By Coach Brett Swip
If you missed Part 2 of this blog on catching the ball, you can click here to read and see the videos. Today’s portion of the blog will give you ideas on drills and progressions to better prepare your youth athlete for catching a pop-fly and fielding a ground ball. Again, progressing them to feeling confident about these skills is the key. These are two of the fundamental skills to playing defense and some of the most under-coached skills. Commonly, when we coach these skills, we put the players in their positions or in a single-file line and hit them pop-flys and ground balls from our bat. These videos will provide you with other variations to develop the skill safely, creatively, and allow the athletes to have fun in doing so.
Remember this picture from the movie, Sandlot!?!?
Instead of praying that you don’t cause a black-eye with one of your athletes trying to catch a pop-fly, take them through a simple progression to teach 2 important tips to catching a pop-fly.
1) Getting their feet to the ball before putting the glove up in the air.
Put a helmet on your athlete, throw a wiffle in the air, have them run to where they think the wiffle ball will drop and let the wiffle hit them in the helmet. Kids love this drill and it is a great way to drive home the idea of running to the fly ball before sticking their glove up in the air. Teaches them great hand-eye coordination and depth perception to help them catch pop-flys.
2) Catch the ball with two hands near their chest.
Most athletes will not get their feet to the pop-fly and then they will just stick their glove out away from their body like a basket and hope the pop-fly lands in. Instead, teach them to catch the ball near their chest. First, stand close to the athletes and let them work on getting their feet to the ball and catching the ball barehanded. Then scoot back and give them an oven mitt. Finally, finish up by giving the athlete their gloves and throwing traditional pop-flys.
Putting it together
Pop-fly Circle Drill – put 5 cones on the ground in the shape of a big circle, have them start at one cone and throw a ball in to the middle of the circle, they run to the middle and catch the fly ball, then they go to the next cone. Repeat at each cone for a series of 5 fly balls from different angles. You can space out the cones farther and farther apart as they get more confident in this skill.
When we were kids, we remember our baseball or softball coach telling us to field groundballs with our head down, butt down, out in front at the top of the triangle, and with our throwing hand near-by . . . . . . but when we hit a groundball to the athletes we are coaching, we end up with them trying to field it on the side, one-handed, with their head pulling up and us hoping that it doesn’t take a bad hop and hurt them. Instead of immediately putting a mask on them when they are fielding to keep them safe, take them through a roundball progression that will build the muscle memory that you are looking for them when you hit a groundball. Below is a progression that we use for our youth players all the way up to our collegiate athletes.
- Knees No Gloves
- Stool No Gloves
- Standing No Gloves
- Standing No Gloves Transitioning in to throwing
- Then add paddles or oven mitts
- Then add gloves
- Then add force outs
- Then add tag outs
- Then add throws to bases on the field
Stay tuned for the final Part 4 of this youth practice plan which will introduce coaches to hitting drills and baselining drills that will surely help the athletes score more runs and enjoy the offensive part of baseball and softball.