Let’s be honest. For a kid, the outfield isn’t exactly the most exciting position to play. You don’t get the ball very often, you’re far from the action, and there’s just…SO much grass to kick around.
So if you want your players to develop the skills and instincts necessary to be a solid defender, you have to get a little more creative than just swatting fly balls with a fungo bat. Here are a few drills that just might do the trick.
Outfield fundamentals start with the ability to correctly catch a fly ball. Zig Zag enforces proper technique by teaching players to move their hips when backing up to make a catch.
This drill starts with the player standing in ready position about 5 to 10 feet from an instructor holding a baseball. After the instructor points the ball left or right, the player will begin backing up in the correlating direction to make a catch. The instructor can go back and forth between multiple directions before finally tossing up a fly ball for the player. Those left-right changes will force the player to “zigzag” while backing up.
Cutoff Relay Race
It’s important for outfielders to get used to making quick throws after fielding the ball. The Cutoff Relay Race teaches this skill and adds a bit of competition to the mix.
To play the game, outfielders will be divided evenly into two or more teams. The players from each team should be spaced several feet apart from each other in a line. At the beginning of each line, a player will start with the ball. The goal is to quickly throw the ball to the next player in the line, who will then catch, turn and throw it to the next teammate. Whichever team gets through every player in their line first wins the race.
For added realism, start the ball on the warning track and have the first thrower run over and pick it up to start the race.
Knowing where to find the cutoff fielder is just as important as making a quick, accurate throw. By getting infield players and baserunners in on the action, the Team Cutoff drill teaches outfielders about various defensive situations.
The drill will require splitting the team into three groups of four players. Put three outfielders and a catcher into one group, infield positions into the next group and four baserunners into the final group. With a baserunner starting from home, the coach will hit a line drive or fly ball into the outfield. All players should treat each play like a real game scenario. The coach can intensify the drill by calling out the number of outs and a pretend game situation before hitting into the outfield. As more runners get on base, the cutoff strategy will change. Be sure to switch around the groups so that players can get practice at all the positions.
The Hat Game
Once outfielders get down the basics of the standard cutoff throw, they can start testing their long toss abilities. The Hat Game (or Longtoss Golf, if you prefer) offers a competitive way for players to develop the arm mechanics necessary to throw long distances.
Players will set up for the game by placing their hats on the field and walking straight back. Depending on how advanced the players are, they can stand 100 to 200 feet from their hats. The goal is to hit the hat with a long toss. Players get three points every time they hit their hats with a fly. One point is awarded for hitting the hat off of a bounce. The first player to 11 points wins.
Even professional players can have communication problems when a ball is hit into an outfield gap. The Gap Communication drill helps outfielders decide who should call for a fly out.
To start the drill, players should be divided into two lines in the outfield. The instructor will hit a fly ball between the two outfielders in the front of the line. Their task is to figure out who should make the catch and who should cover. After they make the out, they’ll go to the back of the line and the next two players will come up to participate in the drill. For each round, one teammate should be designated as the center fielder — the position that holds authority over who will make a catch.
Whether players need to get ready for a game or long day of practice, Pepper is a great warm up activity. This long-revered game helps fielders develop fast reflexes and excellent hand-eye coordination.
Pepper consists of three to six fielders who stand roughly 10 feet from a batter. A fielder will pitch the ball to the batter, who will then hit it back to one of the fielders. The process repeats until one of the fielders misses or bobbles the ball. At this point, the offending fielder switches places with the batter. Since the goal of Pepper is to keep the game moving quickly and not let the ball hit the ground, both the pitches and swings should be light. This will allow the fielders to get ball-handling practice while the batter learns some bat control.
Photo: Dennis Rex / CC 2.0