Even for the fan that walks up and watches a fast pitch softball game for the very first time, it’s easy to see how important the catcher is. What seems like a very simplistic position is, in fact, very complex. I have previously talked about Catcher positions, and in today’s article, I am going to talk about a specific play for the softball catcher – the Shift and Block.
Game Rules for the Softball Catcher
To begin with, I want to refresh on a very important catcher game rule. The rule states that a catcher cannot go past the back line of the batter’s box. So one thing that we tell our catchers is they have to watch and see where the hitter positions herself.
For example, if I’m in the back of the batter’s box, now the catcher has to move away from me. Because if I swing the bat and make contact with her, that’s called catcher interference, and I’m awarded first base. So she has to be sure of her relationship with me, and that she will not come in contact with the hitter. But if I move forward in the box, now the catcher moves forward also. And as I mentioned earlier, she can come all the way up to the back line of the batter’s box.
Now, this is a very important point. The farther away from the plate you have your catcher, the tougher it is on the umpire because you’re also pushing the umpire back when you move away. So the catcher wants to stay as tight to the plate as the hitter will let them.
Shifting and Blocking
Okay, now we’re going to talk about shifting and blocking, which is probably one of the most important things that a catcher needs to know. I also think this is one of the most neglected things taught to catchers, especially young catchers, today. We need to pay more attention to training our catchers to be able to block balls that are in the dirt.
Mobility & Positioning
Now, I have talked previously about mobility and positioning, and using an up position when people are on base. We mainly need to block the ball when people are base to keep them from advancing from one base to another. So we’re going to start the catcher in the up position and we’re going to shift and block to our left, a pitch that’s thrown into the dirt. So what happens here is this – there’s a ball that was thrown to that catcher’s left. She takes her lead leg and steps out with that lead leg. Now, as this brings her body to the midline of the ball, she then drags her other leg over so she can close down the gap in between and keep a space from developing for the ball to go through. Next, her glove comes down to cover what space is left there, and she brings her shoulders and head down to the ground towards the ball. You want the glove to be on the ground – you don’t want the glove off the ground because now there’s a chance it can go out. So you bring the glove all the way down to the ground, and bring our free hand up. After the ball makes contact, then we come after it with the free hand.
Now, when the ball is thrown to the catcher’s right, the same technique is executed the exact same way, but to the other side.
You want to make sure you notice the shoulders. The catcher bows her shoulders as she comes down, so if the ball comes up and hits her high, she can direct it back out towards the field. If your shoulders are square, now the ball has more opportunity to go off to the side. Percentages say if you keep the ball in front of you, 95% of the time people will not run. If it goes to the side, there’s a little lower percentage that they will run or a higher percentage they will run. But if it goes behind, there’s a very high percentage they will run. So I tell my catchers they want to keep the ball in front of them. So we try to square our body to the ball. We want to bow our shoulders so, if we do get a bad hop, it will bounce out in front. And remember, what is the name of this drill/technique? It’s shift and block. It is not shift and catch. We don’t teach our athletes to catch the ball, we teach them to stay down, block it and keep the ball in front of them.
Another important factor you want to watch is that the catcher doesn’t have her head up. When your head’s up, number one, you’re not watching the ball; and number two, you can get hit in the neck. So you want to keep the chin down to protect the neck, and also keep the head down so we keep down on the ball.
Smothering the Ball
The next ball is the one that is released low and is coming straight across the plate. The main thing about this is we want to smother it. So we want to move into the ball. One of the mistakes catchers make is they just drop down to their knees and that ball’s right in front of them. And what happens when you just drop on your knees is you have the tendency to stand tall. And when you stand tall, then you create gaps or holes. And then your glove doesn’t go all the way down to the ground. So the key to this one is you want to shoot out at the ball. You want to be aggressive and you want to attack it.
So in this situation, we have a ball thrown right at the catcher, and it’s in the dirt. The catcher is going to shoot forward onto her knees, slide into the ball, and block it. Again, you want to notice the blocking surface, and that she has created the sqaure to keep the ball in front of her. She hit on her knees and slid forward about three or four inches. We’re not trying to slide off the field, we’re just trying to move into the ball so we keep our body down and we don’t create any holes.
And that’s the Shift and Block for the softball catcher! I’ll be featuring more catcher plays in the near future, to put your softball catchers at the top of their game, so be sure to check back often! And don’t forget to Follow Me on Twitter, where I will share more great drills, techniques, tips and more!
Looking for more great softball catcher tips? Then check out our 5 Free Coaching Videos with 11-time NCAA champ Sue Enquist!