Many youth baseball players can throw and hit at a much higher level than they are able to field. While all areas of the game deserve focus, defensive fundamentals sometimes fall by the wayside. Today, we will go over five defensive drills for youth baseball and softball, how they are completed, and how they will help young players develop their fielding skills.
No-Glove Defensive Baseball Drills
One thing that all great defensive baseball players have in common is soft hands. Some youth players will have naturally soft hands when fielding, but many will try to stab at or block the ball when fielding. This drill aims to give players a feel for how they should handle ground balls as well as a quick release.
Set up players in a circle or in parallel lines facing one another. As the name implies, all players should be without their gloves. The rules are simple:
The player with the ball must underhand a soft ground ball to another player.
The fielding player must field the ball cleanly using both hands, control the ball briefly, then toss a ground ball to a teammate.
Repeat until the drill is done.
Glove Only - Glove Shuffle Drill for Youth Athletes
A great follow up to the drill described above is a drill where young ball players must use their glove hand only. There are two basic methods of setting up this drill:
Use essentially the same set up as the no-glove drill. Players will “scoop” and toss the ball back and forth using only their glove.
Have the defender charge a bunted or soft tossed ground ball as if he or she was coming in and fielding a dribbler. The player will then scoop up the ball and toss it back to the coach or player who tossed the ball. This can be done in a line where each player takes a turn and returns to the back of the line.
Outfield Relay Drill for Catching and Throwing
For outfield defense and overall team defense, the relay drill is a great choice for youth baseball players. This is more of a “live” drill, as the defense must operate as if it were a real game simulation.
Coaches can hit a ball out to the outfield where a defender is waiting. The outfielder can then throw the ball to the cut-off man, who relays the ball to the base which the coach calls out. Coaches should focus on the following things:
The outfielding hitting the cut-off man.
The cut-off man positioning themselves in the proper place dependant on the location of the batted ball and the runners on base, outs, etc.
The cut-off man’s throw to the selected base.
The overall time from the catch to the eventual target.
Feet in Cement Fielding Drill
Youth baseball and softball players have a natural tendency to try and field every ball in the same way. The nature of the game is such that most batted balls are not hit directly at the player. Therefore, great fielders must learn to field the balls to the center, left, and right of their bodies.
The “feet in cement” drill teaches young players to use their hands properly and adjust their glove position to make the play in many situations. The only rule of the drill is that players may not move their feet. A coach or other player can hit or soft toss balls towards the fielder, forcing them to scoop, backhand, block, or whatever is necessary to make the play.
Note that this particular drill should not be overused as young players must also learn to get in front of the ball. This pairs nicely with drills that emphasize slide steps and shuffling to get proper positioning for fielding ground balls.
Live Defending Drill For Youth Baseball Players
At the end of the day, all fielders should be ready for the ball to come to them in a live situation. Coaches may choose to end practice with a “live” scrimmage situation which benefits both hitters and fielders. In any case, make sure to teach situational defense as part of your defensive drill training.
For example, have your team line up with base runners on first and second with one out. Your defensive squad is up one run. Then hit a ball to the shortstop. Depending on where the ball is hit, the shortstop may choose to throw to third, second, or first. All may be the correct choice at different times, which can only truly be learned through experience.
Not every situation should be such a conundrum either. Sometimes just practicing simple fly balls and ground outs with a runner hustling down the line can be great practice.
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