Monday, February 7, 2011

How Can I Increase My Fielding Range?

Recently, I was involved in a discussion about a player’s fielding range and whether or not this aspect of the game of baseball be improved. Those participating in the discussion had many great points. The general consensus was that, yes, fielding range can be improved. But, how? For the most part, many of the participants discussed improving lower body power, first step explosiveness, and lateral speed and agility. For my part, I agreed that these components were very important. But, I believe equally or even more important is training to improve an athlete’s reaction time.

The time it takes for a player to recognize that a ball has been hit and then initiate his movement to intercept and field it is called his reaction time. When the ball is seen or the crack of the bat is heard, nerve impulses travel to the brain where the information is processed. The brain then formulates a motor response and the player moves to field the ball. Reacting to a visual stimulus takes approximately 16-18 hundredths of a second. Auditory reactions take 14-16 hundredths of a second. However, this does not take into account that the time that it takes for the sound to travel to the player’s ear. For example, an outfielder would respond to the “crack” of the bat later than an infielder, because he is positioned farther away.

Like the other components of lower body power and quickness, reaction time can be trained and improved. The key is to enhance the brain’s processing speed. This is done by attempting to eliminate visual and auditory distracters. One technique that can be utilized immediately and without a great deal of training is the concept of “contrast sensitivity”. This has to do with the ability to pick out an object visually amidst a confusing background. Excellent results can be experienced with the use of different colored eyeglass lenses for a given time of day or stadium background. For example:

Bright, Sunny Day = more traditional darker tint
Cloudy, Grey Conditions = amber tints
Late Evening, Twilight = yellow tints

Another training technique involves emphasizing the visual stimulus. A simple drill that I have used with players is to have them perform their fielding drills while wearing ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones. This will eliminate the auditory distractions and teach them to recognize and react sooner to the visual cues.

Even though reaction time can be improved, there is a definite ceiling. Even elite sprinters cannot physiologically react in less than 0.10 seconds without anticipating the starting gun. That being said, there are ways to anticipate on the baseball field. By understanding the game situation and past performance of the hitters, players and coaches can position themselves on the field to provide a better “jump” on the ball. For example, when a right-handed hitter has been noted to routinely “pull” the ball, fielders can slightly adjust their positioning to their right. Also, in situations where the hitter would attempt to hit toward the right side of the field, the defense can adjust accordingly.

Ultimately, all of these components can help to improve a player’s fielding range. Increasing his explosiveness and lateral speed will improve his overall movement time. While training him to better recognize and process visual cues can improve his reaction and anticipation skills.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree reaction time can give the biggest advantadge according to pure skill level. Positioning gives the biggest mental advantadge. It's the 2 put together that makes the great ones.