Because outfielders see less action than other players, it is difficult to stay mentally focused on the game. I'm sure we've all seen a ball being hit out into the outfield and the player not being "in the game". While it's an embarrassing situation, it's also easy to understand.
How do you stay mentally prepared to make a play when
the ball comes your way?
Some things to think about:
Score of the game
Analyze the situation before each hitter, which prepares you mentally for the next ball.
You may only get a few chances to make a play, which means each play you make will be remembered whether the outcome is good or bad. Each person and position on the field is critical to the success of the team. Take pride in becoming the best defensive outfielder you can. The following section will cover some techniques that you can use to become a solid outfielder, both mentally and physically.
Start in an athletic position. Many times, outfielders stand up or rest their upper body weight on their knees while the pitcher delivers the pitch. These outfielders are not ready to get a good jump on the ball. Prepare yourself in much the same way as you would if you were playing in the infield. The main difference is you don't need to be as close to the ground. Bend your knees, keep your feet shoulder width apart, bend your arms, and place them in front of you.
As the pitcher throws the ball, get yourself ready to move. To do this, put your weight on the balls of you feet. This allows you to push off quickly in any direction. To get from the athletic to the ready position, use some sort of movement. Take a slight hop to put yourself in this position, or take slight steps forward transferring your weight from side to side. Whatever way you choose, time it so you distribute your weight evenly and are on the balls of your feet when the pitch crosses the plate.
How you field a ground ball will often be dictated by the situation and where you are in relation to the ball. With nobody on base, and the ball hit near you, your goal is to make sure you keep the ball in front of you and field it cleanly to keep the baserunner from advancing to second. You will in this situation want to field the ball like an infielder.
With a runner at second and the ball hit sharply to you, you may determine you have a chance to throw the runner out at home. In this case you will want to field the ball off your glove hand side.
The speed at which you charge the ground ball will also be determined by the situation. If you have time to field it like an infielder you will want to approach the ball under control and get yourself in position to catch it. Even if the situation dictates that you rush to get the ball you will need to break down and get under control before you get to the ball. This will allow you to set yourself up to make a good throw which will more than make up for the time you used in slowing down.
Other problems with charging the ball at full speed are difficulties in timing your approach to catch the ball on a big hop and being able to handle a bad hop.
CIRCLE THE BALL
If you have time, make sure you try to circle the ball and keep it in front of you. With a ball hit to your side it's risky to try and take a direct angle to cut it off. If you miss judge the speed at all, the ball may get by you. By taking an angle that is deeper, you can circle behind the ball and catch it moving forward with the ball in front of you. While it might take slightly longer to get to the ball, you will be in a better position to not only catch it but make an accurate throw.
When the ball is hit, get a good jump. A good jump depends on your reaction time, which can improve through repetition. Watch the ball all the way to the plate; both the location of the pitch and your knowledge of a particular hitter helps you anticipate where the ball may go and give you a chance for a better jump.
It's difficult if not impossible to get a good jump without good footwork.
When the ball is hit to your side, your first move will be a cross-over step.
When the ball is hit over your head to the side your first step will be a drop step, followed by a cross-over.
If you overrun the ball you can stop and take an inside step back to the direction you came from. You should face the ball as you change directions.
When the ball is hit directly over your head, you first step will be a deep drop step with your throwing hand side.
The reason to drop with your throwing hand is if you need to switch sides as your running back on the ball it's much easier to switch from your throwing hand side to your glove hand side and make the catch then the other way around.
One of the most difficult fly balls to judge is the ball hit directly at you. If you don't immediately recognize whether the ball is going over your head or going to drop in front of you, freeze. The worst thing you can do is guess. Simply freeze, try to determine where the ball is and listen. The other outfielder may be able to see the trajectory better than you and yell at you to go in or go back.
Once you have determined approximately where the ball is going to land, start running hard to that spot. This will give you time to make adjustments if you misjudged the ball. If you coast toward the ball and you find out the ball is going to land farther away than anticipated, you may not have time to get to that spot.
DON'T RUN ON YOUR HEELS
If you run on your heels toward a fly ball, you will notice that the ball is bouncing. This often happens when you coast toward the ball. Run hard and try to keep more on the front part of your feet and the ball will stay steady in your vision.
GET BEHIND THE BALL
You will dramatically improve your velocity and the time required to throw the ball if you get behind the ball as it comes down and start moving in the direction of your target as you catch the ball.
CIRCLE THE BALL
If you have time, make sure you try to circle the ball and keep it in front of you. With a ball hit to your side it's risky to try and take a direct angle to cut it off. If you miss judge the speed at all, the ball may get by you. By taking an angle that is deeper you can circle behind the ball and catch it moving forward with the ball in front of you. While it might take slightly longer to get to the ball, you will be in a better position to not only catch it but make an accurate throw.
BACKHAND AND FOREHAND
Even with the goal of trying to circle and get in front of the ball, there will be times when you will need to catch a grounder going hard to each side. Practice catching ground balls both on your forehand side and backhand side. When catching these ground balls try to keep low to the ground and your glove near the ground. Remember it's easier to raise your glove to the ball then it is to drop your glove to the ball.
Since outfielders have to make long accurate throws, it is
recommended that you practice your throwing technique on a daily basis.
Some keys to throwing accurately from the outfield include:
Good defense revolves around a teams ability to throw accurately and catch the baseball. Watch any high school level team or below warm up in the outfield and you'll see players using poor throwing mechanics and running after poorly thrown balls. If playing catch is such a core skill for defense, why aren't players better at it? One of the primary reasons is that most coaches don't teach their players how to throw.
If you're a coach or a parent, it's important to teach kids how to throw and catch the ball properly.
THROWING THE BASEBALL
When kids are taught to throw, often the instruction is watered down into just a couple of steps. The act of throwing a baseball is not that simple. Throwing requires the entire body to work together in order to throw the ball accurately and to put something on it. All positions on the field require the ability to throw the ball accurately. Good throwing mechanics will enable you to make plays. When you warm up with the team before practice or play catch in the back yard, make sure you work on your mechanics and strive to improve your accuracy.
The proper throwing grip across the largest seems on the baseball. Try to keep the ball out on the fingertips not back in your hand. Gripping the ball in the palm of your hand and not out on your fingers will cost you velocity and accuracy. Younger players may need to grip the ball with three fingers instead of two, but unless their hands are very small they should still try to grip the ball out on the fingers.
Many young players don't use their wrist much when throwing the ball. When the ball is brought back in the throwing motion, the wrist should be cocked back. This way the wrist can be used as part of the throwing motion. You can practice this skill by holding your throwing arm just above the wrist with your glove hand. Bend your throwing arm at the elbow with your forearm vertical. Keeping your arm in this position, practice throwing the ball with just your wrist and fingers. It may feel strange at first, but keep working on this skill. The wrist and fingers play a major role in the accuracy of your throw.
You can think of the motion your arm makes when throwing the ball as a circular motion. If you're throwing a short distance, the circular motion will be smaller then when you are throwing farther, but it's still a circular motion. The circular motion will aid your throw by providing more natural momentum than simply bringing your arm strait back and then forward. The circular motion should begin when you're pulling the ball from your glove. If you are playing outfield you will almost always be making a longer throw, so when you remove the ball from your glove, your arm and hand should drop down and by your back knee. This will provide you with the longest circular motion possible. If you are making a shorter throw in the infield for example, you may take the ball out of your glove and move it back and down slightly. This will give you a circular motion appropriate for the distance.
How do you determine if you're throwing with a circular motion or not? One of the best ways to check yourself is to freeze occasionally after you pull the ball out of your glove. If you are bring it up and back for anything other than a very short throw, you are not using a good circular motion in your throw.
If you have been throwing incorrectly for a long time, then it is going to feel different throwing with a good circular motion. That is to be expected. Practice throwing this way all the time and it will soon feel natural and you should see increased accuracy and velocity.
When throwing you want your front shoulder to point in the direction of where you are throwing. So after fielding the ball you will be turning your body sideways and pointing your lead shoulder in the direction of the throw.
If you follow the logic of having your front shoulder facing the target then you might have guessed that you also want your lower body lined up in the same manner. Your back foot should be perpendicular to the target and your hips should be closed and also pointing in the direction of the target.
Once you have everything lined up, you'll want to step toward the target with your lead foot, push off your back leg, and throw the ball using your entire body.
ROTATION In order to throw the ball so it won't tail, you want to make sure you throw it across all four seems with '12-6' rotation. '12-6' rotation refers to a clock. If the ball rotates from 12 strait down to where the 6 would be on the clock, this would be considered '12-6' rotation.
Unless you throw the ball strait over your head, you won't be able to get '12-6' rotation without moving your wrist. As the ball comes forward during your motion, you will want twist your wrist to keep your hand as vertical as possible. This is the key to having good '12-6' rotation on the ball.
When a thrown ball gets by you it's easy to look over to the other guy and place the blame on a bad throw. The problem isn't entirely in the throw. It also lies in your expectation that the ball will be thrown right at you. When playing catch during practice or receiving a throw during a game, expect that the ball won't be thrown to you. If you start with that expectation then you will see the throw that isn't right to you as an opportunity to make a good play.
When playing catch at the beginning of practice, use the time as an opportunity to practice not only throwing the baseball, but catching it as well. When waiting to receive the throw, start by putting yourself in an athletic position. Is doesn't mean you have to be in the same ready position you would be when the ball crosses the plate, but you still want to have your knees slightly bent and your weight on the balls of your feet. Basically, you want to be ready to move.
GO TO THE BALL
Instead of standing in one spot and sticking your glove out hoping (or not caring) if you catch it. Move into a position to give you the best opportunity to catch the ball. If it's thrown over your head take a drop step and go after it. If it's thrown a few feet to your side, move and try and get in front of it. Playing catch gives you an opportunity to practice fielding and catching the ball.
Give the player your playing catch with a target to shoot for. Place both hands out in front of your chest prior to the player throwing the ball. This will give him an area to shoot for. If the ball is thrown above your waist you should catch the ball with your thumbs together, closing your bare hand over your glove as you make the catch. If the ball is thrown below your waist, catch the ball with your little fingers together and again close your bare hand over your glove as you make the catch.
If all this sounds dry and boring then all you need to do is turn playing catch into a little competition to make things interesting.
Give targets for your partner and see how many times he can hit the glove without you having to move it. Have him do the same and see who can get to 5 or 10 first.
Alternate throwing groundballs to each other, the person receiving the throw will play first base. The first person to not field the ball cleanly or to pull the other person off the base with a bad throw loses.
With younger players it can be fun counting how many throws can be made back and forth without the ball hitting the ground.
In the end baseball should be fun and there's no reason you can't have fun and work on becoming a better player at the same time. Playing catch is certainly one opportunity to accomplish both.
You can set the tone for how your team approaches playing catch. If you make it a pre-practice activity for loosening up, then that will probably be the level of effort that you will get from your players.
Stretch as a team and play catch as a team. Have team throwing competitions and place emphasis on your team's ability to play catch. You will see the reward during your games.
When the ball is in the air the center fielder has authority over every other fielder on the field with the left and right fielders next. When a ball is hit in the gap between outfielders, it's critical that the outfielders communicate. If you're the left fielder and you're running towards the ball in the left field gap, you want to make sure you make a call for the ball as soon as you're comfortable that you can make an easy catch. Then listen for the center fielder to call you off or confirm that you have it.
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The fielder who has authority to call off another, will use a different statement to call for the ball.
Example: Left and Center fielder are converging on a fly ball. The left fielder will yell "I got it", or "mine". If the center fielder wants to take it he will yell, "Get out".
It's important that the fielder understands where he is and who has control. Another example would be a fly ball hit in the shortstop area. If he has to come in on the ball, he is in control and would make a "Get out" call in any communication with another fielder. If the ball is hit over his head, he then has to make an "I got it" call since he could be called off by the left fielder or center fielder.
Using the first example above, if the left fielder calls for the ball and doesn't hear anything from the center fielder, he may be tentative going after the ball, thinking that he may get called off. If on the other hand he gets a confirmation back from the center fielder, "You got it" or "Yours", then he can be confident that he is going to field the ball without risk of colliding with the center fielder.
* * *
One of the best ways to keep yourself in the game and to help your team is to back up on every play when the ball is not hit to you. By backing up you can keep a runner or runners from advancing on an errant throw.
Here are a couple examples to give you an idea:
Position - Right Field
Runner on First, Batter bunts the ball, Ball is fielded and an errant throw is made to first. If you were backing up first on the play, you may be able to keep the runner from going to third and you most likely will keep the batter on first.
Position - Left Field
Runner on First, double play ball hit to the first baseman, first baseman overthrows the shortstop. If you were backing up second you could keep the lead runner from advancing to third base.
Runner on Second; batter bunts the ball; ball is fielded by the pitcher who makes an errant throw trying to get the runner going to third. If you are backing up the play, you may keep the runner from advancing, saving a run, and the batter from going to second.
Even though there are many more examples of the benefits to backing up a play, one more benefit should be mentioned. By backing up on every play you will not only show your coach, but every player on the team the type of hustle and work ethic you have. Two attributes no leader can be without.
While in the field, always have the thought process of, "What should I do if the ball is hit to me on the ground or in the air." If you are always thinking this, you will always know where to throw the ball.
When moving to field a fly ball, remember the words ´Get Sideways.´ By doing a drop step and remaining sideways on your approach, you will have a much better chance to field the ball cleanly. ´Getting Sideways´ helps you avoid backpedalling, which often gets you in the most trouble.
Work on a quick exchange from glove to throwing hand. Even while warming up your arm you can work on this skill. Try to make a crisp, clean exchange that puts you in the best position to throw.
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