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Fastpitch Softball Drills For Catchers: How To Improve Your Catcher
In the game of fast pitch softball, the catcher is a very important position. If the catcher misses the ball with someone on base, they can steal, potentially meaning that runs could come in. There are many ways to help your catcher become an even better one than they already are. Here are some drills you can do with your catcher to make them better, or fine tune their skills.
Throwing To Each Base (Standing)
Every catcher will have to throw to either one, if not all of the bases on the diamond. It's important to practice with your catcher so that they feel confident in throwing to each base. Footwork is key in making a quick and accuate throw to each base. For extra help, and more of a real life scenario, have your extra players put helmets on and run the bases, so your catcher has a real idea of how quickly they need to get rid of the ball. The more this is practiced, the smoother it should become to the point where your catcher can pop up and be moving if they need to all in one motion.
1st Base: Against a right handed batter, throwing to first base isn't all that difficult. Have your pitcher, or another coach, throw balls in to the catcher while they're in their squat. Be sure to throw pitches to all sides of the plate, as well as high and low, because pitchers aren't perfect and they won't always throw it to exactly where it needs to go. While the catcher is catching these balls, make sure they are simply coming stright up, stepping and throwing. There's no need to move to avoid the hitter or anyone else. There should just be two movements: Pop up, throw. The more you practice, the better it will get. On a left handed batter, your catcher is going to need to pick a side to move to while they are hopping up, and then throw. I typically tell my catchers to go in front of the batter. That way, you don't need to worry about the batter stepping out of the box and getting in your catchers way. The motion is still the same, just adding that extra movement in the beginning of moving in front of the batter (the catcher will probably be on the plate) and throwing. Again, practice makes perfect. Be sure to incorporate high, low, inside, and outside pitches to practice with.
2nd Base: 2nd base is just about the same as first base, except it doesn't matter what side of the plate the batter is on. Your catcher should just be popping straight up and throwing. No extra movements needed. Have your pitcher or another coach throw balls in to your catcher; high, low, inside, outside, and have them throw down. Make sure they are throwing to the right side of the bag, right where the fielder needs to make the tag.
3rd Base: Third and First base are pretty much the same, except this time your catcher needs to move on a right handed batter. Again, I typically like to see the catcher come to the inside of the batter (which would be on the plate) to avoid the batter completely. Pop up, move to the inside, throw.
Throwing To Each Base (Kneeling)
Throwing to a base while kneeling is a skill that not all catchers can acquire. However, the more you practice it, and the stronger your cathcer becomes, the more real the idea of them throwing on their knees becomes. Having a pitcher or another coach throw balls into the catcher and then having them throw down is a great way to practice. Here are a few things to think about.
1st Base: While kneeling and throwing to first, the batter at the plate almost has to be right handed. The only exception is if you have a left handed catcher, that they are able to throw around a left handed batter. All the catcher does in this scenario is catch the ball, turn their body, and fire. It may be really ugly at first, but like I said before, practice makes perfect. They may need a while just to get the feel of throwing from their knees. If that's the case, you can just have them throw overhand back and forth with a coach or another teammate. This will get them used to the idea of throwing from their knees.
2nd Base: All the catcher needs to do here, besides throw the ball really hard, is catch and throw. There's no obstacles to avoid. They just need to throw it to the base. This will more than likely take the longest to perfect because it's the farthest distance.
3rd Base: Again, 3rd and 1st base are pretty much the same. The only way you can throw down to third is against a left handed batter so they are out of the way. The exception is if you have a right handed catcher and they are able to throw around them.
Blocking Balls. Blocking a ball as a catcher is a very important skill to have. Knowing how to do it and being good at it are 2 different things. As a catcher, you need to be willing to sacrifice your body to block that ball and prevent any runners from advancing, or even scoring. Here are a few drills to help fine tune that skill.
Short Blocks: Short blocks are a drill that you and your catcher do together. They can be done indoors or out. I prefer starting indoors and using wiffle balls, then moving out. Indoors: For this drill you need a mat (optional) and wiffle balls. Have your catcher get into their gear and into the squat. Standing about 15 feet away, start throwing short hop balls that bounce right in front of your catcher and have them drop to their knees and block it, then quickly go retrieve it. Once they seem to get the hand of it, move them from side to side. This gets them confident before using real balls. Outdoors: The same drill can be done outdoors with the wiffle balls, except you most likely will not need the mat. After you have done this drill with wiffle balls, it's time to get serious and do it with real balls. Using Real Balls: I only do this drill outdoors. Have your catcher set up behind the plate in their squat. Using an underhand toss, throw short hops that bounce right in front of your catcher so that they can block them. Start out only throwing them right in front. Have them quickly get up and retrieve the ball after they block it. Once they seem to be getting better, you can move them side to side. After practice you can start throwing the balls harder, and then eventually move all the way back to the mound and have someone pitch them in the dirt, just like a game scenario.
Diving: The drill I use for diving is the same thing I use for short blocks. I start with a wiffle ball and have the catcher only diving to one side. I also use a mat for this. After a few to one side, I move to the other side. Once I feel that they are comfortable with diving, I mix up side to side. Then we move outdoors and we do it behind the plate. Starting with slow outside pitches side to side, up to throwing from the mound. Do not overuse this drill. No one truly likes diving all over the place time after time after time. You may want to break this drill up over the course of a week; inside doing one side one day, then inside doing the other side the next day, etc. If you overdo this drill, your catcher may be turned away.
Framing Pitches. Framing pitches may not help you all the time, but it will get you some calls, and if it gets you some calls, then that's better than nothing! Framing a pitch is simple, and the only drill I have for it is to practice it. Basically, framing a pitch is taking the pitch from where it's thrown and trying to "frame" it to look like a strike to the ump. If the pitch was a little bit outside, your catcher will catch the ball and turn their glove in. This can't be noticeable or obvious, just a subtle movement to bring the ball closer to the plate.
Tagging Someone Out At Home Plate. Tagging someone out at home plate is a huge play that needs to made. It saves a run from scoring! There are 3 different scenarios that can bring a play to home plate. 1. A Passed Ball. When this happens, it's the pitchers responsibility to come rushing in to cover the plate and for the catcher to run back to get the ball and flip it and fast as they can. Practice this with your catcher to make them better at the toss. Don't have them throw the ball overhand, because 9.9 times out of 10 it comes at the pitcher too fast or the throw is inaccurate. Have them do an underhand toss right to the pitcher. If an overhand throw is all they can do, then that's what must be done, but try to have them do the underhand toss. 2. A Throw From An Infielder. In this situation, the catcher needs to be in front of home plate awaing the throw, and facing the runner coming at them. By blocking the plate, the catcher is making it harder for the running to get to it. It's important to practice this play so that your infield is comfortable throwing it home. 3. A Throw From An Outfielder. The catcher should be set up the same way; out blocking the plate, facing the runner, and awaiting the ball. Never should a catcher leave their spot for the ball unless it is off target to the right or left. If it isn't hard enough to make it to them in the air, but it will eventually roll or bounce to them, have them stay put and wait for it. If they go after the ball, they are giving up their position. Practicing this play is also important because a lot of times catchers want to go out and get the ball instead of letting it come.
Giving Signs (Hiding Them). When playing different teams such as rivalries, sometimes they sink as low as taking your signs and telling the batters what's going to be coming in. Practicing hiding the signs with your catcher is important. Have them give signs to the pitcher at practice, making sure they tuck them back towards themselves, rather than having their fingers hang down or out where another coach could see them.
Jumping Up Quickly For High Pitches. Jumping up for high pitches can be difficult to do. There's really only one way to get better at this and that is to do it. Have your pitcher mix up pitches (high, low, inside, and outside) for your catcher to catch. Try to throw more high pitches than anything else. This will condition your catcher's legs, and help them to be quicker jumping up.
Overall, there are a lot of things a catcher must do, other than catch the ball. By practicing these things and doing these drills, your catcher will be ready to take on any challenge, and block, stop, or catch anything thrown at them.