This is an excerpt from Gold Glove Baseball by American Baseball Coaches Association.
Communication is the key to teamwork, the difference between success and failure. Players must learn to take advantage of all the information available to them. Tough decisions are easier to make when players know exactly what they're facing. They gain this knowledge through listening to their teammates and through sharing their own observations and experiences.
Good communication helps to ensure player safety, create an efficient defense, and develop trust and confidence among teammates. The defensive unit that learns to communicate well can play with minimal risk and maximum strength. Create a winning combination by developing responsibility, exhibiting leadership, and fostering teamwork.
Perhaps the most important role communication plays on the practice or game field involves safety. When two or more players are aggressively pursuing a fly ball, pop fly, or ground ball, hazardous situations can arise. With proper cooperation and communication, players can operate at full speed with minimal risk.
People tend to think of football and basketball as contact sports that are more dangerous than baseball. That may or may not be true, but baseball is not an inherently safe sport. Whenever several players are involved in a play, the risk for collisions is high. Cooperation and proper teamwork dramatically reduce the risk of mishaps. Every defense should find ways to maximize the potential of each player within the safest environment possible.
When it comes to safety, baseball teams regularly encounter a multitude of unusual conditions and challenges. Dugouts, side fences, gates, poles, outfield fences, and unnatural surfaces are all potentially hazardous and dangerous to a player's health. Weather conditions such as rain, sun, and wind can also render the baseball environment more perilous than it appears to be. Only through cooperation and proactive communication can ball players make their setting relatively safe for all involved.
Obstructions, pitfalls, and severe weather conditions can be endured and worked around if leadership and cooperation prevail. Any potential problems need to be recognized, prioritized, and dealt with in the pregame preparation as well as during the game itself.
During pregame preparation, or earlier when possible, each player should survey the facility and check the weather conditions to ascertain their impact on the game. Here are some suggestions for each position.
The catcher should check the turf, the cut of the grass, and the dirt area in front of home plate to prepare for bunts, bad hops, and other situations. Checking the way the ball rolls on bunts prepares the catcher for slow-hit balls and bunts. The catcher needs to remember that he may not be the only one fielding bunts; he needs to talk to the pitcher and infielders as well. A survey of the backstop—its surface and its distance from home plate—provides additional information for making decisions. The catcher should note the sun and wind conditions and their possible effect on pop flies and then share that information with the pitcher and corner infielders. If the sun or wind affects a particular position more than others, the priority area of that position should be reduced. The other positions will increase the ground they normally cover to make up the difference. The catcher should examine the dugouts and the pads on or near the backstop and take note of any other facility issues. As necessary, he needs to deal with these issues before the game starts.
The pitcher should make a similar evaluation, going over the priorities of each position. Because the pitcher can be a major communicator on pop flies, his knowledge of the playing surface in front of and around the mound is particularly valuable. This is not so much a safety issue, but the pitcher should also assess how bunted balls behave down each baseline.
Infielders should examine the playing surface and note any unusual features. They should evaluate the dugout's distance from the playing field. This information will help them back up bases and make decisions on pop flies and special plays. Checking side fences, dugout structure, and any other possible trouble spots helps the infielder plan to deal with plays in those areas. Anything worth noting should be shared with teammates. The infielders should also observe the sun and wind conditions and discuss their findings with teammates.
The outfielders first assess the warning track. If the warning track is less than 20 feet, they should treat the field as though there is no warning track. Next, they should evaluate the structure of the fences and determine if the fences offer advantages or disadvantage for fielding balls. How does the ball bounce off the fence? They examine the surface of the outfield and warning track and consider the amount of foul territory. Finally they, too, examine the weather conditions (such as sun and wind) and prepare to make necessary adjustments.
An outfielder chasing a fly ball on or near the warning track is more apt to make a great play if he knows his surroundings. This is a part of home-field advantage and why all players, to the extent possible, should do whatever they can to make every field feel like their home field. Through good communication, the off outfielders can make an environment on a particular play much safer for the player involved in the play. An outfielder who can rely on his teammates will be able to chase balls with maximum effort, confident he won't run into a fence or collide with a teammate.
On bunt defenses, double-play balls, rundowns, pop flies, ground balls, passed balls, wild pitches and wild throws, the need for cooperation is paramount. With proper cooperation and teamwork, a team can cover more territory. Players feel free to go all-out for plays in their areas when good communication is at work.
Develop Trust and Confidence
Trust is essential in developing a formidable defensive team. The best defensive units believe that each player on the field will be in the correct position, respond promptly, and give maximum effort on each play.
Actions and words either develop trust or create insecurity. An outfielder running full speed toward a fence reacts positively to a teammate he trusts but hesitates if a teammate is tentative or erratic with information.
Trust is important whether you're warning a player about an obstacle, assuring him that he has room to make the play, directing him to a proper throwing target, deciding who should field the ball or cover a base, reminding a player of an upcoming situation, or signaling the duties of a potential play. Without trust, the information being relayed has little meaning.
Player credibility is also vital to good communication. When credibility and communication flow, confidence grows. Players who care about each other and share daily challenges begin to feel confident in each other. When the second baseman and shortstop realize how important the other is to solid defensive play, communication becomes a staple. Likewise, a group of outfielders who trust each other recognize the importance and value of each outfielder to the defensive unit. Each outfielder is an important leader. Having confidence in one another helps each outfielder play to his maximum potential.
A sound catcher provides essential leadership through pitch selection and play direction. An unassertive catcher creates chaos and destroys timing and aggressive play. A free flow of information between catcher and pitcher gives wings to the game plan. Pitchers develop confidence in catchers who call the right pitch at the right time in the right situation.
Learn more about Gold Glove Baseball.