This story may sound familiar to you: it is the first baseball practice of the year. The kids are feeling good - the parents are feeling good. Little Johnny can throw hard and swings a great bat. Practice begins. The youth athletes are throwing well and making good contact. Now it is time to hit the field. A ground ball goes to shortstop and...the shortstop kicks a routine ground ball before struggling to pick it up and throwing to first.
Fielding ground balls is not a natural skill for many youth athletes. Thankfully, it is also one of the most teachable baseball fundamentals (link to fundamentals post). Today, we will review some high level tips to teach young baseball players the art of fielding a ground ball.
Body Positioning for Fielding Ground Balls
A sharply hit ground ball can be intimidating for a young player. Heck, some big leaguers still don’t get in front of the ball all the time. The fact remains that the best way for a player to give him or herself a good opportunity to successfully field a ground ball and throw out the runner is to have proper body positioning. Here are some cues to teach young players.
Butt down, glove down - not the most technical of cues, but a very clear one. Fielders want to assume a low, athletic stance, with their glove touching the dirt. It is always easier to “adjust up” with the glove than it is to put the glove down.
Stay relaxed - a stiff, tensed up body is not one which will react well to a bouncing ball. Much like a batter’s stance, players should be loose and athletic when fielding. This includes the glove hand, which should remain “soft”.
Stay balanced - similar to staying relaxed and athletic, fielders should always maintain their balance. A great drill for this is having players run to a spot, field a ground ball, and remain in their stance for a few seconds. If they remain balanced and comfortable, that is a great sign. Often times, they will feel uncomfortable and learn to adjust.
Getting in Front of Ground Balls
All the body positioning in the world won’t help a youth baseball player field a ground ball if they aren’t in the right spot. There are a few issues which often crop up when young players are learning the art of fielding.
If a baseball player has a fear of getting hit by the ball, start with softer balls. Coaches and/or parents can us racketballs, tennis balls, perhaps working up to lacrosse balls, then standard baseballs. Even if the young player retains some of his or her apprehension, their muscle memory will improve by staying in front of the softer, less “threatening” ground balls.
Another primary issue is the angle a player takes when positioning themselves to field a grounder. Footwork is the key here. Teaching youth athletes when to run, when to shuffle, and what angles to take for softly or sharply hit balls are all very important.
Lastly, some players will hear “get in front of the ball” and think, “okay, I should turn into a brick wall”. Try teaching players to become a funnel, or a vacuum, sucking up ground balls into the catch radius. This includes body positioning, maintaining soft hands, and bringing the ball up to the chest in a natural throwing motion.
Infield Throwing Cues and Tips for Young Athletes
Chuck Knoblauchwas a four time all-star and four-time World Series Champion. He also had a period of time when he simply could not make the throw from second base and once hit Keith Olbermann’s mother with an errant throw. Don’t let your youth players be a group of little Chuck Knoblauch’s. Teach the infield throw with the following cues:
Don’t aim, just throw - this is a classic saying in baseball because it works. This is great advice for pitchers, and it is great advice for infielders. Youth players should see the glove where they are throwing the ball, and let it rip. “Aiming” often leads to tense and unnatural throws.
Soft hands - yes, we are still talking about soft hands. Stone hands are the nation’s number one cause of infield errors. Kids should practice transferring from glove hand to throwing hand in a natural, fluid motion.
Grip it across four seams - coaches don’t want young infielders throwing accidental cut-fastballs to an unsuspecting first baseman. This is not always possible, but teach kids to naturally reach for the four big seams when making a throw.
Keep your feet under you - the importance of footwork when playing infield cannot be overstated. Transitioning from an athletic fielding stance to a throwing one should be taught over time. The key is to keep balanced, athletic footwork throughout.
Improve your Fielding with Hustle Training
Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.