At the younger levels, playing the infield can be a pretty intimidating thought for a lot of young players. A number of different factors make the infield positions very challenging such as decisions having to be made quickly more often than not, having to field very hard hit balls at times, and simply just being closer to where the ball is actually coming off the bat. The ability to properly develop infielders can be just as challenging for a coach.
Baseball Coaching Tips for the Infield
Coaches tend to spend a lot of time practicing their infielders and unfortunately sometimes at the expense of other positions and players. However, what’s important is not how much practice but what is being practiced. Let’s now take a look at how to properly develop a Little League team’s infield. *In this article, the pitcher and catcher will not be broken down into specific details (such as pitching mechanics or catching technique) but rather will be discussed in relationship to the other infield positions .
The Foundation : Fielding & Throwing
The first few weeks of practice should include very basic drills that focus on fielding and throwing. Build infielders from the ground up and start by just focusing on the fielding. A good basic drill is to split up the team into two groups that will be positioned at the second base and shortstop positions. Rotate hitting balls to those positions as players rotate in and out. Make sure players are practicing good form and mechanics. A common mechanical flaw that may be seen early on is players not “getting down” on the ball. If this is the case, an even more basic drill can be used. Players can put their gloves away and hardballs can be replaced with a safety ball or tennis ball ( a smoother surface may be required for the tennis ball). Fielding balls bare handed will help develop the basic mechanics needed to properly field a ground ball because it will force players to use two hands which will help players to “get down” on the ball . After a few rounds of just fielding then add in the throwing. Position two or three players that have been identified as possible first basemen at the first base position. We can get into a bit later some first baseman specific skills that can be worked on during this drill. The infielders will now learn the proper techniques of making the throw from both short and second ( we will get to third base later as it might be a little easier to try and identify the middle infielders first). At this time, stress the importance of making the play before making the throw which was the significance of starting by just practicing the fielding first.
Once players appear to be grasping the basics, range can then be added to the practice drills. Hit balls to the left and right of players, “in the hole”, and also make them charge “slow rollers”. Allow players to make throwing attempts on very difficult plays and even plays that they would probably “eat the ball” during a game. Challenging players in practice will help develop a better player. During game, situation drills, when to throw and when not to throw can be discussed.
After four or five practices focusing on the basic skills, it will be time to select the seven or maybe eight players who will make up the infield unit. This is not to say that these players won’t play other positions as well but identifying who the main infielders will be to start the season is a good idea and having more than the six required(pitcher, catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop) is essential.
Selecting Players for Shortstop
It is not a rule but the shortstop on a Little League team is typically one of the best players on the team due to the difficulty level of the position. The shortstop should be a good decision maker, have good range, a good “glove”, and a strong arm. A shortstop should be an aggressive take charge type of player.
Selecting Players for Second Base
The second baseman should have a lot of the same qualities of the shortstop but may simply not have as strong an arm or maybe a little less range. Or maybe the second baseman is just the second best shortstop on the team which would be great!
Selecting Players for Third Base
The third baseman should have above everything else quick reflexes and must simply not be intimidated by probably one of the more intimidating positions at the Little League level.
Selecting Players for First Base
The first baseman should be a taller player for a bigger target but if a bit of height needs to be sacrificed to have a superior fielder then that is the way to go. Above all else the first baseman must be comfortable receiving throws and a lot of them!
Selecting Players for Catcher
The catcher is definitely a different “animal”. Probably the toughest, most intimidating position on a Little League team. The players who want to be catcher will have to tolerate wearing uncomfortable equipment in all types of weather conditions with heat being the most difficult. Honestly, the best way to select a catcher is to select the best possible candidate who doesn’t mind the equipment. If there is a player that really loves the equipment then feel extremely blessed!
Selecting Players for Pitcher
Successful pitchers at any level are those who have command of their pitches and have the ability to give the team the best chance to win. A Little League pitching staff should have at least 4-5 pitchers.
There is no denying that the infield is very difficult for young players. Unfortunately, young players can also start to have the attitude that playing the infield is more like having a job and that’s not what should be happening at the Little League level of play. After, physical errors like “booting” a ground ball, a coach should be giving words of encouragement like “Get’em next time”. Mental errors like throwing to the wrong base, of course are going to happen too and should also be addressed in a positive manner. To promote less mental mistakes, a coach could run a mental skills drill challenge at practice. For example, the player who makes the fewest mental errors in practice will get five extra pitches at batting practice. Find ways to reward different players each week for good decision making. Finding different ways to teach and have fun at the same time will be the key to having a successful, happy Little League team!