Check out three drills you can do with your catchers to help improve their blocking and footwork on balls in the dirt that you can do at home or the field.
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Training youth hitters can be like walking a tightrope. Depending on the athlete’s mental capacity and focus level, the intensity of training has to be adjusted from case to case.
Too much information given to the wrong player can lead to burnout and a miserable time for the hitter. On the other side of that, being too vanilla and boring to the wrong hitter can lead to boredom and frustration.
As a coach, instructor or parent it can be extremely stressful attempting to understand what each player can process and how far you can push them without going over the edge.
It is easy to watch a youth hitter hit and want to change 1,000 different things, but how enjoyable is that for the athlete?
You may be able to see the mistake but can you address it with the athlete in a way that is easy to understand and simple to fix?
So what are the important struggles to address? This could be different for each hitter but I wanted to address the MOST common mistakes.
However, understanding the mistake is only half of the equation. How can the struggle be addressed and fixed in a simple and enjoyable way for the hitter?
From the time an adolescent athlete picks up a bat, the desire is to just make contact with the pitch. In initial evaluations of youth hitters, we often see a desire to not miss instead of hitting the ball hard. Hitters only have a certain amount of time to develop bat speed and natural aggression within the swing.
It is often hard to get youth hitters and parents to understand that is it ok to be overaggressive at a young age. The goal should be to develop the speed and aggression needed to do damage past tee-ball. Accuracy and adjustments can be made at an older age. Let youth athletes be aggressive and athletic.
Using a different instrument than a bat can create a fun, enjoyable environment for a young player. It also limits the failure in the drill. No matter the age, athletes don’t like to fail. Mis-hitting a ball is seen as a failure and limits the aggression of youth hitters.
By taking the ball and bat out of the equation you eliminate the fear of failure and create an environment where the only goal is the move their body properly and aggressively.
Youth hitters start their career on a tee where the ball is in front of them, stationary, and below where their hands initially start. The desire for contact leads the hitter to move the bat directly to the point of contact (usually downward and on top of the ball). All of this is fine when the ball is on the tee and little Johnny gets roaring applause for touching the ball and keeping the tee-ball game moving.
However, as Johnny gets older this bat path can cause issues against a ball moving down towards him. I get it, youth infielders are bad and any contact on the ground will probably lead to a baserunner and your next 10 and under State Championship. Congrats….I guess. Teaching the hitter to properly swing the bat “on-plane” with the pitch aggressively will lead to hits later in life, which to me seems more important.
How it Helps:
Another drill that allows a young hitter to hold anything but a normal bat and hit a moving ball that creates so much stress. This allows the hitter to show aggression as well as an understanding of where the bat is moving.
A downward moving bat will lead to the hitter hurling it into the ground, aka negative reinforcement. Allow the hitter to be an athlete and try to keep the cueing as simple and athlete-friendly as possible.
I saved the most technical of the three for last. This is an issue seen every day in youth hitters and often ignored. I’ve yet to meet a youth hitter who has consistently great timing (arguably the most important aspect to hitting). This is a direct cause of the hitter’s stride tempo, rhythm, and direction. My issue with the direction of youth hitters strides is the giant “rock back” or “sway”.
Whether cued to “stay back” or “load up”, hitters rock back into their back knee and towards the catcher constantly. Not only is this incorrect for rotation but it also is causing the eyes and vision of the hitter to move away from the ball and then back to it. Their vision is now moving in two directions all the while trying to recognize and time the pitch.
Drill to Fix:
How it helps:
This is often a tough drill for young hitters to master. Their initial move to “load” their swing is to rock back, causing them to hit the wall. This drill forces an understanding that they can still turn in and load their pelvis without swaying back. Moving forward to balance is a vital component to the timing of a young hitter.
Youth hitters require a different style of instruction than older, more mature hitters. It is the instructor, coach, or parent’s role to instill the skills needed for proper development, while still allowing the athlete to compete in a fun, interactive environment. There is a fine line between skill development and information overload.
The hitter can only fix what they understand. Give the hitter exactly what they can handle and make it enjoyable for you both. The less struggle they encounter at a young age, the more likely they are to avoid burnout.
Training youth hitters can be a stressful, nerve-wrenching job. Yet, it often yields the most rewarding success’.
The skill of receiving pitches at the catcher’s position has been brought to the forefront like never before. Right, and left catchers are upgrading their value by changing what they value.
Catching can be broken down into three simple categories: receiving, blocking, and throwing. While blocking and throwing get a lot of fanfare because they are the easiest to see and discern when done correctly or incorrectly.
However, if we simply look at which of the three the catcher has to do the most. We see that receiving is quite important. While a catcher might throw to a base once every couple of innings. They receive roughly 10-20 pitches each inning.
So how does this information change the way we train catchers? It is no longer ok to just be adequate at pitch presentation (how the catcher presents the ball to the umpire).
Great receiving catchers can steal strikes and outs for their pitchers that far outweighs the number of runners that can be thrown out.
Every catcher wants to catch the ball well. But are oftentimes are in a position with their body that makes it impossible for them to do so.
We must look at the set-up first. Which is what we did with a recent middle school client from Pennsylvania.
For years catchers setting up with one knee down has been seen as lazy. And worse a negative mark towards that catcher. In the same breath, that catcher was told they needed to loosen their hips in order to set up lower to steal their pitcher’s strikes at the bottom of the zone.
As you can see from Ryden’s initial evaluation video he set up very tall towards the top of the strike zone. He mentioned that he did this in order to be more athletic. As well as be quicker to pitches in the dirt or to get out of his stance to throw to different bases.
I would say this is the most common teaching and the same teaching that is becoming extinct. Ryden’s desire to “be more athletic” wasn’t allowing him to receive pitches in the best possible way. The first thing that had to be addressed was his set up.
Starting with one knee down makes it easier for the catcher to catch the pitch down. It also puts them in a stronger position to withstand the force of the ball.
This aspect is crucial for youth catchers who lack the grip strength to handle the pitch easily. So obviously with that being said, the first adjustment Ryden made was in his set up.
The setup difference allows the glove and eyes to stay in generally the same spot. However, notice how much stronger and balanced he is. This base allows him to handle the force of the pitch better.
When talking about handling the pitch down in the zone easier, we have to talk about beating the ball to its spot and the glove path leading to the pitch. Another reason we want to set up lower is it allows the catcher to work back up to the ball.
Every ball a catcher receives is thrown on a downward angle. In order to catch it well, catchers have to be able to work up to the bottom of the ball. This is to avoid the ball pulling them down and away from the zone. This is the reason for the next adjustment we made with Ryden. The initial move by Ryden when the ball was in the air was to stand up a little more up to eye level with the pitch.
This then forced him to dive down and stab at any ball low in the zone. We made the adjustment to have him lower. As well as turn his glove down in preparation for the pitch.
As you can see this is the first time we see a major difference in Ryden’s glove height. He is now able to work up through the strike zone instead of top to bottom.
Now that the setup and glove path has cleaned up, it puts Ryden in a position to present the pitch better. While the two pitches represented in this article are similar speeds and locations, how he went about catcher them couldn’t be more different.
He is now able to withstand the force of the pitch with the correct setup and glove path. He is able to make the same pitch look completely different in the eyes of the umpire.
Because Ryden is working up to the pitch instead of diving down, he is able to work the ball back to the middle of his body. With the last move being upward.
Notice how in the initial picture on the left the catching arm is locked out and pushing away from the zone. Where on the right the elbow is bent and pulling back to the middle of his body. Just slight changes in how he got to each pitch, allows him to present a pitch in the same location completely differently.
These changes occurred over the course of 48 hours. These adjustments we made might seem small because they are. However, they lead to massive differences in how he received the ball. Because of this, he is now much more valuable for his team this season.
I have zero doubts that he will be able to steal strikes that lead to outs all season long. There is no better way for a catcher to make themselves more valuable than becoming a better receiver. Catcher’s catch the ball much more than throwing or blocking it, train accordingly.
Hitter's who struggle hitting the outside pitch usually don't know the direction that they need to be going. Most hitters will either pull-off too early and come around the ball or try to 'push' the ball the other way. Both of those methods are extremely detrimental to the hitters success.
The drill below uses a visual and mental marker with the blade or board. As the player hits, they see the board placed strategically towards the opposite field. The goal is for the hitter to create a barrel path above the visual marker in front of the plate. If they pull off the barrel path, both you and the hitter will be able to see it instantly.
Increased Feel of Direction - Most young hitters don't understand how the barrel works differently on different location of pitches. This drill stresses that feel and understanding of the correct direction.
Immediate Feedback - Direction can sometimes be tough to teach. The physical marker in this drill allows both the hitter and the coach to see when done correctly.
Understanding of Posture- When it comes to hitting an outside pitch, posture is key. You will not be able to do this drill successfully without using the correct hip hinge and side bend.
Easily Adaptable- This drill is easily set up and can be used in any setting. All it takes is a board or blade that can be placed in front of the plate. Anything that creates a visual for the correct swing direction.
As a hitter, you must have a strong base. Part of that base is your legs. Not only the strength of your legs but also how you produce force with them, specifically the front leg. Depth jumps are a popular drill on social media right now and rightly so.
You are only able to produce as much force as you absorb. By learning how to absorb more force in your lower body, you are able to produce more and decelerate your rotation better. Therefore, by using your front leg correctly you can become a better hitter
We wanted to add an element to depth jumps that relate directly to hitting/pitching in baseball. The force the front leg produces in the swing plays a major factor in the rotational speed of the swing. We’ve seen in the past that the front leg produces roughly three times the amount of force than the back leg.
I understand that this isn’t the main component of hitting, however, it plays a major factor in the rotational force of an athlete. By adding an explosion component in a similar direction that force would be applied while hitting it allows the athlete to understand how force is created.
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There is a distinct difference when producing force vertically with the lead leg vs. directionally as they would while hitting or pitching. Make sure the hitter is able to understand and execute producing force through the heel of the foot. Force should be produced similarly to how a correct squat is performed, not as a high jumper would produce vertically.
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Body awareness is needed to complete the drill correctly. Whether it be absorbing the force with balance or understanding which part of the foot to produce force through, they have to understand their body and how it moves.
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The depth jump portion of the drill allows the player to absorb first in their lead leg. Without understanding how to absorb force, they are unable to produce it.
Producing force through the toes of the foot will lead to vertical force and push the hitter out of the correct posture. Make sure the force when pushing back is produced through the heel.
If your hitter struggled to make contact to all fields last season check out our version of the 3 tee drill series & how it can help them develop a consistent bat path
Maintaining a side bend is crucial for the hitter’s ability to decelerate and prevent over-rotation. Yet many hitters struggle with not only creating side bend but maintaining it through the turn. While working on this skill, it can be very difficult for the hitter to feel the correct posture in a full swing.
The upper body rotation happens so fast and there are so many different factors that go into the swing that side bend often gets overlooked. However, if the hitter comes out of side bend too early, the bat path goes with them and causes over-rotation and a poor bat path.
One way we have found to be beneficial when teaching not only creating side bend but also maintaining it through the swing is to isolate the upper half in the swing. By widening the hitter’s feet out just beyond shoulder width and then forcing them to not use their lower half in the swing, the hitter’s upper body is magnified.
If they don’t create side bend and then hold it properly through the swing, they will overrotate or rollover. By eliminating the stride it forces the hitter to use solely their upper body to swing the bat successfully.
Make sure to avoid lower body rotation in this drill. The isolation of the upper body is the key to this drill and that can’t be achieved with the lower body rotating. We want the hitter to feel the need to be perfect with their posture and hand path in order to have success with this drill.
Start driving balls to all fields and improve your bat path on all pitch locations with the Barrier Tee drill series from Garrett Gordon.
Often times hitters are hampered by the inability to rotate in the proper sequence. Whether their lower body rotates too far, or their upper body stops too soon, the fear of missing the ball causes poor body movements. In order for the body to accelerate properly, the hitter’s hips must decelerate and stop in time for the upper body then bat to accelerate into contact.
If the hips never stop rotating, the upper body and bat are not able to build up speed and in turn drag around the rotation.
This drill is different than med ball drills we've shown in the past as it forces the player to stop their hips while allowing the upper body to rotate past. Emphasis to the player that the med ball is to be thrown with their core rotating, not their arms swing. Allow the player to feel the tension created when they don’t overrotate their hips.
By isolating the upper body, it forces the hitter to rotate their core past their hips in the proper sequence.
This allows for the correct force transfer from hips to the core which in turn goes to the arms and bat.
A lot of hitters stop their upper body and push their chest/core out towards the ball at contact. This causes a steeper bat path and more mis-hits.
By turning their core past their hips they allow for more support and connection to the bat.
The understanding of direction and where our rotation has to be directed towards is a major factor in the hitter’s ability to perform. Most hitters want to overrotate in an attempt to pull the ball. Which then drags the bat through and causes major bat path issues. The drill allows the hitter to understand that the rotation of the hips must stop.
Turning your hips with your upper body- Don’t allow your hitter to pick up and pull their back foot during this drill. They will want to rotate their hips or just throw the ball with their arms. Make sure to stress that the goal is to get their chest past their hips in rotation.