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The Catcher's Resource Library

by Dave
Monday, July 02, 2007

I received an e-mail some time ago asking me to elaborate on those web sites and other sources which I felt were indispensable and authoratative, which no fastpitch player or coach could do without.   Rather than returning the e-mail with a comprehensive list, I decided the best approach would be to write more about each, one at a time.   Today's article is about one such resource.   This one is for catchers, as well as parents and coaches of catchers.

The resource to which I want to point you is, the web site of the New England Catching Camp run by coach Dave Weaver.   Notice that I didn't say the "web site I want to point you to."   That's because the web site is only the beginning.   There's more to it than that.

One the web site, you'll find not only some good articles about the art of catching, but also information about the camp run by coach Dave and a DVD video which you can purchase.   The DVD is entitled "A Coaches Guide to Training Catchers."   I've had no personal experience with the camp itself but I think you can see, by watching the video, that this is a place where you might consider sending your budding catcher for a week.

Note that, from what I can tell, the camp involves half day (4 hour) sessions, mornings for 12U and afternoons for 13 and up.   Dave tells me that while there are just a few fastpitch players in the younger, morning sessions, almost half his campers in the older division are female.   Also, the camp is apparently not a sleep-away so you'll have to figure out your own lodging if you're from out of town.   The camp itself is about as inexpensive as any local camp run by recreational leagues or high school coaches in the off-season but appears to me to be far more comprehensive.   If I had a catcher in the family, I'd definitely be sending her there very soon.   Heck, I may just send one or both of my daughters next year in order to round out their softball experience!

The reason I'm high on this camp is because I found Dave's video to be outstanding.   I like his coaching skills.   I like his attention to detail.

Dave sent me a compimentary copy of the video so I could review it.   Having looked at just over an hour of it, I'd gladly pay for it.   I've seen a large number of softball/baseball training videos and most of them are not very good.   They do go over the skills they claim to teach but they do so in an almost disinterested, cursory fashion, then skip to drills you can use to reinforce what wasn't taught.   They go over the skills but they forget to really teach them.   The same is not true of the Howard Kobata's defensive softball series which is excellent.   And, in all honesty, the New England Catching Camp's DVD far surpassed even that.

This video is the best training aid I have ever viewed.   I strongly urge you to fork over the approximately 40 bucks asked for it and then spend hours and hours reviewing it.   You'll need hours and hours since it is very long.   Many softball videos are only about half an hour in length.   Some are as short as 20 minutes!   This one spends more time than any other video I have paid a similar amount for just going over the catcher's stances!

Dave shows you exactly how a catcher should position herself to give the pitcher signs, receive a pitch when there is nobody on base, and prepare for runners who might be stealing.   I do not think any one particular element of the stance is missing.   Many videos move quickly past positioning and into the next phase without ever really explaining how one should start, let alone transition into the next stage.   It would be easy to claim they are for more advanced players/viewers but this catching video covers at least as much advanced ground as the others.   And if you never have something to reinforce the fundamentals, you almost always mess up something with the more advanced stages of a skill.

The element to Dave's teaching which first caught my attention was his dislike of what we often call "framing the pitch."   Dave doesn't even like to use the term "framing" unless he is explaining why he doesn't like it.   That's not to say he does not understand the need to properly display the pitch so the umpire can call it a strike.   He most certainly does understand that and he explains the proper technique better than anyone I have ever heard try.   In Dave's words, it isn't about making a ball look like a strike.   It is about showing the umpire that the strike was indeed a strike.

I've told you that I believe "framing" as it is commonly taught is condescending to the plate umpire and may get you more unfavorable calls than favorable ones.   I once sat through a clinic run by our local high school team which broke into positions including catching and instructed young players on how to make a ball look like a strike.   I've seen the team play many times and there are about 4 bad ball calls for every time there is a pitch outside the zone that is called a strike!   Framing, as it is most often taught, does not work for you and can often work against you at the wrong moment.

Once I got past the initial attraction of believing in any catching coach who understands "framing" or displaying the pitch as well as Dave does, there were other elements of his teaching which solidified my seal of approval.   During the course of our first game this year, a coach from the opposing team approached our catcher and told her point blank that she should keep her throwing hand behind her butt at all times, including when there were runners on base.   He worried that she might get a broken finger from a foul tip.   Maybe he really wanted her to not throw out their baserunners but when I stopped him, he scolded me for being something less than a responsible coach because I taught my catchers to play that way.   I told him, flat out, that he was greatly mistaken.   Catchers should keep their throwing hands behind the glove when there are runners on base.   They should make a fist and enclose their thumb inside it.   The fist should be placed behind the glove near where the index finger and thumb of the glove are.   They should NOT keep their hand behind their butt or shin guard.   Coach Dave explains why, better than I do, and shows you the proper position in perfect detail.

Another one of the things which draws me to coaches is an attention to detail.   Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction.   That's true of every motion a human being makes.   That's why hitting coaches, for example, spend so much time observing posture and working on the initial stance.   If you leave something out of a skill, that usually causes something else mechanical to later go wrong.   If you start with your feet very close together when hitting, most likely you are going to take a big step and cause your vectoring of the ball to be off a couple inches as well as start your hands too low, not to mention mess up everything which follows the initial step.   Coach Dave spends a lot of time going over the most minute detail of proper catching technique in order to avoid subsequent mechanical breakdowns.

Finally, it is easier to know why someone should do a skill this way or that, tell them, and then correct their mistakes, than it is to explain why they should do something a particular way.   Many coaches leave out the "why."   When asked, they often reply with the old standby, "trust me" or "you have to understand that I've been doing this a long time."   They don't explain the why because: 1) the reasons are so deep within their brain that it is painful to retrieve them; 2) they do not believe the student can understand them quickly and they feel the need to get immediate results; 3) they have no idea what the reasons are but they are teaching exactly the way they learned the skill; or 4) they are merely mimicking what they observed another coach tell a student.   This last cause is far more prevalent than you might expect.

If I'm going to pay a coach to teach my daughter, I want him to work a bit for the money.   That includes dredging the inner recesses of his mind for the whys.   I'd also rather they didn't feel rushed and thereby cheat my kid and me from understanding what it is going to take to perfect the skill.   I don't just want to know how they learned the skill unless they are that good - maybe played professionally or at least at a high level.   And I do not want a coach whose experience is limited to having watched a good coach a few times.   I want my player to fully understand why she is doing something and if the coach doesn't understand why, I guess I'm gpoing to need another coach.   Coach Dave Weaver does an outstanding job of explaining why you should do skills a particular way.   He demonstrates his understanding (which is substantial) as well as any coach I've ever seen.

I recall a discussion I once had with the father of a young fastpitch catcher who had recently attended private catching lessons with a division one head coach.   The coach suggested to the daughter that before she would teach her movement and actions behind the plate, she would need to work on her brain.   She needed to instill the right mindset and philosophy before she ever got into mechanics.   That may be the right approach but I think it is important for catchers and those involved with catching to approach the position with fresh eyes before trying to perfect catching mechanics.   You don't walk into a lesson and have the coach teach you how to throw out runners at second.   I believe every catcher should gain a full understanding of why she is doing everything she does behind the plate including her positioning and posture.   This web site begins to scratch the surface of that.   The video shows you lots.   Somehow, I think the camp would show you more.

There are so many misconceptions about what a catcher's responsibilities are and skillset ought to include.   We look at a bigger girl and think, she can block the plate or provide a great target for our pitchers so she is the logical choice to fill the position.   We also make a corollary mistake which is to decide that the bigger, perhaps slower afoot, less athletic girl, who can hit, needs to find a position and, since catching requires less running around, she ought to give it a try.   This is why, historically speaking, bigger kids have often been pushed into catching from an early age.

A similar mistake many make is to take the kid with the best arm and force her into the position without really getting her consent or providing any sort of instruction.   We figure the throw to second is a long one and since so many runs score as a result of aggressive baserunning and/or bad plays made in reaction to it, the best approach is to take the kid with the strong arm and make her into a catcher.   I know this happens because it happened to me as a kid.   I had the best throwing arm on my baseball team and as soon as we started real stealing, around the age of 13, the coaches stuck me back there without so much as rudimentary instruction.   They checked to see that the equipment more or less fit and said, "go to it!"

The elements which I think are most important to becoming a successful catcher include some size and strength but they also include an overwhelming desire to apply oneself to the most difficult, least natural position on the field.   In other words, work ethic is as important to becoming a successful catcher as is a decent arm and some strength, not to mention athleticism.   The untrained eye watches a good catcher at work and doesn't pick up on at least half (probably a lot more) of what she does in order to be successful.   As in all other endeavors, we need a catching expert, a skilled eye, to point out the things we have missed.   Dave Weaver is such an expert.   Check out his site, buy his video, and if you can, go to his camp.


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