Objective: To get players to go all out to get to the ball and overcome their fear of the ball, fear of dropping the ball and let them realize that they can cover a lot more ground that they think they can when going for a ball.
Equipment needed: Pitching machine, balls, cones
Preparation: Set the pitching machine up so that ball will shoot into the sky and identify the place where the ball typically lands. Assume that the landing location is the crossing point in the letter X and then set 1 cone up about 10 feet from the landing location in each direction. Then set up 2-3 additional cones going back in each direction about 10 feet from the previous ones. The location and placement of cones can reinforce whatever you are working on and doesn’t necessarily need to be an X the concept is that you want them to work on approaching the ball forward to glove side and throwing side, and go for balls that are behind them to their glove side and throwing side. You choose and vary the angle of the approach as appropriate for your players.
Basic Drill: Girls line up at the first cone in one of the lines. The first girl in the line gets in her ready position and you feed the ball into the machine and goes for the ball once it comes out of the machine. At whatever point is appropriate you move the players to the second cone, and then the third cone etc. At some point they leave that line and begin at the first cone for a different approach angle. There are several levels of progressions that you can utilize depending on the level of the players you are working with and can adjust the distance of the cones appropriately based on your objective and the player’s abilities but the basic drill is always the same.
Purpose: Can be used for basic catching, backhand catches, going back for the ball, approaching the ball and being ready and then using momentum to come forward at the last minute, diving for the ball or going to the fence the purpose of using the pitching machine is to take away the randomness of where fungos are hit so that girls can develop confidence and focus on the skill you are teaching and maximize practice time.
Progression 1: Overcoming fear of the ball. You can feed whatever type of ball is appropriate to help players gain confidence in catching fly balls safely. Their objective is to simply run to the ball and make the catch.
Progression 2: Once players are comfortable catching fly balls and aren’t afraid of being injured, the next fear they must be overcome is one of dropping the ball. They think it’s better to jog to the ball and say it was to far, than it is to get to the ball and at least get their glove on it. You can utilize the same drill with a point system that yields 0 points for not touching the ball, 5 points for at least getting their glove on it, 6 points for making the catch. The goal would be to see who can be first to some pre-defined number of points. You aren’t encouraging players to drop the ball, you are simply help them learn that it’s better to at least make the effort and the world isn’t going to end if they do give 100% and drop the ball and that’s its much worse to not even try.
Progression 3: Many players have a pre-defined notion in their head of how far they can run for the ball and still make the catch. You can encourage them to overcome those thoughts by adding more points for each cone and setting the cones further and further apart. The can collect the 5/6 points in Progression 2, or she can start at cone 2 for double the points, or cone 3 for triple the points etc.
Advanced progression 1: Adjust the speed/angle of the pitching machine so that it will travel higher into the air and allow you set the cones up further from it forcing the players to cover much greater distances and make adjustments due to the wind that may affect the ball.
Advanced progression 2: Adjust the angle of the cones when the players have to go for balls that are over their heads. This will force them to have to pivot/swivel and make adjustments as they are running.
Communication alternative 1: You can utilize the same basic concept but have 2 girls starting at different locations and they have to call the ball.
Communication alternative 2: You can utilize the same basic concept to enforce communication between infielders and outfielders,
Communication alternative 3: You can utilize the same basic concept to enforce communication for fence drills.
Competitive alternative 1: Split girls into teams and accumulate points.
Competitive alternative 2: Infield versus outfield to reinforce communication and build chemistry for those groups. You can set the cones up as needed to force either group to have to work harder and challenge each other to dig deeper and step up more and not let the other team make a catch “on their dirt” or “in their grass”.