I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this phrase:
“He/she’s just scared of the ball”.
I object to this phrase for the following reasons.
- FEAR IS LOGICAL – catching a fast moving missile goes against everything your body is telling you.
- IT’S YOUR JOB TO HELP PLAYERS OVERCOME THEIR FEAR! – it’s an excuse, abandoning your responsibility as a coach too soon. You have to (at least try and) turn their fear around.
Too many players are dismissed as “scared” and never receive the coaching or support that will help them get over their fear. In short, coaches give up on them.
It is possible to reverse the instinct to avoid the ball, and encourage players to take any catch on. But it takes care, understanding of the pressures, appropriate feedback, the perfect mixture of incentives and criticism….and most of all, time!
IS IT THE FEAR OF BEING HURT?? OR….
The fear of failure? It’s embarrassing to drop or mis-field!
Say you are an experienced fielder prowling the outfield, one who swallows up most catches that come your way with ease. Now, substitute the ball for something else. Imagine you are outside a building, catching a falling baby.
This will give you an idea of how an inexperienced, nervous fielder feels.
“What do i do with my hands, my legs”?” “Is this how it goes”? “Cushion it”. Don’t cushion it too much”! “Oh no, I’m not close enough”….Too late!
What appears on the surface to be a lack of thought, might be the opposite. Too many thought. Not enough action. Your main challenge is to remove this anxiety. Which moves us onto the next point….
IS THE FEEDBACK POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE?
Whenever a player drops a catch in training, the coach’s immediate response is to find an error. Why did the ball go down?
This is natural, and sounds sensible. But it doesn’t always mean that a player hasn’t improved. They may have improved significantly…just not quite enough!
Of course, point out why your player dropped or mis-fielded the ball. But also compliment them if they have – for example – moved a lot better than usual, or held the right body position for longer.
When players lack confidence, even a small criticism may dissuade them from doing the right thing next ball. “Try to stay still when the ball hits your hands”, works better than, “you moved at the last moment”.
This is accepted more widely when coaching batting and bowling coaching. But for some reason, is applied less to fielding.
The PROCESS is much more important than the RESULT in training. Equally, a player may have caught the ball (sometimes in a way that “looks” spectacular) but in a very poor way….that is unlikely to hold up under match pressure.
AVOID DEMANDING PERFECTION
Again, you might be thinking, “why should I be ignoring mistakes”? But again, think about the personalities we are coaching – the “scared of the ball” group!
At a crucial stage, when you are building a player’s confidence piece by piece, the last thing they need is the pressure to be piled back on.
“The target is 10/20 catches in a row”
Some people are a fan of this. I’m very much not. I feel it assumes that catching is about concentration alone. If they drop the ball, they must have “not been thinking”.
But this isn’t true at all! I much prefer setting bigger targets, but with a few “lives” for the group. Try, for example, 20 catches with 3 lives. A vital part of fielding is resilience (again, in this way it is no different from batting or bowling). Mistakes and lapses will happen, and the response to them is more important.
GET THE ORDER RIGHT!
Coaches are often talking about the last stage of catching (ie/the most obvious part) – when the ball hits the player’s hands. But remember, there are several stages before that!
Ready position, movement, whether they got close enough to the ball in the first place. Avoid phrases like “move your hands to the ball” (a statement of the obvious that doesn’t help), and try to understand why they didn’t, or how they can next time!
BAD TECHNIQUE MAKES THE FEAR LOGICAL
Fast moving ball + player in the wrong position = ball crashes into fingertips! By not committing to a catch, the player has made it MORE LIKELY that the impact will hurt. This means positioning has to come first. Nobody will consistently catch a ball unless they are in line or underneath it. Too many coaches only observe the player’s hands.”You took your hands away from the ball” – almost 100% of the time, this happens because the player isn’t close enough to it.Could they have moved more efficiently? Did they move towards the ball, but not completely in line? Many players move partially or gesture towards the ball. Talk about perfectly centering yourself with the path of the ball.
If you can’t move into a strong position (and hold that position for long enough) you won’t catch as many balls as you should.
Common poor positions include:
“Night fever” – hands thrust towards the ball, while the player’s hips jerk away from the ball (resembling the dance move).
“Cartwheel” – caused by legs being too straight. When a player’s knees are locked, they will topple over instead of dip towards the ball. Catchers should be able to “sway” to the ball when it is about 1m away….but how many do you see dive instead?
Pirouette – many players spin around when they catch a fast moving ball. This exposes their finger tips to the ball, when it should be striking their knuckles. Players who do this need to work on their foot position, allowing them to take their hands directly back.
“Use soft hands” is the famous phrase. But that is too simple. Look at how soft the hands are, when they move and in what direction. Are your players taking their hands away from the ball as they cushion it? Are they over-reacting?
Cushioning too much – young players often look as if they are catching a cannon ball….bringing the hands miles back as the ball hits them. This isn’t necessary.
When your hands cushion the ball too much, they start to point towards the ground, giving the ball an opportunity to slip out. 10-12 inches is the most your hands have to move to cushion any ball.
The same applies to cushioning with your legs. “Dipping” slightly is useful, but falling to the floor isn’t.
Cushioning too soon – cushioning only makes a difference if done at the exact time the ball strikes your hands. Otherwise the impact will be the same as if you stayed still! Players who do this are often confused why the ball still hurts, when they have used soft hands. You just need to explain the timing to them!
Spinning around (flat catches)- bring one foot back….as a “buffer”. This helps you bring your hands directly backwards as they cushion. Without this, your body will be forced to turn as you cushion the ball (exposing the ends of your fingers).
Stepping away – some players line up perfectly for the ball, then move suddenly at the last moment. Often, this is because they think they need to cushion the ball in front of their body.
Pushing out – other players thrust their hand to the ball suddenly, at the moment they should be cushioning. These players just need to be told to get their hands up ASAP.