Speed and Agility Training for Baseball and Softball
February 05, 2024
37 min read
If you’re a baseball or softball player today, then you’ve probably done some speed and agility training.
Modern coaches know that drills focused on increasing an athlete’s speed and agility are linked to better performances in actual sporting events.
But why do they work?
In what parts of baseball and softball specifically do you need power, agility, and speed?
And, most importantly, how do ballplayers develop these attributes?
In this guide to speed and agility training for baseball and softball, we’ll drill down on why these skills are integral to our games, as well as discuss the scientific basis of speed and agility training.
We’ll cover the following topics:
The three key attributes you need to succeed in baseball and softball
SAQ training and its components for baseball and softball
The general science behind speed and agility training
Infield drills for speed and agility
Outfield drills for speed and agility
Baserunning drills for speed and agility
Considerations for designing a baseball or softball speed and agility program
#The Three Key Attributes You Need to Succeed in Baseball and Softball
To play every position and complete almost any game-advancing action in baseball or softball, you need power, agility, and speed.
In fact, some experts suggest that they can predict your future performance based solely on these three areas.
On the surface, this all sounds sort of obvious. Of course, you need to be powerful, agile, and fast to succeed in baseball or softball – you need those attributes for lots of other sports too.
But how do these skills translate specifically to baseball and softball?
Let’s look more closely at each attribute and how it plays out in our pastimes.
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Explosive power is crucial in baseball and softball.
📚 Definition: Power is a force determined by weight moved, multiplied by a distance, and divided by time. Basically, power measures how much strength you can develop and generate in a short period of time.
If you don’t react quickly or forcefully enough on the field, you will find more failure than the already large amounts that our games dole out.
On defense, infielders and outfielders need a combination of sharp anticipatory skills, perceptual skills, and decision-making skills – but power is needed to actually express these skills in live game scenarios.
Otherwise, you’re just describing a coach.
Pitchers need the same, plus the power reserves and endurance to consistently drive off the mound into their motions – inning after inning if they’re a starter.
Fielders – including pitchers once they release the ball – must read the ball off the bat quickly and decide how to physically make the appropriate play.
Being able to run, cut angles, or dive requires raw explosive power, while practice, timing, and what’s known as baseball or softball IQ allows the player to explode in the right direction and at the right time.
On offense, players need power to generate effective swings that square up the ball into play, and after contact, they need it to blaze through first base and beyond.
All baserunning requires a degree of explosiveness, whether it’s diving back to the base to foil a back-pick, stealing second, legging-out a double, or hook-hand-sliding safe at home as the tag slaps by a millisecond too late.
It’s not enough for baseball and softball players to react quickly and forcefully. They must also do so efficiently.
Efficiency hints at the idea of ease within the acceleration and deceleration of the movements, AKA starting and stopping, which is an important component of all agility.
Agility is also tied to quickness, which can help speed but does not necessarily determine speed.
Speed can still be speed even if it’s linear – like a sprinter coming straight out the gate – whereas agility exists through multiple planes of movement.
📚 Definition: Agility is often just defined as the ability to change direction.
A third baseman fielding a dribbler and throwing across their body on the run in time for the putout at first or a baserunner emerging from a rundown between second and third unscathed are textbook examples of agility in baseball and softball.
Additional agility also gives a fielder more range in all directions, allowing them to close the distance between themselves and the ball more quickly and while using less energy.
📚 Definition: Speed is just the ability to get from one place to another in a short amount of time.
Speed in baseball and softball is about more than baserunning, though it might be your first thought.
As stated above, infielders and outfielders must also move quickly from point A to point B to make a play.
It’s estimated that a single player may have to cover a maximum of 39-43 feet in one play.
It’s common for infielders to cover between 9-20 feet on one play, and for outfielders to stretch between 19-43 feet in a single play.
That’s a lot of ground to cover.
Speed on the base paths is, of course, essential as well.
But this speed has to work in conjunction with explosive power, reactive agility, situational awareness, and decision-making skills if a baserunner wants to advance or put themselves in scoring position regularly.
Most of us have seen and tried holding back our frustration at a natural-born speedster running into out after out because they have yet to hone these other essential attributes that add up what we call baseball or softball IQ.
Okay, it’s easy to see how explosive power, agility, and speed make baseball and softball players successful. But how do we actually train these attributes?
Training focused on speed, agility, and quickness should “overload the neural, articular, and muscular systems of the kinetic chain,” according to Cochran.
📚 Definition: The kinetic chain refers to the overlapping groups of body segments, connecting joints, and muscles that work together to perform movements. It also refers to the portion of the spine to which all these groups connect.
For Cochran, speed, agility, and quickness (SAQ) training means overloading these systems – pushing them further than they’ve gone before.
The more stress you put on the kinetic chain, the more it accommodates, improving speed, agility, and power to keep up.
Because your kinetic chain is consistently adapting to the overload, you have to push yourself a little further with each training session.
Only by progressing will you maintain the SAQ needed to perform well in baseball or softball.
The best training to improve SAQ in baseball and softball will involve foot speed, changing direction, first step explosive power, and acceleration.
Baseball and softball players need to be the fastest when running the bases and playing the outfield.
📚 Definition: Foot speed is how fast you can run.
To improve foot speed, you need to get better at sprinting.
Specifically, this entails increasing both stride length and stride frequency.
You can improve stride length and frequency with plyometrics, jump training, and Olympic lifting.
But also, by perfecting your sprinting technique and ironing out any inefficiencies in your overall running mechanics.
As if being faster and more energy-efficient weren’t enough, there is a third reason that baseball and softball players should take their running mechanics or lack thereof to heart.
🧢 Pro Tip: College recruiters and pro scouts often watch how a given ballplayer runs very closely. It’s a great “eye-test” way to access both a prospect’s athleticism and how well they have been trained.
Freak athletes with once-in-a-blue-moon-raw-talent aside, many coaches and organizations want athletes that already possess the basics because it saves them time and training resources in the long run.
Poor running mechanics might lead some recruiters and scouts to assume that you either do not receive professional performance training at all or that you don’t take it seriously.
Luckily, running mechanics is something that most ballplayers have a ton of control over, and it does not require natural talent – just reps and sweat.
Quickly changing direction requires a player to decelerate in one direction and accelerate in another rapidly.
The hotbox scenario of a player caught between second and third from earlier is a quintessential example.
To be good at changing direction quickly, ballplayers must improve their force outputs and balance.
Force outputs are increased by the same prescription that permeates the other aspects of SAQ – overload.
Balance refers to your ability to stay in control of your body's position. This is how most of us think about the concept of balance.
However, in reference to changing direction, here we are also referring to another, sometimes overlooked, component of speed and agility – imbalances.
These imbalances are the ones found when comparing one side of your body to the other.
And they are exceedingly common in our sports, because most ballplayers only swing and throw on one side of their body over and over for their entire playing careers.
🔑 Key Insight: Bodily imbalances should be identified by a professional trainer and targeted for improvement, as they can lead to injury and hinder your ability to accelerate and decelerate equally in different directions.
He starts with the neural adaptation that the body undergoes during speed and agility training – this adaptation is necessary for improvement.
Adaptation is a function of muscle fiber recruitment patterns, which themselves depend on both the central nervous system (CNS) output and our proprioceptive feedback.
Okay, let’s break all this way down.
📚 Definition: The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord and acts as a control system for the body.
Receptor organs, like the eyes, ears, and skin, collect external information, which is then relayed via the CNS.
The CNS then interprets this relayed information and sends it back out to so-called “effector” organs – which are mostly the muscles in our case.
The muscle fibers recruited by the CNS carry out the body’s response to the perceived external stimuli – like swinging a bat thunderously at a pitcher hanging a juicy curve.
So that’s how your CNS helps by translating external stimuli, but in order to do this well, it also must coordinate with your internal compass.
This internal compass enables you to navigate the space you occupy as a body, and it’s officially known as proprioception.
📚 Definition: Proprioception helps us fine-tune what the CNS asks of our muscles, because it’s the ability to sense your body in space.
It is aided by your body’s proprioceptors:
Golgi tendon organs
Various pressure, touch, and motion sensors within your joints
What? You might be asking. Try not to get too bogged down in the terminology.
Essentially, neurons within those funny-sounding words (muscle spindles and Golgi tendons) send their very own signals to our CNS.
These muscle spindles and Golgi tendons send their internal signals when the muscles that the CNS had relayed its external info to begin expanding or contracting.
And it's these signals that prevent your body from over-exerting and injuring itself.
The other proprioceptive sensors mentioned above give you a sense of movement – what it actually feels like to swing a bat, for example – which helps you determine if you’re reacting quickly enough.
Without getting even more complicated, here’s the long and short of it:
🔑 Key Insight: Practicing speed and agility drills will help make communication between all of these physical systems, processes, and organs progressively faster and more efficient, which will, in turn, make you a more effective ballplayer.
#Speed and Agility Drills for Baseball and Softball Training Specifically
Now that you know the scientific basis for speed and agility training, let’s look at some sport-specific drills.
Each of these drills tests acceleration, deceleration, visual stimulus identification, and first step speed. They also mimic game situations.