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As a staff, we held and ran our second coaches clinic Saturday, January 12.  Over the course of 100 minutes, Carmen and I offered ideas to a panel of coaches who were interested in taking their practices to the next level.  It was a great event and we plan on resuming these on a monthly basis starting in May!

For those of you who couldn’t attend, I wanted to share some of the main points we discussed throughout the clinic.  Everything we talked about ultimately came down to two main ideas: catch play and the mindset.

Throughout Carmen’s time in collegiate and professional baseball, he learned that he is able to determine the quality of a player by simply looking at how they play catch.  Why?  Well if you think about it, everything done from a defensive standpoint involves a throw and a catch!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pitcher, catcher, shortstop, or center fielder - playing catch is the basic fundamental of defense.  As coaches, it is our responsibility to put a premium on catch play so it can eventually be done at a high level on a consistent basis!

Below are some tips on how you can improve how your team executes catch play:

  1. Emphasize it! What you place your importance on is where you will see the majority of your improvement.  How you execute catch play will determine the quality of practice that follows.
  2. Make sure kids are getting a good 4 seam grip on the baseball before they throw.  As Carmen likes to say: “Go in the glove with 5 fingers, come out with 3.”
  3. Have kids present a clear target in the middle of their chest. Players need to be locked in on a specific target before every throw they make.  Confident players play with their eyes, so it is important that we teach them how to do so!
  4. Make a firm throw through the player’s target.  
  5. Catch in front of your eyes! Don’t let the glove drift behind their body when they catch.  After all, you can’t catch what you can’t see!  
  6. Catch with your feet!  Don’t let the feet become stagnant during catch play.  Good footwork is a prerequisite for catching and making strong, accurate throws!
  7. If it touches your glove, you own it!  Keep track of drops, reward partners with the least amount of them.  

We recommend playing catch anywhere from 10-15 minutes to start practice.  Some guys like playing catch for longer/shorter periods of time, but building a solid base of catch play is crucial to improving an athlete’s work capacity.  

We understand that the idea of playing catch can become monotonous and grow old.  Below are some ideas to help keep catch play fresh:

  1. Give a different target every three throws.  
  2. Utilize long toss!  It’s a great tool to help build optimal mechanics for arm health, velocity, and command.  If you’re inside, you can practice this by throwing it into a net at different angles and intensities.  
    1. Alan Jaeger of Jaeger Sports has some excellent content on this kind of stuff (see his blog at JaegerSports U).  
  3. Pair position players together (middle infielders with middle infielders, pitchers with pitchers, etc.).  Have these players work on skills more specific to their position
    1. Ex: middle infielders could practice fast catch, pitchers could practice their secondary pitches, catchers could practice throw downs
  4. Use games!  One of our favorites is 21, where players earn 3 points for a hit target and 1 point for a hit target lane.  The first to 21 (win by 2) wins the game. Come up with different challenges and see what the kids enjoy. Be creative!

The second theme we discussed was creating a winning mindset.  As Carmen likes to say, baseball is played from the neck up.  Failure and adversity are an inevitable part about being an athlete, let alone in a sport where failing 7 out of 10 times makes you a Hall of Famer!  I don’t think we need to argue how important the mental game is, but the point becomes: How often do we really practice it?  If 90 percent of this game is mental, why do 100 percent of our practices focus on the physical part?     

Below are some ideas we came up with to help incorporate the mental game into your practices:

    1. Spend 5-10 minutes before practice to teach the mental game.  Ken Ravizza and Harvey Dorfman are two great resources to get you started here.  
    2. Breathe!  Breathing gets oxygen to the brain which helps athletes think more clearly, slow their heart rate, demonstrate positive body language, release the last pitch, and get focused on the next pitch.  When the game speeds up, get kids to breathe!
    3. Develop routines!  Teach them how to do things like stepping into the box, tapping the plate, creating rhythm, picking up the pitcher, and stepping into a good pre-pitch position.  We’ll post more content about this eventually, but creating good habits is crucial to developing a strong mental game.
    4. Teach hitters an approach! (See last blog post for more info)
    5. Develop a release!  This might be the most important skill a player can learn when it comes to dealing with failure.  Some examples include grabbing a handful of dirt, wiping away the rubber, looking at a letter on your bat, picking out a focal point at the field, walking behind the mound, unstrapping batting gloves, or taking off your hat/glove.  
      1. These are most effective when utilized with a deep breath.
    6. Compete!  Mechanics don’t win baseball games.  Teach kids how to compete with 100% of what they have to win the next pitch!  It doesn’t matter if you have your A, B, or C game - how you feel is no excuse for your inability to compete!  
      1. Get creative with this! Create team/individual challenges that have a winner and a loser.  Losers must have a consequence - just like a game. Competitions are a great way to heighten focus, improve performance, and build teamwork.  Utilize them to your advantage!

      At the end of the day, you can’t expect your kids to perform skills they don’t practice.  If you don’t police catch play, why should you be upset when your pitcher can’t throw strikes? Why should you be upset when your shortstop boots one and throws one into the bleachers when you haven’t taught him how to regroup on a bobbled ball?  Why should you expect your kids to move on from their last strike out when you haven’t given them any skills to do so?

      For more information on future clinics, follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@CFProBaseball), and Instagram (@carmenfuscoacademy).  

      Keep on getting after it!  

      This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.  

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