Outfielders are the last line of defense in softball, and you need to be fleet-footed, strong-armed and quick-thinking to patrol your territory successfully. Top outfielders save runs by moving properly at the crack of the bat, throwing to the right bases at the right time and diving for line drives at their feet or into the wall for drives headed over the fence. By improving your footwork, fielding and throwing arm, you might just achieve star status with your softball team.
Exercises for Footwork
Human Kinetics recommends several drills from the book "Softball Skills & Drills" to improving your footwork in the outfield. Your first reaction to a batted ball should be a drop step, and the drop step drill is a basic way to practice this skill. When a coach points in one direction with a ball, players drop step in that direction and then assume a ready position. After the drop step becomes automatic, a ball toss exercise can be added. This requires a player to drop step and then execute an inside roll or outside roll for balls hit to your left and right, as well as a direct run for a ball hit straight over your head.
As Stanford softball coach John Rittman tells STACK, a topnotch outfielder "moves at full speed while judging the ball on the run." He recommends a blind ball drill to develop reaction time. An outfielder turns her back to home plate while a teammate or coach throws a ball from the infield area and yells "Ball!" The outfielder turns, locates the ball and catches it. Variations of the blind ball drill include balls tossed into foul territory, which require outfielders to sprint to make the catch, and catching the ball on the throwing arm side of your body and then gunning it to third base.
If you're going to throw out runners at home plate, you need all the arm power you can muster. But throwing ability is more than just arm and shoulder strength. As STACK notes, outfielder Hunter Pence, who led the major leagues in assists in 2009, focuses on developing his lower-body and core, which gives him the foundation to cut down base runners -- he's able to initiate more force from the ground, transfer it through the trunk and throw rockets. Exercises to build lower-body and core strength include back squats and seated cable rows. Triceps pushdowns and bicycle crunches can enhance your throwing velocity as well.
When it comes to the art of playing the outfield, a strong arm is only part of the skill-set you need. You need to execute the right type of throw as well. For example, a one-hop throw to the catcher is ideal. A throw on the fly is harder to handle and often will soar over the head of the cut-off person. A fun contest, recommended at Softball-Tips, to develop this skill is to place a base 15 to 20 feet in front of home plate. Outfielders attempt to hit this base on their throws to home plate. If they do so, the ball probably will bounce just once or twice before it gets to the catcher. Award four points for a one-bounce throw, three points for a two-bounce throw, two points for more than two bounces and just one point for a throw -- even a good throw -- that reaches the catcher on the fly.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.