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Our first coaches clinic for this fall and winter focused on building the competitive mindset, designing effective practices, and building early engagement in baseball. We were able to have an interactive two hour discussion with coaches and players discussing these topics and common issues with them. It was a great opportunity to share ideas, stories, and pick up new things throughout the process to help improve how we train players. 

The main theme that was brought up in the discussion was the importance of practice. It seems the current climate of youth baseball has shifted to a heavy dose of games with minimal practices. Teams will very commonly play six to 10 tournaments throughout the course of a summer playing three to six games per tournament, while only having one practice per week - sometimes none. We believe that this emphasis on games has hurt the development of young baseball players because they’ve taken precedence over practice time. While games do offer valuable lessons for development, they do not give kids the time or reps they need to improve their skills. Kids simply can’t develop off three ground balls and three at-bats per game - they need time to practice outside of their games. 

It was unfortunate for us to hear how coaches in the central PA area were struggling to get practice time together for their kids. Not only were they having organizational constraints, but many kids were missing out on practices due to involvement on other teams. A lot of kids today play on anywhere from two to four teams, creating a conflict of schedules and interests. This becomes a tough thing to manage especially since the kids who are involved in multiple teams are usually the better players. As a coach, you want to reward the kids who show up, work hard, and put the time in while some of their better counterparts are off playing in a tournament with another team. Being competitive is important to building early engagement in sports, but it should not come at the cost of playing kids who don’t show the same commitment to the team.   

As a result, organizations lose players because they’re not playing as much or where they expect they should be. Instead of treating the team with respect, kids treat teams like a buffet picking and choosing what suits to their liking. They skip out on practices for games with their other teams and expect to play when they don’t practice. This sense of entitlement is destroying youth baseball and is ruining organizations who are truly invested into practicing and helping their kids develop. 

To give an example of how backwards is it in the United States, let’s look at the Dominican Republic. The Dominican accounts for 29.8 percent of all MLB players, but is 210 times smaller than the United States and has a population that is just 3 percent (10.77 million) of the U.S. (327.2 million). We also know that the Dominicans do not play baseball games as near as much as we do. In fact, they practice six days a week and play one. Here in the United States, we’ll practice one - maybe two - times per week and play three to six games on the weekend. Some teams won’t even practice during the season and will just play games. While Dominicans are practicing and working on their skills throughout the year, we’re doing the exact opposite and worrying about how much we play. This formula needs to change if we want to keep up with the development that’s going on down there.

This leads into the main point that we started with at the clinic: You need to prioritize the long term development of your athletes. To understand this idea, see the excerpt below from Gerrit Cole’s coach Zak Doan:

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Too often, we get caught up in selling out for tournaments trophies, performing in meaningless showcases, and prioritizing other opportunities to play games that just don’t matter in the long run. Kids play in summer tournaments, fall tournaments, and even winter tournaments that cost parents thousands of dollars. They’re rushed back from injuries and accumulate bullets on the mound that outweigh their ones in training. When the training/games scale is tipped towards games, the long term development of kids is put at serious risk

As a result, we as coaches must plan for the long term with all of our athletes. We must put a premium on practice and make time during the week to get kids the reps they need to develop skills. We need to give kids opportunities to showcase their skills in games and let them play multiple positions. When they make mistakes, we need to use them as teaching points - not ceilings on their future development. We need to build confidence and give kids strategies to handle the large amount of failure involved in this game. A large majority of kids will quit baseball because the game becomes too hard, too fast, they’re pressured into playing, and they haven’t developed the skills needed to evolve with the complexities of the game. If you haven’t given your kids opportunities to work, learn, and build an early love for the game, they will quit when they get older and experience failure. Kids don’t need tournament trophies - they need confidence, a strong work ethic, and a resilient mindset that will fuel them far beyond their playing days

The environment we create as a coach is imperative to the future development of our kids. This includes the things we emphasize and model, how we respond when they make mistakes, our ability to communicate, design engaging drills, challenge kids, and make them understand how much we care about them as humans. While this seems like a lot, coaching shouldn’t be overcomplicated. If anything, most of us try to coach too much. Instead of giving kids room to experiment and fail, we become overbearing and strip the freedom out of their game. Instead of developing competitors with instincts, we develop robots that operate by an instruction manual. Instruction manuals are great for concrete procedures, but they’re a horrible idea for complex activities that require constant adjustments (i.e. games). 

If you want to develop gamers with instincts, the best thing you can do as a coach is get out of the way. Many of us learned how to play sports in our own backyard without any coaches or adults telling us what to do. We didn’t care where our arm was or what our front leg was doing - we just wanted to have fun and compete with our friends. We designed plays, created new pitches, made teams, enforced rules, and settled disputes all on our own. Today, kids don’t do this because adults do it for them - and it is a huge mistake. Giving kids a little bit of freedom is a huge competitive advantage for their long term development. Half the battle is just preventing well-intentioned people from coaching it out of them. 

Off the field, the best thing you can do as a coach is build life-long learners. Encourage your kids to excel in the classroom and get the best grades possible. Get them to learn, read, and research on their own. Give kids notebooks and get them to journal about their practices and games. Model it yourself by reading books, sharing lessons you’ve learned, and giving them resources you think they would benefit from. Make learning “cool” on your team. If you can teach kids to love to learn and combine that with a relentless work ethic, you can develop some really special people. Great people make great ball players; great ball players don’t necessarily make great people

We will be going Saturday November 2 for our next baseball discussion with the focus being on hitting. We hope to see you all out there! 

Feel free to reach out with any questions, concerns, or thoughts. Keep learning and growing.

I was able to recently attend the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar September 21-22. It was the first time I was able to make it up to their location in Massachusetts. Being someone who has followed their work for quite a while, it was a great opportunity to meet and collaborate with the staff, network with others, and learn a great deal throughout the weekend.

The topics of the sessions were quite diverse and covered everything from business, psychology, sports performance, general population, ACL rehab, pitching, and more. Below are some of my thoughts about what I learned and why I believe they’ve built an awesome culture at CSP.  

The first thing you could notice with the entire staff was the synergy that connected them. While everyone shared foundational knowledge about training, each staff member brought to the table a unique skill set and expertise. They were encouraged to be themselves and to train people as they saw fit while maintaining certain core principles (incorporating a push/pull, squat/hinge, etc.). The CSP staff didn’t utilize a step-by-step instruction manual - they had an adaptable toolbox which was suited towards their strengths

Considering the complexity of coaching human beings, being adaptable is one of the most important skills you can have as a coach. Some kids will respond to certain exercises, cues, or drills better than others. Your job as a coach is not to shove a style down someone’s throat, but to use feedback from the athlete to build their own. Several of the presenters mentioned the idea of autonomy - giving athletes some say in their training process. Nobody wants a dictator for a coach. By including athletes in their development plan, you’re able to get better buy in, more engagement, increased enthusiasm, and better results. 

This autonomy is delivered through relationship driven coaching. As a professional, you must put a premium on the personal relationships you have people. If you’re going to get the best out of someone, they need to know that you care about them as a human being. You need to know who the athlete is, what excites them, their interests outside of training, why they train, and what makes their personality unique. Whoever you are working with must be able to trust you - the single most important factor when building buy-in. If you go about this process transactionally, athletes are going to see right through you. If you take the time to slow cook your relationship and really get to know them as individuals, you are going to have far more success.

This coach-athlete relationship is more important than ever with the rise of anxiety and depression related issues. It’s estimated that 70 percent of teens state their peers show symptoms of anxiety and depression. People who suffer from anxiety have trouble concentrating, feel the need to be a perfectionist, and lack trust. This is a crucial component as the coach-athlete relationship depends heavily on trust. If your athletes do not perceive you as someone that cares about them and can help them, you will not be able to build sufficient buy-in. 

When dealing with athletes that show symptoms of anxiety, it’s important to be an active listener. Let the athlete share their thoughts and concerns. Aim to learn the true source of their anxiety and ultimately try to alter their perception of their limitations. If you can change an athlete’s thought process, you can help them develop the courage to overcome it through acknowledgement, positive feedback, and consistent support. As a result, your interactions on the playing field or training floor can have a profound impact on the life of that individual beyond sport - our ultimate goal. Athletic performance cannot be your main focus when dealing with young men and women. Above all else, coaches must strive to build optimal well-being within the individuals that they come into contact with. 

At the Saturday bonus session, John O’Neil and Kyle Driscoll talked about their summer collegiate pitcher development program that they ran for 10 weeks with just over 40 arms. The program had great success and helped numerous pitchers get stronger, more efficient, and gain more velocity. Aside from the technical components of the program, what I found really interesting was how they used competition to fuel greater returns this year. One of the things they did right out of the gate was pick everyone’s throwing partners. Since the athletes would spend a lot of time with their throwing partner, John and Kyle specifically chose partners that would get the most out of each other. Some of the factors they took into account were motivation levels, previous training experience, abilities, movement patterns, and personalities. When blended just right, they developed a tandem that worked every single day to get the most out of themselves and each other. 

This is something John and Kyle believed really helped the program this year as opposed to last year. By utilizing the dynamic systems theory and really placing a priority on creating a competitive environment, throwers in their program thrived seeing average velocity gains of 3-4 mph. I thought this was a great teaching point for coaches and athletes: If you want to really challenge yourself in catch play, pair yourself up with someone who will get the best out of you. Bounce ideas off of each other, try new things out, and compete your ass off to shove it down their throat every single day. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with

This leads to another point that was driven throughout the clinic - master the basics before getting caught up in the details. The programs CSP writes for athletes and general population clients are largely the same. A lot of the exercises they describe are not exciting at all - they’re basic, fundamental movements. There’s nothing sexy about executing a quality hip hinge or snapdown into the athletic position, but it’s a prerequisite to establishing robust movement patterns that can eventually be loaded. Executing a prone trap raise is not as fun as doing 69 sets of biceps and triceps, but it’s a fundamental pattern that teaches people how to posterior tilt and move the scapula flush along the rib cage while keeping the humeral head in the glenoid socket. 

Athletes executing a hip hinge in our warm up before summer camp

If you want to throw a baseball hard and stay healthy while doing it, you must 
master the basics on the field before getting to the fun stuff. Catch play is a very basic and monotonous part of baseball, but it’s a foundational skill that must be taken seriously every single day. If you don’t strive to get the most out of your catch play every single time you touch a ball, you are wasting hours of precious development. Your window in this game is very limited. If you aren’t taking care of the basics on a consistent basis, your window will start to close sooner than you thought. 

This is a big reason why Eric’s initial assessment with athletes simply begins by looking at resting posture. While it seems basic on the outside, it gives a lot of information in terms of whether the athlete sits in flexion or extension, the alignment of their pelvis and shoulders, upper trap tone, the angle of their clavicle, and forward head posture - to name a few. Without getting deeper into the assessment (passive/active range of motion, basic joint movements, lunge, push up, overhead squat, etc.), a really simple position will give you a lot of information that can dictate the rest of the assessment. If you were to overlook this, you could put the athlete in a situation where exercise selection would feed the exact patterns you’re trying to avoid (ex: dumbbell loaded exercises for those with overactive lats that sit in downward rotation). 

When a baseline has been established through assessment, it’s important to start building a program with exercises that match up to your client. John and Kyle did a great job explaining this by laying out the following guidelines:

  1. Is an exercise, technically:
    1. Necessary? 
    2. Sufficient?
    3. Appropriate?
    4. Effective?
    5. Challenging? (or interesting, enjoyable?)
    6. Safe?
  2. Environmentally:
    1. Person (assessment/training history)
    2. Practitioner (coach?)
    3. Periodically/phase appropriate/time sensitive?
    4. Place appropriate? 
    5. Position appropriate?

While the first list is more of a general guideline, the second list is a little more individualized in terms of the client, the coach, the training location, and how it fits into their short and long term goals. Based on the client and their aspirations, there is great value in taking a conservative approach early on in order to build positive associations with training (think twice before making athletes do sprints/push ups for punishment). This list is also not static - some things may change in time. Being adaptable and being able to make adjustments is a critical piece in delivering an effective training program.  

Having the knowledge to eliminate certain exercises is also an important piece when designing programs. Depending on the sport the athlete plays, the calendar, their starting date, individual assessment, or position, certain exercises are not going to make sense. Giving an individual who lacks sufficient hip flexion a heavy dose of front squats is a disaster waiting to happen. If an athlete can’t move their scaps while executing a push up, placing them on a bench and doing horizontal press variations (bench press, dumbbell bench) is not a great way to get them moving correctly. 

This rule is also applicable in a baseball setting. Being able to choose and eliminate different inputs is a skill that requires a big toolbox - just the way program building is. Heavy bats can be great for loose movers to help create more efficient angles, but is a poor idea for someone who can’t control their barrel in the first place. Short bats can help some learn how to stay on the ball for a longer period of time, but don’t make sense when athletes start to cheat and lose angles over the plate. While it’s necessary to learn how to add certain drills/movements, it’s just as important to learn addition by subtraction

Using the short can be a great tool for athletes who pull off the ball prematurely 

Another concept John and Kyle talked about was utilizing a 
High/Low Central Nervous System (CNS) model - as made famous by Charlie Francis. This model balances structural and functional exercises as they relate to the increasing demands on the CNS. Developing an efficient CNS is integral in optimizing neuromuscular coordination - a big reason why multi-joint exercises should be the backbone of any training program.  The movements we make throughout the course of the day largely do not happen in isolation. They are the result of coordination between various joints and segments throughout the body. 

With this, certain exercises and tempos are going to create different demands on the CNS. Structural exercises (hypertrophy, low load/speed) are going to demand less on the CNS as opposed to functional exercises (endurance, strength, power - heavy and fast). 

High CNS movements:

  • Sprints
  • Heavy compound movements (deadlifts, front squats)
  • Medicine ball throws for speed
  • Watching the Buffalo Bills every Sunday for 22 years (I’m kidding)

Low CNS movements:

  • Low aerobic capacity work (elliptical, light jog)
  • Isolation strength training (biceps curls, leg extensions)
  • Low intensity dynamic warm up exercises (side shuffles, marches, carioca)
  • Angrily mowing the lawn after the Bills lose a heartbreaker (this happens too often)

Because of the strength and coordination required, high CNS exercises are going to typically be the best bang for your buck when training - as well as the most taxing. As a result, they should be executed when the athlete is the least fatigued. This can be accomplished by placing high CNS moves at the beginning of workouts and spacing your high CNS days between low CNS days (hence, the high/low model). A low CNS day can be any workout that does not place a heavy emphasis on endurance, strength, or power. While younger athletes can typically get away back-to-back higher CNS days because their CNS isn’t highly developed, older and more experienced lifters are going to need more time to recover.  

To create an example week utilizing the high/low model, Monday and Thursday could be high CNS lower body days. Tuesday and Friday could be moderate upper body days, Wednesday a lower CNS day, and Saturday a higher CNS day with a very low CNS day on Sunday. This can be modified or utilized in a variety of different ways - as long as you are allowing for recovery time between high CNS days. This same pattern should be utilized when developing a velocity program for pitchers. High CNS days would be velocity days and low CNS days would either be low intensity throwing/mapping or complete off days. By allowing for optimal recovery time between high CNS days, you can maximize your training without compromising the long term health of your athletes.

Early trainees are going to progress rather rapidly (linear progressive overload), while more experienced lifters are going to take more work to continue to progress and see performance gains. In either case, it’s important to always have a strong foundation with the basics (general physical preparation). Activities like baseball are going to generally pull athletes into beneficial asymmetrical patterns (ex: loss of internal rotation in back hip, gain of internal rotation in lead hip). John made a point to note throwing a baseball is going to require you to be asymmetrical - whether you had those qualities to begin with or developed them over time. Because of this, it’s important your training finds a way to neutralize some of these positions without going too far in one direction or the other (ex: anti-rotary exercises, non-dominant med ball throws to offset asymmetrical rotational demands). Less experience in the weight room is going to require less specificity on the training floor. More experience will require greater variety, but not without regards to basic movements. 

Certain qualities are going to be easier to develop and maintain than others. For example, research has shown aerobic capacity and low max strength work are pretty easy to develop and hold on to. On the other hand, power is going to be one of the first qualities to go if it is not maintained on a fairly regular basis. Considering the window of time needed to produce force in baseball, developing plane specific power should be a priority throughout programming. However, it should not come at the cost at developing general strength. General strength should be developed first before adding more explosive, power centered exercises into programs. As for some markers for general strength, CSP likes to see athletes trap bar deadlifting 405, lunging their bodyweight, and front squatting 1.5X their bodyweight. While these markers don’t necessarily dictate the health/performance of an athlete, they give some really basic information as to where their strengths, weaknesses, and greatest windows for opportunity are. 

This brings up another point discussed throughout the clinic - there is such a thing as “strong enough” when it comes to developing athletes in the weight room. Eric did a great job of explaining this in his presentation of the spine. The rotary athlete is going to require a thinner, more mobile spine in order to adapt to the constant rotation and extension you see throughout baseball. This spine is not going to fare well in the long term when constantly loaded axially (front/back squat) and bilaterally. Those with thicker spines (powerlifters, offensive linemen) are going to fair much better with these patterns as they’ve created more specific adaptations to their functional tasks. 

Using medicine balls is a great way to build rotational power

As a general rule of thumb, CSP feels pretty comfortable when an athlete can get into the upper 400 to lower 500 pound range. Since everyone’s training economy/timetable is limited, it’s important athletes are prioritizing sport specific training adaptations. Chasing a 600 pound deadlift as a baseball pitcher should not come at the expense of using medicine balls to develop rotary power. A 400 pound squat is no good if an athlete can’t reverse lunge 135. Research has shown power is largely
plane specific (e.g. why powerlifters typically don’t throw baseballs at a high level). If you aren’t getting strong in the positions and planes that your sport demands, you are wasting a good portion of your training economy. There is a time and place for loading up the bar on a deadlift, but there is also a limit as to how far you should really push to load the pattern. 

To help these gains in the weight room transfer to the playing field, John and Kyle emphasized the importance of working proximal to distal when addressing movement patterns. Much of what you see at the distal extremities (hands, feet) is going to mirror what is happening at the trunk, glutes, and pelvis. As a result, one of the first things they prioritize is creating some proximal stability. Stable positions are repeatable, unstable positions are tough to repeat. 

When athletes take their move out of balance, John and Kyle like to see some sort of rear hip stiffness. This is created by keeping the back foot in the ground and the rear glute behind the athlete’s heel (the hinge position). Instead of coaching athletes to push off the rubber, CSP likes to teach athletes how to hold angles and keep tension in their backside as they move down the mound. This gives the upper half the ability to mobilize and create separation. If the lower half is not able to create stability, the upper half won’t be able to separate and will work as one unit with the lower half. This throws off the rotary sequence and will result in a lack of velocity, health, and performance. 

Keeping the glove thumb down after hand break

Another key point John and Kyle discussed was direction to the plate. Through their observations, athletes tend to get very stiff (“muscling up”) and rotational (trying to create more separation) when trying to throw harder. This gives athletes the tendency to fly off their target through towards their glove side through early trunk rotation. Controlling the trunk throughout the delivery is a big piece in teaching athletes how to create adequate stiffness at key points. They like to teach athletes how to delay the trunk (in terms of its relationship to the pelvis) by keeping the glove thumb down (shoulder internal rotation). This helps the throwing arm retract (scap retraction) and eventually get into a slot at foot strike where the forearm/humerus and humerus/torso share about a 90 degree relationship. The throwing arm is then able to lay back and eventually deliver the ball through internal rotation and pronation. If the glove side is not able to hold angles and keep the torso stacked over the rear hip, athletes will go into early trunk rotation, lose the ability to retract the throwing scap, and spin off the ball (lack of direction) with diminished velocity. 

Getting to the 90/90 position at foot strike (general rule of thumb) with torso stacked over rear hip

Before telling pitchers to get their arm up or to keep from flying open with their lead leg, make sure you address what is going on proximally. See if they know how to hinge, turn their glutes on, and create/hold stiffness in their back hip. Make sure they’re able to create stability with their lower half before chasing separation with their upper half. Keep their direction going down the hill. You’ll never solve the issue distally if you fail to address it proximally. As John and Kyle say, “Proximal stability dictates distal performance.” 

On a final note, I think the most important fundamental takeaway was using a collaboration of several skill sets to build a sturdy, holistic business model. Everyone has their own strengths in terms of social skills, background knowledge, physical skill sets, or sport specific expertise. It’s important as a coach and athlete to know your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. Perform using your strengths and grow your weaknesses into tools and skills you can use down the road. Outsource when you can’t find information and network with people who can complement your skills. Nothing beats having a quality conversation with an expert in the area that you desire to learn about.

I really appreciate the time Eric, Pete Dupuis, and the rest of his staff put into making this clinic a possibility. I would highly recommend them to anyone who is interested in learning more about the information presented in this article.

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.  

A common mistake we see with a lot of our hitters is how they attempt to load after their move out of balance. This move is crucial to the rotary sequence and the movements that occur later up the chain. An inefficient linear move is going to put athletes in a poor position to really optimize their sequence. Since rotation swings the bat, we want to make sure athletes are in good positions in foot plant that enable them to do so with great power and efficiency.

To describe the move, we’ll use the terms negative and positive move. A negative move is when the hitter is going to create a substantial amount of “sway” in the direction of the catcher (golf has done similar work with this). You can identify this sway by looking at the hitter’s head in his set up position and when he gets to the peak of his move out of balance. If you draw a line on the hitter’s head in his set up, you can identify negative sway if there is a lot of space between the line and his head when he takes his move out of balance.

This move is going to give kids the tendency to get stuck on their backside, lose angles with their upper half, pull off balls, and get beat when facing velocity. Kids with a lot of negative sway tend to have narrower bases, lose power, struggle to stay through the ball, and have difficulties timing pitches in games. It’s a move that’s easier to get away with while utilizing tee work or flips because of the lack of a time constraint. It also gives kids the illusion they’re loading because a load in the traditional sense is thought of as a move back. 

Instead, we like to teach the “load” as a positive move (think of the move a pitcher makes down the mound). Instead of swaying back to create power, we encourage kids to gain ground and work into the ground to generate a more forceful linear move. When the front foot comes up, the rear hip should begin to move forward - just like a pitcher. The head of the batter should move down and out - as opposed to up (working out of the ground) and back (negative sway). Below are a few examples for what this move should look like:

(Visual from hyperlink below)

Mookie Betts

Yordan Alvarez

Christian Yelich

(Visual from hyperlink below)

Barry Bonds

Cody Bellinger

Notice how the athletes immediately begin to move forward as their foot comes out of balance (some quicker, some slower). Their heads work down into the ground and out towards the pitcher. Once their front foot lands, their head stabilizes and does not continue to move forward. Their head stays over the center of their body helping them maintain a dynamic balance. They hold an attacking posture with their shoulders (front shoulder down, back shoulder up). As their foot moves forward, their hands move back to create their ideal stretch/hip shoulder separation. 

It’s important to know that this is not a rushed move - we are not advocating kids to quickly pick up and put their foot down. We encourage kids to ride into their front side, maintain a vertical shin on the rear leg (we’re not pushing out of it), and keep tension in the rear hip/glute region while moving forward. We want to create a move that is driven by the posterior chain

We also want to make sure kids are utilizing the lead leg for its main function - a timing mechanism. If we take a quick, uncontrolled move to the ball with our lead leg, we lose adjustability to various speeds/locations throughout the zone. A common cue we like to give kids is “earlier and slower.” Each kid is going to have his own style, but make sure they’re not rushing to put their foot down. 

If you have a player that is struggling with a lot of negative sway, you can attack the issue from a few different angles. I like starting the movement progression with a medicine ball to eliminate the worry about squaring up the ball. From here, you can get athletes in a more narrow set up to eliminate the need to move back. The wider athletes get, the more of a need they feel to move back to load. 

A popular drill we like to use is the “Belly Drill” - in reference to Cody Bellinger’s positive move to the ball (see link above). With a narrow stance (feet under shoulders, have the athletes take one positive move to the ball without any sway back. As for cues we like to use, getting the athlete to think “down and out.” When an athlete can get a feel for this movement with the medicine ball, we like to progress to a bat and can utilize it in our tee work, front toss, and even BP/machine variations. It all depends on the hitter, what you see, and how it’s transferring to more game-like conditions. 

Below is an example of one of our athletes Cole utilizing the Belly drill. By simplifying his move to the ball, Cole was able to get much more out of his lower half (see the before/after still shots of him at footstrike). He’s since adopted a narrower stance to help him feel this move - something you can try with your athletes. 

Below was Cole's original swing

Below are still shots of him at his move out of balance and at foot strike. You'll notice how the Belly move helped clean up a lot of negative sway and put him in a better position at foot strike.

Another one of our athletes Nathan has utilized the Belly drill to simplify his move to the ball. A lot of the balls Nathan mishit were pull side ground balls. In the before/after videos, you’ll notice Nathan has simplified his leg kick (we still encouraged him to use a leg kick if he felt comfortable with it) and takes a much quicker route to the ball. This has helped him utilize the middle of the field more and prevents him from spinning off on balls the way he used to.



A different example of teaching this move is what we did with Sid. Sid showed a big negative move in which he lost his rear shoulder prematurely and inhibited his ability to work into the ground. This move also caused him to feel unbalanced. As a result, we tried to get him to think about keeping his front shoulder down while staying balanced. This helped create a more direct move to the ball in which he felt much more balanced (not balance in the traditional sense, but a dynamic balance in which the athlete feels under control while executing the movement). Keeping his front shoulder down helped Sid hold an attacking posture with his shoulders and ultimately helped him work into the ground better.  



To see these changes at the MLB level, check out these swing transformations from Betts, George Springer, and Justin Turner. 

It’s important to film and refilm when you’re making adjustments with athletes so they can connect a feel with what is real. Get film when the athlete feels really good and when the ball is popping off the bat. Use this feedback for when the athlete can start to go astray. Bad swing habits are just like bad habits in real life - they never go away. Because of this, it’s important to mix in refresher days so the new pattern can continue to stick. 

Feel free to reach out with any thoughts, questions, or examples of your own. Keep learning and growing.

Something we did every single day with our campers - both young and older - was catch ground balls. Being able to defend your position is a crucial skill as a player. Because of this, we place a heavy emphasis on the defensive portion of the game throughout our summer camps. If you can field your position at a high level, you will find yourself a spot on the field. Don’t believe me? Check out this excerpt from the 2017 World Series between the Dodgers and Red Sox.

The bottom line is this: Great teams play great defense. They catch ground balls, make throws, and eliminate free bees. Only 15 people in the world are being paid to just hit for a living. Odds are, it probably won’t be you. If you want to put yourself in the best possible position going forward as a player, we’d highly recommend you work relentlessly at your defense

Catching ground balls is great for all positions - outfielders, pitchers, and catchers included. It promotes the athletic position, active footwork, good catch positions, requires athletes to hinge and flex into their hips, trains instincts (reading balls off the bat, making different routes), and promotes overall athleticism through various types of plays. If you want kids to learn and improve their defense, catching ground balls creates a huge bang for your buck.

For you to really take advantage of this period, it is crucial you take athletes far to their left and right. Typical practices feature kids fielding balls hit right at them with two hands and lethargic footwork. As a result, you have to get kids uncomfortable and really force them to make plays that require greater demands of athleticism. Through this, kids will gain more confidence and learn how to improve their range, take more efficient angles, and get better reads off the bat. Very few ground balls are going to be hit right at kids in games. If you want kids to be able to make various types of plays in games, you must create them in practice. 

When making plays that force the athlete to move several steps to their left and right, it is very important they learn how to use one hand. We understand there is a time and place for two hands. However, using one hand helps give kids a better feel for good catch positions and gives them more freedom/range. Don’t believe me? Pre-set your glove on the ground with one hand as if you were going to catch a ground ball. Then take your throwing hand and move it towards your glove as if you were going to catch the ground ball with two hands. You’ll notice your glove starts to come off the ground as you start to take your throwing hand towards it. By using two hands, you’ve limited your range. If kids are moving multiple steps to their left and right, we need as much range as possible. As a result, it is imperative that kids learn how to make these plays using one hand. 

Another point to emphasize would be the “ready position” before catching a ground ball. Just like hitting, a poor set up position is going to lead to poor positions down the road. Start by getting kids into the athletic position where their feet are slightly wider than shoulder width, their nose is over their center of mass, their knees are slightly bent, and hands are open and outside their hips. This position is the same position you’d see if you were to guard someone in football or basketball. It gives athletes the ability to work into the ground, create efficient angles off the bat, and set up for good catch positions. Kids should get into this position before every single ground ball is hit

Many will get lazy with it and assume a more vertical starting posture. These kids are going to tend to be the ones that usually just miss balls underneath their glove. Others will keep their hands inside of their hips and start with them closer to the ground. If we sprint with our arms outside of our hips, it seems to make the most sense to start them there. There’s no need to start with our glove on the ground before the ground ball has even been hit. See the picture below for a better visual of what you want from your infielders. 

Once you create this athletic position, emphasize kids to “step into the circle” just before you hit the ball. In a game environment, fielders want to time this move when the ball meets the hitting zone (around the grass/dirt cut out). By having our feet moving when the ball comes off the bat, we’re able to get better reads off the bat and a quicker, more explosive first step. We like to compare this idea to a tennis player on the receiving end of a serve. You’ll see receivers get into an athletic position and then utilize a hop as the ball comes off the racket. We highly recommend this move with all of our infielders (see Bregman, Torres), but some sort of movement as the pitch is entering the circle will suffice. Just like catch play - stagnant feet lead to poor catch positions. All seven fielders must move in unison (see the Astros from the 2019 All-Star Game) with each pitch. If it’s not done, correct it until it is.

Whether you’re making throws or not, footwork after catching is just as important as the footwork prior to catching. Getting kids to play through the ball and replace feet is an important skill that will help accuracy and strength of throws. When we didn’t make throws, we had kids practice taking a shuffle and getting their front shoulder on first base after catching. Kids shuffle by clicking heels and creating direction towards their target - not by coming off the ground an excessive height or crossing their feet. If kids are making plays on the run, have them keep their feet moving through the catch and throw off of their post leg (right leg for right handers). While you don’t always have to make throws, it is important to practice patterns after you catch on every single ground ball you take (see Bregman). 

One of the toughest things you’ll have to wrestle with kids is learning how to use the backhand. Most coaches deter kids from using the backhand and preach getting in front of everything. This mindset will get kids handcuffed in games when balls take them far to their arm side. As a general rule of thumb: If the ball crosses your belly button to the right, use your backhand. If it’s hit at you/to the left of your belly button, use your forehand. In situations where kids aren’t used to catching to their backhand, start slow and speed it up as they progress. Emphasize good early glove presentation (try to pre-set glove 1-2 steps before they catch) and praise effort/glove touches. Get kids working underneath the ball and get them to learn how to play through it. It’ll look ugly at first, but it will improve with time. Their forehand might get the job done most of the time, but their backhand will hold them back unless they learn how to practice with it. 

Just like catch play, catching ground balls can get monotonous in nature. Spice it up using competitions and challenges that create game anxiety. Take careful note if the patterns you’re trying to create break down during these competitions. You want to keep ground ball work fun and engaging, but you don’t want movements to go to hell because kids are scared they’re going to drop the ball (ex: the kid who gets handcuffed because he’s afraid to use his backhand). The more you work at it, the more these patterns will start to become second nature. When they become more instinctive, you’ll start to see them surface when a little bit of pressure is put on the line.   

One of the areas we put a premium on at summer camp was mastering the basic fundamentals of catch and throw. Every single play on defense requires a catch and throw - whether it’s the pitcher throwing to the catcher, the shortstop throwing to the first baseman, or the outfielder throwing to the relay man. If you want to eliminate free-bees and minimize run production, owning your catch play is a great place to start. 

Catching is one of the more difficult skills kids try to learn at a young age. It is also one of the most traumatizing - miss one and you could have a black eye for the next couple weeks. As a result, glove presentation during catch play is a crucial point to drive home early on. Have kids present a target in the middle of their chest, fingers to the sky, and out in front of their eyes. Whether the ball moves left or right, create the habit of catching out in front with eyes behind the glove. If you wouldn’t field a ground ball behind your line of vision, you sure shouldn’t play catch like it. 

Throwers must also learn how to utilize their eyes effectively. Every single throw, get them to pick out a specific target and get them to try and throw it through the target. Your eyes are going to guide your body. By creating an external focus, throwers are able to train their instincts and figure out how to optimally move to locate the ball to a specific location. Kids have no time to think about where their arm or glove is in the middle of a game. Just as a hitter “sees ball and hits ball”, throwers should see target and throw through target

It’s crucial to drive home you own anything that touches your glove. Drops are not acceptable. If you let kids get away with drops in their catch play, don’t be surprised when they start booting around balls in the infield. By creating this specific focus, kids become more engaged during catch play and really start to concentrate when the ball comes towards them. One of the most important skills you can teach kids is basic focus and concentration. There are a lot of things in baseball that can get dull and monotonous. If focus is lost during these crucial moments, kids won’t learn. If kids aren’t learning, they are regressing

An overlooked part about catch play is the feet. Just as if you were in the infield, your feet should never stop moving throughout catch play. If the ball takes you a certain direction, the receiver must move their feet so they can get in a good catch position. As a thrower, you should be constantly utilizing your feet to put you into good throw positions. Stagnant feet leads to poor catch positions, poor throws, and a lack of focus/concentration. You catch with your feet, you throw with your feet. 

When you can start to figure out some of these things, it’s important to get kids to stretch their arms out and throw the ball from farther distances. Very seldom are plays going to occur where throws under 40 feet are required. Throwing the ball far and hard is a skill you need to teach and emphasize in your catch play. This helps teach kids how to use their bodies more effectively while building better work capacity and arm speed. It also helps receivers learn how to move their feet and make various types of catches. Being able to understand how to use the ground is a skill players can practice when throwing from longer distances. Throwers can practice long hopping the ball while receivers can practice fielding these types of hops and seeing which ones they can and can’t handle. 

Utilizing competition is a great way to break the monotony of catch play. Get kids to see who can drop the least amount of throws, who can throw the hardest, farthest, or the most accurate. These challenges will help increase focus, concentration, and can make catch play more enjoyable. Creativity is key - as long as you’re getting the right output. 

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.


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