Let’s face it, baseball is a game of fundamental skills and perhaps the most fundamental skills is how to play catch. Cal Ripken talks about the better the team, the better they play catch. Majors are better than minors, minors are better than farm, farm is better than T-Ball. And it keeps going. Club baseball is better than little league. High School is better than club. College better than High School, all the way up to the pro’s who play catch best of all.
So if you want to play better baseball, you need to teach kids to play catch very well. So how do you do it? There are two key elements to playing successful catch. The first half is the throwing. The second half is the catching. This drill will focus on the latter. How to catch.
What is it?
I call this drill the four zone drill. It is a technique I developed back when I was coaching 6 and 7 year olds. My goal was to create a drill that gave the player lots of repetitions in a short period of time, plus it could be practiced indoors or out of doors (early the season weather is dodgy). Finally, this drill would be broken up into groups or even pairs so lots of kids could be active at once. The more repetitions, the better.
How does it work?
You take a player and have him get into his ready position. Sometimes called the gun fighter or athletic position. Then you have them start chopping their feet in small quick movements. We want the players stepping to the ball when they go to catch it. The footwork is important. By keeping their feet moving they are more likely to actually step to the ball. If they don’t chop their feet they tend to lunge and lean which is bad.
Then you toss the ball into each one of the four catch “zones”. The player catches the ball with the proper technique then tosses the ball back. In very short order they get to quickly experience each of the core catch mechanics and feel how they are different. By moving their feet, they learn to actually put their body into the proper position to catch a ball. Plus the movement keeps them active and alert.
How do I use it?
As I mentioned there are four core techniques for catching a baseball. They are:
- Over the head
- Below the belt
As a coach, you need to help instruct the players in each of the proper techniques.
A ball thrown to their glove side. The coach should make a nice firm toss about should high. Surprisingly many young players have a lot of trouble with this catch. The reason is that they must anticipate the angle of the ball as their head turns. Tracking a ball moving through space is challenging enough, learning to stick your glove in the right space at the right time takes a lot of concentration.
In the forehand catch, the players thumb and fingers point up.
This will be the most important skill a player develops. Why? Two reasons. First, it is the most natural position to catch a baseball thrown straight at your body. Second, it is easy to keep your eyes in line with the ball and the glove. With the backhand catch, the player bends their elbow and points their thumb toward the ground. Their goal is to keep leather between the ball and the ground. The web makes a kind of basket.
The backhand is important because you can keep your eyes in line with your glove. This way you can track a ball coming straight in. It is also easier to absorb the ball because the elbow can bend creating a kind of shock absorber.
The coach will want to make a firm toss to the players throwing side shoulder to get the player to catch the ball backhand. They should step toward the ball as they receive it.
Over the head
This is the one throw where the player actually steps back from the ball. The reason they step back is that a ball thrown over a player’s head is usually dropping, and stepping back can give them a little more time to catch it, plus it might drop to where they can actually reach it.
The player’s thumbs go together as they reach up over their head and they try to capture the baseball in the web of their glove. In each and every catching motion, their goal is to get the ball into the web of the glove then close their glove around the ball. (It is best if you break in your glove correctly.)
Some kids are afraid of the ball so you might want to use a Safe-T ball for the whole drill until they are confident enough to use a real baseball.
Below the belt
The mirror image of above the head, this time the pinkies go together as the player points his fingers toward the ground. They can step forward to try and grab the ball in the web of their glove. Their free hand tries to cover the caught ball.
In all instances you are looking for good forward, stepping to the ball (or away in the instance of over the head), and you want to keep the throws moving. If a player misses a ball have another one ready. Expect failure. The goal here is not perfection but repetition. The more “reps” a player gets, the faster they will learn. Young players do not get better by watching. They need to act. While they will mimic what they see, they need to be able to act it out.
And that’s it. Nice and simple. Four throws per player. Keep the line moving. I used this drill the full time I coached farm. Why? Because some kids only learn to catch one way. This drill helped them realize that they could learn to catch with different techniques and that increased their confidence and ability to play.