photo credit: Tc7
Have you ever found yourself standing on the boundary waiting to see if the batsman's huge hit will clear you or land right on your head?
It's perhaps not the best time to start wondering how to catch the ball like you see the professionals do on the TV. When you watch a good slip catch or deep catch on Sky Sports it looks simple and relaxed.
Relaxation and ease don't come quite so easy at club level.
The tip you will hear coaches the world over give is simple: 'catch with soft hands', but what does that really mean?
I think 'soft hands' is code for tension control.
If you are too tensed up as the ball flies towards you, it's going to fly back out of your hands too more often than not. If you are not tense enough you won't even notice the ball heading towards you (every club side has a player like that, hopefully it's not you).
Where does the balance lie?
Assuming you know the basic techniques of catching, I thing there are three ways to look at soft hands catching.
The best catchers are the ones with the highest confidence in their ability to catch the ball. Thing is, you only get confident if you have made lots of successful catches.
Lots of catches make you think you can catch rather than wondering if you will drop it. This might seem like a small change in mindset but it's very important.
Imagining success makes success more likely and imagining failure makes failure more likely. The advice here is simple, keep telling yourself you will catch the next one, even if you have just dropped a clanger.
Getting in the zone
Linked to your confidence is your ability to be in a mental state of readiness quickly. Martial artists call this a 'mind like water'. This is to say, when you drop a stone in water is responds by sending out exactly the right size of ripples. It never wonders how to deal with the stone, or braces itself before the stone hits.
Your aim is to be in a fully reactive state. Where you respond perfectly without fear. If the ball is coming to you in the air you respond by catching it.
How do you do this?
As the bowler is running in, clear your mind with a trigger, be ready for the ball to come to you until the moment you are no longer involved in the ball. Then relax, think about any tension in your body and let it out, especially around your shoulders.
For more on learning to get into the zone for fielding get this book.
If you have the first two techniques in place you will find yourself naturally more relaxed and your hands will be softer as a result.
The final tip brings these techniques together and sums up relaxation, confidence and soft hands in one go: When you catch, catch in slow motion.
Feeling like you are moving in slow motion gives you time to react and not tense up.