A coach’s first step is an analysis of the preparation, anticipation, reaction and action of each player in the chain. Specifically, were the players in the proper positions per the scouting report for the hitter, pitcher, pitch and game situation? Did the fielders expect the ball to be hit to them and, based on the type and location of the pitch and the hitter’s swing, did the fielders anticipate how and where it would be hit? Did the players execute their prep steps properly so their bodies and feet were in a good position to react to the ball? And finally, did the players move quickly and efficiently to get to the ball and the bag and did they use proper mechanics fielding, transferring, throwing and receiving it?
When analyzing body movement, a coach must be able to do a ground up analysis of a player’s posture, balance, footwork, angles (both in body and while moving) rhythm and timing without regard to the ball and glove. A coach must visually extract the ball and glove from his mind and see just the player’s biomechanics at work. The solutions to these issues may be ones of physiology and athleticism that need to be solved in the gym and not by sport skill drills. These remedies need to be reinforced by a disciplined adherence to pre-game movement prep and dynamic movement routines.
When addressing issues with player mechanics in fielding, transferring , throwing and receiving the ball, my experience is average coaches spend too much time teaching players how to play the game and not enough time how to properly execute the skills of the game. And when those coaches attempt to teach the skills of the game, they rely too often on auditory cues and do not use the proper scaffolding process for optimum development and results under game-like pressure.
Here is the process for teaching mechanics regardless of the sport:
- Stationary “Dry Mechanics”, e.g., no glove, bat or ball – simply working on posture, balance, footwork and angles (proper position of body parts, e.g., feet, legs, hands, etc.);
- “Dry Mechanics” with movement – e.g., no glove, bat or ball, but working on same things as #1 above with movement, from easy to game-like intensity;
- Stationary mechanics with an implement, e.g., glove, ball, and/or bat;
- Mechanics with an implement with easy, comfortable movement;
- Mechanics with an implement at game speed and intensity and randomization in both reaction and action;
- Mechanics with an implement at game speed, intensity and competition with significant outcome consequences – getting accustomed to handling pressure – learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
For example, when learning how to properly field a ground ball, the process is:
- Stationary “Dry Mechanics” – teach the player the correct body posture and hand/glove position when fielding a ground ball.
- “Dry Mechanics” with movement – teach the player how to move to get to the throwing side of the ball and to move to, field and go through the ball when fielding it. Cone/Disc Drills for visual cues are excellent here.
- Stationary mechanics with ball – same as the previous steps with the ball being rolled to the player and fielded with a bare hand or training glove (kinesthetic cue) while player is stationary.
· Mechanics with easy comfortable movement – same as previous steps with the ball being rolled to the player and fielded with a bare hand or a training glove.
- Mechanics with game speed and game intensity – same as previous steps except player is wearing a regular glove and ground balls are hit at game speed while base runners are running or player is being timed by a stop watch.
- Mechanics with game speed, intensity and competition with significant outcome consequences – skills are demonstrated in a game simulation drill or scrimmage with the correct process being rewarded with such things as an extra at bat when they are taking batting practice.
The same general, but separate process is used for teaching receiving, transferring and throwing a ball.
During the off season or during pre-season, coaches must be careful not to rush through this process. Time must be taken to master each phase before moving on to the next one. How long a coach stays at one phase depends on the skill level, experience, focus and discipline of the player being coached. During the season, skill development time is limited so coaches must have an acute sense which step to begin with for each player, but the remaining steps must be completed daily so the skills will have the best chance of being transferred to the game.
Most importantly, telling is not teaching; the process must be respected.