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NFCA Coaching Tip Of The Week:

I recently had the opportunity to witness, up close and personal, the defenses of two pro football teams. I watched these modern day gladiators line up face to face, padded from head to foot, trying to prevent the opposing team from scoring. After which, I had even more admiration for the defensive play by our softball infielders.

The softball player is poised, ever ready for the screaming line drive, the smashed ground ball, the dying quail bloop or the testing bunt, armed only with a small piece of leather. Those defensive alignments have infielders very close at the corners and no more than 85-90 feet away from a ball that arrives at well over a hundred miles per hour. Ouch, it hurts if it is not fielded properly.

Charged with the first line of defense, the infielders must be well prepared. As the old adage goes, practice-practice-practice. A few years ago we decided that we could reduce our runs given up per game substantially by reducing our throwing errors. We implemented a warm-up sequence we use before every game to sharpen our concentration and strengthen our throwing mechanics.

After everyone has warmed up their arms, the entire team pairs off at 20 feet apart, one side on the foul line and the others in a straight line at 20 feet.

STEP 1 - One Knee Drill Ñ 20 feet apart. Receiver Ñ shows a chest high target. Thrower Ñ points front shoulder at target, throws, following through with a cross over of throwing arm to the outside of opposite foot.

STEP 2 - One Knee Drill Ñ 30 feet apart.

STEP 3 - Standing Throw Ñ 30 feet apart. Stress soft hands, movement of feet for throw and follow through.

STEP 4 - Unison throw Ñ 30 feet apart. Start with all balls on one side. Player farthest to the right sets the pace by saying, "now." The rest of that side throws at the same time. If done correctly, you hear one slap of the receiving glove. Do ten reps. Any miss and you start over.

STEP 5 - One Ball Drill Ñ 40 feet apart. Start with one ball at the far left side. Throw to the person diagonally opposite you. Concentrate on hitting the target. The receiver moving her feet, prepared for a quick release, up and back with no misses, or start until you get it correct.

STEP 6 - Two Ball Drill Ñ 40 feet apart. Start one ball at each end, and yell, "start." Concentrate on who you are throwing to. Complete two perfect passes up and down the line without a mistake.

Not only do these drills prepare your team by concentrating, executing good mechanics, and teamwork, it communicates a message to your opponent that you came to play.

We have found that constant attention to mechanics has reduced our throwing errors dramatically. One other concept we incorporate is the use of a screen with a hole in the center, with a sock to collect balls thrown. I call it our Òold green BuddyÓ (because the sock net is green in color). If we start to get sloppy in our throws during practice, we take a trip to our "old green buddy."

We take a three-step approach to the sock net.

STEP 1 - At 25 feet away. Down on one knee, you have to throw 10 in a row in the sock. Make it and you help empty the net. One miss and you have to go back to the end of the line for another opportunity. Everyone must make 10 in a row from one knee.

STEP 2 - 40 feet from net. Coach rolls ground balls to fielder which she must field and throw 10 in a row in the net. Miss and she must go again. To simulate game pressure, sometimes we make the entire team make it without a miss -- one miss and we all start over. One tip we teach our players is to "look and throw." In other words, before you start into your throw, look up, locate your target with a glance, then throw. This eliminates a lot of bad throws.

STEP 3 - 40 feet from net. We place a batting "T" on top of a bucket in front of the sock net. On top of the "T"Ó we place a ball. The object is to concentrate and knock the ball off the "T." Each player gets five shots to "kill the ball" once you hit the ball, you are out.

Our "old green buddy" has saved us many an errant throw, IÕm sure. He is a welcome part of our practice, especially during the inside practices when we are waiting for good weather outside.

Not only is throwing technique and solid mechanics important for infielders, you need to catch the ball before you throw it. One favorite drill we use is to throw tennis balls against a wall from a distance of 10 feet or less. Each player has her own ball and she challenges herself with hard throws. Rapidly throwing against the wall again after each catch. The object of this drill is to get many reps, work on soft hands in receiving (you can do this with no glove also), work on foot work, and eye-hand coordination. After each player has had many reps, change to a pair of players. One player throws challenging ground balls for her partner. The infield is the first line of defense. Constant work on throwing techniques and mechanics and many reps on ground balls will reduce errors.

As they say, "You know the drill," sometimes gets old. Putting in new, innovative drills makes practices more productive and fun. Let's not lose sight of the fact that softball is still a game, and it should be fun. This "old dog" is always looking for new, fun tricks to improve our game.