When evaluating and breaking down fielding a ground ball, I refer to the Fielding Process. The Fielding Process is a group of sequential phases the body performs to field the ball and make a throw. Image A gives an inside look at the 5 sequential phases I call the Fielding Process. Before I breakdown the details of each phase, I want to give a little PSA. These phases are a way to break down fielding a ground ball for either evaluation or teaching purposes to drive skill acquisition. The Fielding Process is NOT meant to be a cue for corrective feedback. Coaches, use each phase as a way to teach the correct form and break each one down in a segmented way. Throwing each phase at your infielders will undoubtedly lead to information overload! Now, for the phase breakdown.
I also refer to the Prep Phase as a prep step. It includes the movements we use before the ball is even put into play that provide us with the best ability to react to a hit ball. There are many ways to perform your prep step that will depend on your personal preference. The bottom line is that we must land in an athletic position on the balls of the feet with the knees slightly bent, chest over knees, elbows bent to 90 degrees with thumbs up (palms facing each other). Most importantly, this landing in the athletic position must be done ON TIME. Being on time means to land at contact of the ball and bat.
The Approach Phase begins directly after the Prep Phase and consists of our route to the ball. Obviously, there are different routes that we can take. The specific route taken depends on the ball (speed and direction), anticipated hop taken, our individual skill set, and the runner’s speed. During the Approach Phase, we must take quick, efficient steps that will get us to the ball as quickly as possible, but also place us in a position to create momentum toward our target to benefit the throw. The momentum generation isn’t always possible on balls that cause us to range (move a greater distance) to either side but the best infielders will generate momentum on most plays.
The Field Phase is the act of securing the ball in the glove. During the Field Phase, we must take efficient, but slower, steps while maintaining the momentum that we created during the Approach Phase. To maintain momentum through the Field Phase, we must field the ball with a right, left, field tempo or foot pattern (for right handed infielders). The right foot plants while the left foot touches down with the toes up. As the ball enters the glove, the toes of the left foot should rock down to the ground; this is called the Rocker Step. The Field Phase will depend on the approach taken to the ball, which will put the body in different positions to secure the baseball. In most cases, the Rocker Step can be performed as long as the fielder has generated some kind of momentum toward their target.
The Gather Phase begins after the ball enters the glove during the Field Phase. During the Gather Phase, the body organizes itself to make a throw to the target. Here, we take the momentum that was established during the Approach and maintained during the Field, and build on that to benefit the throw. There are different ways to gather the body depending on the type of ground ball, but each gather ends with the ball being brought to center of the body, rib cage high, where the body is the strongest and most athletic. From there, the throw will be initiated.
Throw THEN Follow
The Throw THEN Follow Phase is the culmination of all the work the body has down in the previous phases. If one of the previous phases is off-kilter, then it will be seen in the effectiveness of the throw. During this phase, we will throw the ball to the target and then follow our throw with at least 2 steps in that direction to ensure that momentum is flowing in the intended direction. The “THEN” is important. By separating the throw and the follow we encourage proper throwing mechanics for our strongest and most accurate throw without being worried about following the throw too soon.
The Fielding Process is a segmented way for coaches and players to evaluate fielding a ground ball. It is not intended to be movement cues for us to think about in real time when fielding. Take each phase, isolate and exaggerate the movements in progressive ways to improve efficiency. When mastered, the flow of an efficient infielder is like art in motion!