Many youth coaches simply do not place a priority on developing a strong defensive outfield, nor do they dedicate significant practice time to working on the skills associated with the position. The lack of focus on outfield play at the youth level results in sub-standard defense at the high school level and beyond.
Instead of teaching the entire roster how to play the outfield, coaches choose to consistently put their best players in the infield and hide their less talented players in the outfield, hoping they do not see much action. What a disservice to your players!
As your infielders get older, you can be sure many will have to be moved to other positions, in particular the outfield. Set them up for future success by teaching all of the players how to play the outfield at a young age. This will greatly benefit those players who will have to transition to the outfield in the future.
Teaching outfield skills not only better prepares players for the demands of high school competition and beyond, but it also sends a message to the team that every player on the field is just as important as the shortstop and pitcher. In addition, by focusing on outfield play, you will see significant improvement with your last line of defense.
Keeping Outfielders Motivated
Because outfielders often see less action than infielders, especially at the youngest levels of youth baseball, it can be difficult for a player to stay mentally focused on the game. Youth league coaches have often accused their outfielders of not being in the game when their reactions appear slow to a ball in the gap or a fly ball hit right to them. While young outfielders are certainly prone to mentally drifting in and out of the game, it is the coach’s responsibility to keep the outfielders' bodies and minds actively focused in on the game.
While most coaches and players define action as being in the act of making a play with the ball, coaches need to convey that action for an outfielder also includes being in the right position to make a play. Being in the right position includes backing up an infielder, hustling after a foul ball, or simply being in an alert ready position as the pitch is delivered.
With this definition in mind, action for an outfielder can be achieved after each and every pitch, regardless of whether the outfielder touches the ball or not. Once the team buys into this definition, you will have outfielders who are alert, focused, and who have a thorough understanding of the importance of their role.
In order to keep outfielders motivated, coaches should do the following:
- Emphasize the importance of outfield play during your team meetings.
- Consistently give positive feedback during practices, games, and team meetings to your outfielders when they are in the right position.
- Thoroughly discuss the ramifications of not being in the right position. Outfielders need to understand the big picture.