Tips of the Month

January 2018 - Tip of the Month

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"A NEW YEAR DOES NOT MAKE A NEW YOU"

 

Happy New Year everyone! 

The clock striking midnight on New Year’s eve signals a new start, a turning over of the proverbial leaf. It can be a symbol of newfound hope and/or dedication. It, however, does not signal the start to a “new you”. Simply rolling our calendars over to the next year does not enact the change that we may desire for ourselves. We might want to become bigger, stronger, faster, more dedicated to our health or education. But none of that is possible without concerted, mindful and purposeful effort.

I compare this to the New Years gym rush that happens every January 2nd. Go to any gym on the planet on January 2nd and good luck finding a free machine or treadmill. Go back on January 9th, just a week later, and half of the people you saw there a week ago will be gone. It happens year in and year out. People are energized by the new year, they rededicate themselves to something that was never sustainable in the first place. They never put in the time to change the one that that matters the most. Their true mindset. 

As humans, we’ve unfortunately been conditioned to seek out the quick fix, the instant gratification. Often, when we realize how hard real change and progress actually is, we bail and revert right back to what was comfortable. 

So, here’s my challenge to all of you catchers out there. Don’t let your New Year’s resolution be “I want to become the best catcher I can be”. There is no plan of action involved in that. Instead, make your resolution about how you'll become the best catcher you can possibly be. And then…draw up a realistic plan of how to reach your goal and make sure it is feasible enough that you can follow it each and every day. My New Year’s resolution could be “I want to become a millionaire”, but if I don’t actually have a realistic plan of action to achieve that, it's never happening. When you give yourself a game-plan, and a pathway to your goals, they are significantly more achievable. 

Catchers, change your mindset, and you’ll change yourself. 

Thanks for reading this month’s Tip of the Month! Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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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

 

 

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"!

February 2016 - Tip of the Month

"REPS ARE NOTHING WITHOUT PURPOSE"

 

This person was under the impression that our camps were just like all the others and would be a good opportunity for their catcher to get a good amount of reps in before their tryouts. The problem, however, is that our program is not like all the others and reps are aren't our first priority over the course of a weekend 6-hour camp.

1471830_675043199207474_482451174_n Picture this...you're 5 years old and your parents spend an hour a day during the Summer months teaching you how to tie your own shoes. However, instead of explaining the process and breaking down why one way might work better than the next, all they do is hand you pair after pair of shoes with shoelaces untied every time you tie one into a knot.   Each day this routine goes on and on. Then day one of kindergarten rolls around and your parents wish you well, tie your shoes for you one last time and send you on your way. In the middle of the day, your shoes come untied, and instead of knowing exactly how to fix the problem, you proceed to tie your shoes into a knot once again. This time, though, there's nobody there to help you.   Sure a teacher could come by and do it for you, but in this analogy, there is nobody to help you in the middle of an inning out on the field.  Parents, coaches and catchers, let me be explicitly clear about this. Understanding the process is more important than reps which build bad muscle memory. Without that understanding, you will not be able to fix the problem in the middle of a game. Reps are extremely important, there's no doubt about it. However, only purposeful reps with an intent to develop the skill will actually be of any benefit to you.   If you are under the impression that a camp should be some 2ba0b87a-582f-4195-8fd1-5040f5703230set number of reps without any basis for the execution of the skill or an explanation why one way is mechanically more efficient, our camp will not be the right place for you.   We are not going to teach catchers how to do better what they already do. We are going to explain either why what they do is either giving them an advantage or the changes necessary to do so. Then we will explain the process behind what we teach and why we teach it. Only then, once we are sure that the information has been presented in a way that the student will retain it after we leave, will we introduce a ball or reps into the equation.   Reps are great, but only if there is a purpose behind them. To be honest, it's the reason why we look forward to our Summer Camp program every year. We have an entire 16-hour timeframe to work through the entire process behind each skill AND THEN work through plenty of reps to refine those skills and provide immediate feedback.   Catchers, have a purpose behind everything that you do. The game gets to be a lot of fun when the work you put in has a great deal of intent behind it. Work on improving the process, and the skills will improve over time as well.  

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

January 2016 - Tip of the Month

"CHANGE IS GOOD"

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Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 6.27.53 PM

As an instructor, I've always felt that it is important to make sure that the information we give to catchers, coaches and parents has been run through the gauntlet before it's presented. We want to make sure that the future generations of catchers have the best possible information and not just what is easiest to teach them. This month's tip is about the different reasons why we must change our stance when there are runners on the bases or when there are two strikes on the batter. With a runner on the bases our list of responsibilities grows. We are now asked not only to receive pitches, but block them when they are thrown in the dirt, as well as throw to a base when a runner attempts to steal.

The explosive movements needed while blocking and throwing require an efficient approach that does not take away from my ability to receive and keep strikes looking like strikes. But we do hear some coaches asking their catchers to maintain one stance at all times. This approach, however, will force the catcher into extremely inefficient patterns while blocking and throwing. If we maintain a deep crouch at all times, we risk losing time on a block and direction in a throw.

There has been this thought over the years that if our body is low to the ground it will be easier and faster to get to the ground on a block. Unfortunately, that is just not how our bodies work. If my hips start below my knees, my body must move one of two directions in order to get the knees back to the ground. There is no compromise here. And both directions take considerably longer than dropping straight to the ground.  We can roll forward into the ball, which is a longer arc-like path to the ground (the fastest path between two points is a straight line), and forces us to add energy to the ball since we will likely still be moving in the direction that the ball is coming from. Or, we can send our hips upwards to get the knees back underneath our body. This also wastes a tremendous amount of time, seeing as we are moving in the opposite direction that the ball is headed.

Our goal should be to get to the ground as quickly as we possibly can, so that we are motionless once the ball hits us. We want to absorb all of the energy from the ball, not add any to it. And certainly not waste so much time that we can’t get to the spot the ball was thrown.

We also run the risk of putting our body in a position which makes it extremely hard to gain control of our lower body during a throw. I want to limit the lateral movement of my body while standing up out of my crouch during a throw to the bases. If we keep our hips lower than our knees, they will be working back up to neutral during the time where we should have been standing up. Unfortunately, this skill is incredibly time-sensitive, and our brain is going to want us to get rid of the ball. So instead of completing the stand up out of our crouch, the brain will want to position the throwing-hand-side foot. Because we still have too much weight over our feet, the only way to get the foot underneath our center of gravity, is to pull the body to the side and slide the foot to where our center of gravity used to be. This is often cause catchers to send their entire bodies to the left (or right if you are a lefty), which take the legs out of the throw and and adds spin to the ball. This will greatly affect the accuracy and velocity of the throw.

Catchers, we must change our stance with a runner on base or two strikes on a batter. Our feet should get wider, our hips should rest no lower than the middle of our knees and our backs should be perched forward. The weight of our body should be on the balls of our feet, with our heel in contact with the ground. (Check out the photo above and below).

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Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 6.28.53 PM

Also, we want to make sure that the throwing hand is tucked securely behind the glove to ensure its safety. The most dangerous location to keep the throwing hand with a runner on base or two strikes on a hitter is behind your body. It will NOT stay there. The moment you realize that the ball is heading to the ground or the runner has taken off to steal a base, the hand will come out from behind your body, and for a lengthy period of time, be completely exposed.

It will sit off to the side of the body while the hand works its way around to the front. Keep in mind that the batter still has a chance to foul off the pitch, even if that pitch is headed for the dirt. The last place we want our hand is off to the side of our body not protected. The safest place for that hand is behind the glove.

This “Runners-On” stance will allow to you to handle all of the responsibilities of the position when your team needs you to the most.

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

December 2015 - Tip of the Month

"Tis the Season"

All of us here from the New England Catching Camp would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season!

This time of year we can get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and forget the meaning behind it all, so this month's Tip of the Month centers on a few characteristics of a catcher that I believe to be incredibly important. Compassion, generosity and leadership. Both on the field and off.

We focus a lot on bettering ourselves throughout the offseason. Whether it be in the gym, or in a cage, or on the field. But I'm sure we can agree that we could all do a better job of spending more time building up our fellow teammates and catchers.

Catchers, let this month's tip remind you that being a good teammate and a compassionate leader is just as important as being a good catcher. If you see a teammate struggling when going through drills, help them out. If you see a teammate losing focus, lead them by setting a positive example. If you see a way to encourage someone, don't let the opportunity pass you by.

Take your job as a leader to heart and hold yourself to a higher standard, and your teammates will always be better for it.

Happy Holidays!!!

September 2015 - Tip of the Month

"Knee Savers: Good or Bad? - Redux"

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We've covered this topic before, but after sitting down to watch the AL Wildcard game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, I felt it was necessary to bring back this classic Tip of the Month.

As I am sure many of you have noticed, Brian McCann, the Yakees' catcher wears Knee Savers. Some might point out that he is wearing them as close to the back of his actual knee as a catcher can. Read below for why that is an absolutely horrible idea.

(From April, 2012) Running a camp for catchers around the country, this is definitely one of the most common questions we are asked. Personally, I never liked wearing them. But of the 100+ catchers who attend our two weeks of summer camp each year, usually more then 40 will wear them. Now technically speaking, a catcher with a good stance will almost never touch them unless they are in the sign-giving stance. However, the question that has always bothered my father and I was what amount of research was done in the development of the Knee Savers regarding catchers, prolonged squatting, and eventual knee damage anyway.

To get that answer we spoke at lengh with Dr. Douglas Farrago, the doctor in Maine who actually designed them, patented them in 1991, and sold the rights to Easton. What we learned was that there was no specific study done relating to catchers or sports at all. Certainly not on the preventative value of knee savers on young healthy athletes. All of the research which was done, and the subsequent conclusions drawn from that research, was from work done with coal miners. You know, 6-ft tall, middle-aged miners in 4-ft high caves. Lots of squatting going on there for sure. The application for catchers was a spinoff from that research, and when it was applied to catchers it was initially applied to older MLB catchers with existing knee conditions.

Dr. Farrago made it very clear that the Knee Savers MUST be worn on the lower strap settings to avoid putting pressure on the back side of the knee joint. He gave the example of placing a tennis ball behind your knee and duct taping it there and then attempting to crouch. The damage done from placing those pads directly behind the knee will far outweigh the damage done over time while playing the position without them.

Now, seeing that the knee is designed to bend that way, we also asked him whether it is the mere act of repeated squatting that causes this damage or something else?  My father's illustration was "why are their entire Asian cultures that spend more time in a catchers squat position as a daily routine and no real increase in degenerative knee disorders? Elderly people in these cultures are in that position for hours a day, yet they do not seem to need Knee Savers." Dr. Farrago had thought about that situation himself and does not have a medical reason why they do not suffer from this "catcher specific" problem. He questioned whether it may have to do with the fact that from childhood these people sit that way, but he was not positive.

However, after talking with a few more doctors regarding this matter, it was explained to me that although the crouching position does tend to put some added strain on the knee joint, there is a chance it is the constant standing back up that could really be the key to the added wear and tear on a catcher's knees. Sometimes even getting up out of the crouch in a very explosive and violent manner.

So it is clear that many older adult catchers have been able to lengthen their careers after knee injuries with Knee Savers, but anything more is still up in the air. At the very least, please make sure that if your catcher is wearing them, they NEED to be properly attached to the shin guards on the lowest possible strap setting (as pictured above).

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month! If anyone knows Mr. McCann personally, I'd highly advise passing this along to him. He is without a doubt risking the twilight years of his career behind the plate by wearing the "knee savers" that high up on his legs.

August 2015 - Tip of the Month

"Mask On Mask Off?

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The number of questions we've gotten recently on what to do with the catcher's mask on a popup has been astounding. It's been quite the hot-button issue this Summer.

I had this debate with my father years ago and I was insistent on taking it off. I told him that I had never seen an MLB catcher leave it on. He kept telling me "son, just go outside and try it." Now in all fairness, I was a two-piece guy my entire career, and would never think of leaving the mask on, hockey-style or not. For me it just wasn't even a consideration.

One day we got into a heated discussion about this play and we agreed that I would go out to the field the next morning, and field a few pop-ups with the mask on. Funny thing happened that night. Before we could ever get to the experiment, I was watching a Phillies vs. Cardinals game and saw both Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina field sky-high pop-ups with their masks on in consecutive innings. My dad just leaned over and grinned.

While we were at the field the next day he asked me "Jay, you love hockey, right? Well have you ever seen a shot from the blue line deflect straight up into the air?" Naturally, I said yes. "And did the goalie then feel the need to take his mask off?!?!" We laughed, but the point was made.

Catchers, if you are wearing the "hockey-style" masks you do NOT need to take the mask off. In fact, those masks are designed to allow you to see just fine. If you've never understood how this might be possible, head out to a field and have someone throw a bunch of balls into the air for you with your mask on. You WILL be able to track and follow the balls path and set yourself up to make a clean play. Keeping it on serves two purposes. One, it saves a bunch of time. And two, it eliminates any risk of tripping on your helment after you take it off.

For some of you younger catchers, the weight of the helmet might be too much. In that case, and only that case, does the mask need to come off, but make sure you don't ditch it until you have located the ball. Otherwise you risk throwing it to the ground at a spot you might very well be headed.

Now ladies, simply put...NEVER take it off. Ever. Popups in the girls' game do not go as high as in baseball. There is just no time to take it off, find the ball, set up and then make the catch. Often, popups in softball are dinks and dunks over the catcher's shoulders, requiring a much quicker approach to the ball.

In either case, and to reiterate the point, the masks are designed to be left on. Yes, even in the case of popups.

June 2015 - Tip of the Month

What it Means to Have "it"

 

There is this saying out there in the baseball and softball world. "That player just has it". I recently had a parent ask me what this meant, and how does their kid get "it". It' not the easiest conversation to have, because most people who use the phrase, don't really know how to describe what "it" really is. Let me give it a whirl...

Some of you might not know, but this marks the 5th MLB season that I have been scouting for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It's something I absolutely love doing. The affect it has had on my perception of the game has truly been enlightening. When you have to evaluate a player with complete objectivity, it forces you to notice the subtleties and nuances you otherwise might miss when simply watching a game for fun. Now, being a catcher, I had a very different perspective of the game simply because of the position I played. However, scouting gave me another viewpoint to explore the game.  And one of the characteristics I look for in a potential player is "it".

If I am being honest, I too struggle to come up with an accurate description of what "it" actually entails. But I will tell you what you have probably heard from anybody who has ever referred to this mystical quality - I know it when I see it.

What I truly believe "it" represents is a player with extreme confidence and complete accountability. It's a player who knows that they have put in the work to demonstrate a confidence with everything that they do on a field. You never see this player hesitate. You never see this player question themselves in the middle of a game. You never see this player not take responsibility for their play on the field and their work off of it. When a player has confidence during every possible situation that might arise during a game, they stand out.

I was recently assigned a game up here in the Northeast. It was between two New England colleges and both of the catchers from each school were on my short list. One of the catchers immediately stood out. Sure, he was more polished than the other, and he was significantly more athletic, but what lead to me texting our area scout "Love this kid....he's a ball player" was that he did everything with such confidence and took charge of the field.

He bounced a ball to 2B on one of his throws and it slipped past his SS. After which, he walked out in front of home plate with his head high, patted his chest and told his teammates, "that one's on me guys". He was fully accountable for everything he did on the field. The other catcher? He argued balls and strikes, hung his head after an error, and I swear I saw this kid pout like a 4-year old after a perceived missed call by an umpire. I couldn't cross his name off my list fast enough.

Catcher's be accountable. With your practice. With your work in the gym. With your attitude on the field. That accountability alone won't get you where you want to be, but I can assure you that a lack of "it" may very well be the reason why you don't.