Why Rapid Fire Blocking/Throwing Drills Don't Work!
Over the years I have run across many different training techniques pertaining to the catching position. Some of them very useful. However, one drill that has absolutely no place in training a catcher to block pitches in the dirt or make throws to any of the bases is the "Rapid Fire" drill. Go on YouTube, search for blocking or throwing drills and you will find an entire library of this useless garbage. The general idea is that if a catcher can get to the ground quickly, get back up and drop back down to the ground over and over again, that it will somehow teach the brain to execute a block quicker in a live-game situation. There is also a huge misconception that the more times a catcher can get into a throwing position within a small period of time, the quicker they will be able to get rid of the ball or repeat the skill with success. The reality, however, is that the only thing coaches accomplish during these drills is that they get their catcher to work up a nice sweat during practice and their blocking/throwing mechanics suffer exponentially.
The biggest mistake a coach can make with both of these skills is to make practicing them a conditioning exercise. In my travels with the camp around the country, I work with catchers at the youth level as well as those in the high school, college and professional ranks, and I see it nearly everywhere I go. Coaches throwing ball after ball after ball at a catcher in rapid succession. The first block/throw is usually pretty decent, but each rep thereafter continually gets worse and worse, until the catcher is struggling to simply get back to their receiving position to restart the next block or throw. Each and every rapid rep following the original one contributes to building bad muscle memory. The second the mechanics deteriorate the drill becomes destructive to the overall goal of helping these catchers improve their skill-set behind the plate. And yet I see the coaches continue to throw the ball.
The brain has this funny way of only remembering the last position we were in or the last movement pattern we put our body through. Eventually the brain will begin to adopt those inefficient, unbalanced and incorrect positions or patterns when applied to the full-scale skill in actual games.
In order to understand what drills we should be doing instead, we first need to understand what some of these coaches are actually trying to accomplish. Each of these skills are extremely time-sensitive. We are dealing with anywhere around .40 to .60 seconds of reaction time during a block and our goal should be able to get rid of the ball as quickly as we can during a throw, while maintaining efficiency throughout each skill. There is a thinking that if we increase the number of reps-per-minute that we will increase the body's ability to perform these skills faster during a game. That is simply not true. All we are doing is accelerating the breakdown of the mechanics during a time when we should be building the proper progression of each of these skills.
The best way to increase the body's ability to perform these skills at a high level is to build good muscle memory using proper mechanics. If we are trying to help the catcher gain quickness to the ground during a block of a ball in the dirt, our goal should be to perfect the mechanics of the block to a point where our only challenge is making the decision of block or receive. If our brain reads "block", we have done it right so many times that there is only one natural response, a mechanically sound block. But if we take away the catcher's ability to fix the block before resetting him or herself in a proper receiving position before the next rep, not only are we contributing to the mechanical failure of the blocking and throwing skills, but now we are reinforcing bad receiving skills as well. Every rep after the first one will begin to pull the catcher away from a balanced receiving stance. Now we are not only giving the brain an incorrect idea of the position we are truly starting these skills from, but we are hurting the one skill we a required to perform behind the plate most often.
With blocking if your goal as a coach is to help a catcher improve their overall athleticism and quickness, find a local strength and conditioning program for them. If your goal is to improve a catcher's ability to react to a pitch in the dirt, find ways to decrease their available reaction time during a focused and purposeful drill. This can be done a number of ways. One, increase velocity during the blocking drill. If you are already throwing at max velocity and you still feel that your catcher isn't being challenged, the solution is simple. Move up. But don't ever let go of a ball during the drill without the catcher in a proper receiving position. We need to continually create realistic, game-speed training environments, but only after a positive result of the skill has been achieved at a slower rate. Once the catcher has the proper blocking sequence down, start mixing up the pitches they need to block with ones they need to receive (Pitch Recognition). After that, start finding acceptable ways of decreasing the reaction time available to the catcher during that particular drill.
In regards to throwing drills. Our goal should always be to build the proper sequence of the throw. When we focus all our energy on getting to one stagnant position as fast as we can, over and over again, all we are doing is building muscle memory of a completely unrealistic movement pattern. The throw should be a sequence of small explosive movements, which when combined allow the body and ball to stay in constant motion, building momentum in the direction of our target during the throw. If all we are concerned with is finishing each rep so that we can begin the next, we will have a very hard time constructing a flawless mechanical sequence. Therefore, each rep is contributing to flawed muscle memory and an overall inconsistent throw both in accuracy and velocity out of our crouch.
Keep in mind that while there are some skills in which rapid fire repetitions may actually help, receiving being one of them (the purpose being to build up our hand-eye coordination), any drill that contributes to the deterioration of the core skill and good muscle memory is not something we should ever consider to be an appropriate training aid.
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