An outfielder doesn’t quite have the easy time that some people think when they play softball. They have to back up the infielders on groundballs, just in case one gets past them. When they get to the balls in the outfield, they need to field the ball cleanly and throw it to the proper cutoff man. But that means that if you’re an outfielder, you have to pay attention to improving outfield softball tracking.
The importance of tracking the softball in the outfield is crucial. This skill allows you to set up properly for fly balls and ground balls. When you deal with a fly ball correctly, you get an out instead of an extra-base hit. Deal with groundballs properly and you can minimize the damage and limit the base runner to just 1st or 2nd base instead of 3rd.
So you can’t limit yourself to developing your speed in the outfield. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast if you can’t see or track the ball, or if you don’t know where to position yourself. Knowing how to track the ball properly is part of your responsibilities. And it’s actually more than just seeing the ball.
The Instinctive Drop Step
As an outfielder, you need to develop your drop step as an instinct. Your first reaction is to go back a step every time. You don’t go forward. You take a step back with the leg on the side of where the ball is going.
So if the ball is to your left, you react by stepping back with your left leg. You then angle yourself to the left too. What if the ball goes directly over your head? In that case, you drop back with your leg on the glove side.
Keep in mind that it’s a step back, and not a huge jump going back. So you have to maintain your balance as you take a step behind you. This should be so instinctive that even for foul balls, your leg and body reacts with the drop step.
The Proper Way to Sprint
Sprinting in the outfield is a little bit different than sprinting in the 100-meter dash. After all, you’re wearing a glove. You also need to figure out which direction to take.
- First you have to practice tucking in your glove as your run. Tuck it into your chest instead of putting it up in the air. Running fast with the gloves in the air slows you down—and it makes you look a bit silly too.
- Now take note of the ball’s trajectory and speed and estimate where it’s going. You have to be where the ball will go, and not run towards the ball directly.
- You deal with the ball by placing yourself in front of it. So when you catch it, you’re moving forward. This forward momentum can add force to your crow hop when you make your throw to the cutoff man.
Dealing with the Sun
In the outfield, dealing with the sun is part of the job. That means you’ll need to wear proper eyewear and eye black to cut down the glare. It’s best if your glasses are comfy, shatterproof, and polarized.
Also learn how to use your glove to shade the sun while you track the ball’s movement in the sky. And if you lose sight of the ball, tell it to the other outfielders so they can help you out.
Factoring in the Wind
The wind can also affect the trajectory of the ball, and on windy days the wind can really affect how the ball travels. There are 2 possible ways to deal with the wind.
- If you’re very good at picking the ball in the sky quickly, you can then make quick course corrections and sprint to the other side where the wind has taken the ball. You’ll then need to be very quick about it, as you’ll leave your eyes off the ball to sprint properly. When you’re in the right place, you can then look up and find the ball. This way works best when the wind has changed the trajectory of the ball significantly.
- Another way is to maintain your eyes on the ball no matter what. This means you’ll need to switch your feet when you make a drop step and then you can run while keeping a constant eye on the ball. This is a good option when you don’t have to run for long distances.
Dealing with the Fence
Colliding with the fence is one way of getting yourself hurt. It’s really painful when you’re running hard when your head is turned towards the ball and you suddenly encounter the fence.
- Know how far the fence is from you. Be familiar as to how many steps you need to take before you’re near the fence when you run. Then you can slow down and extend your throwing arm out. This literally gets you a good feel for the fence before you crash hard into it.
- Be aware of the warning track. Not every softball field has a warning track. But if there is one, use it. Be aware of how the ground beneath you feels when you’re on the warning track. Also, know just how many strides it will take to reach the fence from the start of the warning track.
- Take care of yourself. There’s always the temptation of stealing a homerun by catching a ball that’s bound to go out the fence. But practice it first before you try. There have been too many injuries as a result of hitting the fence, so make sure you know how to take care of yourself before you try this procedure.
You need a lot of experience if you’re bent on improving outfield softball tracking. But you can do this with drills that help develop the knack of reacting correctly with the right leg for the drop step. Keep practicing until it becomes second nature, and don’t stop practicing even if you think you’ve become an expert in tracking the ball.