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Fastpitch Tip: Mental and Physical Components of Catching

Catching is the second most important position in softball. You can have a dominant pitcher, but if you don't have a quality receiver, you can forget about having a successful season.

The fastpitch catcher needs to be one of your better athletes and one of youjr toughest. The catcher is no longer, if she ever was, thought of as a player not agile enough, not fast enough, not quick enough to play other positions. The catcher needs to be a leader, a communicator and a thinker. She should be of the "take-charge" mentality and be an extension of the coach on the field. She should be in sync with the coaches and her pitcher at all times. The combination of the coach and the catcher calls pitches. Pitchers and catchers should be thinking of how to set up and pitch to every batter. This includes what inning we are in, what the score is, are there runners on base, what number batter is up, what did she do last time, what is the pitcher's "go to" pitch and what pitch does she hit well. I am constandly asking my catcher what pitch seems to be working best, are the pitcher's other pitches moving, and most important, what is NOT working. I hate to find out after my pitcher surrenders a home run that a pitch doesn't work when both of them look at me with confusion and anger and ask, "why did you call that pitch? It hasn't worked all game!" I believe tremendously that the pitchers and catchers must respect each other, help each other and like each other. I

n all my hitting stations, players work in pairs. My pitchers and catchers are always partners. They need to know each other better than the rest. They need to be an extension of each other. They are often alone together as the pitcher is working out separate from the team. In our program, our pitchers usually throw 10 months out of the year and in the "off-season" you can rest assured she is throwing with her catcher. With all the time they spend together, it enables each to bond in mutual effort to maximuze each other's skills.

The catcher should be in a unique position to gauge her partner's rhythm and to evaluate her mental and physical well-being. You can have a catcher with the right mental makeup but if she doesn't have the physical skills to go along with it, you will not ahve a complete and successful catcher. As with every skill, fundamentals are the foundations of success.

The catcher must be fundamentally sound and it must be worked on on a daily basis. A catcher should be as close to home plate as possible. This is determined by where the batter is in the batter's box. With most hitters up in the box, a catcher should be very close to the plate, catching the ball early and maximizing the possibility of a strike being called.

Handling passed balls with a runner on third is a skill that must be practiced consistently. We have our battry working together with the pitcher throwing strikes--we can incorporate a pitching workout--and the catchers then throwing the ball behind her while the pitcher covers the plate. The catcher must turn to the side the ball passes, stay low to the gound and run to the fence, keep feet wide with upper body over the ball. The ball should be on rear foot and released over front foot. DO NOT STAND UP and do not throw too hard. If the ball is to the catcher's right, stay low and shovel the ball to the pitcher. If it is to the catcher's left, stay low and scoop it to the plate. If possible, try to circle and shovel as it is easier, faster and more accurate. It is very important not only to establish a rapport with your pitcher but also with the umpire.

Don't try to steal too many strikes by framing and moving the glove. Be consistent but also pick your spots. Know the umpire's strike zone, the pitcher's strengths and the batter's tendencies. Framing is simply turning the glove, using wrist (not elbow) closer or onto the strike zone. This should be done with borderline pitches only. Work on framing daily when warming up your pitcher in order for it to become a very easy and natural process. I believe that the catcher should be the most cerebral of all players.

I just touched on some of the basic mental and physical components of catching. But defense, rundowns, blocking the plate, backing up first base, and cutoffs are skills that qulity catchers need to have. Communication with the pitcher is a given, but your rapport with your coaches, infielders and umpires are necessary mental components of catching. Knowing your pitcher's strengths is extremely important, but knowing your opponent's hitting strengths and weaknesses is truly what sets the elite catchers apart.