Except for your pitcher and catcher, your middle infield has the most influential impact on the outcome of your games. Could yours stand to get better? If so, then you’ll want to check out how.
Make sure you know how to improve your middle infield so you can immediately improve your team.
Beyond simply fielding groundballs, your shortstop and secondbase are involved in tons of plays that directly impact the outcome of your games, and yet too often, we don’t help these players improve these seldom-used but highly impactful skills. Sure, we hit them tons of groundballs, and maybe ask them to turn a few double plays, but beyond that, what more can you do? You either have great middle infielders, or you don’t. Right?!
Not even close. Just like every other position on your softball team your middle infielders can tremendously improve with some very specific work. We’ve seem some incredible middle infield play in this year’s college softball playoffs. From diving stops to glove flips to double plays, the middle infielders have been brilliant!
Here’s a quick look at how you can strengthen your middle infielders and in the process, strengthen your team:
- Get to the Base Early & Balanced – Between the shortstop and secondbase they’ll cover all three bases (except home) on both force and tag plays. That’s a lot of ground to cover and they’ve got to cover it fast! The key for your middle infielders is to get to the base early and get balanced so they can receive the ball. If you look at the Early & Balanced picture to the right, you can see University of Washington’s secondbase player, Sis Bates getting into position early, and on the back side of the base, expecting her shortstop, Ali Aguilar to not only stop the ball from going up the middle, but toss it to her covering 2nd. Because Bates got there early it allows her to stop moving forward and get balanced, with her knees bent, which then allows her to be able to react in any direction if the toss from Aguilar is off the mark (which it was not). “Beat the ball to the base” is another way to help your middle infielders get to the base early and balanced, so they can not only make 1 out, but be heads up in case there’s a follow up play.
- Take the Right Angle – Angles are the hidden key to every great infield play. The faster the ball is hit the more back, or away from homeplate the player’s approach angle needs to be. While the slower the ball is hit, the more toward homeplate the angle needs to be.
If you look at the Angle picture to the right, the yellow circle shows where the ball is – just passed the pitcher’s circle – and because the ball is hit hard, the shortstop must take an angle away from homeplate, or out toward centerfield, in order to have a prayer of being able to get to the ball (which she does, brilliantly). In order to take the correct angle to the ball, the middle infielder must immediately notice how fast the ball has been hit, and what direction it’s going. This happens almost immediately off the bat, so schedule in practice time for your middle infielders to get angle-predicting practice as well as angle-taking practice.
- Toss with Your Glove – Because players are so much faster now, fielders don’t always have time to field a ball and then throw it conventionally, with their throwing hand.
Sometimes either the angle to field the ball (in the case of great play of Ali Aguilar from Washington that I’ve been talking about), or the combined fast speed of the runner and slow speed of the ball, will require the player to actually toss the ball with their glove. This happens with your middle infielders, as well as your pitchers and corners for plays at homeplate as well as 1st and 2nd. The key to this play is to keep the glove hand spread open wide and to push the ball with your palm, instead of closing the glove first, and then trying to open and toss it.
- Make 2 the New 1 – And finally, the middle infielders that can turn double plays as routinely as they make outs at 1st will not only get out of innings quicker, but will keep runners from getting into scoring position. Once you teach your middle infielders to get into position early and balanced, turning a double play becomes much easier.
If you need a refresher course on double play footwork for both the shortstop as well as the secondbase player, I go into detail about it in our eSkill 032: Fielding – Level 4.
While it’s easy to watch the incredible athletes competing in this year’s Women’s College World Series and think there’s no way your players could do those things, when you actually break down the skills, their parts are very doable, and very teachable. Great middle infield play looks incredible, is momentum stopping, and most importantly, is teachable!
For more help teaching your middle infielders, check out the following: