The entire matter of softball defense can’t be covered by a single article like this. After all, playing the outfield is a bit different from playing the infield. The 1st baseman has different responsibilities than the shortstop. And you may want to train for specific situations, such as bunts, run downs, and dealing with foul balls. But you can also focus on boosting defense skills which all your players need.
Where Do Players Go?
It’s very common for softball players (especially the younger ones) not to know where to go when the hitter makes contact with the ball. The entire team needs to know where they need to go for a particular situation.
- How do the outfielders back up the infielders on groundball plays?
- When the outfielder gets to the ball in the outfield, who becomes the cutoff man? Where do they throw the ball next?
- If the 1st baseman is fielding the ball, who covers first?
- Who backs up the players on base in case the throw is bad or isn’t caught?
The coach can therefore set a drill that lets players practice going to their spots for a particular play. This can start simply with the coach saying “Go!” and the players sprinting to their spots. Then the coach can introduce live balls, and maybe even live runners.
Since there are many situations, these drills need to let players know how to react and where to go for each instance of game play. The coach can evaluate the how and where the players move and make corrections until the entire team knows where to move.
Dealing with Ground Balls
Both outfielders and infielders need to know how to deal with ground balls properly. Many players make basic mistakes in this regard, and coaches should help players make corrections and practice sound fundamentals:
- Players must have a wide base for their feet every time they try to field a ground ball. This enables them to squat and go low for the ball.
- Players should also learn how to slow down properly when they get in front of a ground ball.
- It should also be emphasized that fielders need to have their glove already palms up when they meet the ball. Flipping the glove, or turning over the glove palms up on when they’re ready to field the ball, wastes time. And wasted time can make a difference as to whether the opposing batter is out or safe at 1st base.
One way of getting players into the habit of performing the right motions for ground balls is the triangle drill.
- Have two cones set up to denote the distance of the legs of the players. Perhaps you can set up 2 sets of 2 cones, so that one is for shorter players. Shorter players don’t need a base that’s too wide.
- The third cone of the triangle denotes the spot where the ball is likely to drop.
- In the drill, each player squats down so that the 2 base cones are inside their wide-apart legs. Then they moved forward so that they touch the 3rd cone of the triangle. This drill can make sure that your players have the right fielding stance.
Dealing with Fly Balls
For outfielders, dealing with fly balls is all about knowing how to track the balls properly. The object is to get underneath and in front of the ball, so that they’re moving forward as the throw the ball back into the infield.
Infielders aren’t under as much pressure when it comes to fly balls. There’s the infield fly ball rule which an umpire may call when the circumstances are right. But the umpire may not call the rule when it doesn’t apply, such as when 2nd base is empty.
For both the outfielders and infielders, “easy” fly balls may not be all that easy to catch. This is especially true for younger players who are apprehensive about getting hit by the ball.
The coach will first have to help players deal with their fears of fly balls, by using safe foam balls or even tennis balls. Then they can show the young players the fundamentals of catching a fly ball. The coach can teach about blocking out the sun, communicating with other players to decide who catches the ball, and dealing with the fence.
Making Good Throws
Every player on the defense needs to know how to throw the softball properly. Everyone needs to know where they throw the ball, and the ball usually ends up in the mitt of the 1st baseman.
But even the 1st baseman may also need to throw. This is especially true when the runner from 3rd base is going for home.
There are several drills you can try out to help your team perfect their throwing skills:
- They can throw and play catch in pairs, while sitting “Indian” style. Another variation has the players on both knees. They’re usually 10 yards apart, although they may need to be closer if they’re very young. They can then throw while isolating the upper body motion. They need to follow through with their throwing elbows outside their knees. They also have to bend at the waist.
- This time the players are kneeling on one knee. They may have to move back another 15 yards farther. The same follow through motions are expected. This drill emphasizes accuracy and upper body motion.
- Standing throwing drills come next. Again, they need to learn how to use the glove hand to rotate their shoulders properly. With the follow through, the throwing wrist should end up brushing the outside of the knee.
- The crane throwing drill involves holding the crane position for about 2 to 3 seconds. This position includes a raised bent knee and the throwing hand by the ear. They then take a full step towards their partner after they make the throw.
- Other drills may include focusing on quick releases, throwing for distance, and having receivers making the tag gesture after the catch.
All these can help build a good foundation for later, when you’re boosting defense skills for more advanced situations. And even veterans need to maintain these skills so that they don’t neglect their fundamentals and learn bad habits.