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,
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
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
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
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.
As discussed before, having an effective visualization routine is a great way to prepare for competition. It helps give athletes confidence by creating mental images of them performing at the highest levels and by preparing them for what is to come.
Victoria Yother, an incoming freshman at Wilkes University, has utilized a visualization routine throughout the duration of her softball career. Her routine is below in italics:
“I normally start my visualization routine while walking from whatever class I’m in towards to locker room. As I walk I imagine the following:
As you walk up to the box, feel the bat in your hands. Rotate the weight from your left and right hand. Hear the crunch of the dirt under your cleats. Deep breath. Exhale. Look down at your third base coach. You get the sign, hit away. “ Alright, here you go V. Do a job kid.”
The pitch is
The more realistic you make the imagery the better the effect on your hitting.”
Feel free to reach out and share your pre/mid-game routines on the diamond. If you have trouble focusing or relaxing during
Best of luck this year Victoria!
This past summer, I had the pleasure of working our annual summer camp as lead instructor for our younger camp. I was also able to get on the field with our older group towards the end of camp and during our extended summer camp. Being on the field every day for the past seven weeks helped me learn a lot about my craft and the kids I was teaching. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about some of the things we did at camp and why we used them. Today’s focus is going to be on our movement prep in the warm up period.
Designing the Warm Up
The first thing I prioritized at our younger camp was the warm up period. I think the warm up is misused and undervalued at a lot of baseball and softball practices. I personally think that in past camps, we haven’t used the warm up period to really maximize general physical development. While there is a time and place for static stretching, I don’t think it should be a priority for kids.
Instead, I developed a daily routine where we taught kids how to hip hinge, squat, lunge, bridge, and breathe. Below are some thoughts about why I chose these patterns, how to teach them, and what to look for in kids:
The hip hinge is the foundational movement for rotary athletes. It helps reinforce a glute dominant pattern which keeps athletes connected to the ground for a long period of time. It also teaches athletes how to brace their spine without excessive lumbar flexion (rounding of the lower back). Since lower back injuries are the most common injuries in baseball, we want athletes to learn how to protect their spine by teaching certain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, spinal stabilizers) when and how to fire for most efficient transfer of force.
What to look for:
- Feet a little wider than shoulder width, slight bend in knees
- Athletes initiates movement by pushing glutes out (posterior weight shift) without knee flexion
- Torso gets to roughly 45 degree relationship with the ground (this is just a general starting point, athletes can get higher/lower to ground based on feedback from execution of movement)
- Braced midsection, lower back remains locked/fixed
- Knees remain vertical in relation to heels (vertical shin)
- Chin is tucked/packed, no excessive cervical extension (looking up)
I used a PVC pipe with our kids to help learn how to maintain congruence of the head, upper back, and lower back throughout execution of the movement. If the athlete loses one of these points throughout the hinge, let them know and try to create awareness for when they lose contact with that point.
Two common faults I saw when teaching this move were excessive lumbar flexion (rounding) and a lack of a posterior weight shift. I tried to attack these by first teaching the athlete how to push their hips back (posterior weight shift). To do this, I would place a vertical object 4-6 inches behind their glutes and try to get them to touch the object when they hinged back. This usually helped clean up some of the lumbar flexion by creating more space for the torso. It won’t look perfect at first, but kids will start to figure it out with time.
The squat is an important movement to teach off the hip hinge as it promotes a similar posterior weight shift through a braced midsection. The main difference between the squat and the hinge is athletes flex from the knees to get their hips roughly parallel to the ground. This move helps teach athletes how to work their hip line into the ground while keeping the posterior chain engaged - an important skill when learning how to optimize ground reaction forces.
What to look for:
- Braced midsection
- Hips sit down and back, glutes push out
- Knees drive down and out (watch for knees that cave in, out over toes)
- *note* The squat will demand more of a positive shin angle (knees slightly beyond heels), but never to the point where it compromises posterior weight shift
- Chest stays in a more vertical relationship to the ground (as opposed to hinge where chest works more horizontally to the ground)
- Chin tucked/packed, no excessive cervical extension
I had athletes extend their arms out to create a counter balance which allowed for a posterior weight shift in the squat. For those that struggled sitting their hips back without falling backward, I would have them grab a pole and practice the squat while keeping their hands around the pole. As their hips worked into the ground, their hands would slide down the pole.
It’s very common for kids to drive their knees down and in when executing a squat (lack of a posterior weight shift). To help teach a better pattern that creates space for the hips and relieves stress on the knees, I would hold a PVC pipe over their toes. The athlete would then be instructed to execute the movement without letting their knees touch the pipe.
Baseball and softball require movements that demand strength, stability, and dynamic balance on one leg. Teaching kids how to control their bodyweight on one leg is absolutely critical for developing high-level rotary patterns. Lunge variations are an awesome way to get kids started.
Out of all the lunge variations, I like the reverse lunge because emphasizes posterior force production - something baseball players commonly rely on while rotating and sprinting. When compared to the forward lunge, the reverse lunge is a little more knee friendly and can be a little easier in terms of controlling the torso/midsection.
No matter what variation you use, you’ll find out pretty quickly that kids are horrible at moving on one leg. They have a tough time bracing their midsection, controlling excessive movement of the lead leg in the sagittal plane (wobbling), and navigating the eccentric portion of the movement (slamming their knee into the ground). This one was the toughest to execute by far - but it was also the biggest area of growth in most of our athletes.
What to look for:
- Taking one leg back and gently touching the ground with their knee (some like the knee to hover above the ground - I’m indifferent)
- Chest up, chin up, midsection braced
- Shoulders over hips, back knee roughly lines up underneath shoulders (bigger lunge requires more hip extension, find happy medium where they can control it all the way through)
- Eyes focused on an external focal point for dynamic balance
- Gripping the ground with the back toe (as opposed to taking your laces into the ground)
- Hands at side, on hips, or behind head
- Knee stays behind toes (slight positive shin angle is fine)
Most kids are going to dump their chest forward when lunging back because they don’t have the strength, stability, or belief that they’ll come back up. Many will also slam their knee into the ground because they don’t have the strength to control the movement all the way to the ground. In these cases, it’s a good idea to start from the bottom position and have kids work up from there.
You can also use a PVC pipe or pole to create awareness for how their knees are working in relationship to their heels. An easy fix to excessive forward knee movement is to get the athlete to lunge a little farther back. This creates more space for the knees and hips to work in a friendlier position.
There aren’t a lot of magic tricks when it comes to working on a lunge movement. The best thing you can do is get kids to practice this one early and often. If kids aren’t able to control their body weight on one leg, there’s a good chance they’ll start to leak out energy when executive more complex and sport-specific tasks (hitting, pitching, sprinting). Aside from the hinge, a single leg variation is the most important movement you can incorporate into your daily warm up. Don’t be afraid if it looks ugly at first - it will improve with time and technique.
The glute bridge builds off of the hip hinge by building strength and awareness in the posterior chain and midsection. It forces athletes to learn how to use the big muscles (glutes, hamstrings) for movement instead of the lower back. The isometric hold at the top also creates a stability component that helps strengthen the spinal stabilizers.
What to look for:
- Athlete starts on the ground in the supine position with knees bent, feet in ground
- Squeeze glutes to initiate movement
- Hips roughly line up with shoulders/knees at top of movement
- Two second hold at the top
- Hips gently lower back down to the ground (controlling the eccentric portion)
- Entire foot, shoulders, head, and arms stay connected to ground
- Knees drive up and out (as opposed to in)
This movement is a pretty simple way to get the posterior chain engaged prior to practice. Make sure the movement is being created through the glutes and hamstrings, not the lower back (you’d see excessive arching in the spine). Holding the movement at the top helps create for greater awareness in the glutes/hamstrings. These mind muscle connections are important to create so they can translate to efficient lower body movements.
While the breath isn’t a physical movement, it is one of the most important skills we teach and reinforce on a daily basis at camp. Like we’ve talked about before, the breath is going to be the bridge between the physical and mental game for players. The combination of physical benefits (lowered heart rate, increased oxygen to brain) and mental benefits (moving on from the last pitch, being present) from the breath makes it a crucial starting point when teaching the mental game to kids.
What to look for:
- Athlete starts in supine position on ground
- Eyes open or closed
- One hand on chest, other hand on belly
- Make the hand on your belly rise
- The hand on your chest should stay relatively still
- Breathe in through nose, out through mouth
I like to give athletes the freedom to practice their breath and utilize it until they feel relaxed. Your role as a coach during this time is minimal. All you’re trying to do is create an environment where kids are able to focus on their breath and get their mind off the clutter in their life. Being present pitch to pitch is a crucial skill in sports. If our mind is on anything but getting the task in front of us done, we won’t be able to executive it efficiently or effectively.
Dynamic Warm Up
After the hinge, squat, lunge, bridge, and breath have been completed, we then move to the more dynamic portion of our warm up. This portion is centered on getting kids to move their feet and sync up their upper half while completing a variety of different movements. While I won’t go into great detail about execution, below are the movements we would incorporate to help get a sweat going before catch play:
Side Shuffle with Overhead Reach
- A frontal plane movement that teaches athletes how to gain ground laterally
- Emphasis on getting off the ground, jumping/landing on one leg
- Getting the hips working in a more transverse plane (rotation)
- Great for general athleticism, posture, single leg strength/stability
- Bridging into sprint work
Coaches have a lot of freedom to add or subtract movements to this portion of the warm up. The overall theme is to make sure athletes are learning how to get comfortable moving their feet while expressing body control in various positions. It’s also important to utilize this as a way to elevate heart rate get blood flowing to the extremities. The warm up is designed to prepare athletes to throw - we do NOT throw to warm up.
Final Thoughts - Warm Up
As a coach, the warm up period is an excellent time to teach good habits which will directly impact how kids move on the field. The earlier you can teach kids these movements the better. There’s nothing exciting about executing good quality movement - but there’s nothing out there that can replace it. Using a well-executed warm up is an awesome way to keep kids healthy by building an early foundation in strength, motor control, and body awareness. Don’t let the monotony of a warm up period ruin the potential impact it can have on kids.
Feel free to experiment with different moves, cues, and ideas. Keep things simple early on so kids can catch on. Constantly drill them on how to execute the movement so it starts to become ingrained. Add things (jump/land mechanics, push/pull, etc.) as they start to get a better feel for how to move. Individualize based on the needs of each player.
Feel free to reach out with any questions or thoughts.
Keep learning and growing.
This article was written by Andrew Parks.
“There is no secret recipe. Everyone is looking for the number one thing, but it’s simply hard work. It literally takes hours and hours and hours of repetition. Just showing up every day and being consistent.” - A.J. Pollock, MLB All-Star
I love this quote from Pollock because it is spot on in so many different ways. In an age where everyone is looking for the next big thing or the quickest route to success, nothing can - or ever will - replace hard work. As a baseball player, the time and quality of your practice will ultimately dictate the type of player you become. As Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch says it best, “Practice does not make perfect. It makes permanent.”
This brings up my main point for this article: There is a right way to practice, and a wrong way to practice. You can’t fake working hard - you get out of it what you put into it. If your practice lacks focus and concentration, centers on your strengths, and is done sporadically, it will never help you achieve the results you desire. There is nothing engaging about the practice you’re creating - it’s simply what you want to
To discover the origins of what we know as talent, Daniel Coyle took a trip around the globe to discover the key ingredients for what created hotbeds of talent in various occupations. He recorded his findings in New York Times Best Seller The Talent Code (a great read for those interested). Through his work, Coyle found three themes that allowed for the optimization of performance in just about everything. We’re going to center in on one of those themes today - the idea of deliberate practice.
Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson was fascinated with the idea of talent and decided to explore it from several different angles. To discover the nature of skilled performance, Ericsson vigorously studied the time and characteristics of practice from several professions. What he discovered is nearly all experts were the product of around 10,000 hours of committed practice. Ericsson called this process deliberate practice, defining it as “working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and focusing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses.”
The key part of Ericsson’s deliberate practice definition is the idea of commitment. While acquiring hours of practice is critical (Mozart was estimated to have 3,500 hours of practice by his sixth birthday), not all practice is created equal. To understand this, see the example below from Aubrey Daniels:
“Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?”
Not only does Player A get up more shots, but the focus and concentration
Any sensible athlete would understand how Player A’s training is much better, but most fail to practice the necessary focus and concentration required for deliberate practice. James Clear, author of New York Times Best Seller Atomic Habits, spoke about this saying, “The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. In the beginning, showing up and putting in your reps is the most important thing. But after a
This carelessness comes from our brain’s natural tendency to throw skills on autopilot once we begin to master them. This is the reason why we don’t have to think about how to ride a bike or drive a car the way we once used to. With practice, our brain is able to build and strengthen neural circuits required to perform the skill with great efficiency. This makes our day a lot easier by helping us conserve cognitive energy for other places, but it works against us when we’re trying to improve performance. Mindless repetitions and activity do not help us improve. If anything, they’re the start to our regression.
To avoid falling into the trap of mindless practice, we need to practice strategies that help facilitate deliberate practice. To really and truly be engaged in your work is difficult to do, but it’s how high performing individuals separate themselves from the field. They’re not interested in practicing the puts they could put in blindfolded. They’re on the practice course going through their in-game performance routines, trying new and difficult shots, making mistakes, learning from them, and becoming their own best coach through trial and error. As Ericsson says, “There’s no cell type that geniuses have that the rest of us don’t.”
How to Design Deliberate Practice
Coyle divided deliberate practice into three rules. The first rule, chunk it up, is where participants absorb the entire activity, break it into its smallest possible chunks, and then practice it by slowing it down - eventually speeding it up - to learn its “inner architecture.” The second rule, repeat it, is where participants practice the skill through mindful repetitions. The last rule, learn to feel it, is where we put it all together and create awareness for when we’re using deliberate practice.
Absorbing the skill sets the framework for how the participant views the skill and how they can ultimately perform it themselves. Given our natural tendency to imitate, it is incredibly valuable to watch and study high performers in our field. By seeing what they do really well, we can unconsciously learn how to take on similar movements and actions that set us up for long term success. Watching Bryce Harper’s highlight reel isn’t just to admire his 400-foot bombs - it’s a way to spark early interest and engagement.
Once we have the blueprint for what we want to accomplish, we need to break it down into the smallest chunks possible. By memorizing individual parts of the intended movement, we can learn how to master each one and ultimately put them together in one complete sequence. In baseball, this could be breaking the swing down into a move out of balance, foot plant,
After this point, we can start to put it all together by slowing it down. A slow pace enables a high degree of precision which allows you to be more attentive to small errors. This helps unlock what Coyle calls “a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprints.” We become in tune with the rhythm and relation of the interlocking circuits required for the skill. We don’t just go through the motions - we do it with such a high degree of concentration that we become completely immersed in it. It’s our way to deliberately leave no stone unturned.
Once we’ve been able to do these three things, we can move on to Coyle’s next rule of deliberate practice: repeat it. As Coyle says, “There is, biologically speaking, no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing you can do - talking, thinking, reading, imagining - is more effective in building skill than executing the action, firing the impulse down the nerve fiber, fixing errors, honing the circuit.”
To explain this, he brings up a question: What is the quickest (non-injury) way to diminish the skills of a superstar? The answer is simple - “Don’t let them practice for a month.” Nothing physically about the athlete has changed, but the channels responsible for firing the skill have begun to decay. Just like nature - if it isn’t growing, it’s dying.
While nothing can replace repetition, it is only useful if it is done on the edge of your capabilities. Coyle calls this area the “sweet spot” for the facilitation of deliberate practice. More doesn’t always mean better if you’re not challenging yourself and finding areas of your game that need improvement.
After we’ve chunked it up and repeated it, we need to learn what it feels like to be immersed in deliberate practice. Creating awareness for how we feel helps counteract the natural tendency to dislike
To give you an idea of what deliberate practice should feel like, Coyle composed a list of words that experts from around the world used to describe the practice:
Here is a list of words that DID NOT make the list:
To give you an idea of how deliberate practice should occur, follow these four steps:
- Pick a target
- Reach for it
- Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach
- Return to step one
If you can chunk it, repeat it, feel it, and crush these four steps on a consistent basis, you’re on the right track to deliberate practice.
After your training sessions, journal and record what your goals were, how you set out to achieve them, the results of your training, what helped you, and what didn’t help you. Get measurables and record film that you can use to track how you’re progressing or regressing throughout your training. Ask for input from others and see if there’s anything they would do to try and help you achieve what you’re striving for. Research things you don’t understand and seek people who understand it very well. Exhaust every possible resource you can - you only have one career.
If experts from all around the world have invested close to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you’ve got no time to waste.
Keep learning, growing, and practicing deliberately.
This article was written by Andrew Parks.
Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, has done decades of research diving into the core of human motivation. Through her work, she has discovered that there are two different types of mindsets in people: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Both have a significant impact on how people view challenges, grow, and ultimately perform.
Dweck said, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.”
A growth mindset, on the other hand, looks at challenges in a completely different viewpoint. “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching
Like we talked about in “Building a Confident Self Image,” it is well known that our thoughts and beliefs are powerful predictors for our performance. When looking at a fixed vs. growth mindset, the ultimate question comes down to this: Are you born with a fixed amount of intelligence, or can it be developed?
Dweck had a breakthrough in her research when she looked at a group of 10-year-olds to see how they coped with difficulties and challenges in school. She noticed how some craved challenges and sought to learn something from them, while others loathed the idea of being challenged. The first group of kids is what she grouped into the growth mindset, while the others were labeled with a fixed mindset.
When studies dove into these two mindsets to see how they affected future performance,
On the flip side,
These core beliefs about yourself and your intelligence have a great correlation to the risks you take, the challenges you encounter, your creativity, resilience to adversity, and how you perform. A growth mindset helps facilitate deliberate practice - the deep, concentrated state where we train just beyond our abilities in order to build and develop more efficient neural circuits in our brain. It is through this process that we are able to build and refine our skills as the circuits become stronger with more practice - but it cannot happen if we don’t have the mindset that we can grow.
Building a Growth Mindset
Using the word yet is a powerful way to get people out of the fixed mindset and into the growth mindset. The word yet facilitates hope by creating a vision and connection to the future. It gives us the idea that while we aren’t where we want to be, we still have the ability to get there with time and practice. Instead of believing we’re stuck with what we have, we use the power of yet to understand we’re far from a finished product. Saying you’re not a good math person is one thing, but saying you’re not a good person yet completely changes the game.
As a player, it is important to identify language and actions that identify with a fixed mindset. Some of these include:
- Excuse making, lack of ownership
- Focus on things we can’t control
- No plan for the future
- Need for validation
- Constant comparison with others
If you sense any of these thoughts or feelings, immediately address them and reshape them. Ask yourself why you’re feeling these emotions and where they came from. What are you protecting using your fixed mindset? Are we afraid of screwing up because we’ve been praised as the smartest or most athletic? Are we letting other people determine the ceiling for our abilities? Do we really believe that we have the ability to grow and do we use it to fuel the work we put in?
Cutting off these thoughts at the root helps protect you against developing a fixed mindset. If we let them slide and lose responsibility for our actions, our short-term fixed mindset will compound into one that is hard to break in the long run. Feelings of fear and doubt are normal responses to the challenges we face, but we can always control our reactions to them. How we ultimately act goes back to our mindset. Failure never defines those with the growth mindset - it only fuels them to recognize their errors, work hard to correct them, and use the experience to help them grow.
As a coach, be careful how you praise your athletes. Instead of praising intelligence, praise effort, strategy, progress, and engagement. Praising intelligence builds insecurities by making kids run from challenges that could threaten whether people think they’re the best, brightest, or most intelligent. Praising effort creates enthusiasm for the process of becoming great.
Get fired up when kids really grapple with a problem, attempt different solutions, and learn from their mistakes. It doesn’t matter if they find the result they were looking for. If you commend them for their effort and how hard they worked, they will take similar strategies when faced with problems in the future - and they will get results. If you mock them for not finding a solution, the fixed mindset will kick in and steer them away from tackling problems
Below are some other ideas for coaches to help build athletes with a growth mindset:
- Teach them what the two mindsets are, how they’re different, and why you want a growth mindset over a fixed one.
- Relate it to things athletes do off the field (school, clubs, etc.).
- Teach the power of yet - make it part of your shared vocabulary.
real lifeexamples of the growth and fixed mindset.
- Address language and behavior of fixed mindsets immediately. Rewrite the script using a growth mindset.
- Figure out why some people have a fixed mindset. If you want to change behavior, you have to get to the roots.
- Eliminate the need for constant validation and comparison.
incentivefor players who show exceptional qualities of a growth mindset (ex: growth mindset of the day).
- Encourage players to ask questions.
- Model the growth mindset yourself.
Feel free to reach out with any questions or thoughts. Keep learning crushing the growth mindset.
This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.