Softball is a great recess and PE activity for the warmer months of the school year. I’ve found that a few simple modifications to the game and some basic instruction in good technique help students of all abilities to enjoy the game. Note that not every tip will apply to every situation, and remember that it’s good to listen to students’ feedback after making a change. Some of these tips will work with similar games like kickball, too.
Do all the pitching yourself
If you have the ability, be the pitcher for both teams. Consistent pitching helps give both teams an equal chance to get hits.
Give nice, fat pitches right up the middle, and let each student swing away until he gets a hit, reducing anxiety for students of lesser ability.
One at bat per student per inning
Instead of ending a team’s turn at bat after three outs, give each student one at bat per inning. This reduces the pressure to not get out, equalizes batting opportunities, and prevents half-innings from either dragging on to the detriment of the fielding team, or from ending too quickly to the detriment of the batting team. The fielding team will still be motivated to get outs to keep the batting team from scoring.
Each student plays a different position every inning
This reduces disputes over favored positions, and helps keep weaker players from being confined to less-active positions.
Eliminate positions systematically when teams are small
A serviceable game can be played with only five students per team if the teacher pitches for both teams. Eliminate positions in the following order: catcher (the batting team can supply a catcher), third base (shortstop and pitcher can work together to cover third), and center field. You can eliminate the second baseman in a pinch, with the first baseman playing closer to second than normal and working with the shortstop and pitcher to cover second.
Teach fielding and batting fundamentals
Teaching a few basics that are often overlooked will give students more opportunities to succeed on the ballfield.
- A ball that is stationary or rolling very slowly should always be picked up with the throwing hand, not the gloved hand. This prevents ball-fumbling, and enables quicker throws since the ball doesn’t need to be retrieved from the glove.
- For maximum throwing power, players should step forward during the throw with the foot opposite the throwing hand. Right-handed throwers step with the left foot, and left-handed throwers step with the right foot.
- Proper positioning is important. First and third basemen should stand in fair territory just behind the base path and about two steps from their bases, and second basemen should stand a little less than halfway between first and second.
- A baseman should cover his base immediately if the ball is not hit to him. It’s the shortstop’s job to cover second (and sometimes third) if the baseman must pursue the ball away from his base.
- There are exceptions depending on the situation, but fielders should generally try for the force out at the most advanced base possible. For example, if there is a runner on first when a ball is hit the fielders should try for the force out at second before the force out at first, keeping runners the maximum distance from home.
- A batter should stand parallel to the side of home plate, with the non-dominant shoulder (left shoulder for righties, right shoulder for lefties) pointed at the pitcher.
- Grip the bat with the dominant hand above the non-dominant hand. The hands should be together, with none of the bat handle showing between them.
- Hitting power comes from the core muscles much more than from the arm muscles. During the swing, the batter should shift his weight from back foot to front foot, stepping toward the pitcher with the front foot while twisting at the hips to propel the bat around. Your school probably has at least one naturally athletic student who can give a good example of how to do this.
Most of all, emphasize that softball is supposed to be fun for everyone. When every student works to ensure that others are having fun, everyone has a good time.
CONTRIBUTOR: Peter Goertzen