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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Baseball Coaching - Don't Forget Your Catchers

Catchers require just as much and probably a lot more practice time as any of the other fielders on your team. Work with them to sharpen their skills just as you work with your other players. It only makes sense since they may be the most important player on the field. Don't forget your catchers.

By Chico Reese

There's this certain "thing" about baseball coaching and baseball practices that I've noticed over the years. It isn't just High School teams or just teams in summer leagues…it's a common problem the way I see it. Some teams/coaches can be worse than others when it comes to this, but many times it appears to be much the same story.

If you are a baseball coach, player, or have watched a lot of team practices, you've gotten the idea that repetition is a BIG thing. Repetition is what develops the "Muscle Memory" that allows the brain and body to perceive a complicated task as just an ordinary routine task. Many coaches know this and if you watch a number of different teams practicing you'll see the following things being practiced over and over and over:

Batters hitting off tees
Batters doing soft toss
Batters practicing bunting
Infielders taking ground ball after ground ball until they "get it right"
Outfielders taking fly balls and ground balls
Outfielders practicing cutoffs, throws to third, throws to second and home
Shortstops and second basemen turning double plays
Pitchers throwing and throwing
Pitchers running banana routes
Pitchers throwing over to first...pickoffs to second

Now, think back to these same practices. How many times did you see one of the coaches take two or three catchers and go off somewhere and block balls in the dirt? Correctly, I mean. And not three, four or five balls at the very end of practice. I mean a bucket or two each. In the dirt, center, left and right...correctly. Probably not often, maybe never.

How much footwork did you see the catchers doing at practice? Did you see coaches working the feet? I mean with no baseball or throwing...just, correct footwork. You probably didn't see that or remember just a little bit in the season.

Did you see the catchers fielding bunts down third and first and making the play? Again, not one or two. I mean ten times, like the reps all of the other infielders got when practicing their required skills.

What I mostly see is common...throws to second and a few to third and first during infield practice. That means a catcher might throw down to third three or four times. Big deal. During a practice, a shortstop will field fifteen to twenty ground balls and make the throw to first.

Now, here's the part that's even more funny. During games, now, the coaches have the same expectations of the catchers and their skills as they do their shortstop, second and third basemen. If there is a bunt down the first base line and the catcher throws it away, it's possible he'll get hammered by a coach. But it's also possible that he hasn't practiced that throw since the beginning of the season. I think this is one reason why I see so many balls thrown away at third and first by catchers. There just isn't enough repetition there. No "Muscle Memory."

Seasons start out with good intentions...with a lot of promises. The catchers will do this and the catchers will do that. But guess what? It usually ends up the same way in a relatively short time. The catchers will do a little bit of infield and then go right to the mounds to catch pitchers. All of the pitchers. At the same time, when it's getting dark, everyone's tired, parents are waiting and the coach who is pitching to what he thinks is the last batter turns around and yells, "Who hasn't hit yet?"

Guess who raises their hands? You got it. The two catchers. So they'll bat last. Coach is tired. He'll throw some to one catcher and then some to the other. They'll get half of the pitches that the first five guys got, if they are lucky, and these are sometimes crappy pitches anyway. Sometimes they will get the promise that they'll hit first the next practice...right. Yet, they are expected to hit like the other guys.

I've watched catchers with good size and cannon arms. If someone steals and the pitch is a good one, that catcher nails the runner by two steps. Unfortunately I've watched these same catchers and find that they can't block a beach ball. They'll let the easiest ball in the dirt get by them. I'd see seven to ten balls back to the screen, runners advancing and runs scoring. This just tells me the coach found a guy with a cannon arm and basically did nothing else with him. Happens a lot.

But I've seen some great coaches who have coached their catchers well and boy these guys are great to watch. You can immediately recognize a well coached catcher. They are just fun to watch. Umpires love them.

So coaches, don't forget your catchers. They'll win you for you games if you help them...they'll lose games for you if you don't. They have more skills to master than the other players. That's just the nature of the position. They need time too. Not at the end of practice when everyone's tired and wants to go home, either.

Oh, one more thing...Don't Forget Your Catchers.

Chico Reese has been closely involved in youth baseball, softball and High School Baseball over the last twelve years and enjoys working with young catchers.

For excellent Catching instruction, drills, training and other valuable baseball tips, consider the following sources:

Catcher Instruction, Training and Tips To Make You A Better Catcher

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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick