"Baseball is a Game of Movement"
(coaching youth baseball & youth softball)
"Baseball is a Game of Movement" (and Softball too). This is a foreign concept for most youth baseball and softball players. If we could dig into the brain of ballplayers ages 5-12 right next to the idea of 'Baseball' we would find the phrase 'a game where you stand around a lot and don't do anything' (and we wonder why participation is dwindling).
When the game is played properly each player on defense is moving (sprinting) the moment the ball comes off the bat. We can do a better job of teaching kids how to play the game. This section is dedicated to helping coaches teach kids their defensive responsibilities on each play regardless of where the ball is hit or where the runners are.
Before digging in, let's add something to the old coaching comment, "Be sure you know what to do if the ball is hit to you". But the ball is hit to one player; what about the other eight? The must also teach our players, "Know what you are going to do when the ball is NOT hit to you".
The first part of this section outlines in clear and simple terms, the 'Rules for Defensive Movement'. These rules form the foundation for the drills and concepts in the rest of this section.
Some of the plays found here are not consistent with player responsibilities on the larger 80' or 90' diamonds. The game on the smaller diamond is slower and the players are not as strong. These facts combined with the shorter distance between the players and the bases makes this game quite different than the one played on the large diamond.
These realities can make it a challenge for coaches who themselves played the game on the larger diamond. There is a necessity to throw out much of one's playing experiences on the large diamond and adjust how the game is viewed and taught on the smaller diamond.
Items found on this page:
Rules for Defensive Movement - General
Defense - Positional Responsibilities (detailed, including drills)
Rules for Defensive Movement
These simple rules get each player on the field moving and contributing on every play. These rules lay the foundation for coordinating team play in any situation. Mistakes will still be made, given the age of the players. By teaching, drilling and reviewing these rules throughout the season, games will have significantly less chaos and unnecessary mistakes ...and the games will go faster!
The drills in this section, relating to movement responsibilities include specific teaching points and teaching phrases that support and build off these basic rules. A coach does not need to know these rules on Day 1 of practice and the players will not master these rules on Day 1. Through repetition in drills and feedback given during our daily scrimmage in the last part of practice the coaches, players and parent helpers at practices will steadily gain a level of mastery of these rules.
“Baseball is a Game of Movement"
All nine players MOVE the moment the ball is put into play. Each player moves at full speed (even if they are only required to move as little as 10-15 feet) to get to their required spot on the field, which is determined by the Rules of Defensive Movement and the simple rules laid out in Defense - Positional Responsibilities. Often, as the play evolves and the ball moves around the field, some players will have to MOVE and reposition themselves.
Moving the Ball on Defense - options
There are two ways to transport the ball around the field: 1. Throw the ball, 2. Carry the ball. Most kids only consider the first option. We want to teach our players early on that they are not required to throw the ball in order to move it around the field. It is perfectly acceptable to carry the ball.
The base runners have stopped trying to advance on the base paths. An outfielder runs the ball to an infielder, then the infielder carries the ball to the pitcher. note: as the ball is being transported to the pitcher the player with the ball keeps an eye on the base runner(s).
An infielder fields the ball and sees they can run to the base before the base runner can get there.
Three Individual Responsibilities
- Back up (a base/throw)
Note: Regardless of level of play or the situation, each player on defense has one of three responsibilities. It is not uncommon for a player's responsibility to change from one to another of these three possibilities over the course of a play.
- Chase/field the Ball
- If you aren’t fielding the ball, cover a Base ("Ball or Base")
- If the base is covered, run beyond the base to Back-up a throw to the base.
Pitcher (balls hit in the infield):
- Field the Ball
- If not fielding the ball, cover a Base
- If the base is covered, run beyond the base to Back-up a throw to the base
Pitcher (balls hit in the outfield):
- “Move Towards the Ball”
- Back-up throws to a base or to an infielder
- ‘Play’ the Ball, as the Cut-Relay Player, on throws to home plate
- Chase/field the Ball when hit to the outfield - 'Move towards the ball'
- Move towards, and Back-up, balls hit to the two infielders in front of the outfield position
- Back-up throws to a base.
- If you aren't playing the Ball, cover your Base (Home Plate). Proper positioning is one foot in front of home plate.
- Always stay alert to Back-up throws coming towards your area of the field
Three Team Objectives
- Stop the ball
- Stop the runners
- “Get ball to the middle of the infield”
Move Towards the Ball
The first action, by each of the nine players on the field, when ball is put into play, is to make an aggressive step towards the ball. We must develop a mindset, in each player prior to every pitch, of ‘I am getting the ball’. For most it will quickly be obvious that they aren't playing the ball, so they move to their next responsibility: cover a base or back up a base/throw.
The three players in the middle of the field: pitcher, shortstop, second baseman -“Always Move Towards the Ball". (This will be covered in detail later in this section.)
There are three situations (also covered in greater detail later in this section) where the shortstop and second baseman’s response to this rule is modified slightly:
When the ball is hit to the catcher, pitcher or center fielder:
- Catcher or Pitcher: shortstop covers second base; the second baseman backs up second base
- Center fielder: shortstop goes into the outfield “towards the ball”; the second baseman covers the base.
NOTE: in the instance of a ball being hit to the catcher or pitcher, the shortstop and second baseman are still moving ‘towards’ the ball which has been hit in the space between the two positions. The same is true, in most instances, when the ball is hit to the center fielder.
Whenever the ball is hit to one of these three players (catcher, pitcher, center fielder) the shortstop is the player in position to potentially handle the ball. Usually the shortstop is a better player than the second baseman and we want the more talented player handling the ball as much as possible.
There will be the odd instances when the roles of the two players will be reversed. It would be difficult to go into too much detail here, but over time, and through experience playing and coaching the game, those exceptions to the rule will come up.
One example is a ball hit to the pitcher where the shortstop, thinking they may end up fielding the ball and moving aggressively to do so, is unable to cover second base. In this case the second baseman then takes over the responsibility of covering second base. (The center fielder is still there to back-up the throw to second base.)
There is no rule to determine when the second baseman takes over this responsibility. Over time, players will learn to recognize this situation. However this, and similar situations, lead to mistakes at all levels of play.
The Ball is Constantly Moving on Defense
--->> As soon as a player has control of the ball they must immediately move the ball. They have two options
- THROW the ball (to a cut-relay player or to the base ahead of a runner)
- RUN* with the ball
- to a cut-relay player or to the base ahead of a runner
- toward the middle of the infield (pitching rubber)
...if in doubt of what to do with the ball --> RUN with the ball towards the pitching rubber. Each step closer the ball gets to the pitching rubber the more of a threat the ball becomes to the base runner(s).
*Many young players do not recognize they have the option of carrying the ball to its destination. They believe that the ball is only moved by making a throw. It is important to point this out to our players very early in the year.
Getting The Ball In To The Pitcher
--> Rule/Objective: NO overhand throws after runners have stopped attempting to advance
- Player with the ball runs toward the pitcher (or teammate who will continue on toward the middle of the infield): hand it off or use an underhand toss
- Pitcher move towards the player with the ball and shorten the distance they have to travel
Note: Ignore all baiting by base runners (even if you really think you can get the runner out). Get on the pitching rubber ASAP …pitch to the next batter and keep the game moving.
Mini Diamond - Super Tool
One of the most valuable tools a coach can use is the Mini Diamond. Any drill in which the focus of the teaching is something other than working on full on overhand throwing technique can be run on a Mini Diamond. Use of the Mini Diamond is referenced throughout the Coaching Guide.
A Mini Diamond is 20’-25' square, but can be modified larger or smaller depending on the activity. It is constructed using cones, throw down bases, ball caps, extra shirts that are laying around, a leaf, anything. Anytime we compact the teaching/learning environment we reduce distractions, improve communication and the players get many more repetitions during a drill.
Examples of drills that can be run using a Mini Diamond include relays, backing-up and base coverage responsibilities, and first and third defense. Keep in mind that for most activities the throwing and catching aspect is the last skill that needs to be mastered (and we take care of that during 'Playing Catch Practice'). Proper movement, positioning and communication need to be understood and mastered to some extent before be add the throwing aspect to cement the execution of the activity.
The Mini Diamond is also useful for teaching how a drill is supposed to run before going to the full size diamond.
Defense - Positional Responsibilities
Infield Base Coverage
Infield Base Coverage Responsibilities - Explained
There are four infielders, the game is played with one ball and there are three bases. The rule for infielders is ‘Play the Ball, or Cover a Base’. Each infielder has only two possible responsibilities: 1. Ball or 2. Base. The formula for infield base coverage: 4 - 1 = 3; the three infielders that aren’t playing the ball cover a base.....
The First and Third Basemen have one base they are responsible for; the Shortstop and Second Basemen have two bases they are responsible for; one to their Left and one to their Right. These two players, positioned in the middle of the field, follow this simple rule: If the ball is hit to your Left and you aren’t playing the ball, SPRINT to the base on your Left; If the ball is hit to your Right and you aren’t playing the ball, SPRINT to the base on your Right.
The rule for the players in the middle of the field is to “Move Towards the Ball”
The Pitcher is also in the middle of the field and is responsible for two bases as well: first base on their Left and third base on their Right. The Pitcher however, is not responsible for covering a base. The Pitcher is an ‘insurance policy’ in the event an infielder is unable to cover a base. The pitcher breaks towards the base on their Left or Right (depending on which side of them the ball is hit), they “Move Towards the Ball”. In this version of the drill the pitcher stops short of the base, so to not get in the way of the infielder covering the base, developing the habit of always breaking toward the base on their Left or their Right depending on which side of the infield the ball goes to.
The Catcher also participates in this drill and has a responsibility to move. When the ball is delivered to the infield the Catcher leaves the spot where they receive pitches and move to their ‘Position’, which is in front of home plate.
Running the Drill:
1. The coach rolls a ball to one of the four infielders; not to the pitcher
2. When rolling a ball to an infielder, the coach calls out “ground ball to <position>”. This is important because on the Mini Diamond it is simple for more than one kid to go get the ball.
3. The player fielding the ball does not* throw the ball after fielding it
4. The three infielders not fielding the ball move quickly to their base, then turn and face the ball in a “Ready Position”.
5. The players return to their positions and the coach rolls the ball to another position
6. Be sure to rotate the players to different positions
*Later in the season, after the players have demonstrated the clearly understand their movement responsibilities, modify the drill by having the catcher call out which base to throw the ball to. The player fielding the ball throws the ball to that base using a technically sound underhand toss. If the ball goes to second the infielders can ‘turn a double play’ and if the ball goes to a corner base they can throw the ball around the horn...using an underhand toss,
IMPORTANT NOTE: When delivering the ball to the first baseman or third baseman, only roll the ball about one third of the way toward the base. This forces the player to move far away from their base making it clear to the other infielders that it is not covered. When working on movement responsibilities this clear visual of an uncovered base helps the kids recognize where they are needed.
Outfield Backing-up Explained
The first responsibility of an outfielder is to chase the ball, which requires them to move. If they aren't chasing a ball the other responsibility of an outfielder is to back a base ...this not only requires them to move, it requires them to sprint. The moment the ball is put into play each outfielder is required to run in order to fulfill their responsibility.
Many kids consider playing the outfield as 'boring'. Once an outfielder understands the responsibilities of playing the position, and we as coaches have trained them to play the position correctly, the kids will no longer think of playing the position as being boring, they will recognize it takes a lot of work (a lot of running each time the ball is put into play) and when we run our scrimmage at the end of each practice they will learn that they handle the ball quite a bit given that many throws to bases result in overthrows.
In theory, if we train our outfielders well, no runner will advance on an overthrow in a scrimmage or a game - imagine how different the a youth baseball/softball game would look if runner(s) didn't advance to the next base(s) on overthrows.
Set up: The outfielders start at their positions (approximately 25' beyond the Mini Diamond). The coach stands somewhere within the infield, or slightly into foul ground (balls get thrown to bases from foul ground on occasion; also this positioning of the coach creates a greater variety of angles for the outfielders). The left fielder backs up third base, the center fielder backs up second base, the right fielder backs up first base.
Running the Drill: The coach moves to a spot in the infield and hollers, "Back up your base!" The outfielders sprint to a point behind their base that is directly in line with the position of the the ball/coach. After each repetition the outfielders rotate to a different outfield position, so they get a chance to back up a different base their next time through the drill.
On each successive repetition the coach moves to a different spot in the infield, so the players are backing up various angles of throws to a given base.p
Proper backing up position results in a straight line from the ball to the base to the player beyond the base who is backing up the throw. "We want two players in position to catch every throw" - the player backing up is the second person.
On a regular size field the player backing up a throw wants to be 25' beyond the base/player the throw in intended for; when running this drill using the Mini Diamond, instruct the players to be 10' beyond the base when backing up.
Note 1: After running this drill a couple of days want to expand our teaching and point out that some throws to second base are at such an angle that it would be difficult for the center fielder to get into backing up position in time, therefor there are times when the right fielder or the left fielder are needed to back up throws to second base.
These corner outfielder need to know that, like the shortstop and second baseman covering bases in the infield, they have two bases they are responsible to back up. It is important to recognize that it will take time and repetitions in a scrimmage situation for the corner outfielders to learn to recognize when they are needed to back up second base rather than a corner base.
Note 2: When backing up throws on a regular size field, an outfielder backing up first or third will have to contend with a fence. The fence forces them to be closer to the base when backing up making reacting to an overthrow a bit more of a challenge. In many instances they will not get to the point directly beyond the base, in line with the flight of the ball. Rather they will run to a point approximately 20' up the fence line and play a carom off the fence.
Pitcher Backing-up - Balls Thrown From The Outfield
Pitcher Responsibilities - Ball Hit In The Infield
- Call out number of OUTS and location of RUNNERS before each new batter
- After the ball is put into play: Call where to make the play (Infielders ‘Echo’ the call on balls in the outfield)
- Communication on Cut-Relay Plays to Home Plate
Full Team Movement Responsibilities
Below are two examples of the movement of the entire defense moving based on where the ball is hit. The points in the 'Rules for Defensive Movement' section above are applied to these examples. After training our kids in these rules they will get to a point where most react more quickly and instinctively to where they are needed on the field in any given situation.
These diagrams are provided less as a suggestion to run a drill with all nine players and more as a visual that a coach can use as a learning tool in preparation for teaching their players.
The primary point to take from these two diagrams is that on ground balls on a given side of the infield the outfielder on that side of the field DOES NOT immediately take off to back up a base. Their first responsibility is to go for the ball, which means sprinting in behind the infielder attempting to field the ball. It is not until the ball is cleanly fielded and the outfielder is not needed that they look for a place to back up, which likely would be the a potential second or third throw of the play.
Note: These diagrams are old and will be replaced at some point. Ignore the 'key' at the top.
Middle Infielders Movement
On Ball Hit To The Outfield
SS, 2b, P - Always Move Towards the Ball
SS/2b Movement On Ball Hit To The Outfield