I am often asked how we are able to get players as young as 8 yrs old to block balls in the dirt so successfully. I believe that much of it is that we teach blocking as a progression of learned skills.
First two premises that we share with players.
- The purpose of blocking is NOT to catch the ball with their glove. While some balls may very well go directly into their gloves their goal should be to use the glove to block the ball from going between their legs. Any balls that would be higher then that should be allowed to hit them and be blocked to the ground.
- The technique we teach first is for fastballs or any pitch thrown that travels relatively straight back after hitting the ground. This block involves technique that keeps the block very deep in the catcher’s box instead of blocking forward. We want to block in a way that draws the energy out of a pitch and causes it to drop directly in front of the catcher, rather then blocking forward into a pitch and adding energy to the ball. This will cause it to bounce much farther away from the catcher.
We begin the instruction by teaching the correct blocking position first.
We will teach how to get into this position after we are sure the player knows what position he is trying to end up in after he executes the block.
We draw a line on the ground. Or already having a line taped on the floor. We have the player get down on their knees, knees up to the line and get into the blocking position. They spread their knees apart so the glove can be set between their knees, pocket facing the pitcher. The throwing hand is behind the glove being protected. I like the throwing hand in a fist with the thumb inside the fist. The glove and throwing hand should be pulled back as deep between the legs as possible. The tip of the glove should just be touching the ground. Do not squash the glove into the ground.
It is at this point I really stress that the glove must stay between the legs and is no longer used to catch the ball.
The legs are positioned in such a way the player is sitting on their calves. Their feet should be almost touching behind them. This will keep any ball the does manage to get between the legs from going on through. Many players position their calves outside their legs and sit down between their legs. This has their legs in what I call the “W” sit position. While this position allows the legs to be wider and cover more ground it is much slower to get up from and traps the player on the ground.
The upper body is leaning so the chin is out over the glove and knees. The back is rounded. Their arms have an elbow bend that makes the arms flare out to the side. Many players keep their arms straight when they block. This causes much more wear and tear on the forearms then necessary. With the arms flared the chest protector will take more of the hits. The chin is down, but the eyes are up to watch the ball.
We then teach what to do when the ball hits them.
When the ball hits a few things all happen at once. We exhale hard, suck in the abs, and roll the shoulders in. All of these are designed to further cushion the impact and pull the energy out of the pitch. Our goal is to have the ball stay between us and the back of the plate. Once the player is able to get up and down and return to this position we begin the drills.
The first drill is a No-Flinch drill.
In this drill the player assumes the blocking position but looks up and straight at the coach who is kneeling 3-4ft in front of them. The coach then throws balls directly at the facemask of the player. The player must take the hit without any flinching other then eye blink. For players who turn their heads or flinch backwards this drill should be a regular event until they have learned to relax and take the hit without flinching.
The next drill is called Sit-n-Hit.
In this drill the player assumes the blocking position and the coach get 8-10 feet in front of them and throws balls directly at the ground in front of them. Varying the impact point to have some hit low on the catcher and some to bounce hi and hit the chest protector. Again we are using this drill to get the player used to getting hit and not flinching.
Many of the poor blocks I see are a result of the player blending correct blocking movements with ill-timed survival flinches. Get rid of the flinches and the effectiveness of the blocks improve.
Next we teach how to get from our receiving position to this blocking position.
We have the player get in their receiving position with runners on base, their toes on the line on the ground. The move to the ground is explosive. The first thing that moves is the throwing hand then the glove. The throwing hand moves downward and back first to ensure that it will end up behind the glove. The glove follows right after. I have a number of pictures where the glove is on the ground blocking the opening between the legs and the knees haven’t hit the ground yet.
Right after the hands move the legs will also move. I teach a method where the player will have their knees replace their feet. Their feet will explode backwards and come together behind them. Their knees will end up right on the line where their toes were. Remember our goal is to not add energy to the ball. This is why we block deep, staying back. If we fall forward onto our knees we will be adding energy to the ball when it hits us and cause a longer bounce away from us.
I have the player’s practice this block with me throwing an invisible ball to them.
After they make the block they need to hold their position and make any corrections to their position needed. They do not get up until the position is correct. Then they get back up into their receiving position and repeat. I never begin using real balls until they are correctly executing the blocking maneuver correctly.
Once they can do this correctly I begin to throw real balls at them.
I slowly get them used to taking the hit, and more importantly NOT trying to catch the ball.
Once this skill is correct I begin to work up with the pitches coming in faster
The next step is to begin working on blocks to the side. Since they are set up with their toes pointed up the lines it is very easy for them to block to either side by shifting weight over that foot, but the order that their hands and knees hit the ground is of the utmost importance.
I teach a three-step approach where we ask the student to get into their runner's-on stance. I then ask the catcher to send their hands to the ground behind the ball that is placed off to the side of their body on the ground, noting that only the tip of the glove will actually touch the ground, with the throwing hand resting safely in a fist behind the glove right next to the glove hand.
The next movement is to allow the "inside knee" (if we block left our right knee is our "inside knee") to drop to the ground along the same line that the feet started on. This is to make sure that the body doesn't move up into the batter or risk pushing the ball away from our body. Our chest must remain square to our pitcher through this step in the block, otherwise we are turning our hips and chest away from the ball and towards foul territory. Since we are attempting to control the ball, funneling it back towards the infield, this is something we want to avoid. By keeping our chest square as we drop the "inside knee", this allows us to get turned simply by completing the third step of the block by driving the "outside knee" forward. This will turn our body and allow us to direct the ball back to the middle of the field where we can retrieve the ball and possibly make a play.
If the "outside knee" drops first - we call this dropping anchor - we are unable to make adjustments on our way to the ground and our chest is most likely going to be pointed into foul territory.
The key is to have each of these three movements overlap, one movement leaking into the next, so that this skill is completed smoothly but quickly.
This is an explanation for the kids that are just learning to block as well as for older players that are not blocking effectively. Regardless of the age or skill level of the player I put all players through the same progression to ensure that all the basic skills are adopted. .