One of our favorite training tools for catchers actually comes from a different sport… TENNIS BALLS. We use tennis balls for some of our simplest, yet most effective drills for catchers at any level.
Tennis balls are an awesome tool for receiving training, especially with barehand receiving drills. We are big believers in barehand training with catchers at any level. You can get away with a lot of bad habits when you have your glove on. Taking the glove off allows catchers to focus on what their hand is actually doing when receiving the ball so they can identify any bad habits and address them. Barehand receiving also has the added benefit of training hand-eye coordination for the obvious reason that your hand is smaller than your glove. Examples of receiving drills that we use tennis balls for are the Molina Drill, Barehand Receiving, and Off-the-Wall Receiving.
We also use tennis balls for standard, glove-on receiving. The tennis ball is bouncy so it forces catchers to receive with a soft hand and catch the ball in the correct part of the glove. Tennis balls bounce out of the glove much easier than baseballs and decrease the margin for error. Both of those factors make for quality receiving practice. For younger catchers, simply tossing a tennis ball lightly is very effective. For advanced catchers, we either throw the ball hard or use a machine to increase velocity. While I was at Duke, we trained our receiving skills with tennis balls and a machine turned up as high as it could go. Personally, tennis balls from the machine helped my receiving skills more than any other drill.
With both barehand and glove receiving, you literally have to have a soft hand when receiving the ball in order to catch a tennis ball. Don’t let the simplicity fool you – tennis balls can be very difficult to catch!
Tennis balls are also great for blocking drills. They allow catchers at any level to work on their blocking technique without getting banged up. And, tennis balls are perfect for the extremely effective drill called No-Hands Blocks (see the video below)
At Catcher University we use tennis balls in virtually every camp and lesson. They are particularly effective when training receiving skills, and they are also very helpful in blocking drills where we don’t want the catcher to get banged up while focusing on their technique or No-Hands Blocks. If you aren’t already using tennis balls in your catching training go get some and start using them. They are a cheap, simple, and extremely effective training tool.
Note: this video uses baseballs because the catcher is a collegiate level catcher and I was sure to make the ball bounce high enough to him in the chest every time, but tennis balls are our preferred tool for No-Hands Blocks 99% of the time.
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