One of the hardest roles to fulfill on a softball team is that of a bench player. There are only nine positions on a softball field, ten if the coach decides to utilize their flex and designated player positions. Softball teams are going to carry on average 13-26 players, depending on the age level. Association, club ball, and high school teams will linger around the 12-13 player range. College teams carry on average 22 players and the Pro team rosters can hold up to 26.
Often times, coaches meet with players before games and go over the lineup. Many coaches will assign a starting pitcher and read off a second players name who is in relief. Same thing goes for the hitters in the hitting lineup. The coach will read off the nine names in the batting order and whoever isn’t listed is expected to stay ready throughout the game just in case they need to come in for a pinch hit situation. Being a bench player can be very difficult at times. It’s hard to stay mentally and physically prepared watching from the sidelines. Here is a list of things bench players at various positions can do to stay active and mentally prepared for when they are called upon in a make or break situation.
Relief Pitchers: There are many ways for pitchers to stay mentally and physically checked into games while they are on the bench. One way to keep busy is to try and pick the opposing pitcher’s pitches or coaches signs to the catcher. This will help benefit the hitters on your team and it’s a good way to stay engaged. Another way to contribute from the bench is charting the opposing hitters at bats as well as the pitcher’s pitches to your team’s hitters. This occurs mainly at the college and Pro level and once again this benefits the team as a whole. If you find yourself in a relief role and don’t have access to charts, use your eyes. Watch the other teams at-bats off your starting pitcher and think about what you would throw to them. Another way to stay ready for your relief role as a pitcher off the bench is to warm up during the game. This is sometimes a hard role to master, but watch the pace of the game and how your starting pitcher is doing. If she is mowing them down, warm up slowly, if things get dicey, speed up your warm up a bit because you may get called on sooner to save the day.
Pinch Hitters: Pinch-hitting is one of the toughest roles in fulfill on a softball team. A lot of times pinch hitters will be called on in make or break situations. Imagine a bases-loaded situation with two outs and the tying run on second base and you get called in to pinch hit. Adrenaline is going to be cursing through your body for your one chance that only comes every so often. The best way to stay ready as a pinch hitter coming off the bench is to take some swings off a tee during the game and to look over the chart of the opposing team’s pitcher. Charts are important because they will show patterns and what pitches the pitcher favors in certain counts and situations which is important to know as a hitter.
Infielders/Outfielders: You never know when a defensive substitution will be made in a softball game, so it’s good to keep those arms loose while on the bench. A productive way to do this is to play catch with an outfielder in between innings, this will also keep their arm warm as well. If an outfielder isn’t available, grab another bench mate and play catch in between innings while your team is warming up in the field. If you’re feeling ambitious you could even roll each other some ground balls or bounce some short hops on the dirt right outside the dugout.
Pinch Runners: If you’ve got speed and find yourself on the bench, you better be ready to enter the game as a pinch runner. Pinch runners play a key role late in games when not so fast runners make their way into scoring position. Pinch runners may also be used for pitchers and catchers during games so they can conserve energy for defensive purposes. An easy way to stay physically ready to come into a pinch running role is to sprint to the foul pole or the fence and back in between innings. If you’re feeling really ambitious you could practice lead offs by watching the opposing pitcher throw her warm up pitches in between innings.
Every single member of a softball team has an important role whether they are a starting player or a bench player. The key is learning how to own that role and making the best of every situation you find yourself in. Staying mentally and physically ready to enter a game is going to put players in the best position to succeed when their number is called upon. Practice using some of the bench tips above when you find yourself in one of those roles. Your team is going to need you at some point, so it’s best to be prepared and set yourself up to succeed.