Coaches: Trouble Talking to Your Team? Try a New Language
While working with infielders at a baseball camp, I hit a fungo to a 10-year old who tentatively crept toward it, then jumped into his fielding stance and waited for the ball to get the rest of the way. There was no rhythm, no smoothness. He continued by stabbing downward because he wasn’t low enough. He snow-coned the ball, barely making the play. To top it off, he dropped his elbow during his throw and the ball sailed high and right, ricocheting off the backstop. The next kid, a 12-year old, did the same. So did a 15-year old.
There is a plague out there. A failure on the part of us coaches to teach the fundamentals of fielding in a way that makes sense to our players. The way things are explained to some players doesn’t seem to be working. If an infielder you work with is having trouble and isn’t applying your suggestions, it could be worthwhile to explain fielding fundamentals in a different way. Sometimes one player understands a certain phrase and can make adjustments, while another player needs the same thing to be stated in a different manner.
“Play The Ball, Don’t Let It Play You”
A lot of coaches like to use this phrase but the fact is it means almost nothing to some youngsters. “Playing the ball” is a confusing phrase that doesn’t explain anything. Another way to describe it is to suggest that your player be more aggressive. Use phrases like “go get it” and “don’t wait for it” to explain how to attack the ball. Explain that they need to make progress toward the ball as it comes toward them.
“Stay down” is a phrase commonly used to teach young ballplayers to field a ground ball. Although it seems straightforward enough, many kids’ interpretation of staying down doesn’t put them in correct fielding position. The first instinct for some is to bend at the waist, keeping the knees nearly locked. A better way to explain it might be to say, “bend at the knees” or “keep your butt down.”
Another way to articulate the need to stay down is to tell your athlete to “work from the ground up.” This way he will get low, preparing him for a ball that comes up rather than staying high and going down to it.
“Don’t Jump Into It”
This bit of advice is better done as an example. Try demonstrating by imitating the jumping action he did, followed by a smooth, continuous fielding motion. Some people use the phrase, “right, left, field - right, left, throw.” This breaks the fielding motion down and gives the player specific instructions on how to improve.
“Have Some Rhythm”
“Rhythm” is another difficult term for youngsters.. Some other ways of making your point include words like “smooth,” “flowing” and “continuous.” Rhythm can be attained by teaching an infielder to cradle the ball when he fields it, giving him “soft” hands. If your player is struggling with this, make sure he is starting with his arms out in front of him. Many players will let the ball get too far in on them, limiting their range of motion.
“No Glove Flipping”
Glove flipping is when a player approaches a ground ball with his glove against his chest, then flips it down at the last second to make the play. When a player flips his glove, he often can’t get it down in time, and it limits his ability to adjust to bad hops as his hands are not in a ready position.
This is one of the hardest habits to break because the player often has no idea he is doing it. As with any bad habit, the way to correct it is to exaggerate the opposite action. In this case, have your infielder start with his glove-hand extended and open - even before the pitch is thrown - and concentrate on keeping it there until he fields the ball.
One thing to keep in mind is that a player can’t be expected to keep his arm extended in front of him if he has to range left or right to make the play.
“Don’t Drop Your Elbow”
Elbow dropping may be the most damaging habit a player can develop. Chronic dropping of the elbow while throwing can lead to arm problems down the road. Many players will drop their elbows as a lazy way of throwing. It takes less effort and seems to provide the same results. In truth, dropping your elbow while throwing results in an undesirable tailing motion.
Most kids who drop their elbows don’t know they are doing it, nor do they understand what it feels like to throw with the correct motion. This is something that has to be taught in a one-on-one setting. As a coach or parent you need to show them by physically guiding your player’s arm through the correct path.
As coaches, the greatest gift we can give our young players is a grasp of the fundamentals. If you find an infielder who doesn’t seem to be able to implement the changes you suggest, don’t lose patience. Sometimes he just needs to hear it in a different way. A way that makes sense to him.