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Softball Fielding Tips - Developing a Middle Infielder

By Dot Richardson

This article will address the defensive fundamentals for the middle infielders in the sport of Fastpitch softball. It does not matter what level an athlete reaches, she must concentrate on proper execution of these basic skills. The athlete who continually works on improving defensive fundamentals is the one who can build on her performance to reach new levels of success.

Middle infielders need quickness and soft handsBefore discussing the physical aspects, it is appropriate to first establish the mental attitude. Every great ballplayer possesses the confidence in herself to keep reaching for a level of performance never achieved. As an infielder, this attitude is to get front of every ground ball and to move quickly. These concepts should be a permanent part of your thought process whether it be during practice or a game. If your mind is prepared to play, then your body will simply react. It is then that physical skills can be performed at their optimal level.

The essential equipment for defense naturally are your glove and cleats. As my first coach always said, “be good to your glove and it will be good to you!” One’s glove should be shorter in length than outfielder’s because as you will see later the ground ball is mostly fielded in the palm area of the glove and not in the webbing. It should also fit your hand snugly. If you have small hands or simply would like better control of the glove, place the fourth and fifth fingers in the last finger slot. The suggestion for cleats is to wear a pair that fit comfortably, and even more importantly, the pair you run fastest in!

An important phase of fielding is the “ready position.” Actually, it is probably the most important fundamental to establish in your game. The ready position is the time when you are mentally prepared for any situation that can arise and physically set to react both efficiently and effectively. When we first begin playing the sport, we hear a familiar voice coming from the dugout, “Every one get in the ready position; gloves on the ground.” I want to emphasize as middle infielders NOT to put your glove on the ground. The ready position should be one that allows you the freedom of quick and efficient movements.

This is accomplished by being positioned at the level in which you run. If you have to lift your glove off the ground then that will be your first movement instead of one towards the ball. As a rule, the closer your playing position is to home plate the closer your glove is to the ground. In the ready position keep your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, knees comfortably bent, and slightly off the heels. It is extremely important that you play the sport on the balls of your feet. This will improve your range and performance tremendously. The arms should hand comfortably with the elbows slightly bent.


 

You are now “ready” to explode toward the hit ball. Your first movement from the ready position is the most important. There is a significant difference in this reaction time between the average and above average infielder. Once the ball is hit, sprint at an angle that would put you in front of it with enough time to get yourself in proper fielding position. It is important to pump both of your arms when sprinting for the ball. There are many players that do not do this while running for a ball and it limits their range.

When you are in front of the ground ball, line the ball up a little to the left of the middle of your body. This is because the glove is on your left hand (vice versa for left-handers). The proper technique for receiving the ball is to first position yourself on the balls of your feet, placing them wider than they were in the starting position. The width is determined by the location of the ball.

The more the ball hugs the ground the wider your feet have to be and the closer your glove is to the ground. Once the feet are positioned, bend at the knees and then reach both of your arms out towards the ground ball. This reaching should lift your bottom up a little and result in the glove positioned past an imaginary line that exists between your forehand and the ground straight down from it. This may sound confusing but it is a very important concept to grasp. If a ground ball that hugs the ground is rolled to an infielder, the glove should be positioned way out in front of the athlete such that the arms are almost completely extended. The forehead should be seen with the glove properly located out in front of the athlete.

This concept of fielding a ball with the glove placed out in front is an extremely important feature for fielding success. It features the advantage of not having to move the head, therefore, the eyes can accurately focus on the ball. Also the glove is positioned far enough in front of the body so the player has enough time to react to an unexpected bad bounce or miscalculation. Believe me, it will make a difference. It creates an ease in defense that adds to your ability to reach new levels of success. When fielding the ball, the glove should be positioned with the palm facing forward. This gives you the advantage of having the glove open for easy reception of the ball. If the glove was removed at this point, both arms and hands would be identically positioned to go on top of the ball immediately after it has entered the glove. As a reminder: when the ball is flat on the ground, your glove must contact the ground!

Most fielding problems arise with the timing involved in getting into the proper position. A player may get into position too soon and as a result will be letting the ball play her instead of her playing the ball.

More commonly, the player positions herself too late and as a result receives the ball between her feet.

A good way to work on timing is to have ground balls rolled straight to you. Notice how you field the ball. Once the ball enters the glove and the throwing hand goes on top of it, stop and analyze your technique. Notice whether or not you are on the balls of your feet, with the knees bent, and feet positioned wide enough to allow the glove to reach out level with the ball.

Your bottom should lift slightly due to the extension of both arms out in front of you.

Do not squat when fielding a ground ball!

At the point of reception, the ball enters the palm of the glove and as soon as it does, the throwing hand goes on top of the ball! This is crucial for developing consistent defensive performance.

Notice the palm of the glove was mentioned not the web. Oftentimes, the ball is lost in the webbing of an infielder’s glove. There is difficulty in finding the ball which results in poor execution of the play.

Remember to get that throwing hand over top of the ball once it enters the glove! If your glove is positioned properly, the ball will enter the palm of the glove naturally.

Once your throwing hand is on top of the ball, pull the glove with the ball and the throwing hand on top of it to a position just below your chest referred to as the “cradle position”. As this is being done, move your back throwing foot (right foot for right-handers) to where the glove was on the ground when you fielded the ball. If you field a ball that is off the ground, step with the back throwing foot to the ground immediately below where the ball was fielded. When placing this foot, land on the ball of the foot with the arch directed toward the receiving target. Pointing the arch toward the target will result in a sideways rotation of the body. When you bring the other leg through, this sideways rotation is completed.

In setting up for your throw, before your front throwing foot (left foot for right-handers) touches the ground take the ball out of the glove.

Notice the angle that your right bicep and right forearm make with each other once you removed the ball from the glove. This angle is approximately 45 -60 during the entire throw.  

When your front throwing foot makes contact with the ground: 1) you should be completely sideways to the target, 2) on the balls of both feet, and 3) the angle at the throwing elbow is the same as that developed from removing the ball from the cradle position, while the front elbow shows some extension. The sideways positioning is very important for generation of maximum velocity of the throw. If you find that in the sideways position your front foot points at the target, your hips have opened too early.

Opening your hips too soon will eliminate some of the power you can generate. The hips should both be completely sideways to the target when the front foot contacts the ground.

This concept not only applies to throwing but also to the rotation involved in hitting. When maintaining the sideways position, it is imperative that you land on the ball of the front foot to allow the necessary rotation on that foot during the throw. The result of all of this will aide in the development of a good, strong and quick throw.

The basic fundamentals are necessary for every type of defensive positioning. The forehand and backhand are considered “emergency” plays. Remember the goal of every good infielder is to get in front of every single ball that is hit. The forehand play is initiated from the ready position. One sprints at the appropriate angle toward the ball with the intent to get in front of it. When this cannot be accomplished, the glove leg extends out.

Next, the glove arm extends toward the path of the ball with the glove leg bending to bring the glove to the appropriate level.

Once the ball is in the glove, continue with your momentum for another stride in order to best position your back throwing foot for the throw. You want to try and get your body sideways to the target as much as possible. At the same time, bring the glove and ball up to meet the throwing hand. Then bring both to the cradle position. The cradle position is very important because it allows the infielder to get under control. Once sideways to the target, you are ready to complete the play.

The backhand is similar to the forehand play. Start in the ready position. Sprint towards the ground ball with the intent to get in front of it. When it is apparent you cannot properly position yourself, extend your glove leg while moving your glove arm to the ball’s path. When reaching with the glove for the ball, bend the glove leg enough to allow the glove to get to the appropriate level for reception. Once the ball is in the glove, quickly bring the glove up to meet the throwing hand.

Next, bring both up to the cradle position. When the ball is in the glove, make one more step onto your back throwing leg. You want to position it on the ground so that the arch is facing the target. When you do this, it is extremely important to stay at the level you were at when you fielded the ball. If this is executed properly, you will be able to shift your momentum onto the back throwing foot and then transfer all of it onto the front foot during the throw.

On the overhand, if you field the backhand and pull the ball back to you or take one more step onto the back throwing foot but stand straight up, all of your power will dissipate and the result will be a weaker throw.
 
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