At some point in their career, every baseball player will know the momentary panic of a rifled ground ball, sizzling over an uneven, lumpy infield toward their face, crotch, or hopefully glove. Second maybe to convincing hitters to sit tight in the batter’s box, there are few harder skills to teach a young player than to not jump the hell out of the way of a rocketed ground ball. Grounders can be terrifying.
That said, if your kid wants the glory of being an unstoppable wall at shortstop, or the joy of turning a double play at second base, they’re going to need to know how to properly field a ground ball. And to teach them, Fatherly asked Mike Belmont, a pitching-and-fielding coach and the camp director at The Baseball Center in Manhattan. He’s spent years coaching baseball fundamentals and has developed a simple five-step system to teach kids the basics of how to field ground balls. Here’s how it works.
Step One: Put the Ball on the Ground
Belmont says the first drill he does when breaking down grounders is to literally just set the ball on the ground. That’s it. Have your player stand in the ready position, knees bent, hands set together, and then put the ball on the ground in front of them. Then have them practice rotating their arm down, scooping up the ball like a shovel with their glove, and using their bare hand to make sure it stays inside. From there, they should rise from the fielding position and get ready to throw. Baseball is about muscle memory, Belmont says, and it’s much easier to build it if you just run through the motions without them having to worry about a moving ball. Do this several times.
Step Two: Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
Next, have them get set ⏤ knees bent, arms in front, hands down near the ground ⏤ and roll the ball into their glove from a few feet away. Nothing too hard, just a simple roll. Make sure they’re “trapping the ball like an alligator,” Belmont says, and bringing their bare hand down like chomping jaw to both shield them from nasty hops and ensure the ball stays in the mitt. Don’t forget to stress the importance of staying low to the ground, not popping up too soon, and keeping their eyes on the ball.
Step Three: Add Movement
After they have the basic motion down, start adding some movement to the ball, rolling toward their right or left foot. “You need to show them the ball’s not always going to go to their glove,” Belmont says. You’re still not rolling the ball too hard, but now you’re making them shuffle their feet. Rotate from side to side, initially keeping the ball in between their legs before moving to the outside ⏤ although not so far that they have to backhand it (that’s another lesson).
Step Four: Speed It Up
From there, back up even further and start tossing hotter ground balls, says Belmont. No need to get crazy with velocity but keep the ball, and the kids, moving. They need to understand how a baseball bounces and interacts with the ground. Just like with catching and throwing, don’t hesitate to start with a softer ball if the kids are tentative at first.
Step Five: Add the Throw
Finally, have them throw the ball to you after each grounder, as if you were playing first base. Before they do, though, emphasize how important it is to focus on completing one action at a time. Field the ball first, then come up, plant your feet, and make the throw ⏤ in that order. If your player is worried about the throw to first before the ball’s in their glove, errors will be made.
Obviously, the next steps include teaching more advanced techniques ⏤ like how to backhand the ball, make throws on the run, and field high bounces or short hops ⏤ as well as hitting fungos once they’re more comfortable with harder thrown balls. These five steps though will teach every young player the basic fundamentals of fielding a grounder and, with a little repetition, should put them on a path to being their team’s next brick wall at shortstop.