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Three Things All Catchers Must Know

The catcher is the field general of the softball field. She sees everything, knows the situation and must be ready to help the rest of her team. But she can’t do any of those things without some basic skills, said longtime softball coach Dennis Sarow.
 Sarow, who is in his first season as an assistant at Hilbert College in eastern New York, has coached softball at the high school and college levels for more than 25 years. Sarow was also a catcher for his fast-pitch softball team in high school.

Catchers have lots of responsibilities and always have the ball in their hands, which is why they must master these first skills before worrying about making plays at the plate or throwing out runners.

“You can’t throw (runners) out if you’re not stopping the ball,” Sarow said. “You can’t throw them out if you don’t know where they are.” 

The first three things Sarow wants a catcher to know are:

  1. Stopping the Ball

Sarow said a lot of catchers rely too much on their gloves and need to learn to get their bodies behind the ball.

“A lot of catchers need to learn the proper way of blocking the ball,” he said. “A lot of catchers catch the ball with their glove when they need to catch it with their body. It’s about how they set up behind the plate.” 

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A good drill to practice this skill is using tennis balls. Bounce the tennis ball toward the catcher, slowly throwing wider and wider “pitches.” This forces the catcher to move and get into the right position to block a potential loose ball.

“A lot of catchers have a tendency to think their glove’s better, but any kind of deflection, you’ve got your body in front of it and you keep (the ball) in front of you,” Sarow said. “It doesn’t get behind you and keeps the runners closer to the bag.”

  1. Communication is Key

“Catchers have to learn how to use their voice back there,” Sarow said.

The catcher can see the whole field, so she knows where baserunners are and where her defense is set up. She’s right next to the umpire, so she knows the count and the situation. There are things she needs to communicate — loudly and clearly — to the rest of her team.

“The catcher is the big point,” Sarow said. “They see everything. You’re the leader. You’re the one that handles the ball the most outside the pitcher.”

Sarow will stop a practice or scrimmage if his catchers aren’t talking loudly enough.

“I tell them, ‘Just pretend you’re yelling at your brother,’” he said. “If they don’t talk, I’ll go out there and stand in front of them until they do it.”

Sarow also makes sure catchers keep the communication going through the end of games, even when they are mentally and physically tired. They must be focused on good communication at all times.

  1. Know Your Pitcher

When a catcher and pitcher work together enough, the catcher will be able to identify any problems a pitcher might be having and talk her through them.

“A catcher can read the pitcher,” Sarow said. “She should be able to read the pitcher’s problems. She can sense what she’s doing wrong by seeing the ball coming off a certain way. Then she can go out there and talk to (the pitcher).”

The relationship between catcher and pitcher is built over time. But it is key so they can work together on the diamond.

“She knows her pitcher better than all of the players,” Sarow said. “They’re the two that communicate the most.”

Sarow said repetition and experience are the best way to build these catcher skills. Playing travel ball with high school teammates can help build the relationships, but catching new pitchers will also help catchers expand their knowledge.

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

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