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One of the least understood and incorrectly executed movements is the Crow-Hop. This movement used by outfielders correctly will improve throwing accuracy and strength. So what is a Crow-Hop? Basically, it is a movement the player executes to provide balance and throwing momentum after the catch. The catch can be on ground balls or fly balls – but the player must properly use the Crow-Hop to give him the best chance of making good throws. Balance is the goal and the key to good outfield play.
This next sequence is done in one fluid motion. After catching the ground ball, the outfielder should push off the front knee and replace the front foot with the back foot. The best way to do this is to elevate off the ground, lift the back knee first, then the front knee, and put the back foot down approximately where the front foot was. When done correctly, the back-knee/front-knee lifts and back-foot/front-foot exchange happens quickly. While elevating and replacing, the player should also turn his torso and hips so that his glove shoulder is pointing toward the target. This motion is called the Crow-Hop.
The Crow-Hop is a movement that gets the player best positioned to throw the ball. The outfielder is creating balance, aligning shoulders to the target, and loading up his throwing (back) leg for the throw. Loading the back (throwing-side) leg is a term used to describe the beginning of the throwing motion. Simply put, it means most of the player’s weight is on his back leg. Most means more than 50 percent and less than 100 percent. Some instructors like to pinpoint the exact percentage, but my experience with thousands of ballplayers tells me it is a little different for each player. The average weight distribution is about 80-20 back leg to front leg.
Like most sports including baseball, a player must move in one direction to move better to the opposite direction. Both hitters and pitchers do this as well. It’s a mechanism for balance and bodily energy. Some players exaggerate the crow-hop by lifting their knees very high, almost like a marching band. Other players drag their back leg in to a bad, or “short”, position – and the back leg never gets completely under the body. Neither of these methods is correct.
The proper technique is to lift the knee high enough so the player’s back leg supports the body. This creates balance – and good throws. When outfielders get really good at the Crow-Hop technique it looks seamless and smooth.
Caution: Sliding, Cha-Cha, and Gliding
Many players, me included in my youth, try to execute the crow-hop without clearly replacing one foot with the other. They just slide the back foot, leaving it short of replacing the front (glove-side) foot. First hand experience shows that this results in bad balance and poor throws. Once I learned to lift my knees and position my throwing leg underneath my body, my balance and throws were consistently good. Figure 2-6 illustrates the incorrect Sliding Crow-Hop. You can see that the outfielder has not loaded his back leg, is overstretched and off-balance. This throw is highly likely to be a poor one.
A common situation of the Sliding Crow-Hop happens after his back leg has slid short of full balance. The player’s brain tells him he is off-balance and he tries to correct it by quickly re-positioning his back (throwing-side) leg. His front leg is still in the air while his back leg is pumping up and down. This makes him look like he is on a pogo stick. He pumps his back leg two or three times to try to get balanced – and all the while his momentum is carrying him forward so that he rarely gets fully balanced.
Another incorrect variation of the crow-hop is what I call the Babe Ruth Cha-Cha. The Babe would move up in the batter’s box to swing at a curve ball before it curved. He did this by moving his back foot behind his front, then striding to hit the ball. A lot of slowpitch softball hitters do this too. Again, you see that the player is off-balance. He is also moving parallel to the target, taking his momentum off-target. Arm strain and bad throws surely will result. Many players use the Cha-Cha move to turn their upper bodies to throw. While the move does align the player’s shoulders to the target, it also reduces balance and momentum.
The Gliding Crow-Hop looks like a mid-air scissor kick, as if a ballet dancer were fielding the ball. The player’s knees do not lift; instead he leaps up, brings both straight legs together, then strides out with his front (glove-side) leg while his throwing leg hits the ground. To most untrained observers, this looks pretty good. But gliding has very high odds of getting the player off-balance. Most times, the player’s momentum is moving so fast that he does not allow himself to properly load his back leg for the throw. The Gliding Crow-Hop also never allows the outfielder’s back leg to get fully loaded. He is so off-balance that many times he falls forward to the ground after the throw.
I hope this helps players and coaches know the correct and often-used incorrect ways to use the Crow-Hop in the outfield. You will be amazed at the improvement in your fielding and throwing by properly executing this critical movement. Thanks for reading!