By Dave Weaver
Before I explain how to train catchers in pitch recognition let me share something else that significantly handicaps most youth catchers when they try to block. I find that a key reason why players struggle to get to the ground quickly and block balls properly is improper receiving stance.
Catchers must be in a stance that allows their first move to be down, rather than up when they begin to execute the block. The easiest way to accomplish this is to insure that their feet are far enough apart so their heel are in contact with the ground, toes are pointed up the baselines and their thighs are parallel to the ground. If they are in a deep crouch, like they should be with no runners on, then their hips will have to go up before they can begin to move towards the ground. A deep crouch will only add to the amount of time it takes to block a ball by making the athlete travel upward before they are able to drive to the ground.
Pitch Recognition Training Process
First and foremost realize that this is a process, a process that will take time. It may take hundreds if not thousands of pitches to reach a consistent level of performance. Coaches must realize that a ten-year-old who can learn the mechanics of blocking in few short lessons may take three or more seasons before he/she is proficient in consistently reading pitches.
- When beginning this drill have the catcher get in their runners on base stance.
- Remind them they need to block all balls in the dirt and receive properly all pitches that do not require blocking.
- Inform them the situation is bottom of the last inning, you are up by one run and the tying run is on third.
- Position yourself half the normal distance between home and the mound. This allows the coach to throw the ball more accurately each time.
- Throw the first two pitches at least one foot over the catcher’s head. They will obviously not try to block these two pitches.
- Throw the next two pitches in the dirt three feet before the plate. The catcher should immediately recognize these balls are in the dirt and immediately move to block.
- Mix the next few pitches so they are thrown very high, and very low. Observe if the catcher successfully identifies and reacts properly to each pitch. During this particular part of the drill sequence what is most important is the catcher’s reaction. We are looking to see if the catcher CLEARLY demonstrates the ability to read the pitch location and responded accordingly. It is less important if the block is technically correct.
- Once the catcher masters the above move the pitches such that high pitches are lower and more in the catcher’s range, and the low pitches bounce closer to the catcher. See if he/she begins to balk and gets caught in that nasty place between blocking and receiving.
- You may find that the catcher will start to read the low pitches incorrectly as soon as the ball hits the ground just past the back point of the plate.
- As you begin to throw more pitches that are in the strike zone you will begin to see the hesitation appear as the catcher is struggling to read the pitches destination. When you throw a pitch at the knees you may find the catcher actually drops to block and gets hit in the mask. Likewise a pitch low and away that clearly should be blocked you may see them jab their glove out at it at the last second and try to catch it. The goal is to find that upper and lower limit when he/she seems to start having trouble reading whether to block or receive and drill in that range.
- When you see their proficiency growing increase the velocity in small increments to keep them challenged.
- For catchers twelve and under, a good benchmark in a game situation is having your catcher read the pitch correctly to block 50% of the time when the ball is going into the dirt, and then execute proper blocking techniques 10% of the time. In the beginning be satisfied that they were able to correctly determine where the pitch was headed and began to execute the correct skill. The ball will still get by them since they are still using too much of the .6 of a second to read the pitch, not allowing enough time to actually execute the block.
Dave Weaver founded The New England Catching Camp (www.catchingcamp.com) in 1994 after realizing that instruction for the toughest position on the diamond was generally unavailable. Weaver teaches at numerous facilities throughout New England and conducts group clinics, team workshops, coaches clinics, and private sessions with catchers of all ages. Dave has coached athletes in a variety of sports for over 30 years, and has been a coach for catchers from youth through professional levels.