April 2017 - Tip of the Month

"There's No Such Thing as a Good Throwing Position"
 

As I am sitting here on the balcony of our hotel, overlooking the Caribbean (a surprise birthday present from my wonderful better half), I cannot help but notice the parallels between the waves crashing onto the beach and the smooth sequencing of an elite throwing catcher.  

The rolling waves demonstrate exactly the type of feeling we should achieve while throwing. This smooth continuous overlapping of athletic movements that lead to an explosive release of the ball. The best in the game make throws seem effortless, and they should be exactly that… effortless. 

Effortlessness is achieved through efficiency. Not an ounce of energy wasted, not an inch of movement unaccounted for. Every single tenth of a second contributing to the end goal of getting rid of the ball as quickly as we can while maxing our release velocity. 

How do we achieve this result? Simple. Practice. But concerted, pointed and intent-driven practice. 

I recently began working with a pro who was already pretty gifted behind the plate in his own right. But, there was an extreme reliance on athleticism and his strong arm when it came to throwing. He was never given an approach that would enable him to achieve peak results. 

After sitting down for an afternoon, going through throws, breaking down video, it became glaringly obvious just how much better this guy could be. Before an hour had gone by he had shaved over a tenth of a second off of his release. 

Now, that might not seem like a lot, but let’s put it perspective. Remember all of those stolen bases last year where the runner was safe by just a split second, and you though to yourself, “Ugh! I thought I had him!” Guess what, shave a tenth off of your throw, and now all of those runners are probably out. How big of an effect would that have had on your season?

The great thing is that most of the changes we made were simply allowing his body to do more than one thing at a time, tightening up the process and getting him further along in the throw earlier.

For years, as a player and a coach, I have heard of this strange idea that in order to throw well, we had to get into a “good throwing position”. To this day, I still have no idea what that means. If you are getting into a “good throwing position” you are stopping in the middle of your throw. You are delaying release and forcing yourself to restart your throw halfway through the sequence. 

Let me be very clear. There is no such thing as a “good throwing position”. It does not exist. The best in the game do not get into a “good throwing position”. They don't stop. Neither should you. The key is making sure that your body isn’t moving in any direction that takes away from your ability to get the ball out of your hand effortlessly with max velocity. 

I will go into all of the ways catchers generally waste time during throws in an article due out in the near future, but for now you should all understand that if you aren’t getting to an athletically upright level, turning, making the exchange AND starting your stride forward all at the same time, your going to hear the word “SAFE!” considerably more often than you should. Let those movements overlap, one move leaking into the next. Never stopping the process and you’ll throw out more runners. 

Catchers, the throw is a process, not a position. Keep it moving.

Thanks for reading this Month’s Tip of the Month! 

February 2017 - Tip of the Month

How to take 2 tenths of a second off your pop-time in 2 tenths of a second!

 

 

 

Now that I got your attention, I have to apologize. There is no possible way anyone could give you a way to take 2 tenths of a second off your pop time in just 2 tenths of a second. It’s not possible. It takes a lot of time and focused energy building the muscle memory necessary to make that type of improvement. This will not be what this month’s tip of the month will be about. Why, you might ask? Very simple. Listen very clearly. Pop. Times. Don’t. Matter.

Now if I were some run of the mill Joe Schmo telling you this, you would laugh me out of the room. But I am hoping that whatever respect I’ve earned from you that lead you to subscribe to this newsletter will buy me just a moment to explain myself.

I’ve been an MLB scout for the last 6 seasons and have built up relationships and earned the respect of some of the best college coaches, both baseball and softball, in the country.  I point this out, not to pat myself on the back, I assure you. I do so to point out the fact that the person you all strive so hard to impress, the person holding the stopwatch. I’m one of them. 

And I can tell you right now that the throw you just made at the showcase with no batter in the box, no runner running to 2B, cheating up out of your crouch… it meant very little to me. And that goes for many of the college coaches and scouts you are hoping to blow away with your fake 1.9 throw. 

Does that throw give me a glimpse into your potential as an athlete? Sure it does. Does it allow me to gauge arm strength? Yup. Does it prove to me anything other than you are really good in practice? Nope, it does not. 

I will ask the same question over and over again. What can you do in a game?

We get asked constantly why we don’t time pop-times during our camps. It seems that this is the one thing folks want over everything else. And it’s absolutely baffling. Whatever methodology you subscribe to when it comes to throwing from behind the plate. None of it will make you faster until you put in the work to own the approach. Are some changes going to have a very immediate impact  on your ability to lower your pop-time? I would surely hope so. But, will those changes translate in a game environment? Not a chance. That’s not how your brain works. 

Your brain needs time to reprogram the neural pathways to adopt a different physiological response when a runner takes off from 1B. That will not happen during one of our camps. 

You might now be asking yourself why any of you should attend our camp if you are trying to improve your in-game pop-time? Well, it’s very simple. We can give you the one magic tool that will lead to the largest possible drop in your pop-time… information

Not just any information, but information that will give you a mechanical advantage over all of the other catchers who are trying to get the ball to 2B faster than you. 

It’s truly up to you to do something with it and only that will lead to an improvement in your in-game pop time and the number of runners you successfully keep from making you look bad. 

Catchers, remember, if you can’t repeat what you did in practice in a game, it doesn't matter. It also mean you’re not practicing enough. 

JANUARY 2017 - Tip of the Month

Can You Hear Me Now?

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First off, I hope everyone is enjoying a great start to 2017! We've been a bit busy over the last few months and I apologize that you haven't heard from us more often. 

2017 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting for us in our program's history, and now that this year is in full swing we can get back on track with our Tips of the Month.

The first Tip of the Month for 2017 deals with a few things we talk about a lot at our camps and on our site. Communication and leadership. 

Leadership comes in many forms, and leading by example with a quiet confidence is certainly one way to lead your team. However, from behind the plate, quiet is not a part of our vocabulary. As catchers it's important to realize that being vocal on the field is an incredibly important part of our game. We have a view that is matched by none, and the ability to affect plays simply with our direction from behind the dish. If our teammates cannot hear us, we aren't able to do our job. That job includes letting teammates know where the play is happening, how many outs there are before every new batter, where the throw needs to go and letting teammates know where they need to be positioned.

One of the biggest reasons catchers don't speak up is because they are afraid of making the wrong decision or call on the field. Let this be a challenge to all of you coaches out there. If your catcher makes a decision and can back it up at all, regardless of the outcome of that decision, applaud them don't discipline them for being wrong. 

Certainly understanding what the right and wrong decisions are is important, but indecisiveness driven by fear is not something that is going to lead to sound situational decision making... ever. Make sure that your catchers know they have the right to make the call they feel they need to make at that exact moment. Whether it's throwing to 2B on a bunt, thinking that they had a shot at the runner there, or calling for a cut to a base other than home plate because they didn't think they had a shot at the runner who was heading home behind them. It's important that development of critical thinking on the baseball or softball field is a focus, but that attribute cannot mature when stunted with fear of failure. 

On that same note catchers, do not be afraid of being wrong. Make a decision, make a call, and stick by it. Reflect on that call after the inning and determine whether you need to make an adjustment the next time that situation comes around. But do not fail to communicate clearly to your teammates because you are worried about making the wrong decision.

Development of ALL skills should be the focal point of every game that you play until you have left high school. Be loud on the field. Be quick with your decisions. And learn from your mistakes.

We hope you enjoyed this month's Tip of the Month! Keep an eye out for plenty more from us as 2017 rolls on! 

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER 2016 - Tip of the Month

There are so many differing opinions when it comes to technique behind the plate. That much is true. What is also true is that for years the information surrounding the position grew stagnant. Nothing new to report; same 'ole, same 'ole. Complacency of any kind, let alone in the game of baseball or softball, is incredibly maddening to me. After all, I have always tried to seek out "the best way" when it comes to the information we give to our students and clients at every level of the game. So many others are reserved to what they "know" and what worked for them. That approach will stymie informational growth in our game, not stimulate it. We need to look at what we all thought that we knew and question it all at every turn. Attempt to poke holes in what we were taught to help us give the best information to the players in front of us. 

This month's tip of the month is about one of the misconceptions that has largely been viewed as fact. The reality is that it's far more "Trick" than "Treat".

There's this old adage - "A deep exchange will speed up your release". I am not sure where it started, or who coined the approach, but I would like to, for once and for all, abolish this monstrosity of a technique from our brains. 

The idea is simple. Let the pitch travel at pitch speed longer and the ball will get to where it needed to go, which was assumed to be by our ear, faster. This will allow us to save time since the pitch at 85MPH in Baseball or 58MPH in Softball travels much faster than our glove arm ever could.

I just described that in a way that might make you nod your head and say "yeah, that makes sense". Here's the thing....No it does not! It doesn't even remotely describe what actually happens in an elite throw/throwing pattern. But it's easy to sell because people largely want to assume that the info their hearing from a respected coach/player is factual and will help their catcher. But, it's unfortunately not. It's no fault to them. They are regurgitating what was told to them from their coach, which was told to them from their coach, and so on, and so on and.....you get the point. 

Let's forget for a moment that I actually do NOT want to pull the ball to my ear, since this forces me to spin around the ball during the throw, creating inefficiency while adding a significant amount of stress to the wrong parts of our body. Let's forget about all of that. 

In fact, let's assume it actually worked. It did what they all said it would and allowed us to throw sooner. In order for us to actually take advantage of that theory, letting the ball travel pitch speed longer, here's what we'd have to do - WE HAVE TO CATCH THE BALL BY OUR EAR!

No catcher in the history of the game has ever caught a pitch at their ear and truly let a pitch travel pitch speed to that point. If they did, more often than not, they would get drilled in the head over and over again since we would lose the ability to track the ball into the glove and any miscalculation would result in taking a blow to the dome. 

I have actually heard coaches refer to the best in MLB using this technique and I am not sure that we are watching the same game. 

Salvador Perez, James McCann and Jonathan Lucroy were the top three in CS percentage in Major League Baseball in 2016. Let's take a look at their exchange point. 

Perez:

 

McCann:

Lucroy:

 

Not one of these guys is making a deep exchange. The three best in the Big Leagues....not one doing what a lot of coaches will tell you is the fastest way to get rid of the ball. All three making the exchange in the middle of their chest under their chin. 

By making the exchange at the middle of the body, we achieve balance. We also give ourselves the ability to begin our throwing motion sooner. I don't want to make the exchange deep and wait to start throwing. I want to begin throwing the moment I am turned and have control of the ball in the throwing hand. We should begin our throw from our mitt. The moment the hands are separating, I'm throwing. I do not want to pull the ball to my ear. I want my hands separating from my middle, the arms to work behind me while I open into the throw, and the forearm, wrist, hand and ball to fall behind my head as my hips turn open while striding forward into the throw. This is what will get me to layback and allow my arm to whip forward to release, taking advantage of the resistance I am creating with my lower body. By getting the ball into my throwing hand sooner, I allow myself to get rid of the ball sooner. 

Hope you enjoyed this Tip of the Month!

September 2016 - Tip of the Month

"You Can ONLY Control Yourself"

Due to the move to Charlottesville, VA (read more about that HERE), September’s Tip of the Month is a bit delayed, but I can assure you the message is incredibly important for any catcher looking to improve their ability behind the plate and their approach to the game as a whole. 

This past weekend I had a student of mine in for a lesson. He’s a sophomore in HS, and has one of the best work ethics I have ever seen. That being said, this student has some work to do to get to the level he wishes to play at. That’s certainly not to say he isn’t extremely proficient at the position, just that he has a lot of work to do, like everyone else looking to play at the next level. 

In the middle of our lesson he asked me a question that made the hair on my arm stand up. “Coach, there’s a freshman this year that everyone thinks is going to make varsity this year. What do I do about that?”

My jaw dropped. “Huh?!?!” I replied. He said again, "I don’t know what to do about him, everyone thinks he’s that good. What do I do?”

This is a very common situation that comes up for many of you catchers. You put in the time, you do the work, and at the end of the day some other catcher is getting all the praise and they threaten your playing time.

There are a few reasons this question bothered me so much, but just one that stands out above all of them. No matter what anyone else does to earn their spot and playing time, the only thing any one of us can ever control is what we do ourselves. The moment we start thinking about what other people think about someone else, that’s the very moment we’ve lost. 

We cannot waste time or energy thinking about things that are out of our control. We cannot control what a coach thinks about another catcher. We cannot control the work someone else is putting in to beat us out of a job. We cannot control any of that. The only thing we can control is what we do to earn our spot. 

That is what I told this student. His job, and any one else in this situation, is to find out why people think that catcher is better and put in more work in those areas. Get better today than you were yesterday. It’s as simple as that. At the end of the day, as unfortunately as it may be, that other catcher may very well be more talented than you. But it’s your job to put in the work to get better. 

Catchers, the only person you should ever measure yourself against is who you were yesterday. The second you start to consider the things you can’t control is the second you’ve lost another step to the other catcher. 

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month! 

AUGUST 2016 - Tip of the Month

"No Whining"

 

To say that I watch a lot of video every year is a gigantic understatement. However, even I can miss things from time to time. Such was the case with this clip from a Reds/Nationals game in early June. 

Now let me preface by saying that I think Tucker Barnhart is a probably a great guy, a good catcher, and someone who has clearly worked insanely hard to achieve his dreams. I certainly don't think this one play defines who he is as a person or a catcher. But, we all make mistakes, and this was one of his. 

In that moment, a bit of immaturity snuck to the surface and Barnhart's frustration with himself for not making the initial force out at home cost his team another run. His antics cost him a full second which he could have spent retrieving the ball. It's only fitting that the second run that scored, was only safe by a third of that time. 

Catchers, there is no whining in baseball or softball. You cannot let your emotions get in the way of you doing your job. If you make a mistake on the field, do whatever you can to not compound the mistake and turn it into a larger one. We have to be able to keep a level head on the field and react instinctively to situations, even our own errors. 

If you want to spend some time after the inning or after the game reflecting on the mistake, finding a way to never let it happen again, by all means go for it. That's a productive use of time. But are you allowed to sulk over your mistake and the harm it did your team? Not a chance. And certainly not in the middle of a play. 

I am positive Barnhart learned from this mistake, and I'd imagine he's a better catcher for it. We all are going to make mistakes. It's a huge part of our game. But we can't let it affect our ability to be there for our team. 

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month! 

 

JULY 2016 - Tip of the Month

ALL-STAR SPORTS: LG30PRO

ALL-STAR SPORTS: LG30PRO

LEG GUARDS

ALL-STAR SPORTS: CP30PRO

ALL-STAR SPORTS: CP30PRO

  • Guards should fit snug to leg
  • Straps should be tight enough to prevent the guards from turning on the leg, but not tight enough to cut off circulation
  • Knees should be centered on the pad inside of the bottom knee cap guard (where you see the silver or orange D3O pad in the photo of All-Star's LG30PRO leg guards). If the knee is resting in between the knee guard and the thigh guard, the equipment is too small and can cause injury or fail to protect the catcher the way it's intended. 

CHEST PROTECTORS

  • Chest protectors should be worn tight. If a catcher can lean over and there is space between the chest protector and the body, it is not tight enough.
  • Chest protectors shouldn't ride up to the throat when a catcher is in their crouch. If it does, it's too big, or is too loose. Try tightening it, and if it still rides up, it's too big.
  • It also should't ride too low, exposing the collarbone.  
  • Do NOT use gear that is not fit correctly, as it can lead to serious injury. 
ALL-STAR SPORTS: MVP2500WTT

ALL-STAR SPORTS: MVP2500WTT

HELMETS

  • Inspect a helmet for cracks before putting on head. Even a small crack can render the shell completely useless in protecting a catcher from a head injury. 
  • Make sure not to paint the helmet with paint that can weaken the integrity of the plastic shell. 
  • Do not use the mask if the cage is bent in any way. 
  • Helmet should be tight to head. 
  • Chin should rest in the middle of the chin pad, not below or above. If the chin rest below or above the padding, the helmet is too big. 

 

Catchers, make sure your gear is in working order and fits properly. At the end of the day, its the first step in making sure you are safe behind the plate. 

 

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month! If you are interested in what we here at NECC recommend for gear, read more about our relationship with All-Star Sports HERE

 

 

JUNE 2016 - Tip of the Month

"Get the Sure Out"

 

June's Tip of the Month practically wrote itself during a game yesterday between my L.A. Angels and the Detroit Tigers. 

In the 8th inning of a very close game, the Angels got two runners into scoring position when Gregorio Petit lined a grounder to Tigers' 3B Andrew Romine. The third baseman came home with the throw after Rafael Ortega took off for the plate, but short-hopped it to Tigers' catcher James McCann. 

McCann's first mistake was not setting himself up in a way that would give him the best ability to make an adjustment on a bad throw. By setting his left foot on the plate, he was locked into position with very limited mobility. The bad throw unfortunately caused him to pull his left foot off the plate, leading to Ortega scoring. McCann's next mistake was attempting to make up for his first miscue by attempting a very low-percentage throw/play. The chances he would have been able to have made this throw in time was already in question, let alone the fact that he was throwing from a position that will always lead to a lower-velocity, and very often less-accurate, throw. 

The best thing McCann could have done here is set himself up with his right foot on the top righthand corner of the plate, like a first baseman. This would allow him the ability to move his body toward the ball, regardless of where it was thrown, while still anchoring his right foot to the plate. By setting it to the top righthand corner, he would have been touching the part of the plate furthest from the runner's slide, and given him the ability to get off of the plate the moment the ball hit his glove (See example below)

 

In the case of McCann, his number one goal should have been to make sure he got the sure out at home. Even though the throw from Romine was not ideal, it was most definitely a play McCann should have made. The worst thing we can do as catchers is to start out-thinking ourselves during a play. It's important to approach the game in a very intelligent way. However, we can't get ahead of ourselves in the heat of the moment. And we cbnertainly cannot attempt to make up for a mistake by attempting to make a play that we have no real chance of being successful with. 

Catchers, get the sure out...and then look for another. That's the order we need to approach the game with. There's nothing wrong with trying to make the highlight-real play, but it can't come at a cost of digging your team into a bigger hole. 

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!

 

 

 

MAY 2016 - Tip of the Month

 

"Move it or Lose it!"

 

For this month's Tip of the Month, I thought I'd shine some light on one of the most difficult plays to handle as a catcher. The tag play at home plate when the throw pulls the catcher up the line.

This can often lead to some serious collisions and injuries, and it is important to know how to approach this play to avoid both. 

This is one of our students on the West Coast and she recently was involved in a play at home that lead to some quick thinking and instinctive reactions.

During this play, the catcher is pulled up the line on a slightly off target throw from her infielder. 

Instead of letting the throw carry her directly into the runner (who looked like she was aiming for the catcher in an attempt jar the ball loose), she instead pulls her body as far as she could into foul territory away from the path of the runner. Even though there was contact, this could have ended much worse.

 A lot of catchers attempt to "block" the plate and position themselves directly in the path of the runner. However, by pulling our body into foul territory as much as possible, and making the tag on the side of the runner, we can help avoid serious collisions. 

At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we are protecting ourselves. Obviously, the out is somewhat important, but most definitely not more than our safety. 

Catchers, protect yourself and then find a way to make the tag. Basically...Move it or Lose it!

Thanks for reading this month's "Tip of the Month"!

March 2016 - Tip of the Month

"DON'T DROP ANCHOR"

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Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 10.29.06 AM

One of the most common problems that catchers encounter while blocking is improper sequence. Certain parts of the body needs to move to the ground in a very specific order to ensure that we put ourselves in the best possible spot to block the pitch.

All too often, catchers make the cardinal mistake of letting their lead knee drop to the ground first. The problem is that once we drop the lead knee, we prevent ourselves from continuing in that lateral direction. We are "anchored" to that spot.

We leave ourselves with little to no adjustability, and we are likely unable to close the edge to direct the ball to the ground back towards the middle of the field.

If our lead knee hits the ground before our trailing knee, it becomes very difficult to align our middle with the ball, and often results in the ball squirting off to the side.

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Above is an example of what it looks like when it is done correctly.

The catcher leads the block with his hands to ensure that his middle will end up in line with the ball (the glove touching the ground tells the brain where to go and when to stop), the back knee chases the glove to the ground to enable the catcher to use it as a pivot point, and the lead knee drives forward to complete the turn of the body back towards the middle of the field.

Keep in mind, our goal should not simply be to stop the ball, but to CONTROL it. Controlling the ball after a block is what will give a catcher the ability to change the game. Potentially by keeping a run from scoring, but also by preventing a runner from advancing to the next base.

Now, should anyone be able to notice the order that each body part hits the ground in a game? No chance. These are overlapping movements that should result in a very smooth but quick progression to the ground. Maintaining this sequence, though, is imperative to a successful block.

Catchers, pay attention to how you get your body to the ground during a block. By ensuring proper sequence, you will keep control of your body and the ball.

Thanks for reading this month's "Tip of the Month"!