When analyzing the impact of positions on a softball team, outfielders can often get overlooked.
Melinda Wyatt however believes the outfield is the most important area on the field.
Wyatt has spent 22 years total at J.M. Tate (FL) High School, nine years as an assistant and the past 13 years as a head coach. In over two decades, Wyatt has guided Tate to a state championship in 2014, as well as a state-runner up appearance, four state Final Four berths, four regional championships, five regional semifinals appearances, eight regional quarterfinals appearances, and 12 district titles.
Wyatt emphatically gives credit to her cast of outfielders for the perennial success of the program.
“I love coaching the outfield. Your team is only as strong as your outfield in my opinion,” Wyatt said. “Our most successful teams were the ones with great speed and aggressiveness in the outfield.”
Practice makes perfect and White pays close attention to the fundamentals of the outfield.
“Many teams will not try to make the out at first on a base hit. We practice that a lot,” Wyatt said. “Taking away the extra base is important also. Also, don't let the runner get to second and if she does, keep her there.”
The groundwork for creating a formidable outfield begins before the season even starts.
“We work a lot on footwork in the offseason,” Wyatt said. “Breaking down our first step on the ball is a huge factor. We work footwork fundamentals every day.”
Wyatt even takes some unconventional approaches to the element of catching.
“We also use different balls to catch such as tennis balls and footballs,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt explains some of the drills she has her outfielders perform.
“We start with drop steps, open and turns (right and left foot) without tracking a ball then we add the ball.We practice our crow-hops over a jump rope about a foot high adding the throw at the end,” Wyatt said. “For the drop step we start with a ball behind the foot so they get the feeling of lifting to the right and left. Next we have it with leaning with no head movement. Then running with the glove.”
Wyatt believes each of the three outfield positions has its own unique share of requirements to be effective.
A left fielder must always be cognizant of the ball, even when it’s not yet in play.
“A left fielder is aggressive on the foul line and always backing up third,” Wyatt said. “She is like the catcher of the infield.”
A right fielder has a specific first priority.
“A right fielder is taught to throw to first for the out on a hit,” Wyatt said.
The centerfielder must have the courage to go after every ball her way while communicating with the teammates at each of her sides.
“The centerfielder is my leader,” Wyatt said. “She has to be a fearless competitor and have the mentality of ‘I want to catch the last out’.”
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