Athletic Fielding’s guide to Strong vs Soft Hands: Cricket catching advice
In collaboration with Cricfit, Athletic Fielding dives into the dynamic world of cricket fielding to decode the age-old debate around soft vs strong hands. With the ever-evolving cricket landscape, it's essential to adapt and understand the terminologies and techniques that give cricketers an edge in the field. So, is there a place for both? Or are there misconceptions regarding the terminology and language used and ultimately how catching is taught to our aspiring cricketers?? Let's delve deeper.
Catching Rockets in Modern Cricket
The modern game witnesses bat exit speeds of up 90-95 mph, sending a 156g rocket over the ropes, skimming across the outfield or in the direction of the anticipating fielder, ready to chase, stop or catch anything within their vicinity. With the emergence of greater bat technology, technical superiority (with regards to power hitting) and athletic development that places professional cricketers within touching distance of many “invasion” sport athletes physically, the fielders on the receiving end have had to develop their skill set too.
'Soft Hands' in Cricket Fielding
The grassroots community does an invaluable job and plays a vital role in developing the youth and providing opportunities for anyone wishing to become exposed to the game. Growing up you would have come across pieces of information and terminology that gradually have become outdated or proven to be incorrect, especially with the rate of development in our white-ball game, we have seen techniques and tactics changing to meet the demands of the game. The same can be said for fielding and a common phrase often thrown around the cricket field is “make sure you have soft hands”, especially when catching.
The Myth of “Hard Hands”
The opposite to that you’d think would be “hard hands”, but again, that too contradicts the actual techniques and mechanics used at the highest level to allow them to catch the fastest struck balls. The use of the term “hard hands'' often creates a rigid and stiff chain of events, leading to the fielder snatching at the ball, creating unnecessary tension. Newton's third law of motion (action-reaction) is something we wish to avoid when catching, whereby if we provide an equal force back into the ball, you’d expect the ball to “pop” back out of the hands.
Introducing 'Strong Hands & Soft Body'
We’re going to propose to you that the use of “Strong” hands, coupled with a “Soft” body is the terminology we should be using. Now that takes into consideration the importance of using the whole body when catching a cricket ball, whilst the hands are key, there is a whole chain of events that need to take place if you want to catch those rockets.
Mastering Strong Hands when fielding in Cricket
We’re going to assume that the fielder is on the boundary and has limited pre-movements (running) to make prior to a high catch. The image below provides a brilliant example of the positions occupied for the use of strong hands. As you’ll be able to see, all corresponding joints demonstrate some degree of flexion, allowing kinetic energy to be dissipated and for the body to remain “soft”. With a flexed and relaxed body, the hands have the opportunity to remain strong and limit any additional “give”, taking the force of the ball without fear of it bursting through the hands. Whilst the appendicular skeleton (limbs) remain flexed, you’ll find sufficient tension within the core, allowing the head to remain still and balanced.
When teaching this technique it’s important to address what is expected of the lower body too. In order to keep the information processing simple, using verbal cues such as; “get into a lunge”, “move around the ball” or “take it late”, allows fielders to self-organise their lower body whilst focusing on the catch.
In order to develop these qualities scaffolding progressions are often used, gradually increasing the intensity or complexity of the skill. By gradually layering each skill we begin moving closer to a live game scenario itself, but not without developing the fielder's self-awareness, technical competency and confidence within the initial stages.
The same can be said for when fielding within the inner circle. A flatter, harder struck ball has the ability to burst through and potentially injure “soft hands”. By allowing the body to remain soft the fielder creates a base that is dynamic and flexible, encouraging fluid movement around the ball. The hands are simply the end product, but rely on a correct sequence leading up to making contact with the ball, timing.
Activities to encourage 'Strong Hands' in Cricket Fielding
Below are a few activities you can use to explore “Strong Hands” with your fielders.
- One handed conditioning: View fielding drill
- Hold onto your shorts: View fielding drill
- Weighted ball tramline catches: View fielding drill