Charge the ball!
We hear it all the time from youth baseball coaches, but what does this really mean for a professional player?
After 6 years of helping youth leagues around the Tampa, FL area with a training and development program, this is one aspect of the game that is consistently taught completely wrong. First, we have to understand that we are talking about a routine ground ball that is hit straight at the infielder. I see coaches teaching players to full out sprint STRAIGHT toward the baseball, followed by a “slam on the breaks” to try and catch it. In professional baseball, we call this colliding with the baseball.
There are several reasons why this is wrong, but we will just go over a couple of main points and explain them.
1. You will make more errors doing this.
You never want to go straight to the ball that is hit to you, instead you want to offset the ball to the side you are going to throw it to. The majority of throws are to the left of your body, so typically you offset each ball slightly to the left. This puts us in the proper fielding position and helps set us up for the throw. Another important aspect is that it helps us to pick hops. Offsetting slightly to the side allows us as infielders to see the hops better, making us better decision makers. This is a very important mechanic, and is something professionals practice ever single day. View the video below to get a better understanding of the proper footwork to a straight up ground ball, and what charging the ground ball really means for a professional.
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2. It is faster not to “collide” into the baseball.
The player might catch the ball closer to home, but other than that, the process is slower. A player colliding with the ground ball then has to slam on their breaks, stop their momentum, catch the ball, and then change their momentum to the base they are throwing to. This takes more time and causes more errors. Instead, you will hear the term “playing through the ground ball.” This means we slightly get to the side of the ball so that we have a continuous motion from catch, shuffle, to throw. A player cannot achieve this if they do not offset the ground ball.
In professional baseball there is a popular saying that helps to depict what you should do when fielding the ground ball.
The initial move to the routine straight up ground ball is a quick positive move forward (Like youth coaches say: “Charge”). During this time we set up our body for the throw by offsetting it to the proper side. When the ball gets roughly 15 feet away, we start to slow our body down. This is the most important part, and is what a majority of youth players do wrong. Our feet help us slow down by making short and choppy movements, getting our body under control. For a right-handed thrower we would typically right-left field, and for a left-handed thrower we would typically left-right field. If you are unsure what this means- watch this video. After fielding the ground ball with constant motion, we speed up our feet again to make a throw.
So, how do you teach that?
It is difficult to teach a young individual how to “right-left field” just by telling them to do it. This drill is great because it makes them use proper footwork with the simple use of a barrier. Once you feel confident that your players can do the first drill properly, you can move to our more advanced drill that will help them understand what proper “short and choppy” feet feel like. This advanced drill also helps players to keep their feet and momentum continuously going from catch to throw.
The vast majority of plays require infielders to make a positive move to the ball. By teaching it the right way it will give players more success in generating more outs. After all, it is always fun being a good infielder.