Everyone has heard of, and all of us sometime or another experienced, a hitting slump, but very little is ever discussed about a fielding slump. What exactly is a fielding slump? Good question.
Simply defined as best I can, ” a fielding slump is the result of a simple physical error which creates a mental and emotional fear of the hit baseball.” Say what? It’s a phenomenal event which some players are more prone to experience than others depending on their attitude and mental make-up.
Sometimes when a player, especially a player who demands perfection from themselves, makes a simple fielding error such as the ball going between his legs or a wild throw, a mental roadblock is immediately thrown up creating a fear of repeating the error.
This of course is silly, but if you’ve ever experienced this you know what I’m talking about. This fear may begin slowly but quickly escalates to the point the player almost prays that the ball is not hit to him. Guess what, the ball seems to always find you.
A quick sideline example. As a youth I had a very strong throwing arm and was always positioned at third base. In a particularly important game, I remember it as if it were yesterday, I overthrew the first baseman and allowed the winning run to score. From that point forward I could never make a strong throw to first, but aimed the ball instead.
The mental or emotional block was so immediate and strong that I had to be switched to second base. Notice my fielding wasn’t affected, it was as good as ever, but I couldn’t stop aiming, or short arming the ball. I know the pain of a fielding slump.
I couldn’t correct my problem, but through the years of minor league baseball and coaching I’ve learned a few tricks which can help you or your player to overcome the slump.
The first thing which must be addressed is the mental aspect, as the physical aspect is normally not the issue, although it can be.
1. Stopping and reflecting on your past accomplishments. There was a time when you wanted every ball hit to you as you were confident you could handle any situation. Try and recall some of the great plays you made. This is not being arrogant, you’re thinking to yourself, plus it’s a fact you made these plays.
2. If you stop and think about it, the brain must tell the body what to do in order to field the ball. Go back to basics and mentally review every aspect of catching the ball, from staying down to watching the ball into the glove.
3. After reestablishing the basics, use visualization to actually see every step of you performing the basics. Visualization is a powerful tool and seeing yourself properly fielding one ground ball after another has an immense impact on your physic and muscle memory.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter the culprit resulting in a fielding slump is mental, the mind will still blame it on the body and this is not abnormal.
1. After performing the mental fixes from above, it’s time to institute the physical fixes. Again, go back to the basics! Field slowly hit ground balls, hundreds of them if that’s what it takes. Your intent is to re-grain the mental and muscle memory, and it helps you read the ball, something you never know enough about.
2. Begin fielding harder hit balls. It is imperative you don’t only field the grounders, but aggressively attack them. Don’t let the ball play you, which is a major by-product of a fielding slump.
3. Finish the fix by fielding harder hit balls away from you which forces you to get your feet and body into the correct fielding position. This will conclude your re-training and restore your confidence.
Remember this… for any lingering doubts, the total end to your fielding slump is identical to the one hard hit ball which ends a hitting slump, one great play away.