I have always said that softball is not a spectator sport because softball position backup is everyone’s job. There is always something to do every single time the ball is hit or every time the ball is thrown. If a fielder is not fielding or throwing the ball, or covering a base, she is backing up either a base or a fielder. For example, if the center fielder goes for the ball, the left fielder backs her up if it is on her side of the field, if a ball is being thrown to first base, the right fielder is sprinting to back her up depending on which direction the ball is coming from.
Softball Position Backup
If an outfielder is backing up an infielder who is fielding a ground ball, she needs to assume that the fielder is going to miss it so that she is 100% prepared to make a play once she has the ball. Often, there is no real back up until the fielder misses the ball which can give the baserunners extra bases, or delay play on a runner. This tactic is not because we think the fielder is not capable, it is because we want everyone to be ready for anything.
An outfielder who is backing up another fielder, should back up as if she is going to make a play. Often, the back up does not happen unless the fielder misses the ball. This definitely allows for extra bases because by the time the back up fielder gets to the ball, it is too late to stop runners from advancing. This may even end up in runs scored. The back up fielder should run in a direct line to behind where the fielding player will get to the ball. We tell players who are fielding the ball to run a sort of curved path so that they can arrive in front of the ball and square to make a play. The back up fielder though runs a straight line because that is the quickest and most effective route to the back up position.
Infielders back up in more situations and for different reasons. A pitcher for example who backs up the plate is there in case of an errant throw to the catcher or one that ends up past one of the corner bases and travels down the backstop. Each position has their own area of coverage that they back up on a hit ball.
Backing up a Thrown Ball
The first part of backing up a throw is to have a good idea of where the backup will be required. For example, if a runner is rounding first base, the left fielder or center fielder know they need to back up second base if the ball is coming from the right side of the field and the right fielder needs to back up second base if the ball is going to be thrown from the left side of the field. Outfielders backup is more about preventing the ball from getting to the outfield.
The infielders back up pick off throws, steal defense throws second base, and of course backing up throws back to the pitcher from the catcher. On a pick off throw to third base, the shortstop backs up the throw if the third base player is taking the throw. If it is the shortstop who is taking the throw then the left fielder needs to be there in case something happens. On a throw down to second to defend a steal, the second base player backs up the shortstop who is taking the throw. On the other side of the field at first base, it is similar. If there is a pick off throw, the second base would generally be the one to take it and the right fielder is the one who backs up the base.
When backing up a thrown ball, the fielder should be about 5 – 10 feet behind the receiver and lined up in the direction that the ball would be coming from. This will provide enough reaction time to prevent further damage. It is critical that the back up fielder keep the ball in front of them. It may be by catching it or blocking it but it must be kept in front of the body. Depending on the base that the runner is at, and where the ball is, this will give the best chance of stopping them from advancing.
As a rule bases should be covered two bases ahead of the runner. This understanding will help the fielders to determine where they are going and when. Backing up is a fluid skill. Fielders may be anticipating backing up a specific play but the positioning and actions of the baserunners will dictate the execution. A runner might be heading to second on a hit but because of a bobble, which means second and third need backup instead of first and second. When there are multiple runners on base, it can seem chaotic. The important thing to remember is what the player can do and not what she thinks she can do. Back up the appropriate base and anticipate the path of the runners. The best way is to always assume a throw or a play will be missed and there will always be appropriate back up.