The Winning 12U Defensive Strategy
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The 12U defensive strategy for fastpitch softball is very similar, in theory, to the 10U defensive strategy and 8U defensive strategy. Make easy outs. What has changed and what makes this more difficult is that most of your players should now have the size and ability to make more plays than they could make at the younger age groups. So now you should be able to shuffle some players around a bit so that their skills fit the skills necessary for their position.
Pitcher - 12U Defensive Strategy
Obviously you need the girl that throws the most strikes. You can't win by giving up free bases via the dreaded walk. Encourage your pitchers to take private pitching lessons. Encourage them to practice at home at least four nights a week. If they don't throw enough strikes, just send your pitchers and catchers off to the side of the field every practice and have them pitch for about 45 minutes. What else is there to say? Either you have a pitcher that can throw strikes or you lose. It's just that simple. By the way, do you require your pitcher to wear a
1st Base - 12U Defensive Strategy
In the younger age groups we had to put one of our top athletes at 1st base. That's not quite the case in 12U. Hopefully, you have several girls that can routinely catch thrown balls so you have a few girls to choose from. I still want a fairly athletic girl that has some quickness at this position. She as a lot of real estate to cover, from bunts on the first baseline, all of the foul territory, and slow rollers towards second base. Don't put a turtle at 1st base, or it will turn out to be a snapping turtle and bite you every game. The turle may have won the race, but she lost the softball game. I obviously want a girl with a little height (smurfs need not apply) and a wingspan to be able reach out and catch some errant throws, but given the choice of athletic or big and slow, I'll take athletic every time. You need to KNOW that a ball hit to your 1st baseman is an out. Your 1st baseman should position herself about 8-10 feet in front of the bag and about 3 feet off the foul line.
2nd Base - 12U Defensive Strategy
This is a position you should be able to back off on your athleticism quite a bit and is one area where the 12U defensive strategy differs from the 10U strategy. Every player on your team should be able to make a good throw to 1st base from this position. Obviously, the more athletic she is, the better off your team will be. However, her responsibilities really just include balls hit to her, and covering 1st base on a bunt. It would be nice if she could range over behind 1st base for pop ups, but consider yourself fortunate if she is making that play. To add a bit of confusion to this position, let me add that balls hit to 2nd base MUST be outs. I would still rather be very solid at 2nd and a little weaker at shortstop just to make sure we converted the easy outs. Your 2nd baseman should be positioned in the hole between 1st and 2nd base and about 6 feet behind the baseline.
A quick sidebar regarding 1st and 2nd base:
During your fielding practice sessions you need to spend a considerable amount of time working on the coordination of your pitcher, 1st baseman and 2nd baseman. Don't just hit balls hard to each position and let them make routine plays. Work on that nasty little dinker hit that just sneaks by the pitcher. (I hate it when those turn in to hits.) I want my 1st baseman to make as many of these plays as possible but she will have to learn through practice and repetition which balls she can reach and which ones are moving too quickly to reach. The 2nd baseman has to read the ball and react to what the 1st baseman does. If 1st goes for the ball then 2nd has to cover the base, and if 1st lets the ball go then 2nd has to charge it and play the ball. Be sure to work this play into your practice on a VERY regular basis so that your 12U defensive strategy can succeed.
3rd Base - 12U Defensive Strategy
I want an ANIMAL. Snarling, drooling, ball-hogging, softball-eating ANIMAL. It shouldn't completely surprise you if she chews tobacco. She pities the poor coach that wants to challenge her with a bunt, and dares hitters to hit it in the hole to shortstop. She needs to play 12-14 feet in front of the bag, hands in the UP position chest high, ready to charge any short hit, and play about 2-3 feet off the foul line. She needs to be prepared to cut off slow rollers to shortstop and any hoppers to shortstop. The only ball that gets past her is a bullet hit to shortstop.
Shortstop - 12U Defensive Strategy
Hopefully you can put a pretty athletic girl in this position. More than anything she needs to be quick. She will certainly have to cover 2nd on stolen base attempts and she may have to cover 3rd on steals as well. She is also going to be responsible for a lot of territory for pop flies. Everywhere from just behind the pitcher to shallow left field and center field. Given the choice of being really good at 2nd or shortstop and just being average at the other position, I'll take being really good at 2nd. Errors at 2nd base are just so demoralizing to a defense. With that said, you really should be able to position a little weaker player at 2nd and still have the position adequately covered. At this age, the shortstop should only play about 3-5 feet behind the baseline. A very common mistake is to let them drift back to the edge of the dirt. From that position they are just too far back to make most of the plays. We don't really care about stopping the bullet hit up the middle. We care about stopping the slow rollers and the average speed hits. The Winning 12U defensive strategy makes the routine plays look easy. Hey, a hit is a hit and it's okay if the other team occasionally gets a good hit. On the other hand, infield hits are unacceptable.
Catcher - 12U Defensive Strategy
The catcher's role for a winning 12U defensive strategy is pretty significant. By this age, base stealing is pretty wide open including stealing home and the dropped third strike rule. The player you select for this position should probably be just a notch below your ANIMAL at 3rd base. A player has to be pretty gritty to get behind the plate so she's probably some sort of mutant human/animal. She probably doesn't chew tobacco, but it wouldn't surprise you if she dipped a little snuff from time to time. This will sound very simplistic, but the most important part of playing catcher is catching the ball and preventing passed balls. The more balls caught, the fewer free bases that are given up to base-runners. The second most important feature is to have a quick release and a rocket arm.
A quick tip to help your catcher:
When a runner reaches 1st base the odds are they are going to try to steal 2nd base and will probably go on the first pitch. So the pitch call needs to be for a chest high inside strike. (At this age, I don't want to give the batter a ball.) This is a pretty difficult pitch to hit and most batters will lay off of it on the first pitch in their at bat. The high inside pitch is to your catcher's glove hand, and with the pitch being up it helps the catcher get up and into a good throwing position to throw out the base stealer. The last thing you want to do is throw low and outside. That pitch keeps your catcher in a down position which will cost her time to come up and throw. Also, the low outside pitch is more likely to be a wild pitch since it's to the catcher's backhand and closer to the dirt. Who needs a ball thrown in the dirt when you're trying to throw out the runner??? Keep runners at 1st base and not allowing easy passage to 2nd, 3rd and home is key to a winning 12U defensive strategy.
Right Field - 12U Defensive Strategy
Just as in the 8U and 10U Defensive Strategy, right field needs to be considered a Deep Infield position. On hard hit grounders that get through or line drives to right field, the player needs to come up throwing hard to 1st base to get the batter out. A play like this will take the wind right out of the other team. This doesn't necessarily need to be your best outfielder or your fastest outfielder, but she should probably have the best arm of your outfielders. The right fielder also needs to be johnny-on-the-spot for backing up throws to 1st base. Wild throws happen, but a good right fielder will hold the runner to 1st base or throw them out going to 2nd base. As for positioning, you will have to judge the level of your competition, but I would start at about 60 feet directly behind the 2nd baseman.
Center & Left Field - 12U Defensive Strategy
In center field I want a kid with a lot of speed. That outfield can get pretty big sometimes and knowing you are hiding the three-toed sloth in left field, the center fielder is going to need to be pretty quick to shag down balls. If you are fortunate enough to have right field covered and still have a pretty good player in center field, Congratulations are in order as you should have a pretty solid team. The main thing for these girls to learn is to keep the ball in front of them and throw at least one base in front of the runners. As for positioning, they should play about 15 feet deeper than your right fielder. With your right fielder we are playing a little risk/reward game for that potential out at 1st base, but with center and left, there is only risk. Play them back and keep everything in front. Singles are only mildly painful, triples and homeruns are killers.
Once you have analyzed your team, if you decide you do NOT have enough talent to position your players according to this 12U defensive strategy, please go by the 10U Defensive Strategy or a combination of the two. Always keep in mind that a ball hit to the right side of the infield MUST be an out. Make the easy outs and you will have a WINNING fastpitch team.
SKINS? - 12U Defensive Strategy
What skins does this mysoftballcoach guy have for 12U? I'm glad you asked. Over 200 games coached in 12U league and tournament play. As an 11U team we took 1st place in our 13U league and as a 12U team we took 1st place in our 14U league. As an 11U team we came in 4th in state in the 12U division. (What a Tournament that was!!! I believe we went 13-2 before we ran out of gas.) Also as an 11U team we were invited to play in a High School JV tournament, which we won, and run ruled 5 of our 7 opponents. As a 12U team we came in 2nd in the area metros but our season had to end as we had too many girls head off on extended summer vacations.
A great coaching tool to help determine player positioning for your 12U defensive strategy is the
magnetic line up board
as it really helps the coach visualize where his players are and the strengths and weaknesses a particular line up poses. I really can't stress enough just how valuable it is for a coach.
Now, Go Get 'em Coach!!!
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