Conditioning without conditioning

As I watch and hear about various practices, it’s amazing to me how much practice time gets wasted on pure conditioning. For example, coaches will have their players line up on a foul line, then have them run endless rounds of 60′ sprints. In the meantime, the clock is ticking and you’re not solving any of your other softball-related concerns, such as throwing and catching.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t see the value of conditioning. I do. I wouldn’t be checking out the Softball Performance web site all the time if I didn’t. But when you’re in-season, or even preparing for the season, running to run is just wasting time. Don’t even get me started on distance running!

Last night we ran a drill that on the surface is aimed at improving our ability to throw and catch on the run. It’s a variation of the four corners drill, where you set a player on each base and throw the ball around. Normally when this drill is run you stack two or three players at each base and alternate. Sometimes you throw to the left and run to the right, or throw right and run left to the next base to get a little movement in. But with two or three players waiting at the next base there’s no sense of urgency to get there, and the running is more of a job.

So we took it down to its bare essentials. One player on each base, throw left and run right. Now it’s a sprint, because that ball can get thrown around the bases a lot faster than anyone can jog. Depending on where you are, you barely have enough time to get there.

We ran the drill three times with each group. Do the math. Four sprints, three times each, equals 12 sprints. To make sure they were full sprints, we timed each set with a stopwatch, and on the third go-’round we offered a prize (a page of coupons to Dick’s Sporting Goods that I’d gotten for free) to each participant on the winning team. Later we used different people for baserunners in a fielding drill, which increased the amount of running considerably. But never, at any time, did we say “now it’s time for conditioning.” Everything was done within a softball context.

Imagine trying to motivate your team to run 20, 25, 30 sprints just for the sake of conditioning. You could find yourself mightily challenged. But put it into the right context and you won’t have to motivate them. They will motivate themselves and each other. And you’ll improve the conditioning of your athletes.

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