Episode 24 – Softball Signals
On this episode, I am going to talk about signals in softball. We are all familiar with offensive signals but I am going to explore the defensive ones as well. I will talk about it after this break.
Signals are essentially the relaying of information without actually saying anything specific and can be verbal or audible. Let’s talk about the offensive signals first because those are the ones most of us are familiar with. The most common are signals for the hitter on what you want them to do at the plate. This is usually dependant on the number of outs and how many runners are on base. The key with signals, is that you want to keep them age and skill level appropriate, simple and consistent. A young team for example may not be ready yet for the wrist cheat sheets, and would benefit more from a simple system. One that only uses a few signals and not too much movement.
Some will use a key indicator which tells the batter that the next signal after the key is the one that you want them to pay attention to. The important thing for this system is that the players do not look away as soon as they get the signal. They need to remain focused on you until you are completely finished the whole segment. There are some common keys that many coaches use such as touching the ball cap or the nose. For this reason, it might be an idea to teach your athletes to be able to adjust to a new key that you might use randomly if you think the opponents are picking up your system.
Another system is a sequence system where it is a specific sequence of signals to communicate with your batter. This one can be more difficult to grasp for your players depending on how many signals you use. You also need to determine if you will use signals as a decoy before or after the sequence. If you have inexperienced athletes, you might want to limit the number of signals you use for this form of communication.
The number system is the one I used. It was very successful because it was easily adjusted and my teams got it quickly, even at 8 and 9 years old. I was able to allow them to learn early because we only had a few signals when they were young and then increased it as they got more experience with the game. With this system, you tell them that the correct signal is on the third signal. So, I would show a series of signals and the third one is the one I wanted them to do. If I was going to change it during the game, I would just make sure I told them that we are changing to 2 or 4 for example. It was great because they new the system so well that before games if they didn’t get the number we were going on they just asked quickly before we went up to bat. Again, the players must remain focused on you until you are finished the signal segment.
These are just a few options that you can use. The other thing you want to make sure of is that if there are runners on base, that they got the signal as well. I used a confirmation signal that needed to be relayed back to me by the batter and the baserunner, so that I knew we were all on the same page. If there was a question, I had a do over sign and if needed the batter could call time out. This is also why it’s so important that your first base coach know what the signals are as well, so the first base runner can ask her or him.
The other kind of signals that you can use are defensive signals. I used simple defensive alignment signals depending on the information I had on the batter at the plate. This would be different than the signals that the catcher is giving to the pitcher. By keeping meticulous stats on each batter, I knew the strength and the tendencies of the batters because most times at the minor level, they did the same sort of thing regardless of what the pitcher threw. This is not as useful at the higher levels but worked well in minor ball. I used for example D1 for move to the left side, D2 for the right side, D3 for weaker batter and D4 for stronger batter. I would just hold up the desired defense number using my fingers and they would adjust accordingly. This worked very well for my teams. It also makes sure that they are paying attention during the game.
The other signals of course are the signals to the pitcher on what to throw. This is a topic that is discussed often by coaches and managers. I personally believe that the catcher and pitcher should be calling the game and not the coach unless there is something specific that you see. Too often the coaches are dictating the game that the team is supposed to be playing. There are even some college teams that allow their battery to call the game for themselves rather than relying on the dugout. We as minor coaches need to put our ego aside on this one in my opinion and let the players play. That’s what they have been training for. Share the information you have on the batters and let them devise a strategy. I understand the coach helping the players when they are just learning, however that should gradually be given to the players.
The key with signals is that they should be simple and consistent for young softball players and then progress in complexity as the players are ready. This will guarantee that nothing is missed and your message is received.
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