The most important 20 minutes of practice

article by Trent Mongero

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)
  • Seated, kneeling, or standing
  • Get on top and behind the ball.
  • Create good rotation on ball
  • Often used for beginner thrower or players who have trouble staying on top and behind ball

 

  1. Kneeling Figure 8 (Focus: Upper body rhythm and separation)

  • Create rhythm and tempo – start with shoulders square to partner
  • Keep your “8” inside your shoulders to stay connected
  • Front foot should be outside the knee with toe close to pointed at partner
  • Carry the momentum of 8 down and into body turn and hand separation
  • Think full extension to target
  • Take chin to your target to help create a flat back on finish
  • Good glove side control, keep front side closed as long as possible
  1. Kneeling Power Position (Focus: Get a feel for a good power position with alignment)

  • Focus on lower body and upper body alignment
  • Start with body perpendicular to target (throwing partner)
  • Front foot should be outside front knee and foot should be slightly closed
  • Start hands together near core (belly button)
  • Separate “equal and opposite”
  • Slight pause at “text book” power (front elbow at partner and back elbow away)
  • Ball will be pointed away from target. Throwing wrist inside throwing elbow
  • Throwing arm angle is about 10:00 for RH and 2:00 for LH
  • Create good glove side action taking the body to the glove and let glove work into side of body
  • Think good extension staying on top and behind ball
  • Finish throwing hand outside the opposite knee
  1. Standing Figure 8 (Focus: Tie in lower body to rhythm and separation)

  • Create athletic stance facing partner (flex knees and hips)
  • Execute the same as when on knee
  • Allow throwing side heal to raise and face partner after the ball is thrown to release hips
  1. Standing Power Position (Focus: Tie in lower body alignment and action into power position)

  • Create an athletic stance perpendicular to target (sideways….Not facing partner)
  • Post stride drill. Thus, put body in position as if stride has already been taken
  • Be sure front foot is almost pointed at target “slightly closed”
  • Execute the drill the same as when done on a knee
  • Let back heal rotate towards the sky as throw is made and weight transfers from back to front
  • Finish throw with hand outside opposite hip or leg with chin at target to give flat back
  1. Tempo Arm Swings (Focus: Rhythm and Tempo of entire body as it loads to throw)

  • Same lower half set up as standing power position drill
  • Create gentle sways forward and back taking weight from front side to against the back (repeat)
  • Allow arms to raise and lower equal and opposite like a pendulum. Max shoulder high
  • Sync body and arms sings so weight is against backside as arms reaches highest point
  • After two or three swings, load the body and throw. Weight transfers over front as ball is released
  • Maintain a good glove side and direction.
  1. Boxers (Focus: Syncs the lower body and upper body to throw using quick feet)

  • Body is positioned perpendicular to target (sideways)
  • Feet are underneath shoulders. Alternate controlled movements towards and away from target
  • Feet should stay beneath shoulders. Keep body centered over lower half
  • Hands stay together at core until it’s time to throw
  • After a couple shuffles, break hands as weight transfers to the back side
  • Make throw as weight transfers back over the front side towards target
  • Allow weight transfer to continue into momentum after release of ball
  • Finish throw with good glove side and stay online towards target (partner)
  1. Jump-Backs (Focus: Exaggerate the loading of the body against the backside)

  • Exaggerated Boxer Drill. Emphasizing the backside in the throw.  Lower body explosiveness
  • Same starting position as boxers. Then bring back foot in towards front to allow exaggerated load
  • Jump should be significant and directly away from target as thrower loads their body
  • Hands begin to separate as player jumps to load against their backside
  • Once landed and loaded, transfer energy dynamically towards the target by driving off backside
  • Hand split should be on time to sync with the lower body
  • Get over front side as ball is released. Keep momentum online taking chin towards target’s glove
  • Maintain momentum towards target after ball is gone. Allow energy to continue a few steps
  1. 180’s/360’s (Focus: Learn to throw the ball confidently to a blind target moving feet in extreme ways)

  • Start with 180’s. Looks like a spin pickoff move to second base
  • Body start exactly away from target. Quickly spin to get body in position to throw to partner
  • Allow momentum to continue to target after the throw. Place their chin in partners glove
  • 360’s – get a step towards target to begin and then spin all the way around before making the throw
  • The purpose of both the 180/360 is body control and confidence throwing to a “blind” target
  1. Throw on run (Focus: Throw off correct foot and incorrect foot using various arm slots)

  • Simulate a field off of left foot and throw off of right foot (left handed throwers are opposite)
  • Create direction a couple steps down foul line in order to throw against body to target
  • The faster the thrower moves before throwing the more they must compensate throw for momentum
  • Learn to throw from various arm angles with accuracy and confidence
  • Really advanced throwers can learn to throw off wrong foot for extreme throwing situations
  • Safety! Be sure players are adequately spaced so errant throws don’t hit another player
  1. Specialty throwing by position – (Focus: Execute throws that are specific to players’ defensive position)

  • This phase is to emphasize throws made by specific positions. Infield, Outfield, Catchers, Pitchers
  • OF – Should work of throwing through their cut-off man; simulating ground balls and fly balls transitioning into a crow hop using the most efficient footwork possible to throw
  • INF – Work on simulating fielding a ground ball and transitioning into a throw and follow
  • INF – The receiver of the throw can work on their relay or making tags
  • Catchers – Work on throwing to bases and great footwork, staying low and being quick
  • Pitchers – Work on a light flat ground (45 feet) concentrating of direction, body control, split, finish and grips for 4 seam, 2 seam, and change-up
  1. Long Toss Distance Progression to Distance of Player Choice. (Focus: Improve and maintain arm strength)

  • This phase is to emphasize developing arm strength and maintaining arm health. Players should back up to a point where they are pushing maximum distance.  Of course, they must monitor the health of their arm.  If there is tenderness or pain, they would modify the distance or leave this segment out that day.
  • The key is to maintain athletic throws with good mechanics. Use legs to drive and good glove side to maintain good direction to target.  The flight of ball should be true and on target with carry.
  1. On top at 90 ft. 5- 10 throws (Focus: Gain confidence to throw ball hard and accurately. Getting on top)

  • This phase is to emphasize getting back on top and behind the baseball by making close to max effort throws with confidence. Hit partner in the chest with.  This throw is a balance between velocity and accuracy
  • Load the body and let it rip. Stay online, finish throw and keep momentum after the throw to reduce stress on the shoulder
  1. Quick Feet/Quick Release Competition at 30 or 45 feet (Focus: How many transitions in 20 seconds)

  • This phase is to emphasize quick transitions. How many transitions from 45 feet in 20 seconds?
  • The record that I have witnessed is 22 transitions at 45 feet. The video shows 20.
  • Learn to move feet early, deflect, throw to partners throwing side. Firm accurate throws
  • Throw the ball at the height it is received. Throw from various arm angles
  • Mentality is: Quick but not in a hurry

** 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.

photos provided by Trent Mongero