Catching is Art
If you ask any great pitcher what his best tool is he will tell you a great catcher. In youth, baseball catching is one of the hardest positions to teach.
First, you have to be able to show your catcher physically. If you are like me and have the knees of a fifty-year-old, you are going to have a hard time squatting and showing a catcher the right positioning to receive and block properly. Try to find a good younger player to show the correct way to get set up. If you ask around you can probably get a player from a local high school or middle school to help. They usually love the game and would jump at the opportunity to tell their parents they are doing something that is not going to get them in trouble. Once you have a model in place, the basics are pretty simple.
I like to keep it simple at first. You need to stop the ball. Catching is best, but sometimes that is not an option. You need to stay out of the umpires way. Make sure your catcher understands that. If your catcher can make it easy on the umpire, your pitchers are going to be better. They are not supposed to be biased, but every ump is a human being under his mask. If your catcher is pleasant and you are too, they are going to give you the benefit-of-the-doubt.
Have your catcher line up one foot on each edge of home plate and draw two lines in the sand going straight back. Then from the back point of home plate go back one to two steps. That is a good place to start. They may be able to move up or back depending on where the batter is in the box or the type of swing they have. If a batter swings the bat correctly where the bat is in their stance is the furthest back the bat will ever go. Not every batter has good mechanics though, and you will know pretty quick if the catcher needs to back off.
Try to teach your catcher to start with their arm bent to give a target. Big target or a small target doesn’t matter just have to glove in front of their chest that is a good start. Make sure the arm is free not resting on a knee. Once the pitcher delivers the pitch, the catcher should reach out to receive the ball out in front of them so the umpire can see. That is it. I will get into framing and all of that fun stuff for the older kids in a later post.
Catchers have to be tuff and durable. Blocking a baseball hurts sometimes. Don’t put a child in a position where they are going to start to hate the game because they are in the wrong position. When I coach young players, I try to have at least two and if possible three catchers on my team. Two or 3 innings behind the plate in all that gear is enough for most kids that are under 13. There will be time to determine if they are full-time catchers in the higher levels.
When blocking balls the player is going to want to gain ground on the ball lunging left and right is easy just teach them to push off of the opposite leg. They need to try to move forward toward the pitcher though. An infielder is going to be trained to charge the ball. An outfielder is going to be taught to get behind the ball and move toward the infield any time that it is possible. Catchers should be taught the same thing when it comes to blocking.
There are a lot of things that good catchers can do to make their release quicker. Some catchers will develop a quality release naturally. Other players learn as they advance. For now, you should focus on making sure they don’t throw sidearm. Make sure they come over the top.
There are a couple of things you won’t see when you watch the best players in the world playing baseball. There are no LEFTIES in the major leagues playing catcher, and there are no Catchers that throw out baserunners side arm.
Lefties have a harder time throwing to third and side arm righties will have a hard time throwing anyone out with a left handed batter up at the plate. When a catcher is trying to throw out a baserunner they need to move their feet in the direction they are throwing. A good rule is to replace the left foot with the right and advance the left to the base.
Practice, practice, practice. Stand behind your catcher toss the ball in the air high and yell, “Go!” They will need to locate the ball, get under it and catch it. Some players get this easily, and some never do. All you can do is try. Some players will want or need to remove their mask to accomplish this. When teaching a catcher to how to remove their mask be sure they take it with them and throw it away only when they are confident where the ball is going to land. There is nothing worse than tripping over your mask and missing a pop-up. Been there, done that, lesson learned.
One of the most important jobs for a catcher is that they are 2nd in command when the team is on defense. The coach is in charge. He tells the catcher what to do in certain situations. The catcher relays this to the rest of the team. The catcher is the only player that has a full view of the field. Catchers are the only player allowed to start a pitch in foul territory. The catcher is also the only other player besides the pitcher who has control of when a pitch is delivered. If the catcher isn’t in his position behind home plate, the pitcher cannot throw a pitch.
So you need a catcher who is not shy and understands baseball. It is not that important early on, but as players develop by 11 or 12, you will need a couple of good quality catchers.
This video is a good place to start understanding what your catchers need to know.