Thanks to Mike for sending in this drill for [tag]coaching baseball[/tag].   If you’ve ever struggled with teaching your younger players how to properly catch fly balls, give the [tag]baseball drill[/tag] below a try!

Tennis ball drill – teaching young players to use their feet properly to catch fly balls.   Here’s a drill to help younger players learn to get in the right position to catch fly balls.

The problem
Quite often I see young players have difficulty getting into good position to catch fly balls.   It’s usually caused by a combination of two or three things.   [tag]Fear of the baseball[/tag], and lack of experience in reading the flight of the ball, and a tendency to wait till the last moment to lean or stab at the ball, off to one side or the other.   What we want is to teach them the importance of using their feet to get them into good receiving position.

The drill
Using tennis balls the [tag]baseball coach[/tag] hits or throws the tennis balls, first medium height, then higher and higher (a tennis racket really works well when you want to hit them high).   At first, instead of having the kids catch the ball, we have them position themselves so the ball lands at their feet, ideally about a foot in front of the lead foot.   If they want to make it a little harder, they can even try to have the ball land on their foot.       This forces them to get around behind the ball, then come in on it, like an outfielder has to when he needs to come up with a hard throw to the infield.   It forces them to get centered to the ball.   After they get good at getting centered, they start to catch the ball instead of letting it fall at their feet.

The result
Using tennis balls accomplishes a number of things.   It takes away the fear factor since they are soft.   And since they are somewhat harder to catch and tend to pop out of a baseball glove, it forces kids to use soft hands and really focus on the catch.   Also, the wind tends to affect the flight of a tennis ball even more than a [tag]baseball[/tag], so it teaches the kids to catch a curving, slicing ball.   After doing this with tennis balls, a baseball actually seems much easier to catch.

Most importantly, the drill forces the kids to use their feet to get into correct position to catch the ball.   With most fly balls, they tend to focus on just getting their glove to the ball.   They really need to get in the habit of getting their feet in the right position to catch a ball. Although this just comes naturally to some kids, for most kids it does not.   So after they first learn how to get a ball to land at their feet (while they face the plate) it then becomes much easier to teach them the importance of good positioning, getting around behind the ball, and then using a little forward momentum to come in to the ball, catch it and make a good solid throw.

This drill actually works very well with older players also, because many of them are in the bad habit of being satisfied with just getting to the ball, and not getting there early.   When they are in the habit of just barely getting to the ball, their momentum is often carrying them the wrong way and they can’t come up quickly with a good hard throw to the infield.