Successful players can catch the ball and throw accurately to a target. These are the foundations for success! It takes much practice to develop catching and throwing skills to the point where they become automatic. Defensive practices should include time to warm up players' arms and practice throws. Players should not waste this time. They must focus on the fundamentals on every catch and throw so that correct technique becomes habit.
The overhand throw, which outfielders use almost exclusively and infielders use most of the time, is the basic throw players must master. With an overhand throw at close range, however, the ball is often out of sight of the receiver, making it difficult to track and catch. Therefore, when infielders are close to the receiver (for example, when the second baseman fields a ball in the gap and throws to first), a three-quarter or sidearm throw keeps the ball always visible to the receiver. The situation, the receiver's body position, and the speed of the runner dictate the use of other throws. Therefore, the thrower may have to use an abbreviated windup, an underhand toss, a flip, or even a throw on the run. The situation may demand quickness, but accuracy is always the primary goal. The following sections describe the basics of each of these throwing skills.
The grip, commonly referred to as a three-finger grip, is the same for all types of throws. A softball is so much bigger than a baseball that players can't use only three fingers (as they do in baseball) and have a secure grip. Therefore, they place all fingers on the ball. The player always grips across the seams using the fingerprint part of the fingers. The middle finger is placed in the middle of the ball on one seam, and the thumb is positioned underneath on the opposite seam. The index finger and the ring finger are equally spaced on each side of the middle finger and on the same seam (see figure 2.1). The little finger is curled in a relaxed position on the side of the ball. The thumb is under the middle finger as much as possible, with the player taking care not to lock the wrist. There should be space or daylight between the ball and palm and the webbing of the thumb.
The player obtains the proper grip by rotating the ball in the glove with the throwing hand fingers until she finds the seams and can grip the ball correctly. The ball is pressed down into the glove to secure the grip and then lifted quickly from the glove with the ball pointed down and the back of the hand pointed up as the hands separate.
On a slow roller or a dead (stopped) ball, should your players pick it up with only the bare hand or should they use both hands? I believe it is essential to pick up the softball with both hands to get a firm, secure grip on the ball. By using the glove to catch the ball first, there is also less chance of not catching it. The player can then press the ball against the glove to secure the grip. Because of the large size of the softball, it is simply not possible to grip the ball firmly without using two hands. The more firmly the player grips the ball, the faster it can be thrown. Accuracy also depends on a sure grip. Are two hands slower than a one-hand pickup? Possibly, but the fielder will make up the time by throwing the ball faster and more accurately.
Purpose: To learn to find the proper grip on the ball quickly and automatically.
Procedure: The player takes the ball out of the glove with the throwing hand, developing a sense of feel for the ball as she takes it out. This drill should be repeated until gripping the ball is smooth, secure, and fast. Beginners at first may have to look at the ball as they get the proper finger placement. With practice, speed improves and the grip becomes automatic. This is a simple drill that players can do repeatedly even while watching television, but they must remember not to throw the ball!
Purpose: To practice picking up the ball with two hands to get a secure grip.
Procedure: The player places the ball on the ground in front of her, picks it up with two hands, and throws it to a partner. The partner repeats the procedure on the return throw.
The basic components of the overhand throw are body position, arm action, release, and follow-through. Body position (basically upright) and arm action (with the throwing-arm elbow above the shoulder) define the overhand throw. Proper body alignment keeps the ball on target. A strong release and follow-through contribute to speed and accuracy. For an accurate and strong throw, players must execute all four phases. Included later are drills to teach and develop each of these components.
Before the throw is made, the player must turn the shoulders and hips sideways to the intended target. A throw can't be made until the feet are in place. To check alignment, draw a line between the player's feet pointing at the target (see figure 2.2). The first step after catching the ball should be with the back foot (nonglove foot), which is turned outward at a 45-degree angle and on this line. The player's weight is on the ball of the foot. She then steps toward the target with the glove-side foot, placing the arch of the stepping foot at a 45-degree angle on this line. The front knee should have some flex. The shoulders are level and sideways to the target. The front-foot touchdown is timed with the forward motion of the arm. The player pushes off with the back foot and shifts her weight forward. The backside provides the power. The hips explode open with the navel pointing toward the target. When fielding ground balls, the player should follow the sequence, "Right, left, pick ball up, right, left, throw."
Figure 2.3 a,b,c Arm action of the throwing motion.
As the player begins the throwing motion after making the catch, she extends the glove arm with the elbow slightly flexed and points it at the target while simultaneously drawing back the throwing arm so that there is a stretch across the chest (see figure 2.3a). The stretch is similar to that one might use when drawing back an arrow to shoot it. Both elbows should be lifted to shoulder height (see figure 2.3b). The throwing arm moves in a circle to reach this raised position-the ball goes from the glove down to the hip to extension backward to a point above the ear. The little finger leads the hand, and the elbow of the throwing arm points away from the body at shoulder height, bent at about a 90-degree angle. If the elbow is not shoulder high, a sidearm throw results, which strains the elbow and produces a less accurate throw, that is, a curveball. At the top of the motion of the throwing arm, the wrist is cocked so that the thumb is away from the body and the back of the hand is toward the body.
To start the forward motion of the throw, the player leads with the elbow of the throwing arm while simultaneously pulling the glove arm down (see figure 2.3c). The glove arm is important for maintaining correct alignment and developing force. The arms work in opposition as they do in swimming-the harder the glove pulls down, the faster the throwing arm goes forward. The player should move the throwing arm quickly, not dragging it. The rotation is such that one shoulder replaces the other. The player snaps the wrist at release.
The wrist is flexible and loose. The player cocks the wrist back in preparation to throw as she lifts the ball above the shoulder with the back of the hand facing the target. On release, the thrower snaps the wrist forward toward the target and down to provide velocity and accuracy. The thumb is pointed to the ground, and the fingers are thrown (snapped) toward the target (see figure 2.4). The index finger goes at the right eye of the receiver, and the middle finger goes at the left eye with the V bridging the nose. The last thing the thrower should feel is the ball leaving the fingerprint area of the fingers. The thrower pulls the seams sharply down. The ball comes off the middle and index fingers last, creating a vertical spin toward the thrower (backward) much like the backspin n a basketball jump shot. Placing a stripe on the ball 11 help players see the spin. Color a half-inch stripe or ply electrical tape across the four seams. Have players snap a handkerchief to feel wrist snap and follow-through
After releasing the ball, the player throws the back (throwing) shoulder toward the target. The back leg lifts slightly off the ground with the shoelaces pointed to the ground. The fingers point toward the target as the wrist snaps and the ball is released. The player finishes with the chest over the front knee and the hand continuing down to touch the glove-side leg (see figure 2.5). The longer the throw, the more exaggerated the follow-through and the greater the bend at the waist. Infielders will generally touch their upper thighs, and outfielders will often touch their knees or lower.
The faster the ball gets to the target, the better the thrower's chance of making an out. For long throws, players must use the overhand throw, which causes less strain on the arm. By coming over the ball, the overhand throw generates a vertical spin that produces a good, accurate bounce. The thrower can increase the strength of the throw by moving into the ball and transferring the body's momentum through the ball. Outfielders use the overhand throw almost exclusively, and infielders use it whenever they have time to set up properly. The ideal choice for any long throw should be the overhand throw.
To get extra strength on their throws, outfielders should use the crow hop. After catching the ball, the player hops on the throwing-side foot and pushes hard as she drives her body and momentum forward. After releasing the ball, the outfielder pushes off the back leg and steps toward the target. In simple terms, the player replaces her feet. The fingers point to the ground at the finish. See chapter 4, pages 64-65, for more details.
For long throws, outfielders should use the bounce throw. Rainbow throws take too long to reach the target. The path of a ball that bounces to the target more closely approximates a straight line, which is the shortest distance between two points. The bounce throw is also helpful when the sun is in the eyes of the infielders. Keeping the ball low using a bounce throw allows the ball to be tracked more easily. A low trajectory also permits the throw to be cut if necessary. Any long throw to a base should bounce approximately 15 feet from the intended receiver.
Flattening the arc of the throw also increases accuracy. For accuracy, the thrower needs to have a consistent release point. The release point is slightly in front of the throwing shoulder and at a point where the player is still able to maintain a 90-degree angle at the elbow while keeping the hand pointed up. The wrist must be able to snap forward at a release point that allows the fingers to point to the target on the follow through. This comes with practice, and practice produces consistency.
If the runner is very quick, the fielder may not have time for a full windup. If the ball is not hit directly to the fielder, she may not have time to get in position to make an overhand throw. When close to the receiver, the fielder must show the ball so that the receiver can see it all the way to the glove. When the throwing distance is short, a player may have sufficient arm strength that it is not necessary to use a full overhand throw.
Players may use a shortened windup when they need to be quick and can sacrifice strength and distance on the throw. A slow ground ball that requires the fielder to charge will often necessitate a shortened windup to beat the runner. Because of the longer distance to first from third and short, players at those positions must often rush their throws. Strong catchers may also use the shortened windup for a quicker release. The catcher must have the arm strength to throw without having to transfer body weight to get the ball to the base. To execute the shortened windup, the thrower pulls the ball back quickly just above the ear. The main difference is that the first movement of the throwing arm is back, not down, which shortens the arm circle. Footwork and body position are the same as those used for the overhand throw.
When the thrower does not have time to assume a set position, she becomes a quarterback on the run. A good shortstop is able to throw on the run after fielding a slow rolling ball or a high bouncer hit by a slapper. A third baseman cutting off a bunt or slap in the hole will have a better chance of making the out using this technique.
Using an abbreviated windup, the thrower releases the ball in one continuous motion while running toward the target. She should concentrate on the follow-through of the arm with the hand pointing directly to the target. Most throwing errors are high when throwing on the run. The ball sails high because the thrower does not use a firm wrist snap. The thrower must not lob the ball. The path of the ball should be a firm straight line. The thrower must field the ball first and get a secure grip on it. Whenever possible, the chest should face directly to the target on release. After release, the fielder continues to run several steps toward the target.
Errors also occur when the fielder rushes and tries to throw before securing the ball. When the runner has clearly beaten the play, the fielder should hold onto the ball. Better that the runner get one base than to take the chance of an error giving her additional bases.
Also called a three-quarter throw, the sidearm throw is used when players need quickness and can sacrifice strength and distance. The second baseman and other players who are close to the receiver should throw sidearm so that the ball remains visible to the receiver and is thus easier to track, react to, and catch. This is what we call "showing the ball." Players should not throw sidearm over long distances. The weight of the softball and the increased stress on the elbow when throwing sidearm can lead to elbow injuries. The first baseman also prefers that the ball thrown across the diamond not be a curveball.
When throwing sidearm, the elbow is below the shoulder throughout the entire arm motion and remains there when the ball is released. The sidearm throw places more emphasis on forearm and wrist movement than on the use of the shoulder. Arm movement is more horizontal. Players must be sure that the thumb rotates down on release to produce proper spin. Allowing the thumb to rotate upward will produce a curveball and increase pressure on the elbow. The glove arm still works in opposition and should point to the target for proper alignment. The footwork is the same as that used for the overhand throw, with the body remaining sideways to the target on release. When time permits, the body should be upright. When releasing the ball, the thrower should keep the shoulders level so the ball goes in a straight line. When fielding a bunt, the player often does not have time to straighten up. Still, the fielder must always take time to level the shoulders, even in a crouched position. Overthrows occur when the back shoulder is lower than the front, an alignment that produces an upward angle for the path of the ball. Alignment and follow-through are critical. The ball goes where the player throws it.
To show the ball when close to the receiver, the fielder holds the ball up in her bare hand just above the shoulder and well away from the body, maintaining a bend in the elbow of about 90 degrees. Fingers are pointed up with the thumb underneath (see figure 2.6). By using a smaller arm circle, the thrower can keep the ball always visible to the receiver. An overhand windup should not be used because the motion will cause the ball to disappear behind the body. Because the player is throwing a shorter distance, a large arm circle is not necessary.
The underhand toss is used when a quick release is required and the thrower is within 15 feet of the target. Prime examples are throws to the catcher from the corners or from the pitcher on a suicide squeeze. Other uses for the underhand toss include the short throw to a receiver covering a base for a force-out or a double play. The underhand toss is a safe and accurate throw that pitchers often use for the throw to first base after fielding a ball to the first-base side. Pitchers who have difficulty making accurate overhand throws should use this throw for balls hit to their left when they have time to run the ball close enough to first to make the play. Advanced players may use this toss to get the ball to a teammate who is in better position to make a strong throw. This might occur when the second baseman backhands a ball behind second. With her momentum carrying her away from first base, she can toss to the shortstop, who makes the throw to first.
The player should field the ball with two hands to ensure a secure grip. She then removes the glove to show the ball to the receiver. With a pendulum-like forward swing from the shoulder, the player throws the ball on a direct line with little arc, keeping the ball low (see figure 2.7a). The elbow is locked, and the wrist is stiff. The ball is guided to the target with the palm up and the fingers extended to the receiver (see figure 2.7b). The arm stops no higher than the shoulders. Back-swing and body motion should be minimal. Locking the elbow and wrist helps eliminate overthrows that can occur when adrenaline is flowing. The thrower keeps the body low, flexes at the hips, and strides toward the target. If time permits, the glove can be extended toward the target so that the arms can work in opposition. But the thrower must make sure that the arms go no higher than the shoulders. Using the glove arm will aid balance and improve alignment. When a fielder needs to release the ball quickly, she should shorten the extension of the arms and rely more on the wrist action of the throwing hand.
The glove toss is a desperation play used when the fielder has no chance of getting the throwing hand to the ball. The fielder cocks the wrist of the glove hand back and then snaps forward, opening the glove to release the ball. The corners and the pitcher can use this toss on suicide plays. A player chasing a rolling ball and ending up close to the base might also use the glove toss. This toss is effective up to a distance of about 10 feet. Ideally, the fielder is running toward the target, and her momentum will help the toss get there. Because this is a desperation play, however, a player may use it from any angle as a last resort. Advanced players may use the glove toss when lying on the ground to get the ball to a teammate to complete the play.
A backhand flip is sometimes necessary when the fielder doesn't have time to get her body around to face the target (the target is on the right side of a right-handed thrower).
Figure 2.8 Backhand flip. (a) Point the elbow of the throwing arm toward the target and bring the back of the hand in toward the chest, then (b) push the ball to the target simultaneously with a step in that direction while keeping the shoulders level.
A typical example occurs when a second baseman is able to stay behind a ball hit to her right near second base. Without time to turn and face the receiver, she would use a backhand flip to the shortstop covering second. To make a backhand flip, after gripping the ball the fielder points the elbow of the throwing arm toward the target and brings the back of the hand in toward the chest (see figure 2.8a). She stiffens her wrist and pushes the ball to the target simultaneously with a step in that direction. The fielder steps with the foot nearer the receiver. The side of the foot moves toward the receiver with the toes pointed straight ahead. The body stays low, rising only slightly from the fielding position. The shoulders remain square and level. Only the head turns toward the target. The fielder releases the ball as she extends her elbow. The arm stops between the waist and shoulder height with the fingers pointed toward the target (see figure 2.8b). Arm action follows a horizontal path.
|Throw||When to use|
All long throws.
Outfielders use most of the time.
|Long bounce throw|
Outfield throws to home.
Sun in receiver's eyes.
When quick release is needed.
Can sacrifice strength and distance.
Catcher throw downs, throws from third or shortstop to first.
|On the run|| |
Third baseman cutting off ball in hole and fast runner.
Infielders charging slow rollers with fast runners.
Can sacrifice strength and distance for quickness.
To show ball to nearby receiver, especially second baseman throwing to first baseman.
Within 15 feet of base for forces and double plays.
Pitchers who have difficulty throwing overhand.
10 feet or less from target.
No chance of getting throwing hand to ball in time.
Suicide squeeze, diving stop.
Target to right side of right-handed thrower.
Arm problems occur because of a lack of arm and shoulder strength, poor mechanics, and overuse. Players can build up their arms by weight training and gradually increasing the number of throws they make each day. They should constantly review and work on their throwing mechanics and take care not to overuse their arms. Many fielding drills can be done without throwing. Players can return the balls to a bucket to eliminate the need to throw. At any sign of soreness, players should apply ice for 20 minutes when they are finished.
Before throwing all out in practice or in a game, players must warm up their arms to prepare for full-out throwing. A proper warm-up will help strengthen the arm as well as prevent injuries.
Players should always stretch their shoulder muscles (throwing arm only) before they warm up their arms. To perform the following three exercises, players flex the knees slightly and bend forward at the waist. They stretch slowly, doing a minimum of 20 repetitions of each exercise. If a player still feels tight in the shoulder, she should increase the number of repetitions until she feels her shoulder loosen.
1. With the throwing elbow bent at 90 degrees, the player slowly swings the arm forward, lifting the hand as high as possible while maintaining a 90-degree bend at the elbow. She then swings the arm slowly back, raising the elbow as high as flexibility permits (see figure 2.9 on page 30).
2. With a 90-degree elbow bend, the player swings the arm across her body as far as possible to the glove side and then back, leading with the elbow and lifting it as high as possible on the throwing side (see figure 2. 10).
3. The player stirs an imaginary pot with the fingers just above the ground. She uses big, slow circles 10 times in one direction and then 10 times in the other (see figure 2.11).
Players should warm up just before full throwing. A common mistake is to warm up the arm at the beginning of practice and then do activities other than throwing, allowing the arm to cool off. If players are going to hit or the coach is going to talk a lot, the arm warm-up should be delayed until just before throwing activities. Players begin warming up at a distance that does not strain the arm, and they work up to the distance they will need to throw. In particular, outfielders should warm up with outfielders and gradually move back to a greater distance. Throwing drills to warm up the arms should take 15 to 20 minutes, a valuable chunk of practice time that players must not waste.