Before her players do anything else on the diamond, Pat Smith insists they have proper posture.
“Posture is what I insist on,” said Smith, a longtime softball and baseball coach who now leads the junior varsity baseball team at Portsmouth (Va.) Woodrow Wilson High. “No matter (what part of the game), your posture is what’s going to get your core strength engaged.
“Posture to me is very, very basic to anything you do in the game. We work on that first.”
Proper posture is needed in every aspect of the game — hitting, pitching, running and defense — and through muscle memory it can become an advantage for softball and baseball players. Smith’s team won’t move on to a new part of practice until her instructions on posture are met.
Smith, now in her third year coaching the Presidents’ JV team, started the Churchland Girls Softball program in the Portsmouth, Virginia, area in 1972 and started coaching baseball more than 20 years ago when her son started playing. Her 40-plus years on the diamond — umpiring and coaching softball and coaching baseball — have helped her see how the body’s movement and positioning can impact performance.
Here are her tenets of good posture:
The Proper Posture
In general, the shoulders should be back and the head up. “The head is so important because if the head moves, the shoulders move, the hands move and then the hips will move,” Smith said. “Posture starts with shoulders back and head up.”
This position also engages the muscles of the back, using the body’s core strength.
Hitters should place their chin on top of shoulder so both eyes are looking at the ball. The back elbow is above the armpit and the wrists are straight. Tilting the wrist in either direction moves the bat behind the head or out away from the body. It also moves the position of the hands, thus reducing the strength of the bat.
Smith’s players must have each part of this posture in place before they can swing on the Hit-A-Way.
“At first they find it uncomfortable, but once they start having success and they begin to see and feel that the drive is much stronger, they’re more apt to accept it,” Smith said.
Proper posture helps engage the core muscles. Smith teaches her pitchers to suck in their stomach at the start of the windup. This increases core strength and improves velocity, which comes from the legs and stomach.
The same proper posture helps fielders track ground balls and be in a good position.
Smith practices this by putting baseballs in front of the infield positions. They first charge the balls using the proper posture. The drill then moves on to hitting to the infielders, allowing them to practice the posture in action.
Smith teaches her outfielders to “take their head with their hand” when catching fly balls. The movement is twofold:
1) To watch the ball all the way into the glove
2) If the head is down, the muscles in the head, neck and shoulder will limit the reach of the arm
In addition to the proper posture, Smith teaches a stride where the heel comes up closer to the buttocks. “This gives them more kick out of it,” Smith said.
All of this work on proper posture builds muscle memory, which increases reactive speed on the diamond. Smith preaches another step — trusting your eyes — to help improve those instincts.
“The muscle memory is the reactive instinct,” she said. “You just have to trust your eyes and allow your eyes to engage your muscle memory. It will also improve your timing.
“If you think, you’ve now second guessed yourself and you’ve caused a delay in your timing. The player who reacts when their body is in rhythm, there’s no thought process. The player that has to think about the angle (or movement) before they react has lost that advantage of the instinctive reactive time.”