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How to Develop a Softball Catcher

By Tim Wargo

How important is a quality catcher to a team? The best way to find out is not to have one. Pitchers have no confidence in the catcher’s ability and let up on their pitches. They hesitate to throw breaking pitches for fear of a ball to the backstop with a runner on 3B. Walks and singles turn into doubles and triples with a weak throwing catcher. Pressure builds on the defense when they are in a game situation with a runner on base. The only hope on a steal attempt is that the catcher doesn’t launch the ball over the back up players head.Developing a softball catcher requires time and dedication

In some instances, the spectators have more knowledge of what is going on or what is going to happen in a situation than the catcher does.

How can a team win consistently with a poor catcher? She is involved in every play of the game! On each play the catcher must know:

1) The situation.
2) Past performance of the hitter.
3) Speed and aggressiveness of base runner (if there is one).
4) How to set the defense.
5) Watch the 3B coach’s signals to the hitter and runner.
6) Call the pitch to be thrown and the location of the pitch.

And this is before the pitch is thrown! Developing a solid catcher takes years. How much time is spent with the catcher having to work with pitchers, catching batting practice, or catching for a coach hitting balls to the infielders? Yet in pressure situations she is expected to perform successfully.

Time must also be spent on refining basic catching skills: blocking pitches in the dirt, throwing to bases, fielding bunts, blocking home plate properly, catching foul balls, etc. Good teams will assign a coach to work exclusively with the catchers and are given adequate time to address the catcher’s needs.


Finding a Catcher

The first step in developing a solid catcher is selecting the proper player for the position. This can be more difficult than you think. At last years try-outs we had over 100 girls show up at different age levels. Maybe 7-8 were catchers, so in most cases choices may be slim. Some of the initial qualities I look for in a catcher are:

1) Quickness
2) Co-ordination
3) Physical Conditioning
4) Communication skills
5) Leadership abilities.

1) Quickness: A catcher must be quick. I’m not talking about 3.0 to 1B speed. Quickness is that quick burst of speed (3-4 steps) needed to field a bunt. The ability to move and “drop and block” a wild pitch in the dirt. Hand quickness is essential to proper framing and the burst of speed needed to get to the ball on a wild pitch or past ball. While a strong throwing arm is important, it is useless to have a strong arm if it takes forever to throw the ball. A quick pivot and release are crucial to throwing out runners attempting to steal a base.

2) Coordination: Most things a catcher does is done “low”. She fields bunts and throws from a crouched balanced position--she must have a solid catcher’s stance behind the plate, on the balls of her feet, with feet pointing straight towards the pitcher. Her back is straight with throwing hand behind her back. A balanced stance, not moving around like a “wee-bolt” with her butt about 2” off the ground or kneeling. She must be able to get up quickly from her catching position and be under control when making a play. Catching a foul ball is no easy task and co-ordination is crucial to getting up quickly, turning around while looking up to locate the ball and then catch it as it’s spinning back towards the field.

3) Physical Condition: A catcher must be in good physical condition and have a great deal of stamina. She is down and up on every pitch, must run in full gear down the line of ground balls or cover 3B in some situations. A tired catcher won’t perform these tasks very effectively. When a player gets tired she tends to get lazy. A lazy catcher is fatal in a close game. Just wearing the catching gear on a hot humid day will wear her down. She must have strong legs and be in good shape.

4) Communication Skills: A good catcher is vocal on the field. She must communicate with confidence in her voice; the situation at hand and what coverage will be used. She must loudly and confidently tell a fielder where to make a play. She must be able to talk her pitcher through problems and give her renewed confidence when things start to go wrong. Most importantly, she must be able to tell her coach the truth, no matter what , when he questions her about a situation that occurred during the game or about the condition of the pitcher.

5) Leadership: Good catchers are usually good team leaders. She takes responsibility for getting the pitcher ready for the game. If she’s not starting she makes sure the back-up pitcher is ready to go when needed. She takes the time to read the entire playbook so she knows the coverage responsibilities of every position and is able to relay that information to an unsure teammate. She hustles all the time, first on the field-first off the field during the game. First to practice and last to leave.

Now you’ve found the player for the position and she WANTS TO PLAY IT. Just because she is athletic and catches on quick is no reason not to teach her the same as you would a lesser talented player. So start with the basics and work them until they can be done without thinking abut doing them. The smarter, more athletic player might catch on quicker but she still must learn them. Start with the foundation, the stance.

The Stance

1) The feet are even and squared to the front of the plate.
2) The feet are directly under the knees and shoulder-width apart.
3) Knees are pointed straight ahead toward the pitcher.
4) Weight is on the balls of her feet and the back of her calves.
5) The throwing hand is fisted with thumb tucked inside the fingers.
6) The elbows are outside the knees.

Receiving the Pitch

1) Catcher is in position directly behind the location of plate where the ball is to be pitched.
2) Glove arm is extended about halfway in front of her allowing for the absorption of the pitched ball.
3) The glove is centered in the middle of the body, so the pitcher is throwing to the body as well as the glove.
4) For low pitches, the catcher bends over at the waist, making herself smaller and the target lower.
5) For high pitches she raises her body to give a high target.
6) Force a blink before the pitcher releases the ball.
7) As the ball hit’s the glove, cover the ball with the throwing hand, bringing the side of the hand out first rather than the ends of the fingers.
8) After the pitch is received, hesitate slightly in the movement of the glove, allowing the umpire a good look at the pitch.

When working with catchers, begin with drills that emphasize the simplest aspect of the drill, progressing to the more difficult parts of the technique. Here are some drills to start working with your catcher. Do not go on until she can do these techniques every time. As the drills progress in difficulty, start with these drills anyway. If she has mastered them less time can be spent on them before advancing.

Receiving the Pitch

Have the catcher get in proper receiving position. Make sure her stance is proper. Take a “softball”, tennis ball, or rubber ball and throw to the catcher from 8’ to 10’ away; 10 tosses to execute the cushioning of the ball, 10 tosses for covering the ball with the throwing hand, 10 tosses with catcher hesitating after catching the ball.

As the catcher’s skills increase, move back a few steps and increase the velocity of the toss. Make sure that the execution is still proper. If not, go back to the 1st set of drills. Once the catcher is adept at these drills, begin the drills again with a softball.

This will take some time for the beginners and might become boring for older girls, but if the foundation is not proper, future problems will arise that may cause you to have to totally break her skills down and start over again with the basic drills. It’s easier to start right and progress properly rather than have the task of breaking old habits. Make sure her mechanics are right on every pitch and keep on her until they become second nature.

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