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Outfield: The Triangle Defense
WPSL Head Coach, Ohio Pride

Nothing's more crucial in a tight game than for outfielders to get the ball to the infield quickly when runners are on base. An outfielder's job, quite simply, is to keep the run from scoring! With the speed of some baserunners, it is imperative that outfielders act very aggressive when playing a ball. Great outfielders work extremely well together. Communication between them is critical.

Unfortunately, many coaches spend the majority of their practice time with their infielders. When coaches do work with the outfield, a lot of time is spent on individual skills. This is important, but the coach must work vigorously with the outfielders as a unit, like they do with the infield. How well "oiled" the outfield unit is will depend on how much that unit practices together.

There are many individual skills that the outfielder must master. What most people don't realize is that outfielders are constantly moving without ever touching the ball. They spend a great deal of their time backing up plays. Collectively, all three outfielders must work and think as one. Below are some guidelines that our pro outfielders use. The skill level of your players determines whether or not you too could use these guidelines. However, don't sell your players short. The more they practice these moves, the more efficient they will become.

Some adjustments must be made according to the distance of your outfield fence. The fence for our professional league is normally 240 feet in center, allowing for quite a bit of action. Because we competed against the Olympic team last season, we had to play with a fence distance of 200 feet in center. This change definitely altered the defensive strategies in our outfield.

We develop all of our outfield strategy on the premise that we expect our outfielders to have strong arms. Therefore, we never allow our infield cut-off player to go beyond a range where they can throw to home accurately in the air.

1) Line drives hit directly at an outfielder
The outfielder should charge in as quickly as possible, drop down on one knee and keep the ball from getting by. They must make every effort to block the ball, knowing that it will be difficult for the backup outfielder to get into position.

Line drives hit between two outfielders
The outfielder closest to the ball makes every effort to catch or cut the ball off. The outfielder never backs up on or waits for the ball to get to her. Every step closer to the infield only aids in throwing a speedy runner out. An aggressive outfielder will also cause a baserunner to hold closer to the base in case a tag-up is necessary.

Once an outfielder calls for the ball, the other outfielder quickly veers off and behind, about 30 feet from the player fielding the ball. The two fielders cannot cross any closer or they may both miss the ball. Though this is a very difficult skill to perform, it serves an important purpose. It might make a base coach hesitate to send a runner thinking that the ball will be stopped. (see Diagram 1.)

3) The responsibility of the back-up outfielder is to stop the ball if it gets through, or to assist the fielding outfielder as to where to throw the ball. (see Diagram 1)

For balls that get by the outfielders, we use a Triangle Defense system. It is not necessary for both outfielders to run all the way to the ball. Though they both start out for the ball, one outfielder calls for the ball and continues after it. The other outfielder backs off and aligns herself halfway between the outfielder with the ball and the cutoff person. She will also back up so that she becomes the "point" of the triangle (see Diagram 2). She now has very specific responsibilities.

a) She must be positioned far enough out (the "point") to be able to see the fielder playing the ball, the cutoff and the runners in her peripheral vision. She cannot turn her back on any of them.
b) Before the ball is played by the other outfielder, the "point" player will yell, "hit the cutoff" (or the person's name).
c) When the ball is in the air (to the cutoff), the "point" player will yell to the cutoff where to throw the ball. That way, the cutoff, which has her back to the play, knows exactly where to turn and throw the ball. The cutoff then makes the decision to throw or not.

This Triangle Defense can be used anywhere in the outfield. If the right or leftfielder must retrieve a ball hit down the line, the centerfielder will run over and become the "point" of the triangle (see Diagram 3). If the ball should get by the centerfielder, either the right or the leftfielder will be the "point" person depending upon who might be closer.

Drills for the Triangle Defense:
1) Place 10-12 balls at locations near the outfield fence from beyond one foul line to beyond the other foul line. The coach points to a particular ball and the entire team must react (see Diagram 4).
2) Outfielders stand with their backs to the infield. The coach stands near the pitcher's mound and hits balls to the fence in different locations. Outfielders must react when they hear the ball being hit.
3) Same as No. 2, but put runners where you like. Start with only one runner and then add another runner at home. As you progress in these drills, you can work with all players' positions and backups. Don't leave the pitcher out of the drill! You will also be able to work on making the play on the trailing runner.

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