I’m not sure why, but I have always had a huge affinity toward catchers in youth baseball. A good catcher is like having a tenth man in the field. And if you get one of those rare 11 or 12 year-old catchers who is extremely vocal and knows the game well, then you also have an extra coach on the field. For some reason I have found that certain players will just gravitate toward being the catcher. There are some things that I see come up over and over again that youth coaches should be aware of with the catching position. The first thing is the equipment. It must fit well enough so the catcher can be nimble when he has to move, but it also must protect the player’s body to prevent injury. I encourage catchers to have their own equipment if they can afford it just because you don’t want to have to adjust it every time you need to put it on another catcher. With the equipment, I’m including the glove also. I’ve gone over this before. Leagues have to realize that new catcher’s gloves are not broken in for about a year. Leagues should always be working one year ahead so the team uses an older, broken in glove during the game. The new glove that each team gets each year should be used in practices and for warming up the pitcher. This glove will then become the game glove the following year and the newly bought glove is the practice glove, and so on. Ideally, leagues should buy broken in catchers gloves every year.
Putting your players in the best position to succeed!
With the equipment, coaches have to teach their catchers that for the most part they are almost 100% protected when they are facing the pitcher squarely with their shoulders. In youth baseball, what happens a lot is that many young catchers will flinch when the pitched ball hits the dirt short of home plate. This is a natural reaction that is hard for young players to overcome. Once the catcher flinches or turns his body, he is more apt to get injured because his equipment does not cover or protect the sides of the catcher’s body. In a drill I call, “Overcoming Fear”, the catcher will get in his position. The coach will stand in front of him and throw plastic balls at him on a bounce and or on a fly. The catcher must hold his position and not flinch or turn his body. We are conditioning the catcher to keep his body square and not to turn. Getting used to feeling a ball make contact with the equipment on his body is reassuring the catcher that the protection he has is generally very safe. Coaches can move from plastic balls to tennis balls to soft covered hard balls. The older player can do the same drill and even have the coach throw regular hard balls at him from a short distance. Remember, we are trying to overcome any fear of the ball and keep the catcher from turning, thereby exposing his body to injury.
The set up behind the batter is something the catcher must learn, and learn quickly. Many catchers in youth baseball set up either too far or too close from home plate. Setting up too close, or reaching for the ball with their glove, can cause catcher’s interference, which will award the batter first base. The best way for the catcher to set up an appropriate distance is to work with the batter’s shoulder or elbow once he is in the batter’s box ready to hit. The catcher should actually reach out with his glove toward the shoulder or elbow of the batter and set up at that distance, or a foot or two further back. Coaches want to make sure the catcher is not too far back for a number of reasons. First, he will be at a longer distance from the pitcher. Second, this can impede the umpire from calling a strike that he might call a ball because he is too far to judge the ball as it crosses home plate. Remember, the umpire will set up behind the catcher.
Another issue for catchers on the youth level is guarding against the steal. Many times with a runner on base an aggressive coach will have his players take an exaggerated lead after the pitch. There are certain things the catcher should or should not do. When the baserunner on first is taking an extra big lead after the pitch, and the catcher throws the ball behind the runner to first, this gives the baserunner a green light to go to second. Coaches on the youth level need to practice and school their catcher as well as their whole team, in almost all baserunning situations. The correct way to defend this when the baserunner at first takes an aggressive lead is for the catcher to run right at the baserunner. Make sure the catcher is actually running at an angle a little in front of the baserunner. While running at the baserunner, if the runner commits to the next base, the catcher should then plant his foot and throw it to the base he is running towards. It doesn't matter which base the runner is leading too much on; the catcher needs to run at him. When there is a baserunner, the catcher should never throw from his knees or throw a rainbow-type throw back to the pitcher. It must be a hard throw back that is easily catchable for the pitcher.
One of the toughest things to teach the catcher is how to block and/or retrieve the throw when there is a play at home plate. The reason this is tough is because if I have a twenty game season, I can get twenty different interpretations on how a catcher can block the plate. I’ve heard he cannot be in the base path without the ball. I’ve also heard he has to always leave a partial part of home plate open so the baserunner has a chance to tag it. When I go over the ground rules for every game, I always ask the umpire about the play at the plate. If I feel the catcher is mature enough to understand about any adjustments he has to make, I let him know. Otherwise I don’t say anything to him so he doesn’t have something else to think about. I just roll the dice.There are tons of other things that come with catchers each and every year that need to be taught. Things like pop-ups and taking the mask off, or blocking and framing are all important. Youth coaches who take a big interest in their catchers, like I do, should spend extra time with them before feeding them too much information too fast.
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