The Three Rules of Defense
There are nine defensive players on the field. Every one of them has something to do on every play. Note that a “play” is not just when the batter hits the ball but every time the ball is thrown or hit when time is in. Any player who does not react when the ball is hit or thrown is not playing baseball. They are watching baseball. One of the tendencies of boy baseball players is to just stand and watch unless the ball is hit or thrown to them. The coach can use the three rules of defense to fight that tendency.
GET THE BALL! This seems too obvious to mention until you watch players who could catch the ball run to cover a base instead. “I thought he was going to get it,” is never an excuse. This rule also means that every player should start toward the ball when it is thrown or hit while deciding whether they can get it first.
COVER A BASE If you see that someone else is going to get to the ball first, cover a base. This rule applies to outfielders, pitchers, and first basemen especially. I have often seen a right fielder catch a line drive on the bounce with plenty of time to throw the batter out at first if only someone was covering first base. Either the first baseman or the pitcher could beat the batter to first but once the ball goes into the outfield they think “that’s a hit” and just watch.
BACK UP A BASE If you see that someone else is going to get to the ball before you and all the bases are covered, back up one of those bases. Since this often requires running a long way, the fielder needs to start right away to get into position.
If these three rules are obeyed, the player will always be in the right place. They will not necessarily make the play but they will at least be available to try to make the play.
In baseball there is a lot of time to think before acting. The problem is that when it comes time to act there is no time to think. Therefore, the good baseball player rehearses what they will do before they need to do it. The fielder will be thinking about the play they will make if the ball is hit to them. They may have several options depending on where and how the ball is hit. Each should be considered. When there are base runners, the fielder must think about what to do if a pickoff is attempted. Thinking about what to do before the need arises is the only way to be both quick and correct.