Inside Pitch Magazine, January/February 2018

Coaches' Corner: The Most Important 20 Minutes of Practice

Implement an Effective Throw/Catch Routine

 By Trent Mongero, Glynn Academy and Winning Baseball
Kid Throwing When it comes to baseball, it seems everyone is looking for some “secret sauce,” “a magic drill,” or “hidden knowledge” that can help a coach or player take their game to the next level. The truth is, success as a coach or player never comes from “pie in the sky” tricks, hidden secrets, or fancy drills. Rather, it almost always boils down to core knowledge, execution of fundamentals, consistent routines, and quality repetitions. Mix in some healthy player competition to raise concentration levels and perform better under pressure and now you have a formula that is worth the paper it’s written on. You can call it “magic” if it makes you feel better.

The fact is, defense in the game of baseball is boiled down into two fundamental skills: catching and throwing the ball. Do either of these poorly, and you will be an average to below average defender. Inconsistent throwers and receivers of the ball eventually weed themselves out of the game. Even with the obvious importance of both skills to becoming a good player, most coaches don’t place a daily importance on an effective “throw-catch” routine that will improve player success and ultimately win more games for their team.

The mindset of many coaches is that players have been throwing and catching since they started playing baseball as kids. Thus, all they must do to be ready to practice is “warm up” their arms. Each day they start practice with the team playing catch to get their arms loose down the outfield foul line. An occasional throwing drill may be attempted, but most often the drills are executed sloppily and serve no specific purpose. The coaching staff often uses this same “warmup” time to hangout in the dugout and create that day’s practice plan or most likely just sit and chat with one another.

I would love to see this ineffective “warm-up” mindset disappear and for coaches of all teams from youth to college begin using this valuable practice time strategically. I believe very strongly that this 20-minute segment of team practice is the single greatest opportunity for players to improve as throwers. However, it must be attacked with purpose, focus, and precision. The staff should be with the players as they progress through a well thought out throw-catch program. I’m not suggesting that every team’s routine should look the same or even look like ours at Glynn Academy, but each team should have a specific plan for player development with throwing and catching.

During the throw-catch routine, coaches should intermingle with players and remind them of the purpose behind each drill and relay other simple verbal cues to speed improvement. As a result, in time, each player becomes a more accurate, athletic, and dynamic thrower/receiver of the baseball. The only real challenge is that the routine must be taught with attention to detail. This initially can eat up practice time. However, once the routine is learned, there is no doubt in my mind that players will significantly improve, and the proof will be in more consistent defensive play in practice and games.

Glynn Academy Daily Throw-Catch Routine
  • Dynamic stretching routine to increase body temperature and flexibility before throwing.
  • Execute a pre-hab band routine to improve arm strength, recovery, and endurance.
  • Thoroughly teach the throw-catch routine. Set expectations high.
  • Explain why each drill is important for players to “buy into” correct execution.
  • Coaches must monitor throwers every day. Keep players focused on getting better.
  • Pitchers alternate these grips every throw (4-seam/2-seam/and Change-up to 90 ft. distance).
  • Try to partner throwers with like positions (infielders/outfielders/catchers/PO’s).
  • Throwing is an athletic movement! Be an athlete. Never be a robot!
  • Muscle memory is very powerful and the older a player is…the harder it is to change—especially throwing!

Keys to Throwing
  • Athletic movement.
  • Grips used during routine (position players—4 seam; pitchers—Alternate 4 seams, 2 seams, change-up).
  • Relaxed tempo with sync of upper and lower body.
  • Create momentum to target when the drill allows.
  • Proper alignment to target—direction.
  • Learn to use the glove side correctly.
  • Finish the throw with chin to target and throwing arm outside opposite hip/leg.
  • Learn to throw from various arm slots.

Keys to Catching – Receiving the Ball
  • Footwork— learn to move feet to receive ball in most advantageous position to throw.
  • Athletic positioning “receive throw inside shoulders” when possible.
  • Catch with two hands inside shoulders, one-handed outside shoulders.
  • Control the body and ball. Dominate the ball. Beat the ball to the spot and catch it cleanly.
  • Know when to catch the ball vs. deflect it into throwing hand.
  • Be able to catch the ball and throw the ball in the least amount of time possible.

Throwing Drills and Purpose
(Drills 1-10 are 30 seconds each)
  1. Wrist Flips – seated, kneeling, or standing (Focus: On top and behind ball. Good rotation)
  2. Kneeling Figure 8 (Focus: Upper body rhythm and separation)
  3. Kneeling Power Position (Focus: Get a feel for a good power position with alignment)
  4. Standing Figure 8 (Focus: Tie in lower body to rhythm and separation)
  5. Standing Power Position (Focus: Tie in lower body alignment and action into power position)
  6. Tempo Arm Swings (Focus: Rhythm and Tempo of entire body as it loads to throw)
  7. Boxers (Focus: Syncs the lower body and upper body to throw using quick feet)
  8. Jump-Backs (Focus: Exaggerate the loading of the body against the backside)
  9. 180’s/360’s (Focus: Learn to throw the ball confidently to a blind target moving feet in extreme ways)
  10. Throw on run (Focus: Throw off correct foot and incorrect foot using various arm slots)
  11. Specialty throwing by position – (Focus: Execute throws that are specific to players’ defensive position)
  12. Long Toss Distance Progression to Distance of Player Choice. (Focus: Improve and maintain arm strength)
  13. On top at 90 ft. 5- 10 throws (Focus: Gain confidence to throw ball hard and accurately. Getting on top)
  14. Quick Feet/Quick Release Competition at 30 or 45 feet (Focus: How many transitions in 20 seconds)

Additional throwing that can be occasionally added to routine:
  • Pick-off moves with partner
  • Rundowns – Divide team into 3 groups and use cones at 90 feet. Execute your rundown rules
  • Glove flips only (no hands). How many from 10 feet in 20 seconds. Compete
  • Double play feed drill – how many flips, etc. to one another in 20 seconds

Visit Coach Mongero’s youtube channel at youtube.com/CoachMongero and look for the “20 most Important Minutes of Practice” to see these drills taught and executed.

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