The catching position is one of the most important, if not the most important, positions on the field. It can be challenging for some youth players because they would touch the baseball at nearly every pitch in this position. In addition, some players are anxious about the contact from foul balls, fielding bunts, and blocking the plate.
Improving their fundamentals is one of the best ways to make players feel more confident. There are many aspects to being a catcher.
Before you jump into drills, it is important to establish ground rules for practice. Players need to have a routine that they can follow. Safety is also paramount, whether you are in a gym or on the field. Any time you run drills, there is a potential for injury or accidents. While procedures won’t eliminate all risks, they do help mitigate them. Always have a practice plan and an emergency plan for your players. While no drill guarantees success, these drills can help build a solid foundation for a young catcher.
- The catching position is one of the most important positions on the field, and it can be challenging for some youth players to learn all the skills necessary.
- Hand-eye coordination is one of the most important skills for a catcher, and there are different drills that can help young players develop this skill.
- Blocking is another important skill for catchers, and there is a simple drill that can help young players develop this skill.
- Fielding bunts and short grounders are also important aspects of being a catcher, and there are drills that can help young players practice these skills.
- Receiving and throwing accurately are also crucial aspects of being a catcher, and there are different drills that focus on each of these skills.
Hand-eye coordination is one of the most important skills that any fielder needs. A catcher must learn to trust their ability to “see the ball into” their mitt. There are a few different ways that you can practice this with a youth catcher, indoors or outdoors.
You have a choice here about whether to have the player suit up in full gear or not. If you are using a soft ball to run the drill, you probably do not need to use the mask; this is up to your discretion. If in doubt, err on the side of safety.
Start with the player squatting a short distance in front of you. You can even have them sit on a bucket or short stool. Start with a tennis ball or an Incrediball (something soft). Toss a ball to them. Have them start barehanded. Go through about a dozen soft tosses. All you need to do is give a soft underhand toss and have them catch the ball with their catching hand. Have them focus on seeing the ball go into their hand.
You can change up this barehand drill by using a different ball. You can use racquetball or lacrosse ball. If you use a harder ball, be sure to take safety precautions. Be sure the underhand tosses remain soft and manageable. You aren’t trying to trick or confuse the player. You are simply trying to get them used to the motion of receiving the ball.
Eventually, you want to work your way up to the player wearing full gear, sitting on a bucket or stool, and catching throws using league (whatever level your league is) regulation baseballs.
A good defensive catcher can save a lot of games. One of the most fundamental aspects of catching is being a good blocker of the plate. There is a simple blocking drill that you can use to help young players develop this skill.
The player should be fully geared up (all pads, a face mask, and a helmet—catchers should always wear a cup!). Have the player start in their normal squatting position. Standing about 10 feet away from the catcher, the coach should throw baseballs (one at a time) in the dirt just before the catcher.
The catcher should drop to their knees, form a “V” with their glove and arms, and use their glove and body to block the ball. Sometimes the ball will bounce up and into the catcher’s chest, and sometimes the catcher will be able to field the ball with their glove. As soon as the catcher secures the ball, they should toss it to the side, get back into position, and wait for the next throw.
The coach should do about 8–10 reps and then give the catcher a break. If you have more than one catcher on the team, you can rotate between the catchers (if they both have gear).
People often forget that catchers field baseballs as well as catch them. The most common plays they are called to cover are bunts and short grounders. Here is an easy set of drills to practice both.
In order to simulate the scenario as closely as possible, have the catcher squat in position as though they were receiving a pitch. They should be fully equipped, including their masks.
Have a coach stand behind them and toss a baseball into the field, simulating a bunt. The catcher’s job is to hop into position, field the ball, and make a throw to first base. You want to emphasize the catcher rounding into position so that they can make a clean throw to first base once they field the ball. You can adjust this drill to have them throw to any base that you desire, but it is often best to start with first.
If you want to make the scenario a bit more challenging, you could have a coach pitch (batting practice style, with short distance and easy soft tosses) and have a player or another coach stand in the batter’s box. Whoever is hitting (should be wearing a helmet) should try to simply bunt the pitches. The catcher’s job is to jump, field the bunt, and make an accurate throw to first base.
Receiving and throwing
There are a few different drills that catchers can use for throwing. The first one focuses on getting a good grip on the baseball. This can be done on the field or in the gym.
Have your catcher (geared up) get into their squatting position. Have a coach or a player stand about 5–10 feet in front of the catcher and simply toss a ball to the catcher. The catcher should receive the ball and practice transferring it into a throwing motion. In this part of the drill, the catcher does not throw the ball. Instead, the goal is for them to catch the throw and pop up into a throwing position.
After practicing getting into the throwing position, you can have your catcher start to throw to a base. Consider having them throw to first 3-5 times (depending on the age and strength of your player) and then the same number to the second and third. Be sure to give your catchers a break!
When the catcher grips the baseball, they should use a four-seam grip. The next part of the drill is to have a catcher again get into their squatting position, but this time the coach is going to drop anywhere from 4-6 baseballs in front of the catcher. The job of the catcher is to pop out of the squatting position, field the ball (which should be within reaching distance), and then make a throw to first or second base.
It is important that you always have your catchers properly equipped when running drills. You want them to get used to performing in their gear, and, most importantly, you want to keep them safe. Also, don’t forget to get your catchers a break and keep them hydrated, especially in the hot periods of the season. That equipment can get hot pretty easily.
These drills are some of the basics. You will also want to develop several other skills with your catchers, such as taking and giving signs, aligning the infield, covering throws to first, etc. In the meantime, these will help get your player started as an anchor behind the plate.
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