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Starting the Season With Hitting Drills Works for Sun Valley's Softball Team

Jamie Olson’s softball teams at Sun Prairie (Wis.) High School have always been strong offensively. So, it only makes sense the major emphasis on the first day of spring practice is offense.

Olson, who will enter her seventh season as the Cardinals’ varsity head coach this spring, has her girls in at 5:30 a.m. to start two-a-day practices. The first session is dominated by the players rotating through a number of hitting stations.

Olson personally throws batting practice to all 40 to 60 players who are competing for a varsity roster spot. It’s a cutthroat competition in a program that has qualified for the Division I state tournament three of the last six years.

“I’m evaluating each player from the freshman level to the varsity level,” Olson said. “We put them all together and they have to go through an evaluation process. They have to go through a series of station work that we set up. We pitch live to them and they also develop hand-eye coordination with tee work.”

Olson wants to see her players hitting off live pitching to get a true gauge on what she’s working with. The coaching staff addresses the girls as a group prior to hitting and makes them aware of what the expectations are in the cage.

“We’re looking at good contact, we’re evaluating if they pop up, if the ball is hit straight, if it’s a grounder, if it’s a foul ball, if they miss it, a strike,” Olson said. “They get a total of 15 swings off of us. That’s our biggest evaluation, just making that good eye-hand coordination, that contact. We’re looking at the stance, the swing.”

Of the pitches each hitter will face, Olson is mixing up speeds and locations with rise balls, drop balls, changeups and fastballs.

“I want to see what those girls are going to do,” Olson said. “Are they just swinging at every single pitch? Are they being patient in the box? Those are things that I look at. Good, solid contact is a big thing. My biggest thing that I always tell them when I’m behind the net, ‘Your drive should be hitting that top of the net, so that’s your focus point in regards to where that ball should be going.’”

When thrown an outside pitch, Olson wants to see her right-handed hitters punching it to right field. For lefties, a solid hit to left field is desired.

“My biggest thing is just looking at their basic fundamentals of what they have in regards to how they grip the bat, how their elbow and forearm come through on a swing,” Olson said. “A lot of what we do is just that one-handed bat drill on the knee just to evaluate that.”

After a player hits, Olson will take some notes in an iPad to make it easier to keep track of information. In the past, the Cardinals coaches always had to jot down notes on paper and compile a big packet to evaluate the players.

Before a player steps into the batter’s box, Olson generally knows what they are capable of. That gives Olson a good gauge what to expect. Of course, a good hitter might get up to the plate during the first practice and not hit well at all. Every player is prone to an off day. Sometimes Olson can’t put as much stock into those initial cuts of the season.

“If a kid comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, coach. Can I get another 10 pitches? I really felt that I did not perform to my ability,’” Olson said. “I say, ‘Absolutely. We’ll stay after and I will throw to you again.’ I give them that option.”

We want to hear from you. How do you start off your season's practices? 

From GameChanger and Greg A. Bates

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