Teaching a player to be a solid catcher is an area most youth baseball coaches do not cover enough. In a practical sense, most coaches do not devote enough time to produce quality catchers. The responsibility for this does fall on the coach, usually because most youth baseball coaches lack a catching background. At youth levels 8 through 10 years old catching is not as critical, so it is somewhat ignored. A good catcher is always noticed during the game. It is a pleasure to watch a quality catcher. It really does speed up the game, not having those countless trips to the backstop to retrieve passed balls. Developing a quality catcher takes special training and time that most youth baseball coaches overlook, though not on purpose.
The catcher is involved in every single play, receives very little thanks for their hard work, and is the most important position on the field. I guess you could say the pitcher is probably the most important although the catcher is a very close second. The catcher certainly has more responsibilities than any other position. Blocking pitches and catching high and low throws from young pitchers will keep your team in the game. An accomplished catcher saves countless runs in younger leagues just by catching the ball. A catcher that can call pitches, field bunts, set up defenses, and throw out base runners, make your team so much tougher to beat.
Catchers needed to be aware of everything on the field. They must know what to do it every possible situation. How many outs are there? What is the score? Who is the batter, and how to pitch them? It is my defense ready? Are there runners on base? How fast are the base runners? Who is on deck? Is the pitcher ready to cover home play? And these are just a few of the possible scenarios the catcher faces every inning.
It seems like a lot to put on a young player. In my experience, good quality players will quickly pick up on the position with good coaching, plenty of practice at, and of course experience. This means scrimmages before the season starts to get real game situations. It’s not fair to the player and team to expect your catcher to perform with out plenty of game time practice. So get on the phone and call some other youth baseball coaches and scrimmage. Remember it’s only a scrimmage, you don’t have to win. The purpose of the scrimmage is to evaluate your players and the positions they may be playing. By making the practice not to use my best pitchers in a scrimmage against teams I will be playing later if possible. Or I’d limit their work to an inning at the most. With catchers, I give them this much work as I can in a scrimmage, especially if they are new to the position.
Some basics about catching. A catcher will begin work in either a relaxed stance, or a ready stance. Begin your relaxed stance by squatting with your feet about the shoulder with a part. Have your catcher keep their hips and shoulders square to the pitcher and their feet slightly staggered. Encourage your catcher to stay low and in a comfortable position. Youth baseball coaches should instruct your catcher to keep the glove hand relaxed with the palm pointed toward the pitcher. Show the catcher how to catch the ball with arm slightly bent, like a shock absorber. Your catcher should catch with their throwing hand behind their back when there are no base runners. Always encourage your catcher to give the pitcher good low targets. Tell them to have fun, stay relaxed, and stay low.
The ready stance is where the wait is now on balls of the foot instead of the instep. To not tell your catcher to raise their entire body for this creates more area for passed balls. The ready stance is just a slightly raised squat from the relaxed stance. The hips and shoulders must remain square to the pitcher, with the right foot slightly behind the left. It is important to keep your glove hand relaxed, with your throwing hand and a fist behind catcher’s glove.
Now that we have gone over the very basic catchers stances, I would like to address catcher set up. Many youth catchers set up too far off behind the batter. This is a natural tendency for most players new to catching. This is a bad habit. You must encourage your catchers to move as far forward as possible without your glove interfering with the swing of the batter. You may have to adjust your catcher if players have long swings, which they sometimes do in the lower age groups. The closer you can get your catcher towards the pitcher the easier it is for the pitcher to hit to their locations. It also prevents the catcher from having to catch as many balls in the dirt. Another benefit is you provide the umpire with a better window to make accurate calls on balls and strikes. This also gives your catcher in a better opportunity to protect the umpire from getting hit, which helps your team, believe me.
You must observe your catchers to find out that there is anything they are doing to block the umpire’s view of the strike zone. Remember to do this early in the game. Train your catchers to ask the umpire it there is anything they are doing to obstruct their view. Try to do this before they miss a close pitch not after.
Always instruct your catchers to treat the umpires with the utmost of respect. The object is to get as much information from the umpire about the strike some in a manner that does not offend or show up the umpire. This will help the pitcher and catcher determine the strike zone. Obviously this is not something an eight to year-old is going to learn right away, but to can begin teaching it right away. Sportsmanship can be taught to three year-old players, it is your responsibility as a youth baseball coach to do this.
The catcher box is 8 ft. long by 43 in. wide and is located directly behind home plate. Baseball rules state that the catcher must have both feet inside or on the line of this box when the ball is pitched. That is plenty of room to set up for inside and outside pitches. What I mean by that is having your catcher move their entire body over to the inside or outside corners, not just move their glove. Having the proper stance will help your catcher be able to block the ball properly using their body, not just throwing their glove out at the ball.
Young catchers may tire out after two or three innings, each especially if it’s hot out. Be sure to have two or three players working out at the catcher position. No player should be a catcher exclusively at a young age. You are doing the player a disservice as a youth baseball coach by not having them play other positions. The catcher position is by far the most physically challenging on the field. Be sure to always encourage and praise your catchers often. Use their example of hustle and determination to inspire the rest of your defense. Let your team know they should be giving the same effort as your catcher.
Do not set up to early for inside or outside pitches. This will give away pitch location. Advance coaches may relay this information to the hitter. You will help the hitter by letting them know the location. Signal to your catcher the location you what, and have them move into location as the pitcher goes into the wind up. Even at young age groups if is not too early to teach pitchers and catchers to change locations of pitches. Having a practice for catchers and pitchers only several times during the year will help with this training. There is too much information to go over during your normal practice. If possible, use team budget money if you have it available, for some catching and pitching lessons.
Encourage your pitchers and catchers to be focused during drills and warm-ups. How you practice is usually how you will perform in the game or scrimmage. Do not encourage your young catchers to frame pitches. There is an art to framing pitches. Inexperienced or young catchers who frame pitches will most likely just upset the umpire. I will be sending more information on how to frame pitches with out showing up the umpire in upcoming newsletters.
Finally, your inter -action with the umpires as a youth baseball coach will go along way toward how the game will go for you and your team. Please remember to be a positive role models your players and parents. Do not ride the umpire from the first pitch of the game. It upsets the umpire and set a bad example to your players. It reinforces to your players that it is OK to engage game officials over every incident. Remember this is just a kid’s game, even if it is an important tournament game, no one else outside your team really cares if your team wins or loses. Riding the umpire rarely helps your team, it just embarrasses your players and parents, and gives youth baseball more negative publicity. So be a calm, confident, positive leader to the best of your ability for that day and have some fun with this great game of youth baseball. Thanks for your time, Coach Chip.