The catcher is a position that is often overlooked in youth baseball. Catchers are taken for granted as coaches spend time doing drills for hitting, improving defense, and pitching. Success in baseball depends on the team's strength up the middle, with the catcher as the starting point. Coaches who spend a small amount of quality time with their catchers can teach them independent practice drills. These catching techniques and drills can be practiced as a group or independently, allowing the coach to work on other components of the game as well.
This article contains information about a drill progression used for teaching catchers the techniques of "blocking" and "fetching". It is important that the skills be broken down into a logical progression. Catchers must not go from point A to point B without having point A mastered. Catching can be taught in a three step progression. These parts are 1) block, 2) pop, and 3) fetch.
The block is broken into two phases. The first phase is the "drop" followed by the "blow and curl". In the drop phase, the catcher's shin guards must drop flat on the ground with the shins against the dirt. The catcher's weight must be back and not on the kneecaps. The shoulders are kept square to the ball. The eyes are fixed, tracking the ball from where it hit the ground to the point it hits the catcher on the chest. Both of the hands must drop to the ground and touch the dirt with the knuckles and the palms facing up and in the direction from which the ball is coming. Catchers must sit flat, shoulders square to ball, eyes tracking the ball. Players must master the drop phase before you continue the lesson.
The "blow and curl" phase follows. In the "blow and curl" phase, catchers are taught to track the ball as it hits the ground and heads toward them. They watch the ball hit their chest protector. As the ball hits, air is blown out and the shoulders curl around the ball. The chin tucks into the chest. Blowing the air out of the lungs makes the chest give with the contact of the ball, thereby softening the impact. The chest cushions the ball like a pillow, allowing the ball to drop closer to the catcher rather than bouncing farther away.
The coach gives the following commands to do the drill. First, instruct the catchers to "drop", then order "blow and curl". Make sure each catcher does each command correctly. Once the catchers can do each step independently, put both sections together in one command, "drop and curl". Have your catchers put the drop, blow, and curl together in one action. Sometimes if the catcher say the word "pooh," it assists them in getting used to blowing out the air as the ball hits. This phase is mastered when catchers use proper positioning. Once they are doing the "drop and curl" correctly, it is time to work the next part of blocking, the "pop".
As soon as the catcher drops, curls and has felt the impact of the ball, they must " pop" back up into the catching position. To get up the catcher can either push themselves up with their arms and hands or pop up with their feet under them in one motion. In either case, the catchers must work on quickness. Quickness is the real secret to catching. They must be quick with both their feet and hands. Now, when the coach gives the command "drop", the catchers drops, blows, curls and gets right back into the original catching position by popping up as quickly as possible. The goal of this phase is to keep the ball in front of the catcher, not allowing it to get away. This technique keeps the ball in closer proximity to the catcher. Once the "pop" can be done quickly, you move on to the "fetch" phase.
During the "fetch" phase, catchers learn to use the "stop and scoop" technique when picking up the ball. As the catcher quickly approaches a blocked ball, they place their glove on the ground in front of the ball with the pocket facing the catcher. This allows them to scoop the ball into the glove with the bare hand by digging under the ball. The glove becomes the stopper and the bare hand becomes the scooper. The reason for using this technique is that it reduces the chance of fumbling or dropping the ball as might occur if they were trying to pick it up with one hand alone. As soon as the catcher has the ball, he should come right up into the throwing position.
The catcher must go after the ball as quickly as possible using this "fetch" technique . Most coaches tell their base runners to advance to the next base if the catcher ever goes to his knees. Catchers can challenge the other team to run on them after the ball has been blocked. The "fetch" technique enables your catchers to get up as quickly as possible and go after the ball to challenge the runner. If your catchers fetch as quick as possible, it will discourage teams from running on the catchers.
This article has dealt only with blocking straight on. The same progressions apply to blocking to the right and left except the catcher slides in front of the ball always squaring the shoulders in the direction of the ball .
All phases of the blocking technique need to be practiced constantly. With practice of each phase, your catchers will become better and quicker. Daily practice of every phase of blocking will develop a natural instinct in the catcher. As your catchers block, pop up, fetch the ball, and come up into the throwing position they will add strength to your team.