Baseball Coaching Tips for the Outfield
When putting together a baseball team, a mistake that novice and veteran coaches need to avoid is minimizing the importance of the outfield. This appears to be a problem that has existed for many years. Most have seen movies like The Bad News Bears and The Sandlot in which novice players are placed in outfield positions like right field in an attempt to “hide” them. However, in these movies, the novice players end up coming up with big plays because they continue to practice and are given the opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately, I have personally seen outfielders not develop because of a number of reasons such as lack of attention and the coach not running the proper drills. I believe part of the reason that outfielders are sometimes not given the proper attention is because of the misconception that the infield is more important. Also, when a coach doesn’t have any assistants helping them run practice then this misconception can become magnified. With that said, let’s move onto how to properly develop outfielders on a baseball team.
#1 The Foundation: Fielding & Throwing
The first few weeks of practice should include very basic drills that focus on fielding and throwing. Depending on the skill level of the players, a very basic drill involving tennis balls and no gloves can be used to develop the proper technique of catching a fly ball. Not using a glove will force the player to properly use two hands to secure a fly ball and of course, the tennis balls are used for safety purposes. After teaching the very basic fundamentals of catching a fly ball (if that is found to be necessary) then move onto drills involving the proper equipment.
A great outfield drill is to set up a pitching machine to send the outfielders flyballs. The machine can be set so the ball goes right to the players and they can simply just focus on the fundamental skill of catching a fly ball. If a pitching machine is not available then a coach can throw a perfect fly ball like a machine would. After a couple of rounds of fly balls, add in a cutoff man to receive throws from the outfielders after they make the catch. Again, keep it simple by just instructing players to focus on a quick release and an accurate throw. After a while, ground balls, line drives, and one-hoppers can be added to the drill. An important concept to teach players during these early practice secessions is to focus first on making the play and then making the throw.
Once players appear to be grasping the basics, range can then be added to the practice drills. Make players range left and right as wells as running in and running back for fly balls. When running these drills, make sure to instruct players on proper technique. Communication between outfielders can also be taught when practicing range. Simply modify the drill to include two players at a time and send fly balls in between them that will have to be called for. After players appear to be doing well with just range, then add making throws after the catch by adding the cutoff man.
#3 Selecting Outfielders
After four or five practices focusing on the basic skills, it will be time to select the five or maybe six players who will make up the outfield unit. This is not to say that these players won’t play other positions as well but identifying who the main outfielders will be to start the season is a good idea and having more than three is essential.
#4 Selecting Players for Center Field
A center fielder should be smart, have good range, and have speed. I purposely listed speed last because speed isn’t everything. Having a player who understands the position and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes is a lot more important than certain physical attributes. I consider the center fielder to be the captain of the outfield and this player should be an aggressive, take charge type of player.
#5 Selecting Players for Left Field and Right Field
If possible, stronger arms should be placed in right field to defend against runners trying to stretch from first to third on a base hit. However, what players are placed in left and right field may be determined by the strengths of the players vs the strengths of the opposing teams. For example, if the more talented defensive player also has the best arm on the team but there is more action on the left side of the field then it would probably make more sense to place this player in left field.
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