When do three F's equal success? better fielding in three easy steps.Why does your team make errors? If there was a simple answer we'd all breathe a little easier in the dugout, right? Poor fielding not only slows down games and ruins pitchers rhythms, it also discourages a lot of children from playing baseball.
During my eight years of coaching, I've observed that poor fielding is usually the result of a lack of confidence on the part of the fielder rather than a lack of ability. Poor fielders try to operate without a game plan and begin their planning once they field the ball.
These valuable seconds that are spent thinking leave less time for doing--leading to rushed throws and bad mental decisions with the ball. Other times the problem is that there is too much coaching, but not enough teaching.
When I talk with the parents of players who are learning fundamentals, I stress to them the importance of using "teaching talk" rather than "coaching talk." For example, yelling "Catch the ball!" provides no real insight. We're asking for a result, but giving no teaching tool. I'm going to share a plan with you that I call "The Three F's." It will have your players playing better defense and enjoying the game more.
Field, Find, and Fire. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? That's exactly how we want it to sound to our players. Having them be able to break an entire play into easy to manage parts will give them the confidence to make plays.
Think about how quickly pride turns to embarrassment when a player makes a great stop on a ball and then throws it away. The "field" step tells our kids that just stopping the ball is an accomplishment. It also helps keep those pressure and nerve levels way down.
I've found that with some players bad fielding is actually a by-product that stems from the fear of making a bad throw and having that on their mind as they prepare to field. By taking the throw out of the equation, you might be pleasantly surprised at how consistent some players' gloves will become.
To stress the "field" part of this plan, run a drill with your infield that stresses proper fielding of the ball-nothing more. No throw to a base. No tagging the runner.
I'll usually have my players roll the ball off of the field to really de-emphasize the throw at this point. Stress a good ready position and tracking the ball into the glove. The idea is that just fielding the ball, or for some players just keeping the ball in front of them, is a success.
This is the most important part of this plan. This step minimizes transitional drops and wild throws. "Find" is the time that a fielder puts the "field" behind them and gets ready to focus on the throw. This step may only take a second or two, but it can be the difference between an out and your first baseman chasing a ball down the right field line. The point of "find" is to quickly reaffirm your mental plan. (This step in no way takes the place of pre-pitch preparation.)
The player should "find" the ball: Transition the ball from their glove to their hand while reminding themselves where they're going to throw. Again, note that I use the term "reminding" since the fielder should have already had a plan prior to the pitch.
The drill for this portion may be simple, but it is a pivotal part of the plan. Have your players start with the ball in their glove. Don't have them start with the ball on the ground because the temptation will be to bare hand the ball, defeating the purpose of the transitional time. Once they have the ball in their glove, simply have them remove it without looking at it and set up to throw to a designated base.
We want our players to set up without hesitation, not have to make a rushed decision. Provide a scenario before each rep of the drill, and at mat point have the players determine where they're going to throw. This will simulate the pre-pitch routine that they should be using during every at bat.
Now it's time to get the ball across the diamond. Coming off of the "find" step of the plan, your fielders should be relaxed and balanced. Stress good throwing mechanics; right angle with the throwing arm, follow-through, etc. The key here is getting your players to recognize the throw as a separate component from the "find" step.
To practice this segment of the plan, have your players each take a turn with three balls. From a standing start with the ball in their glove, have them transition and throw each of the balls for distance. No target, just a contest to throw the ball as far as they can. Have some small prizes ready for your top performers.
Despite its undisciplined premise, this drill will actually help with accuracy. When a player is trying to make this type of throw, they'll focus on the tools that make for strong throws; balance, arm angle, and follow-through. When they bring these skills to the infield, you'll see smoother, stronger throws.
There are many benefits to playing defense with a game plan. Defensive confidence can get some of your weaker hitters more involved in the game and enjoying their playing experience more.
By Jay Grove, New Britain, CT