As an outfielder footwork is extremely important. Our footwork, and our jumps on batted balls can be a huge differentiator between a great outfielder and a mediocre outfielder. Today, I am going to outline the proper technique for a drop step and describe a drill that can very easily be implemented into practices to help players incorporate the correct mechanics.
First and foremost, what is a drop step?
Simply put a drop step occurs when we are facing one direction and need to get our shoulders and hips squared around to run full speed in a direction behind us. Basically, it happens when we need to go back to get a ball.
It is fairly commonplace with youth players to see kids backpedal rather than taking a drop step, turning, and running when a ball is hit over their head. Backpedalling is a cardinal sin in the outfield…do not let your players do it!
Getting familiar with a drop step is absolutely necessary if a player wants to fulfill their potential as a defensive player…especially in the outfield. That being said infielders need to know how to do it also.
What is the proper technique for a drop step?
Please note that some players will finish their pre pitch motion with a staggered stance but for ease of comprehension we will assume a square stance for this section. Assuming a player’s feet are square to the hitter as the ball goes through the hitting zone the drop step will primarily consist of lifting the foot and opening the hips to allow for a cross over that will get our hips and shoulders squared in the direction of where we need to go.
If the ball is hit over our left shoulder we will open up with the left foot, hip, and shoulder. If the ball is hit over our right shoulder we would of course open up with our right foot, hip, and shoulder.
The ball will typically tale towards the foul lines (assuming weather conditions are not an influence), this is an important piece of information that all outfielders need to take into account. That being the case, if a ball is hit directly over our head and we are playing a corner outfield spot (LF or RF), we should take our drop step towards the line. If you are playing centerfield it will usually tale to the opposite field side of the hitter. Therefore, if a righty is hitting it will typically tale to the right-center gap (so drop step towards that gap with the left foot, hip, and shoulder). If a lefty is hitting the ball will typically tale towards the left-center gap (so drop step towards that gap by opening up with the right foot, hip, and shoulder).
With the actual physical move of taking a drop step it is very important to preach to your players that they clear their hips. This means they open up enough with their initial step that they are not taking 2 or 3 lateral steps before actually getting the hips and shoulders turned in the directions of where the ball will land.
Key things to look for:
Most kids open their toe and take a couple lateral steps instead of actually taking an aggressive drop step that allows them to take a more direct route. This being the case, you want to advocate over exaggerating the initial drop step. Challenge your players to go from feet perpendicular to feet parallel in one step. Or put another way; think about getting a full quarter turn (or 90 degree rotation) out of the hips and shoulders. Then take a crossover step with the foot that did not take the drop step.
We would much prefer to see players take an overly steep angle (more vertical) to the ball instead of taking an overly gradual or moderate angle (more horizontal) to the ball. Think of it by taking it to the extreme, if the player drop steps straight into a vertical route (straight back) it is much easier to adjust the route horizontally as we will already be looking over the correct shoulder. However, if the route begins too horizontal the adjustment is much more difficult because the player may have to swivel their head around and receive the ball over the opposite shoulder.
Don’t Over Extend
Also, make sure your players do not over extend. If they take a massively wide step with the initial drop step it will slow them down. It is more about getting the hips turned and keeping our feet underneath us. We are not in a full stride just yet and over extending will actually make it tougher to get into a full stride.
No false steps!
A false step is a step in the opposite direction of where we want to go. It is very common to see kids take a step in to then take a drop step back. This is a false step, and that one step will very often be the difference in making a great running catch or being one step short. Eliminate false steps!
The jump pivot…good or bad?
The jump pivot is when a player jumps up off of both feet simultaneously and does a quarter turn in the air. A lot of coaches advise against this because most of the time it creates a false step. The fielder will perform that quarter turn while not gaining ground in the direction of the ball, and is therefore thought to create an inefficient jump on the ball. In my experience, a quick and explosive jump pivot can actually be quicker than a straight drop step at times if done properly. I don’t think that is has to be completely eliminated, but I do believe that players should have the both techniques in their tool bag.
What about a ball we know is hit over our head?
If we know a ball is hit over our head the fielder should be able to make the initial read, take an aggressive drop step and put their head down and run hard for the first 2-3 steps. This helps them get a better jump and get up to top speed quicker. They will simply look up after those initial 2-3 steps and find the baseball as they continue in a sprint in a effort to track down the baseball.
A simple but effective drill to work on drop steps:
Have your players line up in a single file line. The player at the front of the line will take 3 steps forward, remaining directly in front of the single file line. The coach will be standing another 5-10 feet in front of that facing the single file line.
Force that player to go through his/her pre pitch motion, once that is completed point to either the left or right. You will instruct the players that they are to drop step to the side that you point to.
Challenge them to get the full quarter turn with their hips and shoulders with a single drop step.
The other players in the single file line directly behind him/her will hold up their throwing hand and glove hand. The player who has just taken the drop step will put their head down and sprint past the line, and is required to high-five each player in the line. Once, high fiving the last player in line they will look up over the shoulder that is opposite the side you pointed to (as they should have their shoulders squared in the opposite direction now) and find the baseball.
From there, they will track the baseball down. As a coach you can put more arc on the ball to teach the players to sprint to a spot and work back through the baseball rather than drifting to it. Or you can put a little more zip on it and for them to make a catch on the run.
The point of the single file line and the high-fives is to force the players to take that steep drop step. You will notice a lot of players take an initial step that is too horizontal and they struggle to get close enough to the line to high five their teammates.
Depending upon how many players you have in the line it is important as a coach to throw the ball at the right time. You don’t want to release it so early that the ball is hitting the ground before the player can find the baseball. Make sure to give them sufficient time to get through the line. The focus is developing the drop step technique.