Developing Arm Strength in Softball Catchers through Proper Throwing Techniques
by Courtney O’Connor
My first memory of catching involves two left shin guards, and a helmet that was so big I needed to adjust it in between every pitch. From the first time I got into catcher’s gear, it was the only position I ever wanted to play, and, for 15 years, it was the only position I really did play.
Growing up, I was the one to wear the gear for one reason, I could get the ball to second. That was it. My first coach put me back there because I could throw, and even now 15 years later, I see the same thing with most younger teams. The catcher has one of the best arms.
As a coach, I get it, I need my catchers to be able to throw, I need that out. As a player whose arm was injured as a result of that throw...it worries me. Softball isn’t like baseball. The base paths don’t grow with the kids. The diamonds that the girls play on at 10 years old are the same ones they’ll play on at 18. The catching part is important to me, but the throwing part is the one thing I make sure my catchers work on at every practice. I want to make sure that they don’t wrap their arms behind their head, and that they’re using their whole bodies because that’s a long throw. Had I been taught the proper mechanics I could’ve spent my final year playing rather than in the press box.
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There’s a lot that goes into a throw down. I’ve learned to break it down into a few steps to make things easier for both myself and the player. I’ve also learned to incorporate it into normal throwing warm-ups.
When I was younger, I always noticed that catching was one of the only positions that never truly got worked on. I didn’t take ground ball reps, so I usually got to stand around with the coach and catch, and while there were things I could practice during that time it was always up to me to figure out how to practice them.
As I got older my coaches placed an emphasis on having me at least do some catching during practice, but it usually involved bullpen catching or doing throw downs until my arm hurt so that my fielders could practice tags. I almost never did actual catching drills.
As a coach, I understand how hard it is to pull 2-3 players out of a practice for 30 minutes to drill them. They end up missing something else. As a result, most of the catching drills for my players are tossed into practice for other things. They can work on framing when they’re catching for the coach, they can work on tags and force plays at the plate as well.
Throwing is a little harder though. It took me a little longer to work out a plan so that the catchers could practice throw downs without actually having to do the throw down. The result is the throwing warm-up that I currently use:
Framework for Throwing:
- I always make my kids to these so they can watch the spin of their ball. Cheater tip: a taped ball makes it much easier for everyone to see the spin, my catchers always use them so we can adjust their throws as we go.
Standing sideways (glove or elbow pointed at target):
- It seems like a simple step, but I’ve caught plenty of catchers who don’t point at their targets which just makes the whole process harder. Glove or elbow, I don’t have a preference, but you have to make sure you’re lined up!
- The players throwing elbow should also be even or above their shoulder.
- This is where these drills become a little fun. A right-handed thrower stands on their left leg and swings their right leg back and forward, as it comes forward they should land in an instep position, check their elbow is above their shoulder, step, and throw.
- The instep has to be facing second! The instep is the most important part of all these drills.
- I always have my catchers throw at the beginning of practice and don’t want to completely tire them out, so I let them go about ¾ of the way into a catcher’s position. From here they instep forward and throw (I have them start slow so it’s easier to see the mechanics then speed everything up).
For the following drills, the catcher should be aiming to hit their partner in the chest. My catchers do these drills while the rest of the team is throwing, so they’ve been drilled on throw downs for the day; then I never had to pull them out of practice! I chose all of these steps because they resemble what a catcher should look like when they’re throwing down.
The Framework for Throw Downs
START FROM YOUR ACTUAL POSITION
- I always make my kids start from their secondary catching position, the actual receiving position, not in a modified squat. I do this because when you start that low, you get a leg work out every time you have to stand up. A catcher’s legs can never be too strong, nor too explosive.
- Whenever I see something going wrong with a throw, my first question is where were the girl’s feet. If the throw is off-line, watch the player throw. More often than not their feet will be stepping towards one of the corners. Most kids don’t pay any attention to where their feet are, as they’re just trying to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.
- The instep should be going directly at second base.
ELBOW SHOULD BE EVEN, OR SLIGHTLY ABOVE THE SHOULDER
- This is the one that got me when I was playing. This one step could’ve allowed me to finish my career on the field rather than in the press box. I was taught to throw from my ear; the issue with that is I didn’t have the upper body strength to do that, and as a result my body compensated in ways that caused my elbow and shoulder to take the brunt of the throw.
- In a game, the player doesn’t have to bring the ball all the way back, but she should at least develop the habit of having some separation between her hands. The split second it takes is worth it in the long run.
STEP AND THROW
- You’ve done all the hard work, now you get to do the fun part!
Most of those steps should seem familiar, they’re all a part of the warm up I use. The only difference is there aren’t any flamingos. I use that drill to teach the girls to drive with their legs. It becomes a very important step when the girls become advanced enough to throw from their knees, but that’s a story for another day!
One last tip before I sign off! I would rather have my players have the ball bounce ONCE, than to throw as hard as they can. Looking back, I should’ve been almost 14 before I was throwing that hard, which would have saved my shoulder. Develop arm strength as the girls progress, and have them slowly extend how far they can throw. They’ll get the ball to second eventually, but you have to be patient and let them develop.
Interested in learning more about how to develop proper throwing mechanics as a catcher? Interested in trying out the drills and throwing progression with Courtney first hand? Do you simply want to become an all-around better catcher without breaking the break?
Well you are in luck! Starting this Saturday, January 12th, 2019, Courtney will be hosting a 4-week progressive catching skills clinic! She will have two sessions (Group 1: 10U-!2U, Group 2: 14U-18U) that will meet every Saturday until Febraury 2nd, 2019 that will cover everything from the correct way to warm-up, stretc, and throw to the more advanced techniques necessary to dominate the game of softball from behind the plate!
Want to know the best part?
This incredible opportunity only costs $85!
If you are interested, you had better hurry up however, because there are only a few spots left! To learn more about times and what will be covered in the clinic as well as to reserve your spot, click here.