Balance: The Key To Unlocking Offensive Production
By TERESA WILSON
Head Coach, University of Washington
What do the most outstanding teams in the country all have in common over the past few years? Balance. An offensive attack consisting of a short game, speed and power.
A few years ago, the slap game became the fashion statement of the softball world. Everyone from college to high school to the youngest age groups had to try it. What we lacked in technique, we made up for with speed and a defense's lack of knowledge in defending the slap. The slap became a dominant offensive weapon.
The game of softball has undergone many changes over the years. As time has passed, the defense has caught up, in much the same way hitters have caught up to pitchers. At one time, most slappers were one-dimensional. The goal was simply to get the ball to bounce twice and get on base. Now, the defense has gone to great lengths to defend the slap. We have brought outfielders in to the infield, repositioned the infield, repositioned the outfield and gained knowledge as to how to pitch to a slapper. As the defense continues to improve, we are now forced to work harder to improve the short game, which, in turn, will put the pressure back on the defense.
As our evolution continues, once again the best short games in the country are nearly impossible to defend. Many teams have slappers in the lead-off and number two spots in the line-up. The key is to find slappers who can not only slap, but hit away from the left side. When a slapper is one-dimensional (can only slap) the defensive adjustments mentioned above can prove quite effective. When a slapper can hit away, she forces the defense to maintain its normal position, once again making it susceptible to the slap. If the defense positions itself for the slap, the slapper has the option to hit away. Add to this combination the slapper's options to bunt, show slap and bunt, chop, slide step and hit away, or show bunt and push, and you can see what an extensive offensive arsenal has been created. The best part of this picture is that the parts are interchangeable. When you need to set the table, your slappers serve that role. And when they have the ability to hit away, they can also fill the role of RBI producer.
We add to this offensive potential when the number two hitter is a slapper as well. Does the defense defend the bunt, slap, steal or hitting away? Here the threat of speed becomes more apparent. The true slapper, with a speed of 2.8 seconds to first, leaves no room for hesitation or error. We say this is a "simple" game. We field the ball, throw the ball, and catch the ball. Simple!
You see how quickly the short game and speed can produce offense, but to maintain a balanced offensive attack, you need power people to consistently produce RBIs. We all love to have the home-run hitter wearing our uniform, but the real offensive weapon is the hitter who is solid fundamentally in all aspects of her offensive game. Does she have a good sense of the strike zone? Will she be patiently aggressive and take what the pitcher gives her? If the pitcher comes into her zone with the pitch she is looking for (the one pitch she hits best-in, out, up or down) she will produce, but if not, she will take the walk. And finally, the hitter I personally fear most, the hitter who hits well to all fields. She can hit the ball out of the park, but she also hits the single or double to any field. And she'll take the walk. She took whatever the pitcher gave her-and sometimes a little more.
When you combine the best short games, speed, and power, you truly have a balanced offensive attack. The past few seasons, the best offensive teams in the game have been averaging 5-7 runs per game. That kind of offense usually comes from a balanced attack and, more often than not, leads to wins. See, isn't this a simple game??!!