From home plate to center field the distance is usually 200 feet on a softball field, from home to third a distance of 60 feet. Being in such close proximity spells trouble for those not paying attention in the field with a potential 80 mile per hour ball hurling towards them.
On the other hand, after years of experience with the game of softball it becomes essential that one can GET the ball that is hurling towards them.
Previously in softball “creep steps,” or smalls steps towards home plate, were the most common system in getting players into a ready position to receive the ball quickly. But Auburn University has potentially created a new technique in the game, a hop.
“What the hop does is it just allows us to minimize, or eliminate, any kind of false movements,” head coach of Auburn Softball Clint Myers said. “So everything that we’re doing is going directly to field the ground ball.”
Despite taking steps, or hops, into making softball history many have been skeptical of their new idea.
“Usually the criticism is that it takes time away, that it decreases your reaction and therefore you have to wait till you land in order to be able to move,” Doctor Wendi Weimar, director of the sports biomechanic laboratory said. “But the rate of force development and the first step movement is faster. We can use science to validate something, because when we first introduced it people were looking at us like ‘what the heck are you doing.’”
To back their hop theory even further they have science on their side. According to Dr. Weimar Auburn’s hop is similar to those examined in predatory animals, who rely on quickness for survival.
“In addition, it happens to be the motion that we see in predatory animals and since their lives depend upon it we’re pretty sure it’s a good idea,” Dr. Weimar said. “When a player hops they take out the slack in the muscle so that when the muscle fires for them to move in a more aggressive, purposeful motion it is more effective. Because they’ve taken any laxity that may be in the tendon or the muscle structures they can move more quickly.
Coach Myers said they took the technique from tennis, considering their reaction time is just as significantly quick.
“In tennis, on the men’s side, you have balls that you have to react to and hit that are 100 to 130 miles per hour,” Myers said.
So far this season, the Auburn Tigers are 24-3.