Getting the correct hop is probably the most frequently neglected part to teaching kids how to field a ground ball correctly. I hear coaches often confuse bad hops with up hops. When I say that, I mean that coaches will tell kids that the reason they made an error or bobbled a ball was because of a bad hop. Bad hops do happen, but a majority of the time the player just runs himself into an up hop. The difference between a bad hop and an up hop is this: A bad hop takes a hop that is unexpected such as a skip or hitting a sprinkler head and diverts direction. An up hop is when the ground ball is traveling up towards the infielder. This is by far the hardest ball to catch and is the reason for most errors. So what we teach is to totally avoid the up hop at all costs. We tell kids that we always want to catch the ball coming down or a short hop. Some people teach to never go get the short hop, but in all reality it’s one of the most predictable hops in baseball and therefore, one of the easiest to catch. It’s the part of the hop directly after the short hop up until the apex of the hop that is what we call the up hop.
I understand that this could be confusing so I made a diagram that will help you understand the difference between the hops we are talking about.
So, now that you’ve taken a look at this you can notice that we never want to catch the ball on the up hop. We always want to catch the ball coming down or off a short hop. The reasoning for this is because as our eyes and chest are gaining depth (discussed in the previous two posts) the up hop is traveling in an opposite direction making the timing of the hands hard to sync with the timing of the ball. If we try to get the ball coming down as our eyes and chest come down it’s much easier to time consistently and the hands will be much softer when receiving that hop. The reason we talk about the short hop is because a lot of the time you just can’t get to the hop coming down. So, the short hop directly after the ball hits the ground is the second most predictable hop and yields the greatest success to actually fielding the ball, only second to the hop coming down.
*A very important key factor to remember with the hands is when a fielder receives a down hop the hands are able to give, but when he receives a short hop he has to come through the ball with his hands (some people call it pinching the ball or biting with the hand). I will discuss this in future posts and hopefully have some video to show that will clearly define the difference.
So a common question would be, “Well, what happens if I do have to field an up hop and there’s no other choice?” Don’t worry, there is a way to field an up hop, and that is to give ground. Usually this happens on a hot shot or sharp one hopper where the infielder has no other choice but to field the up hop. This will most commonly happen at third and first base, but there are instances where the middle will have to give ground as well. When I say give ground, I mean that the infielder will have to drop step so the ball is actually allowed to travel closer to the apex where it’s easier to catch.
The key to getting good at this is to just practice it and I will discuss further in the drills post that is coming up in the future. You’ll first have to be able identify the difference between the up hop and the down hop and realize when there is no other choice but to get the up hop and there are specific drills for this that can help so don’t worry. It will take a lot of practice you really can’t expect the younger kids to make this play consistently, but high school kids should have enough reps (if they’re practicing the correct technique) to where they can start making the play on a fairly regular basis.
One thing I really want to stress that I see a lot of coaches teaching younger kids is that charging the ball is a “cure-all” and that you can’t go wrong by charging the ball. This is a good drill to practice, but when it comes to actually fielding a ground ball getting the correct hop is much more important than just charging the ball without having any type of strategy of what type of hop to catch.
Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think or if you disagree. I would love to talk to anyone individually or in a forum to discuss ideas.
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