Making a play in the outfield is about more than just catching the ball. Outfielders need to be able to cover large spaces, move properly into position and communicate with each other — all before making the catch and throw.
John Chilman, coach of the Faith Lutheran Crusader High School softball team in Las Vegas, has his outfielders work on a variety of drills to improve communication, footwork and movement in the outfield.
“I’m more concerned with their footwork and getting to balls they have no business getting to,” Chilman said. “That’s what we’re about.”
The drills help players practice moving to the ball, making catches on the run and working against the outfield fence. Most of them don’t include a lot of throwing by the outfielders.
“One thing I think coaches make a mistake in doing outfielder drills is they’re always having girls throw home or throw to the cut,” Chilman said. “You don’t need to be killing your outfielders’ arms to teach them how to catch.”
DRILL 1: M&M Drill
To practice making catches on the run, dropping the butt and rotating the hips when turning while running, and locating a pop fly over the shoulder while running.
Six coaches (or players) are positioned along the base path to throw to or catch from the outfielder. One outfielder starts at the left-field line and makes a series of runs — out and back — across the outfield to make two giant Ms.
The outfielder begins by running deeper in the outfield to make an over-the-shoulder catch thrown by the first coach. She throws to a coach positioned near shortstop and charges toward that area to field a grounder. She flips the grounder back to that coach before racing back to deep center field for another over-the-shoulder catch from the third coach. She runs that ball in before repeating the action on the second M.
DRILL 2: In Between
To emphasize communication between two outfielders while also working on positioning and backing up the catch.
Outfielders line up single file in left, center and right fields. A coach uses a pitching machine to shoot pop flies or grounders to the space in between to two players (left and center or right and center). Both players advance on the ball and then communicate who is going to make the catch.
“We want to see who’s going to talk, who’s going to call off and who’s going to get to it,” Chilman said. “For most teams, the center fielder always has the right to call anybody off. It gets (the players) thinking and talking.”
DRILL 3: The Chair Drill
To make an accurate throw after catching in the outfield.
One outfielder sits in a chair positioned on one of the foul lines. The other outfielders are in center field catching balls hit from a coach. The outfielders must make an accurate throw to their teammate in the chair. If she can catch it without leaving the seat, she switches positions with the thrower. If the ball misses its mark, the thrower remains in the outfield for another round.
DRILL 4: Celebrate The Fence
To know how much room you have on the warning track and prevent fly balls from dropping on the warning track by not being afraid of the fence.
First have an outfielder sprint from the edge of the grass to the fence and count how many steps she has on the warning track.
“I tell them we’re not asking you to make a ‘Torii Hunter jumping over the fence and bring back a home run’ catch,” Chilman said. “What I want them to do is realize they’re hardly ever going to touch the fence (during a play).”
Next, a coach positioned at the edge of the grass tosses balls into the middle of the warning track. The outfielder goes full speed to catch the ball and then stop. She should be able to stop before running into the fence.
NOTE: Teach players to lean into the fence with their shoulder rather than hands to avoid wrist injuries. … Have a second player communicating how close the outfielder is getting to the wall by yelling “Got room” or “Fence.”
DRILL 5: Hall Of Fame
To practice making catches at the fence line.
Set up similar to “Celebrate The Fence” drill. A coach soft tosses balls right at the fence, allowing outfielders to catch the ball along the fence, in the air or rob “home runs.” The players cover a short distance to avoid getting hurt approaching the fence.
“The girls all like to cheer and whoop and go crazy when they steal a home run,” Chilman said. “It only happens (in a game) once or twice a season, so we don’t spend a lot of time on it.”