One of the very first skills a baseball player needs to learn is fielding a ground ball. Hits and bad throws turn into grounders, and at the earliest levels, most hits are grounders and most throws are bad throws. A tee ball player that stops a ground ball is one that is excelling above the average kid.
When the pitcher begins his delivery, the infielders should be ready. Down and ready is a common term you’ll hear across the baseball diamonds, but that term means something different for every coach. The most important parts are being in an athletic position, ready to move quickly in any direction, and also the mentality that they are ready for the ball and know what to do with it when they get it. A low position is best with the hands down, out and ready. At the younger ages, simply getting them to put their hands on their knees may be sufficient and a task in itself.
Once the ball starts coming toward the player, they need to read the ball and react to it. A hard it left or right is going to require a quick burst to the side to get into position, while a slow-rolling ball is going to require a few quick steps in to get to the ball quicker. Once at the ball or when the ball arrives, the player should take a couple small steps to get into the receiving position.
The position to receive a ground ball is pretty simple. The butt should be low in a sitting position to the point where the thighs are near parallel to the ground. The player’s feet should be wide to have a low, strong base. Wider than the shoulders is preferred. The glove should be face up and angled slightly down towards the ground, but not touching it. The throwing hand should be above the glove, open and angled up, ready to trap the ball inside the glove. The head should be up to see the ball coming. The throwing foot (same side as throwing hand) ideally should be slightly back to help ready the player for the throwing angle.
Once the ball arrives, the player should then scoop into the dirt to field the ball. Judging the bounce of the ball requires a lot of repetition. The original scoop that you’ll teach at first will turn into all sorts of scoops and catches once hard hits and bad hops become regular. But for the kids learning to field grounders at first, you should keep the ball rolling on the ground and not bouncing a lot. The players scoop should have the glove and throwing hand scoop under, through and up away from the body with the hands closing on the ball like an alligator’s mouth. The ball is now in good position to be thrown with the throwing hand already on the baseball.
The Alligator is a common term in teaching baseball, and it’s a good cue that your players can easily remember and learn when practicing.
After the player fields the ball, he should take a quick shuffle step toward the base that he’s throwing too while simultaneously separating his hands. The ball should be taken out of the glove down, back and up in a backwards ‘C’ motion to get into position to throw. The glove hand should mirror the ball hand or point to the target. Another step for the throw should help accuracy. Again, repetitions are key.