Similarly, a softball player who has mastered the 15-yard sprint in a predictable environment needs to practice that sprint in an environment that presents unexpected variables to which the athlete must accommodate.
Many coaches make the common mistake of conditioning verses training for speed. In the game of softball the base paths are 60ft apart and a player can sprint from home to first base in less than 2.9seconds. We need to train movement efficiency here and allow adequate rest times for recovery.
Closed-Loop (Predictable) - 15yd Linear Sprint (emphasizing knee drive, addressing the small details)
Open-Loop (Unpredictable)-15yd Linear Sprint with Coach's command: Strike vs Ball in the dirt
How to Perform: (3 sets of 5 voice commands)The athlete will side shuffle 5-yards when "strike" is called and return back to the bag. If the phrase "ball in the dirt" is said the athlete side shuffles 5-yards and sprints 15yds.
2. Strength Training
Regular engagement in training is a must when looking to increase overall strength and acceleration. By increasing your muscle fiber size and strength this will equate to a higher potential to produce greater forces and the ability to have a faster jump out of the gate.
Closed-Loop (Predictable)-Prone Plank (emphasizing proper technique stationary)
Open-Loop (Unpredictable)-Kneeling Overhead Med Ball Catch to Throw (keep the same anterior core position with prone plank, now with added external force)
How To Perform: (3 sets of 6 reps) The athlete will be in a tall kneeling position. The coach will throw a medicine ball high over top of the athlete. The athlete will resist extension and slam the ball to the ground.
In some cases if the goal is anaerobic conditioning you could have similar drills placed at the end of a training session. However, if the goal is to increase agility mechanics, plenty of rest should be given as well as coaching up movement patterns.
Closed-Loop (Predictable)-5-yard lateral shuffle to sprint drill (emphasizing technique and gradually increasing speed)
Open-Loop (Unpredictable)-5 yard lateral shuffle to sprint drill with Tennis Ball Response (Drop the ball as soon as the athlete hits the second line in the drill)
How to Perform: (4/side) The athlete starts by side shuffling 5-yards then returns to the starting point. As soon as the athlete reaches the starting line the coach drops the tennis ball and the athlete sprints through the 10 yard mark attempting to catch the tennis ball before the second bounce.
In the game of softball we need to be able to react fast and these can be trained with plyometrics that involve a loading phase combined with an explosive phase such as this drill below.
Closed-Loop Drills (Predictable) Standing Box Jump
Open-Loop Drill (Unpredictable) 2 Bounce with Hurdle to 1-leg Landing w/stick and Voice Command
How to Perform: (3 sets of 5/side) Have the athlete jump over hurdles. At the last hurdle call our "left" or "right". The athlete will jump onto the box and stick the landing with the voice command.
Putting the Puzzle Together
Becoming a speed demon on the base paths requires both arranging all the puzzle pieces and fitting them together. You need to have a purposeful strength training program that address all of the puzzle pieces: sprinting, strength training, agility, jumps, and sport technical skills to see real results on the field. “All professional athletes have exceptional physical and technical abilities, yet they still watch game films and practice situational drills for hours at a time to improve their cognitive ability to recognize tactical cues and decrease reaction time” – Jim Kielbaso