The Priority Position

Written By Lisa Iancin "Li"

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The Priority Position

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What is the Priority Position in Fastpitch Softball? It is a general understanding what our individual roles are and how that communal decision bonds the united strength of a team. Sounds like a metaphor for many things in life right? Really though, it is a mental concept that dictates how each person on the field physically moves through their defensive positions to cover the entire field. This way, we can cover balls hit to us without colliding into one another. Better yet, as a defensive team, we can avoid having “holes” in our defense.

Take for example a routine fly ball hit to the outfield between the left fielder and the center fielder. As both players sprint back towards the fence to cover the ball, a moment takes places where they stop to look at one another to see who should make the catch and boom, the ball hits the grass between them and a defensive hole is made.

Unfortunately, I've seen this happen time and time again from the youth level, all the way up to recently in the pros. This shows that this common mistake is not a matter of physical ability or talent, but a symbol of mental elements that are missing from some defensive teams. The concept left behind is called, establishing the primary position.

Let's rewind and replay this scenario with a better ending. Here are the steps needed to take place before the ball is even hit to make sure that the fly ball is caught. In practice, coaches need to identify the various primary positions that exist on a softball field. Let's begin with the infield and work out. If a ball is bunted between the catcher, pitcher, third and first basemen, the catcher or the third baseman have priority over fielding the bunt. This means that if the ball dies right in the middle of everyone and all players are aggressively charging and shouting “I got it,” it is likely that the third baseman has the best angle to charge the ball and make a throw to first base. Based on the angles of her position, she can charge, field, and throw without changing direction, especially if she is right -handed. The catcher may have a similar advantage as opposed to the pitcher or first baseman that may have to run, stop, field, and change the direction of their momentum in order to make the throw. In order to get things done quickly in time for the runner, we need to establish an agreement of who should be fielding all zones of the field so that there is no hesitation for decision making during the actual play. The common theme we have been discussing in our Game Speed articles is that everything happens before it actually happens. Rely on forethought and pre-planning in order to move at the speed of the game.

Let's find an example involving our middle infield, corner, and outfield. Classic scenario of a right -handed batter walking up to the plate as the catcher gives out the curve ball signal to the pitcher. As a second baseman, you should be passing along the curve ball signal to your right fielder and maybe give a subtle nod and glance. This affirms an agreement that the second baseman is ready to go back on an anticipated shallow flare and the right fielder is ready to pinch in. Why is this? It's because hitters often get under outside pitches that they have to wait on. Once that shallow pop fly is hit, if both the second baseman and the right fielder are calling for the ball, the second baseman should let her take the ball because in general, the outfield has priority over the infield when it comes to fly balls. The reason is because it is much harder to make a catch on a fly ball while running back as opposed to running forward. Also, let's say there is a runner on third tagging up. The outfielder can make the catch and go right into a crow hop and throw in time for the runner without breaking momentum. Also, let's try to keep the first basemen out of these difficult pop ups going back so she doesn't trip over the base!

Ok, let's go back to our first scenario with our center fielder and our left fielder. If the outfield has priority over the infield on fly balls, then who holds the Priority Position within the outfield? The answer is the center fielder. The outfield is tricky because you are the last line of defense so you are expected to catch everything without colliding into each other and injuring yourself by the fence. If that ball takes you back towards the outfield fence and both outfielders are calling for the ball, the left fielder needs to shout “take it” so the center fielder can continue towards the ball without fear of collision. In order to make the catch, she has to keep her eyes on the ball so the left fielder now becomes her eyes for her. Shout “fence” or “you got it all the way” so she knows about her spatial orientation on the field while her eyes are on the ball. This is the only way outfielders move at full speeds to cover the entire range of the outfield. With trust, communication, and a general understanding of the Primary Position a solid defensive team can accelerate into making those diving catches that you will always remember.

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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