Outfield can be a difficult position for kids to play well for a number of reasons but if you can get your kids to accomplish the next 3 items, you’ll see your outfielders play improve throughout the season.
“Expect the ball to be hit to me on every pitch”. This basically means that they need to be ready and expect the ball. Easier said than done! Often kids who play in the outfield get bored because they may not get many balls hit to them, especially if there is a good pitcher on the mound. So how do you keep them in the game and ready?
Help them develop a pre-pitch routine that involves movement. As the pitcher starts his motion, they should be moving and getting into a position where they are ready to move as the ball crosses the plate.
Communication. Get your outfielders talking to each other. They should be saying how many outs, what’s the count. Where to throw the ball on a base hit. Where to throw it on a fly ball.
Empower them and expect them to adjust where they play based on the hitter. How many times does a big hitter step up to the plate and the coaches are yelling to the outfield to get back or a bottom of the order hitter comes up and you move them in. Try your best to get them to make those adjustments. If you expect them to adjust based on the pitcher, where the opposing team is in the lineup, what the batter did last time up, then your are forcing them to focus and think. It keeps them in the game and gets them thinking about where the ball would most likely be hit by each batter.
Get Behind the Ball! This is true on fly balls as well as ground balls hit into the outfield. Keeping the ball in front of you is an important part of playing outfield effectively. On a fly ball hit directly to a player work with them on trying to catch it moving forward. This will not only help them in not having a fly ball drop behind them, it also helps them setup to make a good throw back to the infield. On a ball hit to the side try to get your players to circle the ball rather than taking a direct path. This will help prevent balls from making it to the fence because the outfielder misjudged the speed of the ball and took the wrong angle.
Backup Everything – Not only will this save your team from giving up extra bases on overthrows, it will be another thing to keep your outfielders moving and in the game. Almost every play in a game where the ball doesn’t go to the outfield, can be backed up by the outfield. Ground ball to third, left fielder is backing up third in case the ball gets by him, right fielder should backup the throw to first, center fielder can move toward second in case there is an error and the runner tries to advance to second. If you want this to work you really need to set the expectation and then give a lot of praise for the kids that hustle and meet that expectation.
Playing outfield can be difficult for kids and difficult for a coach to keep kids involved. Hopefully you can use these tips and try to motivate your outfielders to be active and engaged throughout the game.