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Fastpitch Tip: Keeping Your Outfielders Involved
Many coaches never think twice about the strength of an outfield until they don’t have one. Then the work begins. How many times does the most exciting play occur at home plate? This exciting play at the plate originates from a great run and a great throw to home by an outfielder.
The outfield has been stereotyped as a place to put your players that you aren't sure where else they should go. Who are these peculiar people who dive, run and eat grass every day? They are the infamous "runners" used for the infield to improve their defense, and they are in the greatest shape. These people are outfielders?
How can we help this group become key members on our squad, as well as be understood by the rest of the team? Here are seven steps to success in creating an outfield that is aggressive, loud, cohesive and confident.
1. Keep your outfield involved in practice. Outfielders have a tendency to be pushed to the side while the infielders get the most quality attention. Outfielders are often used as "runners" for the infield practice, to help the infield defensively. Always remind the outfield how much baserunning helps them become quicker in the field. Don't get caught up into having the outfielders run or having them catch for the pitchers for extended periods of time. Use the "every other" rule. Work with the outfield, then the infield, then both.
2. Create structured drills for the outfield. Although small quick step drills are extremely important for outfield success, they are pointless if these skills cannot be executed by the outfield as a whole. Create realistic drills for the outfield that stimulate game situations, using live pitching, as well as runners.
3. Communication. We cannot expect our outfielders to "stay in the game" mentally, during a game or during practice, without communicating and chatting. I define communication as the talk that occurs from one outfielder to another: calling for the ball, communicating to hit the cutoff, warning where the fence is, etc. Make sure your communication is uniform and that each player is saying the same thing for a specific situation. For example, when an outfielder is about to catch a ball on the fence, the choice of words my outfielders would use is, "you've got room" or "fence, fence" or "right on." When someone is right under the ball and a sure out is in sight, players will yell out the fielder's name. Having the communication uniform helps avoid confusion.
4. The chat. The chat is talking that occurs throughout prazcitce or an entire game. This is the communication that occurs within the outfield. When the outfielders are chatting they are reinforcing how many outs there are or where the next play is going to occur: "fly ball, go home" or "ground ball, go three." This just reinforces what the outfielder already knows.I learned about chat early on in my collegiate career. I found that my voice box and brain were hurting more than my muscles. This is a learned behavior. Behavior like this helps outfielders stay mentally in the game even when they are uninvolved. Never assume the “chat” will just appear when you start playing games. It is very appropriate to chat each day in practice. You will notice a tremendous difference in your outfielders’ focus.
5. Leadership or total deflation.There is nothing worse than on outfield that has no idea who is in charge. It is complete chaos. Center field is a good starting point for leadership. Because the centerfielder has priority, it is essential that she is someone who can be hard, is an aggressive leader and has a good first step. A good centerfielder is like a catcher in the infield. She is the heartbeat that sets the tone. Centerfielders continue to adjust one or two steps with every pitch, even if the pitcher has only an inside or an outside pitch. The centerfielder continues to adjust right and left according to pitches called and batters’ strengths and weaknesses.
6. The visit to the grass by the head coach.Regardless of your primary position as a head coach, never underestimate the power of your presence in the outfield. As a head coach, set aside one time a week that you spend 15 to 30 minutes with the outfield only. This sends a message to the outfielders that they are important members of the team. It also gives your outfield coach a little variety and enables them to work with he infield. Curing this visit to your outfield, you will find that you get to know your fielders more personally and you are able to pinpoint specific things they need to work on.
7. RepetitionAs head coaches, especially at the high school level, we tend to put all of our energy in the infield while the outfield is left hanging. Make sure your outfield gets plenty of live situations. The more your outfielders see the ball of the bat, the better they will be at getting an aggressive first step.
At your next practices, count how many fly balls your outfield gets in comparison to your infield. You will be amazed at how many balls the outfielders are now receiving at practice. There are many creative drills in which your outfielders can get 20-30 balls in a short amount of time. Never stop using creativity to keep all of your players involved.
Finally, remember as coaches we will be at our best if our outfielders are well prepared and confident. After all, the game-winning run can easily be stopped by a great throw from the outfield. Be determined to not just throw your extra players in the outfield. Make your outfield a position our team respects and understands. As a coach, there is nothing better than an outfielder who east grass, communications, chats and wants the ball in the clutch.