"Baseball is a Game of Movement"
(coaching youth baseball & youth softball)
- Catch, Tag and Throw
- Cut-Relay Play to Home - Mini Diamond
- Fly Ball Communication
- Ground Ball and Base Coverage Communication
- Infielders Throwing Across Rotation
- Mass Ground Balls and Fly Balls
- Outfield Hitting Cut = 'box' mentality
- Pitchers Fielding Practice - Three Groups
- Rundown - 'Ambush'
- Shortstop Overthrow of First Base w/RF Backing-up
- Three Groups Drills
- Two Bases Relay Game
- Wild Pitch/Passed Ball Communication
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.
Moving the Ball - options
When it comes to moving the ball around the field most youth playing baseball or softball believe there is only one option: throwing the ball overhand.
The fact is there are three ways to move the ball:
- Overhand Throw --- for medium and long distance throws
- Underhand Toss --- used when the ball is approximately 25’ or closer to its required destination
- Carry the ball --- there are many situations when the ball does not need to be thrown to reach its destination
It is critical for coaches to educate their players of the second and third options early in the season and then teach the kids to recognize the situation where the underhand toss and carrying the ball are the best techniques to use to move the ball. Many drills involve the underhand toss. We want to incorporate drills in every practice that involve the underhand toss.
Carrying the ball rather than throwing it is determined by the situation in a game. A scrimmage is where the kids are exposed to these situations multiple times. We want to conclude each practice with a scrimmage, not only to help our players recognize situations where they want to transport the ball by carrying it, but also to give them experience in executing the skills learned in drills within the context of a game.
This is a Major League Skill. In any given MLB game the underhand toss is utilized 5-10+ times. On the smaller diamond where the players are positioned closer to each other there is a higher percentage of situations where the distance the ball needs to be transported a short distance.
Most of us are familiar with the scene where the player with the ball is not far from the player they want to throw to and we see uncertainty: “How hard do I throw the ball when my teammate is so close?”
Educating our kids that an underhand toss is an alternative option and then drilling them daily in this skill results in kids successfully completing many of these ‘simple’ plays, which in fact are very difficult when throwing the ball overhand is the only option in the mind of the player holding the ball.
Carrying the Ball to its Destination
Most every youth ballplayer believes that the only way transport a ball around a baseball or softball around the field is to throw it. We must make it understood that ‘There is no rule against carrying the ball’ and then constantly point out to our players situations when they want to carry the ball rather than throw it. As coaches we understand that each time the ball is thrown there is the risk of a mistake that can lead to the runner(s) advancing to the next base.
The two primary situations when a player wants to carry the ball rather than throw it. (Note: in most cases, when a player ‘carries’ the ball, they RUN with the ball.):
- They can beat a base runner to a base to execute a force out
- Runners have stopped trying to advance and the ball needs to be transported back to the pitcher
The Ball is Constantly in Motion on Defense
Once the players understand the three ways of moving the ball around the field we teach the concept of the ball being in constant motion in defense.
Another game situation most of us are familiar with is the player with the ball in their hands, not knowing what to do and just standing there, often while base runners are advancing to the next base. This is most common when the ball is in the hands of an outfielder and there are multiple base runner.
What is the player to do when they don’t know where to throw the ball? There is one simple answer:
…Run as fast as they can towards the middle of the infield (pitching rubber)
Why? When a player is unsure of what to do with the ball, but at the same time are running toward the middle of the infield they are increasing the possibility for success when they finally do determine what needs to be done with the ball.
When the ball is in the center of the infield it is a threat to a runner attempting to advance to any of the bases. Each step closer to the middle of the infield a player with the ball is, they are that much more of a threat to the base runners. They also shorten the distance of any subsequent throw they may have to make.
Given the ‘rule’ that a player ‘Never Stands in Place Holding the Ball’ we reduce the likelihood of runners advancing to the next base.
We teach our defensive players: The ball is constantly in motion. The moment you get the ball you immediately do one of two things:
- Throw the ball
- Run with the ball toward the middle of the infield
Turn Glove Side
In situations when a player is fielding or picking up a ball with their back to the play they will need to turn around in order to throw the ball. When throwing the ball a player wants the 'glove side of their body pointing at their target'.
The most efficient way to get lined up to throw is for a player to turn in the direction of their glove. Only a 90 degree turn is required to go from having one's back to the target to being lined up to throw.
We use the teaching phrase, "Turn Glove Side" to remind players which direction to turn.
Reality --- kids tend to turn the opposite direction. They turn to their throwing hand side. The reason for this is this is while making that 270 degree turn the kids get a good long look at their surroundings including where they will be throwing the ball.
As coaches we need to consider the perspective of those we are teaching. Kids are still getting accustomed to their surroundings and the world around them. Making the longer 270 degree throw is only natural for a young person. It gives them a good look at what is going on. Unfortunately this is inefficient and requires them to go against the momentum of the turn in order to throw.
On the other hand the 90 degree, "Turn Glove Side" turn is a 'blind' play in some respects and this is why kids will, initially, be resistant to turning in this direction. Simply executing this action over and over will help the kids get used to this blind turn. When they execute the rule of "Moving their feet to throw" after the turn, they have the time needed to get a good look at their target. Soon the kids will become comfortable to "Turn Glove Side" on all plays* in which they have their back to their target:
* Many plays when the pitcher is fielding the ball
* Relay throws
* Replaying muffed ground balls
* Catcher retrieving wild pitches and passed balls
Catch, Tag & Throw
Catch, Tag & Throw Drill - Explained
This is a great drill that develops core skills, develops the player’s awareness of their relationship to the base and the runner when taking a throw and making a tag, emphasizes the importance of footwork when catching and throwing, develops the coordination of footwork in the throwing action, while developing a high level of discipline in the player who executes the drill properly…
…all this is achieved WHEN the coaches/adults supervising the drill make sure the players execute it as it is designed. When the players stray from proper execution, the coach/adult running the drill must immediately stop the activity, re-emphasize the proper actions, re-establish expectations, do this in brief and to the point manner, then get the drill going again.
This drill can be run on a full sized diamond with the players making overhand throws or on a MINI Diamond with the players using the underhand toss technique.
Mini Diamond Using Underhand Toss
The drill on the MINI DIAMOND is the same as that on the full sized diamond. The throwing technique is obviously different; the other aspect that is different is that most throws will be very accurate and the players receiving throws are not getting much work/discipline building in regard to “Move Your Feet to Catch”.
The ideal number of players for this drill is five; two players at the base the drill begins (home plate is the logical spot to start) and one at each other base. The math for dividing up a team of twelve often results in having six kids in this drill, so we have two bases with two players.
Note 1: When working on the Mini Diamond, a group of four players can work. The coach/adult that is running the drill jumps in and serves as the fifth body. Four players in a drill is the ideal number; allowing three groups of four players to work at three different stations/drills simultaneously.
Note 2: We don’t want to run this drill with more than six players. This results in too much standing around, which is the death knell of a youth softball/baseball practice.
The player with the ball creates momentum towards the base they are throwing to by “Moving Their Feet to Throw”, after throwing the ball they “Follow Their Head” and rotate to the next base.
The player receiving the throw stands in a “Ready Position” facing the player throwing the ball and with their feet in a proper relationship to the base to make the catch and then apply a tag (the relationship of the feet to the bag is different in the 12U game, than at the teen, college or pro levels – this will be covered in detail as the Coaching Guide is updated in Jan-Feb).
The receiving player then starts towards the next base and the drill continues.
Cut-Relay Play to Home - Mini Diamond
Cut-Relay Play to Home - Ball Past the Outfielder - LCF
Fly Ball Communication
We constantly remind our players to ‘Call for the ball’ on pop flies. However, we still have numerous occurrences where two players get in each other’s way trying to catch the ball or they both stop going for the ball at the last second and let the ball drop. Then we holler at them again to ‘Call for the ball!
Simply telling our players to ‘Call for the ball’ is not fully preparing them to deal with a pop fly hit between two players. While it might seem obvious to us (we’ve been on the planet a few decades longer than they have), to ensure that they call for the ball and do so effectively we need to teach and drill them for these situations
Below is information on a Fly Ball Communication System for balls hit between two players. When practiced, this system greatly increases the number of balls that are caught and virtually eliminates collisions. The key to the system is we use two different calls for fly balls. One call is made by the player who is determined to be subordinate; the other call is made by the player who is determined to be dominant.
The subordinate player calls, “Mine”, which indicates that they are confident they can get to the ball. The dominant player calls, “GET OUT!”…this is self-explanatory.
The first diagram illustrates the dominant-subordinate relationship between all players on the field.
The second diagram illustrates the set up for the Fly Ball Communication Drill.
Ground Ball and Base Coverage Communication
Infielders Throwing Across Rotation
Mass Ground Balls and Fly Balls
It will take a couple of days for the coaches and players to get a feel for how this drill it is coordinated. The infield portion of this drill is made up of two separate groups working on the same field. In addition to that, the activities of the two groups intersect with each other. Once the participants in each of the groups get a feel for who they are working with the drill becomes quite simple - and very productive
The players are divided into three groups of four, each having their own coach running their group. One group is taking ground balls at third base and second base, another group is taking ground balls at shortstop and first base. The third group is working on fly balls in the outfield. The outfield group should use this time working on angling back to fly balls (they get work angling in during the Skill Building Warm-up).
Outfield Hitting Cut - 'box mentality'
Pitchers Fielding Practice - Three Groups
Rundown - 'Ambush'
In this drill the base runner does not change directions. The two defensive players close in on the base runner from both sides. You will get the runner out on each drill repetition. We are working on improving the actions of the drill
Objective: Get the runner out as fast as possible using one or zero throws
---> Both players get on the same side of the runner to create an unobstructed throwing lane
---> The player receiving the throw moves to a point 10’ off the base
---> After tagging the runner, the receiving player “Looks for other Runners”
If any of these actions are not executed we restart the drill. The players will not execute these properly, especially early on. By making it clear to the players that they Must execute these actions properly otherwise we start the drill over.
None of these actions require athletic ability. Anyone can do these actions as expected. These actions are required.
It is important to recognize, as a coach, that poor throws will be made and throws will be dropped. These mistakes are not a concern. These skills will improve over time. Our concern of coaches is that the players properly execute the key actions correctly.
NOTE: the coach/adult running the drill serves as the base runner (the majority of kids want to play ‘pickle’ and will not demonstrate the self-discipline required of the base running in the drill. Also, the coach/base runner will only jog during the drill. We want the player with the ball to understand they could tag the base runner out every time in the drill if they tried. We make it clear that the focus of the drill is to learn and practice the actions of the Rundown-Ambush. The base runner/coach is participates only to provide context for the actions.
Shortstop Overthrow of First Base
Sliding is not always an easy skill for young baseball and softball players to learn. Many do not generate a lot of momentum when running and momentum plays a big role in a successful slide. There also is the requirement to lean back and to drop down. While these actions may not seem like much to the adult doing the teaching, they are relatively foreign to a young ballplayer. We need to recognize this and understand that some kids will need to time to get acclimated to the idea of trying to slide. On the other hand, some kids are eager to start sliding. These eager kids need to learn to slide properly - and safely.
Note: In these drills, the kids are going to spend a lot of time on the ground. In the early spring when the ground can be wet and cold (especially in the north) we need to pick an appropriate day to teach sliding. If we have to do it on wet ground, be sure to do so at the end of practice, so the kids can jump right in the car and get warm. Grass is the best surface on which to learn to slide; damp or wet grass creates much less friction on those little legs and butts.
In the summer, and in the warmer south, the ground can get pretty hard and dry. In such an environment we definitely want to practice sliding on grass and it is best to heavily water down the sliding area, so the kids don’t get their legs torn up.
All players sit down on the ground with both legs extended straight out in front of them. Then tell them to tuck one foot under their knee in order to create a ‘number 4’ with their legs. The standard feet first sliding style is called a “Figure 4 Slide” or a bent leg slide.
We don’t instruct them which leg remains straight and which gets bent. Each player will naturally pick the leg that is most comfortable to slide on.
Ideally the coach is on the ground with the players while instructing. The coach starts out with their legs straight out and does not tuck their bent leg until after the kids are done getting into their figure-4. We don’t want them to copy the coach and possibly not pick their most comfortable leg to be the bent leg.
While sitting in the figure-4 position we have the kids rest their hands on their knees. Then we all pretend we are on a roller coaster going down a big, steep drop. Everyone throws their arms up over their head and yells “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.
This is silly-time for the kids and they love it. Repeat this 3-4 times and really egg them on to be loud and have fun with the exercise.
This is the important step. We are still playing roller coaster, but now as the kids throw their arms up and yell we ask them to lean back at the same time and continue leaning back until they are lying flat on their backs. When they complete this action their arms should be extended above their heads, but not allow their hands to touch the ground.
Repeat this 3-4 times…or more if they are having fun.
Set out three or four bases, all on a line about 15’ apart. Bases can be a cone, a throw down base, a cap, hoodie, etc. Break the kids into 3-4 groups and line them up about 50’ from the bases, and get ‘em ready to run!
(Ideally the kids practice sliding with no shoes on; socks don’t get caught in the ground. Catching a cleat while practicing sliding can cause a serious leg injury! At worst have the kids wearing sneakers – NO CLEATS ALLOWED!!! There has to be advanced planning and communication with parents if the kids are going to need to bring an extra pair of shoes to this particular practice.
Teaching Points While Running the DRILL:
1. Stay on the kids to run as fast as they can and to keep running full speed into the slide. This is very important. The more momentum they have the easier it will be to slide. Part of the sliding action involves leaving the feet and dropping down on the bent leg and butt. If a player drops straight down it is going to be painful. The more momentum a player has the less impact there is from dropping down because the impact occurs at an angle more parallel with the ground.
2. Constantly remind the kids to start leaning back during their last couple of steps prior to the slide. This lean lowers their hips closer to the ground and gets the body in a better angular position for sliding. This action, combined with momentum greatly reduces the impact when the legs and butt meet the ground.
3. Stay on them to remember to throw their arms up while leaning back. And to keep their hands off the ground throughout the slide. Many ball players (of all ages) slid on the side of their bent leg hip (there is not as much padding on the sides). A base runner wants to land squarely on the bottom of their bottom, where there is padding.
This makes for a softer landing, but also enables the player to keep their hands up off the ground. When a player leans to the side during a slide they invariably put a hand down to help break their fall. Unfortunately it sometimes is their thumb breaking the fall.
4. Keep the foot of the extended leg off the ground. The slide takes place on the bent leg with the extended leg and foot off the ground. This is serious business for safety reasons. If a player allows the lead foot to touch the ground and a cleat catches, if the ground doesn’t give something in the leg has to have to give.
The lead foot should make its impact with the side of the base the player is sliding into, not the ground. Again, momentum (along with leaning back) is a big key in helping the sliding player keep their front foot off the ground throughout the slide. The good news for those players who don’t build up much momentum is that if the front foot does catch the ground there isn’t much force involved and a much lesser chance to cause any damage.
I have no science to back this up, but my observations are that kids weighing less than 60 pounds are light enough that the chances of suffering a significant injury is pretty slight. The point is, let’s teach kids how to slide when they are young, so they can develop good technique before their bodies get bigger and heavier.
Three Groups Drills
The concept of 'Three Groups Drills' is based on a team having 12 players and 3 coaches/adults being available to run drills. In cases of younger players (ages 7-8) an extra adult(s) may be helpful to receive long throws, which these younger kids would have difficulty to catch consistently in a fast paced environment.
Given the above numbers we break the team into three groups of four players, each with their own coach/adult running their particular drill.
We run the first segment of the drill for 3-4 minutes, then rotate the groups. Depending on how much time we spend between rotations, the players can work at all three stations in 10-15 minutes.
There are four examples below. Given these examples, looking at the Skill Building Warm-up page and considering the needs of a particular team, a coach can design additional drill combinations.
Two Bases Relay Game
Wild Pitch / Passed Ball Communication
When running these drills it is important to maintain discipline in how the kids execute the techniques. There is a correct way to position the feet and body in relation to the ball. There is a specific technique in picking up the ball and when it comes to the throwing aspect of the drill, as with all throws, the feet must be moved properly.
This drill deals with the situation of a runner trying to score from third base. However the actions of the catcher in this drill are the same they would use when a runner is attempting to advance to second base or third base on a wild pitch or passed ball.
When a catcher veers away from using proper technique in picking up the ball and proper footwork throughout the action, remind them that while they are not making the longer throw to the other bases in this drill, the good habits they are developing in the drill will enable them to make a strong throw to any point on the diamond following a wild pitch or passed ball.