Have you ever felt at one with something that you are really good at? Like a guitarist is at one with their guitar, while strumming related chords into an unpredictable solo before returning to the melody of a song. “It's like riding a bike” is a phrase we use to explain the everyday habits requiring skill that is overlooked because we've mastered it and have moved onto the next challenge. The same sense of mastery takes place on a softball field when a player has become at one with their glove. Many of our previous articles have been an effort to explain on paper how to play Game Speed Defense, however like any habit, constant repetition is a key component. You can attend instructional clinics and learn from coaches along the way, yet if you want to increase your fielding percentage, your determination to hone your own skill is upon you. During practice and the constant repetition of good movement, you will become more natural with how to field ground balls on the short or long hop. You will know how to make better decisions on when to leave your feet or when to run through to throw on the run. Before you know it, the way you field routine ground balls becomes less of a step by step process between fielding and throwing, but a synchronous rhythm in which you feel like you are gliding across the field.
After you have learned the correct movements of fielding forehands, backhands, shallow and deep fly balls, and throws on the run, it is important to repeat these movements under the time it will take to throw a runner out in a game. Basically, whenever you have is no set number of how many reps are needed, just go until you feel good about it or when you feel you would be ready to field anything hit at you in a game. The idea is to have intention each time you step onto a softball field for practice. There is no point to practice just to practice, be sure to get better each time you go out.
Make it a game and tell yourself that you are going to successfully field and throw out the shadow runner for 90% of the balls in the bucket. Once you achieve your goal, keeping raising the bar to field more successfully. Hold yourself to a high personal standard at practice. The second you miss a ground ball is the perfect time to self-assess what you learned from the misplay. Whether it's charging the ball more aggressively or staying low, make that correction for the very next play. This is just one simple example of how you can practice with intention. You can get it done quickly if you work hard and bring your focus.
The reason why I am explaining something as simple as how to focus in practice is because there are times that the most you will ever learn in this sport will come from yourself. Self assessment is so important because only you can establish your personal best. Your coaches can give you feedback on what they see however there is no need for them to become a broken record, cuing constant improvements that you can make for yourself. When it comes down to it, your coach, your parents, or your teammates will not be responsible for the play when the ball is hit to you. The more you are prepared personally to correct your own movements, the more likely you will be able to make quick adjustments on the field since there is minimal time for coaching once the game starts.
Synchronicity on the field is when everything falls into place for the defense. It can happen individually when you see a slick short stop fielding deep in the 5-6 hole and quickly turning to make a cross-field throw off one foot to first base. That type of performance happens in the moment out of habit and experience from the work done at practice. Synchronicity also shows with advanced defensive teams who are very familiar with each other. After hours, weeks, and months of practicing plays for every situation that can take place in a game, players will become familiar with how one another operate. For example, a short stop will begin to understand the personality of her catcher. If an aggressive runner takes a gigantic lead off from second, the short stop can predict a bullet throw down for a pick off following the next pitch. These type of plays are not called plays by the coach, but a synchronous understanding of how each player demands an out on the field. The best plays are surprise plays that sneak behind the offense. Another example is when there is an aggressive runner on third base and the ball is hit to the third baseman. A small short stop will hustle over to cover third base in case the third basemen makes a fake throw to first and quickly tosses the ball to her short stop for a back door tag at third base. The fake throw is intended to bait the runner to take a bigger lead, just enough for a quick tag out. These are the types of plays that happen when you are in sync with your teammates on the field. You can almost predict what your teammates are going to do, if your team has done the preparation to play at game speed. Of course you cannot wait for the ball to be hit to think this all up. You have to recognize the opportunity for such a play each time an over-aggressive runner gets on base. You may have to give a nod or some type of subtle communication to your surrounding teammates so they see the opportunity too. Before that same play, the short stop can give a look to the left fielder so she knows the back door throw down to third base may happen. It is always good to think of back up so that bad throws don't turned into unearned runs.
Teams that play defense with synchronicity and familiarity with each other are teams that are at one with their game. The game will go beyond balls, strikes, and outs but will also present the element of surprise. Back door throws will lead to pick offs and trail runner outs. When a solid defensive team plays at Game Speed, seven innings fly by and fans and opponents are surprised by the outcome.
|Lisa Iancin: Lisa Iancin “LI” competed professionally in the (NPF) for 5 seasons, gathering a national championship in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut and in 2006 with the New England Riptide. In 2005, Iancin was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Year. Among her college accolades at Cal are First Team AII-Pac 10 and back-to-back appearances at the Women's College World Series in 1999 and 2000. Internationally, Iancin played for Team Bussolengo, Italy in 2001. Iancin was the Assistant General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds for the 2010 (NPF) season. To find out more about LI go to LISoftballAcademy.com|
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