The emphasis on physical training for softball is dependent on the philosophy of the coaching staff and available resources. What many do not understand though is that you do not need to be at the fitness centre to implement strength training into your program. All you need is to do some research to be creative and include physical training in practice designs to make your athletes stronger and to help prevent injury to their ligaments and tendons.
Every practice includes a warm up. The warm up should be dynamic which means moving with a gradual increase of the intensity of that movement. This is a great time to incorporate strength exercises depending on the planned content of the practice. If you are working with technical or tactical skills that are being introduced and maybe solidified, it would be a better idea to incorporate strength training after the practice as a part of the cool down. this will not only prevent fatigue from inhibiting learning but it will also increase the benefits because the players are fatigued to some degree from the practice activities.
If you are working with skills that your athletes already know then it is not a bad idea to incorporate strength training as a part of your warm up and during your practice to incorporate some level of stress on the body. Being somewhat tired when executing skills in a practice can be closer to game like simulations, enhancing the athletes ability to perform under stress during competition as their body and mind will have adapted to some degree.
Using weighted balls with an increase in weight of 5% during a throwing drill for example is a great way to work on strength. It is critical though that the athlete does not attempt to throw hard because depending on their relative strength, injury could occur. Start with simple rotations of the shoulder with the ball in their hand. Then gradually increase the speed of the movement as the shoulder prepares for the weight of the ball. By attempting to throw hard injuries are sure to occur due to the stress.
A practice that includes stations with calisthenics is a great way to incorporate strength. So often we set up stations such as batting where every one is a batting station. Why not put the wall sit, push ups, wrist curls or crunches in between each station. A practice with this type of activity 3 times per week will include strength training and maximize your time with the athletes without having to go to the gym.
A annual training plan will help you to plan for this type of training so that you can schedule strength into your practice plans through the year without hindering their performance during the most important competition of the year. Softball is a power and speed sport, so building strength would be more of a preparation phase or off season activity and then maintaining it would be done while developing the power and speed required to maximize performance on the field during the competitive phase or in season.
Strength training is an important component in any sport and can be and should be done early in an athlete’s career. It needs to be incorporated gradually and the program should entirely depend on his/her age, abilities, and experience level. A coach who goes into a practice with great ideas and implements a strength training program right away without considering these elements is at risk of injuring the athletes.
As a part of incorporating a strength training program into your practices, it is important that you find out what your athletes are currently doing for physical training and with who. Are they training in another sport during practices or with a personal trainer? There may be some who are involved in strength training already and some who are not. It will be your task to ensure that the ones who are do not over train while participating in your program as well. Design activities that are easy to adapt so that for example there might be 3 or 4 different options so that ones who are already training can supplement their training rather than add onto it.
Incorporating strength training into your practices takes creativity, knowledge of the field and not necessarily any additional equipment. You can find numerous calisthenic activities on the internet however it is important that you refrain from activities that put stress on the joints. Youth athletes need to be given time for their bodies to mature and strengthen through their growth and development. If you will be including these type of activities during your practice it is also critical that you ensure your athletes are properly warmed up and all the joints being used are ready to go.
Sample exercises (use existing structures as well):
- wall sits
- squats (hang on to the fence if needed)
- chin ups
- wheel barrel race
- crab walk
If you have questions or would like any assistance in the activities that would be best for softball don’t be afraid to contact me for assistance. Do not have athletes perform any activities that they are not strong enough to perform. Do not allow athletes to use implements unattended. Safety first.