July 2013 - Tip of the Month

"What Are Advanced Skills?"



The initial conversations I have with older players and their parents/coaches usually starts with a very simple question - "Do you teach, you know, advanced skills and mechanics?" In almost every case that question is answered with a question of my own - "What do you consider as advanced skills and mechanics?". You know how many times I have received a response to that question that made any sense at all? Zero. Not once. Most of the time I get nothing but silence. As if I just asked them to tell me the meaning of life.

All too often in the world of sports instruction, there's this mindset that as soon as a player reaches a certain age or competitive level that they can now move past fundamentals and onto the "good stuff", the "advanced skills". If you picked up a sarcastic tone when reading the word "advanced" you weren't just imagining it, it was most definitely intended. So many people are wrapped up in the word "advanced", but have very little understanding of what it is that word should mean in the context of skill development.

This past Winter one of my professional clients, a catcher spending this Summer between AA and AAA, came in for his first live sessions with me. At the end of the two-hour session the mom of a 12-year old catcher, who was there for his initial catcher evaluation, asked me a question - "So I'd imagine that this lesson will be very different than the one you just had, huh?"

My answer seemed to catch her off-guard. I told her that the lesson I was about to have with her son was going to be identical to the one I just had with the professional athlete leaving the indoor cage. She didn't understand. She actually looked concerned for her son. I tried as hard as I could to fight back the smile that was gradually growing on my face and told her he would be fine. There is a misconception that proper mechanics, the "basics", should be dumbed down initially for new, inexperienced or younger students. I couldn't disagree more.

The truth is that, yes, I absolutely teach advanced skills - to every single catcher I work with, regardless of age, experience or skill level. Is there a specific progression to how and when the information is presented to each catcher I work with? Absolutely! But that doesn't mean that I'm going to skip over the foundational skills just because a catcher is at a certain age or playing at a certain competitive level. I know of a lot of college and professional catchers who fail to perform even the most basic skills of the catcher position at an adequate level. Just because a catcher is a good athlete doesn't mean they can't be better mechanically. It also doesn't mean that a young or inexperienced catcher can't understand and perform those "basic" skills at an "advanced" level.

There are alternative approaches to certain plays, but until a catcher can prove they are able to successfully execute the "basic" approach, it' won't do them any good trying to attempt the alternative in a game. The skill foundation just won't be there for them to rely on and the consistency in their play will suffer for it.

In my opinion, everything I teach is advanced. The level of detail that each individual skill is explained gives each catcher I work with the ability to understand the reasoning behind each approach, and thus makes it easier for them to make adjustments on the fly depending on the specific situation or play. Just because a catcher has played longer or at a high level doesn't mean they should do things differently. It means they should be able to better execute the mechanical processes which give them a competitive advantage.

In all my time around baseball, the best catchers are the ones who pay the most attention to the "basics", the fundamentals. Only at that point do those skills become advanced.

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