Walk past a baseball practice session and you’ll undoubtedly hear coaches tell their infielder’s to not tap their glove between them fielding the ball and the throw. They’ll say it’s a wasted motion and it’s not needed. In reality, when done at the correct time, it’s not wasted motion and it can be needed. These taps are called Rhythm Taps and are used by infielders to sync up their throwing arm and their feet, or maintain synchronization. Rhythm taps are the defensive version of the toe tap up at the plate. Both serve as a timing mechanism for optimal performance.
Not every infielder uses rhythm taps and that’s OK. This is a natural movement and should be kept that way. Teaching natural movements like this can cause overthinking and create herky jerky movements, the exact type of movements that infielders don’t want to have. It’s best to let some natural movements happen, whether it’s a rhythm tap or not, as long as they don’t become a detriment to performance.
Rhythm Taps are often the scapegoat
Infielders can, however, get themselves into trouble using the rhythm taps. The most common fault while using the rhythm taps is performing them in the wrong situation. We’ve all seen it happen. The infielder fields the ball, performs their gather with 2 “shuffles” and a rhythm tap in between. They throw the ball and the runner is safe. The coaches then pull their hair out while screaming to not tap their glove before the throw, placing blame on the tap. If we look at the root of the problem, it’s not a tapping problem it’s an internal clock problem (you can read more about the internal clock here). The ball, the runner, and our skill set determine how much time we have to make a play. Understanding our timing and how we can integrate different foot patterns and rhythm taps into our timing is the teachable moment more times than not. The teachable moment should not be focused on teaching the rhythm taps out of the player.
Rhythm Tap Breakdown
Rhythm taps are used in the gather phase of the fielding process typically on groundballs that are routine. On the routine groundball there tend to be two foot patterns that are used most often. There is the 2 step pattern (GIF A) and the 4 step pattern (GIF B). When rhythm taps are performed correctly, they’re used on balls that allow the 4 step pattern to be used. The rhythm tap in the 4 step pattern can be looked at as the ending of the 2 step pattern and the beginning of the 4 step pattern. Pulling the ball out the glove at the end of the first “shuffle” simulates the arm action starting if the fielder used a 2 step pattern. The tap allows the feet to replace to the target and initiate the arm action on the second “shuffle” of the 4 step pattern. The tap is like the reset button. The fielder had the timing and rhythm needed for a 2 step pattern but used the tap to maintain their foot and arm rhythm into the 4 step pattern.
Coaches, allow the natural rhythm taps of your infielders to be natural. Don’t coach them out of, or into, your infielders. Doing either one will take away from your infielder’s natural rhythm and timing. Remember the teachable moments should be geared toward the internal clock awareness and not the rhythm taps themselves. Infielders, develop your internal clock and awareness that allows your rhythm taps to be performed correctly. If rhythm taps don’t come natural not try to make them your natural move.