Once a youth softball or baseball coach is done teaching all of the basic fielding skills, those skills need to be reinforced through repetition.
E.J. Weston has found success on the state and world level coaching teenage softball players with the help of an infield drill he picked up from University of Arizona coach and former U.S. Olympic coach Mike Candrea.
Weston has won five straight Lackawanna League division titles and coached Valley View High School to the Pennsylvania state tournament six times in his 12 seasons, including a 2013 state championship, a 2012 finals appearance and a 2011 trip to the semifinals. In 2009 and 2013, he took Carbino Club from Jessup, Pa. to the Big League Softball World Series and also coaches the NEPA Hurricanes travel team in northeastern Pennsylvania.
A groundball infield drill, which Candrea has used as one to reinforce basics to get his college and national teams started at practice, works well for youngsters once they have progressed in their season, Weston said.
“I’ve modified it so I can use it the way I want my kids to use it,” Weston said. “Once a coach has taught his players all the different ways of fielding and focusing on using good mechanics and fundamentals, this drill is a way to work on each of those.”
Purpose: Getting each of the infielders to have quick repetitions in handling each type of groundball they might encounter during a game.
Setting Up: Outdoors, players can line up in the infield, such as a deep shortstop. A coach sits in front of them, facing the line with two or more buckets of balls. Another coach is at an angle in the direction of first base but can be closer to the players, such as halfway between first and second base, to speed up the process.
Indoors, the players can form a line in the gym, and the second coach can take the similar angle.
Process: Each player fields one groundball from the first coach, throws to the second coach and circles to the back of the line (moving around to the right unless the play has taken to the left side).
“Everyone is moving and the coach is getting as many players involved as he or she wants to,” Weston said.
Variety: Weston starts with simple rollers right at the fielders.
As players repeat the rotation through the line, he gives them grounders to the left and right, then farther to the right to force a backhand play. He sets players up for the rake-through technique, where they have to come in and to the right on a grounder and pivot toward the target with their glove hand leading the move in that direction.
“It’s about focusing on fielding mechanics and all the different ways a coach wants players to field the ball, and doing it in a way that has the kids continually moving,” Weston said. “They’re not just standing there waiting to have a ball hit to them.”
Without stopping the process, Weston likes to shout out feedback and reinforcement, assessing their performance within the drill, as players complete their turn and move to the back of the line.
Example: Candrea can be seen demonstrating and talking through the drill in a YouTube video from USA/ASA Softball.
Expert Tip: Both Candrea and Weston said the length of the throw being made is not as important as properly executing the footwork to transition from fielding the ball to throwing.
“Even if you shorten up the throw,” Candrea says on the video, “at least they still have to get into position to be able to execute the throw and make the throw.”