Play Catch for Better Baseball

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Play Catch for Better Baseballplay catch for better baseball

Play catch for better baseball seems like a no-brainer. Who doesn’t think that playing catch is an important part of baseball? I will answer that question, almost every youth baseball coach in the world. You are sitting there reading this saying, “Not me!” I am sitting here writing this thinking, “Yes you.”

Coaches must prepare a team for everything

Most coaches start practice either with a stretch and throw or vice-versa. The problem is not many youth coaches pay attention to the throwing part of it because the players are just warming up. Well whether you are warming up, hot or cooling off there should be a purpose to your movements.

When a player is, “Warming up,” they are more aware of what their bodies are feeling. Warm up is the best time to train the brain to use proper fundamentals. When players use good fundamentals during their entire practice, they are more likely to return to them unconsciously during high-pressure situations. Preparation is the name of the game, and it is never too early to start preparing.

Receiving position

Play catch for better baseballHave you ever watched kids when they are warming up? They have gloves down at their sides, or they put the glove way out in front of them like they are going to will the ball into it before it thrown. Neither of these is good mechanics for receiving a ball during a game usually. There are exceptions first base and some tag plays, but most of the time, you want a player standing shoulders squared to the the thrower in an athletic position with knees and hips flexed. Their eyes should be looking in the direction of the ball, and their hands should be about shoulder height on either side of their head. This stance is called a receiving position.

Throwing mechanics

That is the firPlay catch for better baseballst part of playing catch. The second part is the throw. Throwing mechanics are just as important for a fielder as they are for pitchers. The other thing about the mechanics is that they are pretty much the same whether you are pitching, catching, playing infield or outfield. The distance of the arm swing is the only thing that changes.

 

A pitcher and outfielder are going to have the most similarity in their throwing arm swing or arc. Both positions have time to deliver the ball but need to maximize the velocity at which they throw. Infielders and catchers have more similarities in their throwing arc. Catchers and infielders require velocity on their throws but gain more of an advantage by getting the ball out of their hands quicker. Therefore, their arc is much shorter than pitchers or outfielders.

Pairing for mediocrity and excellence

At the college level, we try to have players warm up with other players who play similar positions. This way we can have the players monitor and help each other maintain the proper throwing and catching techniques. Our starting shortstop plays catch with the starting second baseman on game days and on practice days he warms up with the backup shortstop.

This method, in my opinion, is the best way to have players warm up at that level. At the youth level, it is somethingPlay catch for better baseball that may not work for your team. Youth players are learning the game. They are probably all getting exposed to playing multiple positions and may need to learn all for throwing arcs. As a coach, you are also dealing with the issue that some kids are better than others at playing catch.

I would like to promote a team-first player second philosophy to warming up. With this system, the player who is the weakest would play catch with the strongest player during warm up. Continue pairing players like this all the way down the line. Pairing this way will help the weaker players catch up with, the better players, in theory, making your team better. I don’t like to hold good players back though so my solution to that is each day you practice or have a game your players should rotate. Pairing players who are stronger together and players who are weaker together from time to time.

How do you play catch?

Playing catch is a part of practice because it is a part of the game. When you play catch the right way you give yourself a valuable tool to use to become a better baseball player. Better players tend to make better teams. Always observe how your team plays catch in warm up. Instruct players when necessary, and ball all means make them focus on doing it right.

Going out

Playing catch the right way will start with players relatively close to each other. The distance should be such that both players can comfortably throw the ball with extreme accuracy to the other. After about three to five throws one player should start backing up a couple of steps every couple of throws. The player should continue to back up until the players have reached a distance that is slightly longer than their hardest throw. Both players should be reaching each other on a hop.

The goal of every throw should be accuracy at a good velocity. Throwing a ball where you want every time softly doesn’t make you a good player. Just as throwing the ball hard all over the place doesn’t help either. There is a velocity and accuracy combination that each player can obtain that works for them. Belt buckle to head, between the shoulders is a good area to throw the ball. Make sure your players understand that and do it.

Bring it in

Once players have reached the one-hop range, the player that was backing up should start working their way back to their partner. On the way back players should work on positional defense. Ground balls for infield fly balls for outfield and catchers should receive and pop.

As an infielder receives a ground ball, they should go through their mechanics of fielding and stride into their throw. They should then return a ground ball or fly ball depending on their partners position back to them. Outfielders should do the same thing with fly balls. Finally, catchers should crouch into a position to receive a pitch when they catch the ball they should pop up to throw a runner out and return a throw to their partner. All of this is done with the same accuracy consideration as well as continuously closing the distance between players.

After a few weeks, you will find that if you can get your team to play catch for better baseball that is what you will get. The better ball will happen right before your eyes. For more information about how to play catch check out my article, “Teaching Baseball FUNdamentals.”

Thank you,

Coach Wood

 

Don’t forget to get your copy of “The Science of Sticky Coaching” by Joey MyersPlay catch for better baseball

 

 

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Baseball Catcher-Most needed player

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Baseball Catching-Most needed playerBasseball catching

The catching position is the most important as well as the most under coached position on the baseball field. A great baseball catcher can make pitchers better, make a defense stronger, and keep a game plan on course.  So why don’t coaches spend more time educating themselves and players about correctly fielding the position?

Introducing Greg Creager

This article is going to be the first in a series by a fellow coach. Greg Creager has played catcher his whole life. He played D1 college baseball until an injury ended his baseball playing career. As with most of us with a passion for the game, his dedication to the sport has never stopped. He is now a partner at the Fort Smith Baseball Academy located at 10818 Old Hwy 71 Fort Smith, AR.

I became acquainted with Greg through a Facebook group called “Coaching Baseball – Tips, Drills, travel teams, and more…” Greg often posts great information and comments. When he posted the following tips on catching I had to contact him and see if he would let me bring his knowledge to more people.

Greg’s words are top notch information about the catching position and if more coaches take the time to teach good athletes how to catch the future of baseball will be a lot brighter.

Importance of a catcher

Baseball catchingCatchers, as you know if you read my page about the position, is the most important position on defense. A great catcher is a leader both physically and emotionally. Catchers are an extension of the coach on defense.

The catching position is the brain of the baseball team, yet most youth coaches but kids behind the dish that they can’t play at another position. Or worse they put a good athlete behind the plate and don’t give them any instruction. With inferior ability, lack of coaching, or both, players develop many bad habits that are hard to break.

Coach G’s words of wisdom

I work with a lot of catchers. One thing I notice that is becoming an epidemic is the bad habits that get started at young ages.  I have also seen these problems are the result of a couple of things, 1.) the coach knows nothing about catching and doesn’t spend any time, and 2.) at an early age (coach pitch) they just throw a kid back there that they don’t necessarily want to play in the field. So having said that I hope to change that with hopefully one child and one uninformed coach at a time.

So here is Coach G’s first catching tip of the week. Baseball catching

Primary stance: this is the usual position catchers are in without runners on, the threat of stealing or two strikes. This setup allows you to sit more comfortably while still performing the most typical duties of calling and receiving pitches.

You want to be low in your stance giving the pitcher a good low target. Being relaxed with your legs slightly wider than your shoulders with your toes angled out, which allows your hips to be open. (A good rule of thumb is the plate is 17 inches wide, and your knees should be on each side of the plate when you squat.) Your mitt should be in the center of your body, away from your chest with your forearm (not elbow) resting on your knee. Be sure to have your mitt at about the same height as your batters knees which should be the bottom of the hitting zone. Keep your throwing hand down at your side behind your leg NEVER BEHIND YOUR BACK.

*When the catcher puts their throwing arm behind their back it puts them in an off-balance position. It also causes the shoulder joint to be in a more open position making the catcher susceptible to foul balls causing injury to the shoulder.

Also don’t set up so far back off the plate. Get as close as you can while still being out of the batters swing to get those low strikes instead of those low balls that should have been strikes.

Stick the strikes,

Coach G.

Summary

Coach G’s words are a description of the primary catching position. There are other positions that a catcher needs to learn. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to bring you all of those stances as well as the mental responsibilities of the catcher. We will also get into the differences between coaching youth players (Little League) and older kids (Travel and 90-foot basepath).

Thank you,

Coach Wood

*Coach Wood’s added note

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Free Baseball Drills You Need To Know

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Free Youth Baseball Drills You Need To Know.

Today I want to give you 2 free youth baseball drills you need to use every practice. The first one is going to be easy it is a base running drill. It will keep every player moving and if they are not they are catching their breath so they can. The second drill will be a little more complicated but I used it with my T-ball teams. There are other versions of the drill that you can do as you coach older teams and we did a version of this one with the college team that I coached.

Drill 1 Around The World.

  • To start this drill every player will line up at home plate. Each player will line up behind home plate and when it isBase runner their turn to start they will go to the batters box that they hit from and imitate a swing. Then they will run through first base as if they hit a ground ball to the infield.
  • They will then line up in foul ground next to first base. Each player will take a turn running from first base to second base and sliding into the base.
  • Once all players have completed they will line up to the center field side of second base and run to third base and you can either have them slide again or round the base and stop.
  • Now the team will line up in foul ground next to third base and make the final sprint to home I prefer to have the players run through home plate at this point to speed things up.

Round Two

  • Round two all players start the same way. Then round first base and go back to the base. They line up in foul ground again.
  • Next they will run from first base to third base without stopping I usually have the players slide into third but it is optional.
  • Again the players will line up and sprint home.

Round Three

  • The Third round the players begin the same way but continue around first and go to second as though they hit a double.
  • Then they will all line up to run from second to home.

Round Four

  • The final phase is going to be a round trip touch em’ all home run.

If my team had worked hard at this point I would make it fun and let them do there best big league home run trot. You will have a couple of very creative kids that incorporate a lot of the elements that they see on ESPN highlights. Bat flips the whole 9 yards. Great drill to get the blood flowing at the beginning of practice or to end practice on a good note.

Drill 2 Double Play.

First basemanThe double play drill is fun for everyone even the players that don’t seem like they really want to be there. You will need a first baseman I usually use 3 or 4 different players if you have enough or a coach if you are not sure that your players are ready to handle a lot of balls being thrown at them.

You will then take the rest of the team and split them up into two groups one group on the 2nd base side and one group at the short stop position. A coach will kneel on the ground with a bucket of baseballs just behind the pitchers mound. The coach will roll a ground ball to the 2nd baseman. Then 2nd baseman will flip the ball to the shortstop and then the shortstop will throw on to first base. After they are done the second baseman and the shortstop will switch lines.

I like to have at least two kids at a time at first base that way if the ball gets missed the first baseman can chase it without the drill having to stop. Don’t forget to give your first basemen a chance to participate at the other positions.

Once every player has had a turn at both positions you can start rolling the ball to the shortstops and repeat the drill.

What’s happening

There are a lot of things that need to happen during this drill that as a coach you can correct. This drill is one of my favorites because I can control the pace easily it keeps players attentive and I can work on a lot of different elements at the same time.

We are catching ground balls working on footwork and glove work. We are flipping or tossing making short throws. We are working on catching coming across the base with both hands up to make a good target and for quick transfer to throw. So I get to work on footwork around the base and glove work. Then there is the element of the long throw from second base to first.

We also have the catching at first base that involves being able to catch the ball while keeping a foot on the base. I will be posting some things on footwork and glove work for each position on the field so you will know what to look for during this drill.

Add to the drill

As you get older you can add a group of players at third base. The way we run this drill with the college team is really fun. We put all the players at their respective positions. At the college level most player have one position that they play maybe two. A coach stands at home plate with the catchers and hits fungos to each position.

We start off with 5-4-3 then 6-4-3 then 4-6-3 then 3-6-3 then back to third basemen. Do it all again and add the catcher into the mix at the end going either 2-6-3 or 2-4-3. Then all the way around one more time but when you get to the first basemen they go 3-2-3 then the real fun because we hit a ground ball to the outfielders who are all at throw em’ out depth in center field they charge the ball and try to make that perfect throw to home plate.

Once we are done we do it again usually 3 to 4 rounds at every practice. ( A quick note for those who may not know when keeping score in baseball all nine positions on the field have a number. 1 is the pitcher, 2 is the catcher, 3 first base, 4 second base, 5 third base, 6 shortstop, 7 left field, 8 center field, and 9 is right field.) A 6-4-3 double play would be a ball fielded by the shortstop tossed to the second baseman for an out at second base and then thrown to the first baseman for the second out.

Getting good

When you do this if your kids are getting good at the drill have them spice it up. See if they can do the no look toss to second to start the double play or jump off the base at second to make the throw to first. One of the things my kids can’t stand about me is how I don’t get really excited watching highlights of great baseball plays. They really get sick of me saying, “Done that.” The best way to find out what you can do is to try to do it. If you fail, so what, it is practice and that is what it is for. I was asked by my J.V. baseball coach why I would dive for balls in practice. I told him to see how far away a ball had to be before I couldn’t get it. You really don’t want to be finding that out during the bottom of the last inning of a tie game. Do you? Let the kids make things up and be a little creative it will keep things fun for them and let you know what the limits of their talent is.

I hope these free baseball drills will help you with your team. Please let me know how they work out when you use them.

Thank you,

Coach Wood

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