The first thing a baseball coach asks when considering an athlete for outfield is “How much ground can he cover?”. It doesn’t matter if the kid has a noodle for an arm; if he can chase down a fly ball, he’ll be in the starting lineup. Even in a sport that’s relatively “slow”, speed dominates.
Unfortunately, there’s a huge misconception about speed and genetics. Most people assume you’re born fast. While that’s largely true for 100m Olympic sprinters, in most field/court sports, speed is highly trainable. Just watch the NFL combine to see how strength coaches shave hundredths of a second off of some of the most powerful athletes in the world 40 yard dash times in as little as 6 weeks.
The Plyostep for outfielders
One of the hardest catches to make in the outfield is a bloop popup over the infielder’s head. It requires great acceleration and hand-eye coordination. However, it also requires a great first step, which is evident by the common baseball phrase “he gets a great jump on the ball.”
Instead of starting from a dead stop and taking the first step towards the ball, an outfielder would actually get to the ball quicker by using a plyostep. A plyostep allows the athlete to use the elastic energy in his lower leg to propel his body toward the ball, essentially acting like a rubber band. In 2008 researchers published a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that concluded that a step backwards (plyostep) can result in a 6% reduction in time over a few yards. In a game of inches, that’s the difference between a win and a loss.
It’s actually really simple. The athlete will simply take a small step backwards with one foot before moving forwards. It’s important that the hips, head, and torso do not move backwards. All that moves is the lower leg. The back of the head and the leg that moves behind the hips should be on a straight line. That small step will create a plyometric effect in the lower leg propelling the athlete forward.
The worst thing you can possibly do is show the athlete the plyostep 2 or 3 times, and then expect the athlete to use while you hit him fly balls. He will always resort back to his preprogrammed motor pattern, even if it’s incorrect. The technique has to become a subconscious habit before the athlete will use it in a game.
We’ll progress with:
1) Static Starts
This allows the athlete to focus solely on the footwork required for the movement, and program the correct motor pattern within the conscious mind. We’ll do 10 to 15 repetitions on each foot. We’ll make sure the athlete’s hips, torso, and head don’t move backwards.
2) 5-10 Yard Sprints
Make sure the athlete is utilizing the plyostep. Make sure the hips, torso, and head do not move backwards. After we do this drill 5-10 times, we’ll use a stop watch and begin timing the 10 yard sprint.
3) 5-10 yard sprints with resistance
We’ll then attach bungee cords to the athlete’s waist so the athlete has to explode out of the plyostep. Most young athletes don’t put enough force into the ground. Instead of yelling at them constantly, we actually force them to put more force into the ground by attaching resistance. By now, the plyostep should become automatic so the athlete can really focus on the explosiveness.
4) Tennis Ball Drop
Now we’ll add hand-eye coordination to the process. We’ll stand 5 yards from the athlete, and when he sees the tennis ball drop, he’ll use the plyostep to explode towards the ball and catch it on the second drop. We’ll add more and more distance as the athlete progresses.
5) Fly Ball Toss
This is our first baseball-specific progression. We’ll have the athlete start on one baseline, and we’ll throw a pop fly 15-20 feet in the air. The athlete will use the plyostep to explode towards the ball, and catch it before it hits the ground.
6) Fly Ball Swings
Our final phase is where most people start, and coincidentally, the reason why most athletes don’t learn the movement. This is fly is the classic fly ball drill.
Start with phase I and progress through phase 6 over the winter, and the athlete will look so much faster next year for summer baseball.
Our baseball speed training is currently sold out. Check back in December for another session starting in January!