"When in Doubt - Block it Out!"
Right around this time of the year I start receiving a plethora of requests for private lessons and evaluations for new students. It is after all the beginning to peak training season for catchers. After initial introductions my first question to the catcher is "what do YOU believe is the one skill you need more work on than anything else?" The answer is almost always blocking. Regardless of whether or not they are correct, it is routinely the one thing that catchers always feel they can get better at.
After asking that question I proceed to explain the couple reasons why blocking in particular can be so difficult to master.
Reason #1 - Blocking hurts. We all know this, but some times we forget that our brain has been programmed to avoid flying objects earmarked for our face. It takes a "special" kind of athlete to subject themselves to the constant abuse of the catcher position and we have to at some point be able to turn that part of our brain off. That is not easy and takes time.
Reason #2 - Most of the time we don't know when OR where we will be asked to block.
Understanding both of the reasons above is the key to figuring out why catchers may be having trouble blocking pitches in the dirt, even in a training environment. Focused practice is the solution for those troubles, as the lack of practice will force a catcher to attempt to field balls close to the dirt rather than block them. Our motto has become, "when in doubt - block it out!" Attempting to field or receive the ball that is close to the dirt will lead to more passed balls and runners advancing bases.
A great drill to help eliminate the "fielding" response to blocking is to eliminate the glove. No, I don't mean take the glove off and block with your bare hands. I mean use something that doesn't allow the catcher to close their hand around the ball.
A while back All-Star sent us one of their training mitts, "The Donut", and we have found that it is a fantastic tool to help a catcher focus on blocking the pitch rather than trying to field it. Check it out here! The glove does not close and forces the catcher to use their glove the way it should be used on a good block...simply as a "catcher 5-hole, plugger-upper".
Note: We don't recommend using "The Donut" for throwing drills, as demonstrated on the All-Star site, as doing so could reinforce bad exchange/throwing mechanics.)
Run through a few blocks with this glove (or a "fielding paddle") and when the blocks start to look correct, switch to the real glove. At the first sign of the catcher attempting to field the ball in the dirt, go back to The Donut or fielding paddle to continue building good blocking muscle memory. Do this until the catcher stops attempting to field balls in the dirt.
Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!
From behind the mask,