Coaches and supermarket managers have one thing in common — neither wants to see people waiting in long lines. Softball coach Chris Smith uses the Crossfire drill as his way of opening an express lane on the practice field.
“If you’re just hitting infield, you’ll have two people involved and seven others standing around,” he said. “This drill gets all the girls involved in practice at the same time.”
Smith, a 10U coach with Georgia Fire fast pitch, relies on the drill to hone his team’s infield play in a way that simulates game action with players in almost constant motion around the field.
“It’s simple, but it takes a lot of coordination and timing,” Smith said. “There was some confusion when we started, but our girls picked it up quickly. We walked it through once and the girls quickly found a rhythm. Now, when a new player shows up, we put them at the back of the line, they watch it through and run it flawlessly.”
The drill has 2-3 players stationed at each of the infield defensive spots along with two coaches at the plate to hit ground balls. To keep things moving, Smith asks a parent to fill a pair of ball buckets near the backstop.
The shortstop fields a roller in the dirt and fires a throw to first base, following her throw to continue the rotation at first. The player starting at first makes the catch, sends the ball to the bucket at home and cycles along to second base.
Second base then fields a roller and sends a throw to third base, simulating going after a lead runner. That player follows her throw to continue the rotation at third, while the player at third makes the catch, rolls the ball home and moves along to the shortstop position.
A diagram of the drill shows players cycling through each of the four positions in a Figure 8:
All of the movement on the field gives infielders practice at tracking grounders with runners crossing in front of them. It also has the double benefit of teaching runners to avoid getting hit in the base paths.
“Not only are you mimicking in-game experience, but you are fielding all of the spots on the field,” Smith said.
He encourages coaches to begin by rolling balls through the infield, gradually working in some hoppers, before going to live bats — a progression designed to build a player’s confidence.
The drill has become a regular part of his practice schedule, giving it a 5-7 minute window, which allows the girls to cycle through about four times.
“As far as fielding goes, I’d put our team up against anyone in our age group,” Smith said. “Our goal is to develop athletes that we can plug into different spots. We want to be a team that can move someone from first base to left field or even put them behind the plate.”
The constant motion helps develop that range of motion and athletic ability while also building the team’s fitness level.
“The cardio is definitely helpful,” Smith said. “The first time we did it everyone was out of breath at the end, but now we get through it no problem. When you get into the fifth or sixth game of a tournament that’s where fitness comes into play.”
Smith, 42, is a long-time youth coach who works as an IT professional out of Covington, Ga. — about 30 miles east of Atlanta.