Quickness Drills with Michigan Softball

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

A hard-hit softball can cover the 84 feet from home to second base in a fraction of a second. Learn how middle infielders for the National Champion University of Michigan softball team keep opponents on lockdown despite small field dimensions and the increasing power of hitters.

Bonnie Tholl, associate head coach of the University of Michigan softball team, repeats this mantra to her infielders: "Play defense with your feet."

The importance of quick feet and proper footwork continually increases as softball evolves. Tholl says, "Each year, athletes get faster and more powerful. As these better athletes fill the batter's box, athletes in the field have to be quicker and better to counter the better offense."

The defensive positions that demand the most quickness are shortstop and second base—the middle infielders. "Softball is extremely fast-paced, with much of the action in the middle of the field," Tholl declares. "The middle infielders are expected to cover a lot of ground. They have to have the most range to deal with balls that are getting to their gloves quickly."

During the 2005 title campaign, the Lady Wolverines placed a premium on quickness training to protect the middle from unwanted base hits. "In the off-season, we do quickness work two of the three training days a week," Tholl says. "Every practice is another opportunity to improve quickness."

DEVELOPING MIDDLE INFIELD SUPREMACY

Crossover Steps

• Begin in ready position with partner 10-20 feet in front of you

• When partner points to left or right, react and crossover in that direction

• Turn shoulders and explode for 5 steps

VARIATION: Have partner throw ground ball to left or right instead of pointing. Crossover and explode to field ball.

REPS: 3 in each direction without ball; 3 in each direction with ball

BENEFITS: "This is great for first-step quickness when fielding ground balls hit up the middle. Adding the ball makes the drill more game-like."

Coaching Point: "Although we play defense with our feet, the most important aspect is focusing on the ball when fielding it."

Drop Steps

• Begin in ready position with partner 10-20 feet in front of you

• When partner points over your left or right shoulder, react and drop step

• Explode backward at 45-degree angle in direction indicated

VARIATION: Have partner throw a line drive over your shoulder instead of pointing. Drop step and explode to catch ball.

REPS: 3 in each direction without ball; 3 in each direction with ball

BENEFITS: "This teaches you to take the proper steps to quickly field a hard hit liner over your shoulders."

Tossed Short Hops

• Begin in ready position with partner 10 feet in front of you

• Take one step forward and square up to partner

• When partner throws hard, short hop to your forehand or backhand, react and crossover to field ball

REPS: 3 to each side

BENEFITS: This not only increases a middle infielder's quickness when a ball is hit to her, but it also helps when there is a cut or steal play and the ball is thrown a bit to the right or left. The infielder has to react with quick hands and feet to the retrieve the ball on a short hop.

Coaching Point: "Focus on keeping a low center of gravity and emphasize quick hands and feet. Make sure your glove is in front, because infielders get into trouble when they have too much glove give before the ball enters the leather."

Agility Ladder and Field

• Perform specified drill down length of ladder with partner 8-10 feet from end of ladder facing you

• Upon exiting last rung, partner rolls ball to your left or right

• React and field ball

REPS: 5

BENEFITS: "This drill encourages quick changes of direction while maintaining balance. It develops quick feet, good balance and reaction to the ball."

Coaching Point: "When you exit the ladder, square up and make sure you are in an athletic, balanced stance from which you can react to the ball."

MERCHANT IN THE MIDDLE

A large part of the Wolverines' success in 2005 came from co-captain and All-American shortstop, Jessica Merchant. A Women's College World Series All-Tournament selection, Merchant appropriately hauled in the last out of the team's final game to clinch the national title.

Tholl says, "During her time with us, Jessie became very balanced, quick and light on her feet. She became one of the best shortstops in the country due to the daily effort she put into the quickness and agility drills. They increased her body awareness and allowed her to recognize how important balance is at her position."

Merchant's senior campaign was nothing less than amazing. She led the team in batting with a .378 average and 63 RBIs, and her 21 homers set a Michigan single season record. Her balance and quickness up the middle resulted in a .926 fielding average and 118 assists.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: SOFTBALL | SPEED DRILLS | GET FASTER | COACH