Softball is a sport where there are two completely different sides of the game. The offensive and defensive side. On the defensive side, there are nine positions on the field. Pitching and catching are the two most glorified and sought-after positions. How could they not be, the pitcher and catcher control the game and touch the ball every single play. The next sought-after positions are those in the infield, specifically shortstop and first base. “The most athletic player on the team will be the shortstop”, we have all heard this reference before.
If you are a coach reading this article, at your next team practice, instead of assigning players a position let them pick. You’ll see most players sprint towards the infield positions and fight over the spots. Why? Because the infield positions are closer to where all of the action is during a game. Outfielders in softball play a critical role in the game and from experience and being an eyewitness, I truly believe some of the most athletic players in our sport find a home out there.
The three outfield positions in Fastpitch softball are left field, center field, and right field. As players move through the age groups and approach the higher levels of play, each outfielder has a more advanced role. The center fielder will become the vocal leader of the outfield because they have a clear view of the pitcher and catcher and will be able to read where the pitch is delivered and how it comes off the bat. Often at the high levels, the center fielder is the outfielder who can cover the most ground.
The left and right fielders also have an essential role in the outfield. At the higher levels, the right fielder is often the outfielder with the strongest arm because they are required to make the longest throw to third base. All three outfielder positions are responsible for executing throws to second base, third base and home on base hits. The right fielder will make throws to all four bases on the field, if the ball is hit hard enough they can throw the runner out at first.
Outfielders play a critical role on the defensive side of the game. Outfielders must learn how to read balls off the bat, learn how to field the ball when it’s on the ground, in the gap, or in the air. They must know situations and where the ball should be thrown when it’s hit to them. Just like infielders, outfielders must always be thinking one play ahead. The role of an outfielder on the field is just as important as the role of an infielder. It takes nine players on the field to work together and achieve 21 outs to win a softball game.
Even though the outfield may not be the most sought-after position at the younger levels, it’s necessary for coaches to enforce the importance of the outfield to his/her players and to rotate players into the outfield. Outfield must be learned and practiced too. As players get older, better, and stronger, more and more balls will be hit to the outfield by the offense. Outfielders are gritty and fearless when they step on the field. They are fired up on game days and are always ready to defend and protect their territory. Not everyone watching a softball game will remember every ground ball out, but they will take note of an outfielder making a diving catch that saved a run. Give the outfield a chance; you never know if you’ll end up out there one day.