"Baseball is a Game of Movement"
Playing Catch Practice
(coaching youth baseball & youth softball)
The Baseball Positive Coaching Guide is based on the concept that discipline in playing catch properly is the basis of all activities on defense (and most activities in practices and games). Playing Catch Practice replaces the traditional ‘warm-up’ with an activity that we elevate to ‘Drill’ status. Instead of sending the kids out to toss the ball back and forth to get loose before practice we organize a structured activity that has specific points of focus throughout.
The activity has three parts:
Part I Pitching Practice
Part II Position Player Throwing and Receiving
Part III Drill specific to key throwing and receiving skills
In order for this Drill to be most effective it requires keen attention from the coach leading the drill to make sure the kids are executing their actions correctly. Enforcement involves stopping the drill, reminding the players of the focus point(s) of the activity and then re-starting the drill. Early on this will occur 5-6+ times over the 10-12 minutes the drill is run. Over time the need to stop and start will go down. No Playing Catch Practice session will conclude without the leading coach starting and stopping the drill a time or two – no group of kids aged 12 and under will stick to the disciplined actions required the entire time.
The assistance of the other coaches and any adults that are hanging around the practice field is critical for the drill to run smoothly and for the kids to maximize their reps. The extra adults stand approximately 30’ behind the kids playing catch; each with a handful of extra balls. The kids will not catch every throw. The role of the extra adults is to get a new ball into the hands of any kid who misses a throw, so that player (and their partner) can immediately continue working on their skill development. – Chasing overthrown balls, it can be argued, eats up more skill building time during a practice than any other factor.
Have the kids find a throwing partner and get spread out in position to play catch. DO NOT allow any player to have a ball until after they are all in position to start the activity. Kids are dying to get a ball in their hands. Making them get set up to throw before they get a ball will motivate them to get organized asap!
Part I - Pitching Practice (3-4 minutes)
The players stand 30’-35’ from their partner and play catch focusing on a single aspect of the pitching delivery, per the direction of the coach. Midway through, the coach stops the throwing and changes the point of focus for the second part of Pitching Practice. Note 1: make it clear to the kids that they are not throwing as hard as they can like it’s a game. Their focus is on the action of their pitching delivery. The velocity of their throws is limited to a speed at which their partner can catch the ball without fear of being injured. The receiving player does not squat down. The kids are simply playing catch, but with their focus on the pitching motion. Note 2: Softball players and players at the Coach/Machine pitch level focus on proper ‘step and throw’ throwing mechanics during this portion of the drill. The designated pitchers of a softball team can work on their delivery during this time period. It is recommended that softball pitchers not do use the windmill delivery during Pitching Practice. Rather, use a modified action of just bringing the pitching arm back behind them focusing on the finishing segment of the delivery.
Part II - Position Player Throwing and Receiving – “Move your feet to catch, move your feet to throw” (3-4 minutes)
This activity is the bedrock of the drill. When a player is throwing from a defensive position in practice or a game they (should) move their feet towards their target so the legs can power the throwing action. The reality of positional throwing at the youth level is that kids generally resort to ‘pitching’ the ball across the field – they limit their footwork to ‘step and throw’
Proper throwing technique as a position player is preceded by a skip, shuffle or crow hop movement of the feet – position players “Move their feet to throw”. In this part of the Playing Catch Practice drill the players are required to “Move their feet to throw” on every throw. We need to make it clear to them that their footwork, moving their feet is the focus of the drill. The fact that they are throwing the ball is not the primary focus.
In addition to “Moving their feet to throw” we need to teach the players that after they release the ball they want to allow their momentum to carry their them forward a step or two ‘in a straight line towards their target’; they “Follow their head”. - This is where the oversight from the coach comes into play. It will take 3-4 practices for all our kids to get in tune with the concept that the movement of the feet is the key to throwing success. (The habit and discipline to “Move their feet to throw” on every throw, every day, all year requires constant oversight from the coaching staff.) When we see the kids not executing this action it is time to stop the activity and remind them that the single purpose of their throwing actions it “Moving their feet to throw”.
The players receiving the throws also have specific focus points relating to moving their feet. We know (and the kids know) that most throws do not go exactly to the spot the receiving player is standing. In most cases, for the receiving player to have the best chance to catch a throw, they need to ‘move their feet to take their hands to the ball’. The three requirements (on every throw) of the receiving player are:
1. “Ready Position”* (prior to every throw)
2. “Move Your Feet to Catch”
3. “Reach Forward to Catch”
*Ready Position: Same stance as a basketball player playing defense – feet wider than the shoulders; hands reaching out in front of the body. The receiving player needs to be ready to immediately move, the moment the balls leaves the throwing player’s hand, in order to ‘beat the ball to the spot’ where it will be caught.
RULE: The throwing player IS NOT ALLOWED to throw the ball until their partner is in a “Ready Position”. - Simply stating this rule will not result in the kids following it; this needs to be policed and enforced throughout the season. This is not just a good rule for discipline and solid technique, it also increases safety during the activity. If the receiving player is always ready and focused prior to every throw coming to them we will reduce, significantly, the occurrences of players being injured by thrown balls.
Part III - Drills specific to key throwing and receiving skills (1-2 Minutes)
This is a single drill that is run for just a few repetitions at the end of Playing Catch Practice. Its purpose is to wrap up the ‘Moving Feet’ aspect by applying it to an activity related to a specific game action. The short list of drills to pick from is below:
Catch, Tag, Power Position - "Look for Other Runners" [core skill for all age groups]
Cut-Relay Player Footwork [ages 9 and up; value increases as kids get bigger]
Replaying the Ball [core skill for all age groups]
Underhand Toss / Throwing on the Run [core skill for 9 and below; older do this in SBW]
Final Note: Inserted prior to Playing Catch Practice are batting and throwing drills. For this activity the kids are lined up in two rows of six standing arms length apart. Take them through two batting drills, two sets of five each; and two throwing drills, two sets of five each. After a few days of kids getting used to this routing you'll be able to get through this in 55 seconds.
At it's conclusion have the kids find a throwing partner and get spread out and set up for Playing Catch Practice.
Catch, Tag, Power Position
The actions of the Cut-Replay player are not new to our players. In fact we have been working on most of them every day. What is new is putting these known actions together in the context of a Cut-Relay situation.
The Cut-Relay person stands in a “Ready Position”, facing the player with the ball, approximately midway between the destination of the throw and the ball. They loudly ‘call for the ball’ (using your team’s terminology - use any word to call for the ball except ‘cut’. The player at the destination base who is communicating to the Cut-Relay player will be using the word ‘cut’. We don’t want two players using the same word in the same play. I suggest using, “Ball, ball…” or “Hit me, hit me…”) and waves their arms over their head.
They “Move Their Feet to Catch”.
After catching the ball they “Turn Glove Side*” so the glove side of their body is facing their target. (‘Turn Glove Side’ is covered in this section (Teaching Points).
They “Move Their Feet to Throw”.
They “Follow Their Head” - continue their momentum in a straight line towards their target following the throw.
Cut-Relay Player Footwork Drill
This drill is run as the final segment of ‘Playing Catch Practice’. If we run this 3-4 times correctly, it’s a good day’s work for this skill. The players position themselves 50’-70’ apart. The coach determines the distance based on the age an ability of their players.
The six players in one row have the ball; their six partners will be receiving the throws and executing proper cut-relay footwork. The players wait for the coach’s signal before making their throws. The receiving players, after executing their footwork, wait for the coach’s call before throwing the ball back to their partners.
The coach hollers to the receiving group, “Ready Position!”
The coach then hollers to the throwing group “Move Your Feet to Throw”
The throwing group, who are assuming the role of outfielder, “Move Their Feet to Throw”/ take a ‘crow hop’ towards their partners and throw.
The receiving players execute the footwork described above with the exception of actually throwing the ball. However, they still complete the throwing action including “Following Their Head”.
This is the time to explain to our players that "The player receiving a throw is 100% responsible for making every throw a 'good' throw. Poor throws (and poor receiving technique) are commonplace at the youth level. Following a missed throw it is not uncommon to hear the receiving player blame the throwing player. We will now eliminate this type of statement from our team.
We point out to the kids that the person who threw the ball cannot fix the throw after it leaves their hand. The only person who can fix it is the player on the receiving end – AND the team is counting on the receiving player to fulfill their responsibility of making every effort to catch the ball. This starts with always being in a ready position, always anticipating that the throw will not come straight to them, and “Moving Their Feet to Catch” each throw – sometimes this will require them to move 10’-15’ or more.
Once we have this discussion with our team, we make it clear that blaming the thrower for a poor throw is no longer sensible or acceptable and that from this point forward nobody will utter that statement, period.)
Important Note: Early on the kids WILL NOT fully and properly execute their footwork actions. The primary reason is they are still grasping the concept that throwing and catching success is based on how well they use their feet.
The key is, before the drill is run, to make it clear to the kids that the objective of the drill is properly executing footwork.
You will find that many of the kids will make a half-hearted turn and some will just way their arm towards the imaginary target behind them. This is less because of a lack of effort and more because they just don’t understand the importance of going through the footwork sequence fully and ‘at game speed’.
With some policing and continued emphasis on it being a footwork drill the kids will get it and begin executing their Cut-Relay Player footwork properly.
Replaying the Ball
Underhand Toss / Throwing on the Run
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