Cal Ripken says in his book, when talking about youth baseball, and I paraphrase, “I can show up at the park, watch the two teams play catch and the majority of the time tell you who will win the game”.
Feet, Feet, Feet
Most teams do not Practice Playing Catch enough or do it properly. In our Coach Training Programs, Baseball Positive teaches play catch ‘with your feet’. We tell kids, “You don’t throw the ball with your arm, you throw the ball with your feet”. Yes, there is a bit of hyperbole there. The point is to emphasize proper throwing technique, which involves moving the feet towards the target. This generates power and momentum.
Accuracy is also improved by creating a good straight line towards that target by Moving the Feet. After throwing the ball, the payer doesn’t stop, but allows their momentum to continue on towards their target for a step or two, “Follow Your Head”.
Receiving a throw is about the feet as well. The majority of throws do not come straight to the player receiving the ball. Usually throws are off to one side or the other. The concept we teach is, Move the Feet to take the hands to the ball. ‘Move Your Feet to Catch and Reach Forward to Catch’.
DRILL: Catch, Tag & Throw
A great catch and throw drill is what we call, ‘Catch Tag & Throw’ This is done on the four bases in the infield, or can be run using throw down bases anywhere…the outfield grass, a parking lot or any available patch of ground that is relatively flat.
The ideal number of players for running the drill is five. Given that many teams have 12 players, the drill is often run on two separate diamonds with six players in each group. Maximum would be eight (two at each base). Doing the drill with more players results in too much standing around.
The drill is exactly what the name suggests. A player at a base receives a throw, makes a tag on the side of the base a runner would slide into, then throws the ball to the next base…
…but it’s not that simple. The actions described must be executed following specific expectations; these expectations must be policed by the coach, which, in the beginning takes some effort. When players do not execute properly, the coach stops the drill, re-teaches the proper action, then re-emphasizes expectations.
Position one player at each base, plus an extra player at the base the drill will start from. Tell the players not to think of the bases as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Home; think of each as a generic base. The players stand on the side of the base the throw is coming from (so to not be in the baseline of the ‘runner’). DO NOT have players straddle the base.
When young players straddle the base they have a tendency to lock their feet in position and not Move Their Feet to get in a proper receiving position to catch off-line throws (which describes most throws kids make).
Each player must have at least one extra ball in their pocket and/or set a few extra balls a near the base (outside the ‘catching and tagging area’, for safety reasons). The kids will not be perfect in this drill. They Will miss throws…we want an extra ball to be on hand so the drill can keep moving – NO chasing overthrows!
Coach stands in the middle of the diamond, so to be in close proximity to each base and be in position instruct the players – coach will be very busy : ) - also, the coach wants to have a few spare balls as well.
Receiving The Throw
IMPORTANT – Teach your kids, “There is no such thing as a bad throw”, “It is the responsibility of the receiving player to make every throw a good throw by ‘Moving Their Feet to Catch’” - this nixes the common, whiney excuse, “Well, Darryl made a bad throw (snivel)”
(yes, I know; if a kid launches the ball 20’ over the receiving player’s head, it’s a bad throw… the kids will get the point - after they question every conceivable scenario where they couldn’t possibly catch a throw: ) )
The receiving player Moves Their Feet to square their body up to the throw and they Reach Forward to Catch.
The action of Moving the Feet to Catch is one of the three objectives of the drill. Each time a player does not execute this action correctly (even if they have made the catch), STOP! The drill and re-teach the expectations for a proper action in receiving a throw.
Making The Tag
Once they catch the ball, the player Moves Their Feet taking them back to the base, so they can apply a tag – on the runner side of the base. This includes ‘1st base’ (remember, the bases are generic). The player tags the ground, right in front of the base, where the base runner would be sliding, with their glove (and with the ball in their glove).
Demonstrate this to the players, be very specific of where you place your glove and make it clear to the kids that making the Tag in this exact spot is what this portion of the drill is all about. Emphasis: the player MUST touch the ground with their glove and MUST do so directly in front of the base where a runner would be sliding.
If the tag is not done properly STOP! The drill and re-teach the expectations for making a tag. “Kids, if you don’t get the tag down properly, the runner is going to be safe!!! - getting the runners out is the whole point of playing defense”
A very common action of kids when first learning this drill is swiping at the air, kinda in the vicinity of the base.
Note: when working with younger kids at the Coach Pitch or Machine Pitch level, you may choose to allow them to tag the base with their foot. Some kids at this level of play, at least early on, are not familiar with the difference between a force out (tagging the base) and a tag play on a runner sliding into the base.
Throwing, And Following The Throw
Often in this drill, and in similar drills, kids will try to execute the actions too fast. The action that gets left out when is Moving the Feet to Throw….they catch the ball and just wing it with their arm…arms get sore and possibly injured.
(The catalyst for me creating this drill was watching kids throwing the ball around the infield with poor mechanics …and my memories as a shortstop, getting a sore arm from trying to go to fast [show off], while throwing with only my arm. Not only does throwing incorrectly lead to arm soreness, arm-only throws are off the mark, more often than not.)
After making the tag, we want the kids to move to a position where they are balanced, with their feet under them and with the glove side of their body facing the next base. Then they shuffle their feet (Move Their Feet) towards the next base, throw, and allow their momentum to continue towards the next base After the throw – Follow Your Head (the head is the ‘steering wheel’ for the throw. Keeping the head pointed straight at the target before, during and after the throw increases throwing accuracy in a huge way).
Once the player has completed the throwing action, including maintaining their momentum towards the next base. They keep moving and jog to the next base to replace the player they just threw to. That player will be leaving the base and moving on to the next one.
Each time a player does not execute the throwing action correctly (even if they have made an accurate throw), STOP! The drill and re-teach the expectations for a proper throwing action.
The best time to run this drill is right after the kids have completed Playing Catch Practice. We want their bodies to be hot and their arms good and warm. The throws in this drill are made with 100% effort. Run the drill until each player has made 5-10 throws. This takes 2-3 minutes…..when the players are familiar with the drill and have practiced it.
The first time you run this drill set aside 15-20 minutes to teach it and for the kids to try it. It’s not pretty the first time you run it. Allow 10 minutes the next couple of times the drill is run. Moving forward, we schedule five minutes for the drill in our practice plan. This accounts for the time required to get the kids in position and for the coach to review the objectives of the drill:
- Move Your Feet to Catch
- Make a proper Tag
- Move Your Feet to Throw
This Drill Takes A Lot of Effort On The Part Of The Player
Most kids watch a lot of baseball and softball on TV and many see older players play in person. They are observing throws going straight to the target the majority of the time. So what gets beaten into their subconscious? ‘When I am playing, all I have to do is stand there and the ball will come to me (and if it doesn’t, it’s not my fault/responsibility).
As coaches we are fighting against this engrained notion that catching a throw involves nothing more than standing in place an holding the glove out.
In this drill we are asking kids to go against their preconceived notion of ‘just standing there’. Suddenly their world is turned upside down. We are asking them to Move 3’-4’ away from the base to Catch, then Move 3’-4’ back to the base, bend over to Tag, then Move Their Feet 3’-4’ feet to Throw, and then keep their momentum going by Following Your Head after the throw.
…”c’mon coach, can’t I just stand there? And if it’s a bad throw...I can blame Darryl”
It will take a couple of sessions for the kids to get into the concept of Movement. However, after a few rounds of Catch, Tag and Throw they will come to realize how much better they are catching and how much better they are throwing…..and when we find we are good (or improving) at a task, it becomes FUN and we are motivated!
In the world of coaching (and parenting) the subject of discipline is constantly on the forefront. We usually think of discipline regarding the child. Hold On…..the fact is, most of the time, it is the Adult/Coach who is short on discipline.
In coaching we will lay out expectations for a drill, but then we slack off in enforcing those expectations. When we announce the expectations of a drill, we then want to police those expectations…100%. If we Allow our players to do things incorrectly we are not coaching.
Note: I am not big on sayings, but here is one I picked up from an old college football coach that, IMO, is the foundation of how a great coach goes about their business, “You are either Coaching or you are Allowing”. When a player executes incorrectly, we either Coach them, immediately, to do the action right…..or we Allow them to do it wrong.
This statement really forces us coaches to ‘look in the mirror’ and ask ourselves how good of a job we are doing. Btw - this perspective is for All coaches, including newbies. You don’t have to be a baseball or softball guru to enforce expectations in a drill. Before each drill we explain the objective and then call the kids out when they don’t execute the objective. It takes some extra effort early on, but soon when the kids recognize that we don’t let things slide, they perform better and coaching gets easier – a little bit, at least ;)
Not The Only Throw And Catch Drill
There are many similar Catch and Throw Drills out there (BP has others as well). Why do I like this one best?
Simplicity… There is nothing fancy - just Catch, Tag and Throw.
There is no thinking or need to ‘learn the drill’, the kids just throw the ball from base to base. Catching and Throwing are the most fundamental skills of the game. As baseball and softball coaches, our #1 focus is to teach and train these skills, passionately, all day every day.
What Is The Purpose of The Tag Aspect of The Drill?
We include the tag to make kids work a bit harder. It takes a lot of energy to bend down and stand back up quickly, right in the middle of all the Moving. Also, this action gives separation between the two key skills: the catching action and the throwing action.
Teach it. Do it. Police it. …and watch your team’s catching and throwing skills improve tremendously in a couple of weeks.