As coaches, we all like to believe that the information we’re giving our players is “right”. We all think that other coaches have no idea what they’re doing and if they teach something differently they are just flat out wrong. Sound familiar?
Good questions to ask yourself (one that I recently asked myself) are, “Am I really teaching what the best guys in the game are ACTUALLY doing?” Furthermore, “Why am I teaching this? Do I have a solid reason behind every technique that I teach, or am I just teaching what I was taught?”
Alright, enough of the preaching. Let’s get down to why I’m an idiot, what I’m teaching wrong, WHY it’s wrong and the better way of doing it.
I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been teaching the infield footwork wrong for years now. Here’s a direct quote from the article Infield Throwing Position that I wrote (specifically the step in front footwork section):
“The step in front footwork model is probably the best one to teach to beginners. The step in front is widely taught and is probably the most commonly used for the routine ground ball. I would always recommend the step in front method for the routine ground ball.”
“The replace step is another set of footwork that’s best used on certain types of ground balls. Simply, the replace step is a shuffle towards first base. The reason I call it a replace step is because the back foot is basically replacing itself where the glove hand foot was in the fielding position.
The idea behind the step in front is that it gets the fielder headed in the correct direction towards the play and shifts the shoulders to be inline with the base that the ball is being delivered to. Basically, this is just plain wrong and there are multiple reasons why:
- Stepping in front doesn’t actually force the shoulders to be inline with the throw, especially the ball two or three steps to the left. It actually takes the fielder to the left of the play.
- The steps become too long and are basically inefficient.
- The difference in the distance that the fielder gains towards the play with the step in front is negligible (about 4 or 5 inches) compared to the replace step.
- There’s the chance that crossing the right foot over the left can cause the fielder to trip or clip the foot they are crossing over. Although this is a small chance there’s still a chance. Lets say it happens once every 500 times, there’s the possibility that on that 500th play it’s to end a big game. Is it really worth the risk if there’s a better option?
- In the quote above I talk about how it’s widely used and very commonly taught. Although, this is true in amateur baseball, you very rarely see professional infielders use this method.
After looking at the best infielders in the game and realizing that they just don’t use the step in front method, I naturally asked myself the same question. I came to realize that the infielders at the top of their game and throughout history are all using the same common footwork and it’s elegantly simple. They use the replace step on almost every routine ground ball.
The replace step is simply taking the right foot and replacing it to where the left foot was at during fielding position and taking the left foot directly towards the target. I describe it here in the same article that I referred to above Infield Throwing Position:
When the fielder is transitioning from the fielding position to the throwing position the right foot steps in front of the left foot. A good teaching point is to tell the kids to take the insole of their right foot directly towards first base.”
I see a lot of kids naturally do this on the routine ground ball as well, instead of the step in front method talked about above.
The reason that I don’t like it as much for the routine ball right at the infielder is because you really don’t gain as much ground toward first base as you do with the step in front method and it takes just as much time. Having said that, the play that I like to teach the replace step with is the routine backhand (read more about backhands here).”
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I struck through a statement that I made above that’s just not true. You actually do gain ALMOST just as much ground towards the play and it’s definitely faster. There’s also a couple more reasons that I think it’s more effective:
1. It gets the shoulders inline perfect every time.
2. You can pretty much use it with any routine play including backhands.
3. There’s no chance of clipping the opposite foot.
4. The timing seems to be easier and fielders look more on rhythm.
5. The time from catch to release is absolutely faster.
I think the thing that really stands out to me about this method of footwork and why I’m going to exclusively implement this method, is that it’s just simple. An easy verbal cue is right to left, left to the target; simple, elegant, and consistent.
This has been really eye opening for me and has motivated me to take an audit of everything I teach. I’ll ask myself the following questions from above. Why am I teaching this? Is this the most efficient way? Are the best players in the world doing the same thing?
I urge you to do the same. As coaches, we often are very good at teaching one aspect of the game and neglect the others by just teaching what we were taught without really ever questioning if it’s the best way. It’s our responsibility to give our players the best information possible. If we’re teaching them incorrect technique and that technique becomes habit, then it’s OUR fault that they’re not getting the results we expect, not theirs.