Find Your Best Softball Field Position

It’s softball season, and the teams are choosing sides. Whether it’s a squad of your buddies or your co-workers, you’re expected to be part of it. And while slow-pitch softball -- the type most commonly played recreationally -- is a casual sport, you don’t want to look like a dork out there. So how do you figure out which softball field position you’re best suited to play?

By taking our softball aptitude test:

Find the statements that best describe you, and our experts -- Glen Payne, regional commissioner with the Amateur Softball Association of America (and the coach for Wagner College), and Steve Shortland, coach for the U.S. Men’s National Slow Pitch team -- will assign you your position on the field.

This is you:

I’m a big guy, but I’m kind of slow.

This is you on the field:

“You’re going to play first,” says Payne. “Your major assignment is to cover the bag and catch the ground balls that are occasionally hit to you.” Being big/tall makes you a bigger target for the infielders -- making it easier for them to find you when they need to shoot the ball to you. And while there’s a skill to knowing how to best position yourself on the bag to take the throws, “you can learn how to do that,” explains Payne. “You don’t have to be the most athletic person in the world.”

This is you:

I’m not big and strong, but I’m quick and I have a decent arm.

This is you on the field:

Says Payne, “If I’m a smaller guy with good quickness and a good arm, I can play shortstop. If I have a weaker arm and good quickness, I can play second base because my quickness with the ball will allow me to cover ground and make the double play.”

This is you:

I’m a take-charge guy who likes to be the center of the action.

This is you on the field:

We’re handing you the ball. Pitching in softball -- where the idea is to let everybody hit -- is not about learning how to finesse the batter or record strikeouts. “The pitcher in softball is really the field general,” says Shortland. “He’s involved in every play.”

This is you:

I’m easily distracted. I can’t really focus for too long on … what were we talking about?

This is you on the field:

“Sometimes I watch these recreational games, and the outfielder is out there picking his nose,” says Shortland. “You need to stay alert.” Payne agrees -- and says if you have trouble focusing, the outfield is not the place for you. “I’ve got to put you at third base, where you’ll have to react,” says Payne. It’s not called “the hot corner” for nothing: Third basemen have to stay on their toes (not pick their noses).

This is you:

I can run.

This is you on the field:

“I’m putting you in center field, where your speed covers the most ground for me,” says Payne. “You’re going to close my gaps. I can have a guy in left field who can’t run. So I can give you that responsibility.”

This is you:

I like to talk trash and have some laughs out there.

This is you on the field:

“If you’re going to chatter,” says Payne, “the best place for you is as a catcher, behind the plate.” In part, that’s because there’s really not much else to do back there.

How to Throw a Ball Farther

Smack!


The batter connects and the softball flies over the second baseman’s outstretched glove, headed to you in the outfield. You field the ball cleanly on one hop, but the man on second is racing around third. “Home!” your teammates scream. “Throw it home!”

Only a strong throw from you can ensure your team’s victory. You rear back the ball and heave it, to the effect of … what? A missile to the catcher, who tags the runner out, making you the hero of the game? Or a sissy dribbler that barely makes it to the pitcher’s mound?

Well, that depends on how you throw a ball -- and how well you’ve prepared for this moment.

“If you just try to use your am to throw, you’re not going to generate the force you need,” says Lexington, Kentucky orthopedic surgeon David Dome, a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine. Throwing a ball, he explains, is a chain of movements, starting with the leg, moving through the hips and core, and finally your shoulder.

Developing that throwing-specific strength requires work on the field, as well as in the gym. Mike LaLuna, who pitched professionally for the Detroit Tigers (and who is also a certified personal trainer) recommends these two drills to make sure your throws -- whether you’re on the mound, in the outfield or the infield -- have punch:

1. Everyday Throws
A daily 15-minute drill for everyone. “You’re basically playing catch here,” says LaLuna, but you’re doing it with a conscious effort to work on the multiple phases of throwing. The drill consists of the following:

  • The stretch

    “Your knees are slightly bent; your rear is sticking out almost as if you’re about to lower yourself into a squat,” says LaLuna. “It’s a strong, solid position to start your throw.”
  • The leg lift

    With ball in glove and hands held forward, lift your left leg (right if you’re a lefty), then lower it, grasping the ball from the glove with your free hand.
  • The step-off

    Several things happen simultaneously: Plant your leg in front of you, with your toe pointed at your target. That’s key: “People have this misconception that it’s a push-through with your arm that creates velocity,” says LaLuna. “It’s more that your front leg pulls your body around.” This in turn transmits the power into the shoulder, as you release the ball with a whip-like motion, using the power from your legs and core. Your throwing arm comes around and up, while your glove hand is pointed straight out.

2. Long Toss
A more accurate name for this exercise might be “start-short-and-get-longer toss,” but that’s out of our hands (so to speak). “The long toss,” says LaLuna, “is how you increase distance on your throws.”

After five minutes of easy warm-up throws with a partner, start throwing to each other from about 60 feet apart. Then, each minute, one of you backs it up five paces. Continue until you get to about 180 feet apart -- or to the point when you’re hitting your partner on one bounce to the ground. The benefit to your pitch: As you throw a ball farther and farther, your body must adapt to it -- you’re taxing more muscle fibers, mobilizing more energy and firing more neurons -- which is the same result as, say, increasing weights on a barbell.

Then start gradually walking it back in (five paces every 60 seconds). “The arc in your throws, which will increase the further you’re apart, should flatten out again as you get closer,” says LaLuna. The point of closing in: Readjusting your now stretched-out muscles to the shortened distance -- key to building strength in the arm. You should find it easier to fire the ball hard from short distances and increase your arm’s output power.

Throwing the ball from a great distance, which would be the max distance of your long toss drill, your whip, or rotational speed of the arm is not as fast as it would be since you are trying to throw the ball higher in the air to reach your partner and not necessarily on a tight line low to the ground. 

Practice long toss three times a week if you’re a pitcher; once a week if you’re a fielder.

Bottom line: Practice these exercises and … whoa! There’s the throw -- the runner slides, and he’s … out at the plate! Nice toss, buddy.

Groom Your Way Into the Winners’ Circle

Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps have reason to look as clean-cut as their bankers and accountants who take care of their mountains of money: Being well-shaven -- sometimes from head to toe -- actually boosts training and performance in some speed-related sports. Cyclists and some runners shave their legs, while swimmers and triathletes often shave their whole bodies before big races. Here’s why they do it and why you, Mr. Weekend Warrior, should think about following suit.

Why Bikers Shave
Shaved legs serve several purposes for cyclists:

  1. Prevent “road rash.”

    These are the scrapes you get from falling on the pavement. (Without hair on your legs, there’s less friction and fewer abrasions.)
  2. Decrease aerodynamic drag.

    According to Bryan Roberts, an instructor at the Sports Technology Institute at Loughborough University in the UK, about two-thirds of the aerodynamic drag caused by cyclists comes from their bodies -- and it can easily be reduced by “wearing a smooth suit or by shaving the skin.”
  3. Enhance street cred.

    “Fellow bikers don’t take you as seriously if you don’t shave your legs,” says amateur Ironman triathlete Ned Tobey. “For whatever reason, it’s a credibility thing.” 

Why Runners Shave
Yes, smooth skin can improve aerodynamics enough to boost results not only in short sprinting events -- when thousandths of a second matter -- but even long-distance races. That’s what a respected study from the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise tells us. It found that being well-groomed, along with wearing clothes that fit more snugly and produce less drag, can “result in a significant performance increase” that can trim seconds off your time in a 10K race.

Why Swimmers Shave
There’s no conclusive evidence correlating body shaving with improved performance in the sport, but all competitive swimmers swear it makes a difference. Most let the hair grow when training -- to create resistance -- and wait to shave until immediately before a big competition.

“I think the benefit to a swimmer is in the ability to ‘feel’ the water. That’s definitely hard to measure, but most, if not all swimmers will tell you that shaving is important to them,” says Russell Mark, an aerospace engineer and the biomechanics expert for USA Swimming.

Why Triathletes Shave
Shaving’s performance benefits in biking, swimming and running have been mentioned above, but there’s also one side reason to do it -- especially if you’re subjecting your body to the wear and tear of triathlon training. “Massage treatments for tendonitis or sore muscles work better with no leg hair. The massage therapist can get to the skin easier,” says Tobey. “And a better massage is always a good thing.”

Be Your Alpha Best

Want to be your team’s alpha male? The leader out in the field? Just remember: The climb to the top all starts in your head.



Want to be the leader of the pack -- the guy everyone turns to, especially when the game’s on the line? The so-called “alpha male”? You won’t have to wear some kind of testosterone patch, and you certainly won’t have to take illegal performance-enhancing drugs. One thing you can do, though: Cultivate some alpha attitude.

That’s right, an important step to becoming an alpha male in competition is building the right kind of confidence, inner strength and attitude -- the kind of persona that makes you a leader, and your teammates your followers.

Before we go out onto that field, though, let’s back up into the locker room and ask the question: Exactly what is an alpha male?

According to Kate Ludeman, Ph.D., and Dr. Eddie Erlandson, authors of the 2006 book Alpha Male Syndrome, the alpha male is someone whose “courage, confidence, tireless energy and fighting spirit makes them natural leaders in competitive situations.”

The original concept of an alpha male had nothing to do with manliness -- or for that matter, man -- but rather, with the behavior of wolves. In packs, alpha wolves “attained their position by maturing and mating, just like humans,” says Dr. Dave Mech, a research biologist whose 1970 book, The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, helped introduce the concept of the alpha male.

The modern, enlightened, “true” alpha, says James Villepigue -- co-author, with Rick Collins, of the new book Alpha Male Challenge: The 10-Week Plan to Burn Fat, Gain Muscle and Build True Alpha Attitude -- is “intelligent, thoughtful, emphatic, resilient, and someone who makes the most of his life, respects people.” But he’s also strong and in great shape, ready to lead by example. In competition, says sport psychologist Michael Sachs of Temple University, the true alpha’s “sense of self-worth is not based on kicking your [butt] but on being successful. He understands that beating his opponent down physically and mentally is not required in order to win.”

In their book, Villepigue and Collins -- both certified strength and conditioning coaches -- talk about what they call the four C’s of alpha-male behavior: confidence, courage, conscience and commitment. Here are some of their tips on how to develop those qualities and how they will help you in your sport:

Exercise … Confidence
Alphas are confident in their abilities -- confident enough to exude quiet strength. “Confidence is a muscle,” Villepigue says. “It can be exercised and developed.” You can practice by spending an hour a week each week, walking tall -- shoulders back, chin up, no slouching -- at the mall. Deliberately interact with merchants and those around you. Make eye contact. Speak clearly and with intent but maintain a respectful tone.

Field goal:
Practice this drill and see how it comes into play at gut-check time -- when you can look into the eyes of your teammate and exude game-winning confidence and poise.

Build up … Courage
To develop the courage to get what you deserve without being a bully or being bullied yourself, practice some straight talk: Find an interpersonal situation you’ve neglected for a while -- a problem with a co-worker, a spat with a family member, an unsettled argument with a friend. Sit down and ask yourself:

  • What is the other party’s specific behavior?
  • What effect is it having on you?
  • What is the solution or remedy you want?

Armed with this information, invite this person to sit down and discuss your differences. State the facts. State your feelings. State what you’d like to see happen. Be calm and direct. And feel good that you’ve handled a stressful situation like a real alpha.

Field goal:
Your opponent, a teammate, maybe even a coach, is in your face. What you learned from the “courage” drill will help you deal with that guy calmly and rationally -- instead of losing your cool and getting socked with a penalty, a technical foul or maybe even expulsion from the team.

Nurture Conscience
This, the authors say, “is what separates the true alpha male from selfish posers.” A conscience comes from empathy -- the ability to share in and understand another’s thoughts and feelings -- and you can help nurture that by simply learning to listen: Engage in a conversation with a person you wouldn’t normally speak to -- like someone you don’t much care for. Initiate the conversation (“So what do you think of…?”) but let them drive it. Pay attention, listen carefully and try to accept what they say without judgment. You don’t have to necessarily agree, but by listening and at least respecting the other guy’s point of view, you’re on your way to developing the alpha qualities of empathy and conscience.

Field goal: You want to throw a pass. Your teammate wants to run the ball. Instead of dismissing his idea, practicing this drill will help you become a better listener and understand his point of view. And who knows, running the ball in that situation might be the correct call. (After all, even alpha males aren’t right all the time!)

Make Commitments
How about this proposition? Make yourself an alpha bet that you can get in better shape. Villepigue says studies have shown that money -- even as little as $40 -- can be a motivator for getting fit. Stick with an exercise program (he offers a 10-week plan in his book) and at the end, use the money to buy yourself something you really like. Even more valuable, you’ll improve your strength and fitness -- and learn a great lesson about stick-to-it-iveness. (Oh, and if you don’t make the goal or can’t stick with the program -- donate the money to charity and try again).

Field goal:
Obviously, following through on a better training program will make you stronger and fitter for your sport. But your newfound commitment will show itself in other ways: in your commitment to practice, to your teammates and to improving every phase of your game.