Throwing and catching.
Catching and throwing.
They are the most basic of softball fundamentals.
Fort Myers American Little League coach Dan Mills realized that coaches needed to focus on teaching those areas before anything else.
“They can’t pick up a bat until they can throw and catch a ball,” Mills said. “At age 10, 12, if we can’t throw and can’t catch, it doesn’t matter how well we hit.”
Mills, 44, got into coaching six years ago because twin daughters Audrey and Lauren, now 12, started playing softball. Starting with T-ball, he has coached them at all their different levels of ball. He now is the vice president at Fort Myers American.
“When you have twins in a volunteer organization, it forces you to be more involved,” Mills said. “If you’re not gonna’ do it, you don’t know if anyone else will do it.”
R.J. Hazen, who coaches with Mills in travel ball, said Mills is a stickler when it comes to fundamentals on the throwing.
“The wrist snap, core movements and then to stand up and make the overhand throw, which is what we take for granted” Hazen said. “He wants to see girls throw hard and accurate. If they’re not doing it right, he’ll stop and go back to the beginning. He doesn’t let them get by with anything.”
The interest in developing throwing and catching for Mills began when he coached 10-year-olds and realized their teams hadn’t stressed it enough earlier.
“We wanted to teach more advanced skills and in-game concepts, but without the foundation of throwing and catching, it’s tough to move on,” he said. “When they were 10 years old, I had that aha moment. We had to come up with more drills and be more fun and creative.”
Mills’ top tips for throwing and catching are:
● Start with Wiffle Balls:
For young players who have a fear of the ball, have them catch tennis and Wiffle balls. Form a W with their right thumb touching the glove. “And get out front with both hands,” Mills said.
● Play Catch with Adults
Having adults play catch with the kids during their early practices can make a big difference. “They trust we’re not going to hurt them, but when throwing peer to peer, they don’t trust each other,” Mills said. “If you throw it hard to them, they’ll catch it. But if other girls throw, they’ll get out of the way. They also don’t throw it as hard to other girls.” As the season develops, Mills said the better players can start playing catch with each other.
● Focus on the Wrist Snap
Explain to girls that the wrist snap gives the ball velocity and that it should move so fast that they can’t see the stitches. “I tell them the ball is like the earth, and it should spin so fast all people fly off it,” Mills said. “They laugh at this.”
● Establish Good Habits
Have a girl catch a ball while moving and learn to catch with both hands. Bring the hands up to ear level. “It’s important to instill the traits before they establish their motion by 10, 11,” Mills said. “After that it becomes a lot harder.”