“Hey kids, grab this bucket of balls and go loosen up your arms. We start practice in 10 minutes.”
When we say this to our team we are effectively saying, “Hey kids, go spend some time on the most important skill in the game, unsupervised, with no structure and then we’ll practice. And when we practice, you guys will screw up throwing and catching, the drills will be a mess, I will get frustrated and yell at you and our practice will fall apart.”
‘Playing catch’, ‘getting loose’, ‘warm up’, that time honored ritual at the start of any day at the ballpark is the downfall of youth baseball and softball. Because it is not valued at the level that it should be and teams miss this daily opportunity to improve their ability to play the game well.
Playing Catch is the essence of the game, it is the foundation of everything we do on defense, but do we put a proper value on that time? Do we work at it? Do we establish and maintain discipline in the activity? Do we have a plan for what we want to accomplish?
I am stating, emphatically, that the activity of playing catch is the most important ten minutes we spend at the park. We want this be the most focused, mostdisciplined and hardest working part of a practice; not just for the kids, but for us as coaches. It is the one time during practice that our full attention is on the task at hand.
Let’s start by changing our mindset of this activity. In most instances playing catch is called ‘warm up’. Hey guys and gals, lets ‘warm up’. Coaches, please, let’s take the phrase ‘warm-up’, pull it out of our brain, stick it in our hand and chuck it as far away from the baseball or softball field as possible. At least in its use in relation to playing catch. If we use the phrase warm-up, let’s use it to refer to warming up the body (through exercises or appropriate skill building activities - see the ‘Skill Building Warm-up’ page), not warming up the kids’ arms.
From this point forward let’s approach the playing catch segment of practice as a Drill. The term ‘drill’ sets in the mind of a player that the activity is meant to develop skills; and for us coaches it is a structured, discipline and supervised activity that has clear objectives.
There is a “Playing Catch Practice” page on this site. Unfortunately it is one of the least visited pages (technology is great, these websites give the administrators so much information of what is going on). The fact that this page is one of the least visited is my fault. I did not put enough emphasis on the need for every coach to not only view that page, but to study it and apply the principles and activities.
The first thing we want to master as coaches is running a great “Playing Catch Practice” routine - every day. If our kids do a great job of playing catch at the start of each day, we will find that the rest of the day operates much better than we might have imagined. When our kids play catch with a purpose each day, as the season progresses, the quality of our team’s play skyrockets in a positive direction. But don’t take it from me, listen to Cal Ripken Jr. In his book he states (and I paraphrase), “I can walk into a ballpark, watch both teams playing catch before a game and from that simple observation tell you who is going to win the game.”
“Playing Catch Practice” is an activity that is conducted with the utmost seriousness, has absolute focus and is the part of the day that everyone, including the coaches, is at their very best and working hardest. Each participant must have a clear understanding of what they are trying to accomplish in each action and in each segment. Each participant must be disciplined (with the coach maintaining that discipline throughout) in every action.
For the benefit of the kids, the game and the blood pressure of all coaches, please take 10-15 minutes to look at the “Playing Catch Practice” page right now. And refer back to it often throughout the season and beyond. If we coaches place the utmost of importance on this single aspect of practice we will see the quality of our teams’ play improve beyond our greatest expectations.