Playing Catch to Improve Throwing, Fielding and Hitting
When Geoff Rottmayer playing career ended, he didn’t know whether he wanted to stay involved in the game or if he was going to walk away. While he was in this difficult transition in his life, he ran into a man name Kacper, and Kacper shared with him the power of processes and coaching out of love for the players.
Kacper taught Geoff a process that is designed to teach a kid how to play catch to help players improve their catching abilities, their abilities, and their hitting abilities.
While Geoff initially walked away from the game, in his heart he wanted to give back to the game like his high school coach and Kacper did. Geoff high school coach shaped approach in terms of demeanor and Kacper shaped his approach in being process driven.
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In 2006 when my playing days of this great game was done. It was a difficult and weird time. It hit me harder than I thought it would have and I didn’t really know how to cope with it. My life had always evolved around sports, have a routines, having a schedule, and always having a place to be.
It was a late afternoon in 2006, I am sitting on the beach in Fort Myers Florida looking out into the ocean. Its was peaceful the world slowed down for a little while. I had nowhere to be, nowhere to go. It was weird, it was different and I remember sitting there and thinking, Now What? I didn’t finish college, I went to college to play baseball. So, I had no degree and I really did not have a sense of purpose or understanding of what I needed or wanted to do. All I know was I wanted and was going to be successful. I just didn’t know what that path was going to look like for me.
Alot of was going through my mind as I was sitting there reflecting on everything. I was debating on whether I even wanted to give back to the game or if I want to go do some other things. It was a tough decision with me, myself and I. At the time, I was frustrated that I never reached my potential as a baseball players, or at least in my mind I didn’t. Here I am, 6’4 230lbs, I can hit a baseball 400+ feet, I can throw a baseball over 93 from the outfield, I ran a 6.9 60, all of which I worked extremely hard at. There was nothing natural, I was a product of hard work. I spend hours and hours in the cages hitting. I would take a bucket of baseballs, head to the open field and throw the ball as far as I could, to include weighted balls, which we didnt know much about at the time. I could go on and on, but it was still a weird time in my life and reflecting on what I did to come up short.
After a brief moment of slowthing things down and enjoying the ocean, I got up and went to the local ball fields in Naples Florida to watch some local kids play. It brought back alot of memories as I was sitting their and brought back when the game was fun. I had gotten to a point where baseball became my identify. Which took the fun away from the game as I knew it. As I was enjoying the scenes, I notice one team there that was fun of energy and the kids were laughing and having a good time. So I deciede to go watch them.
As I was sitting their watching them, I couldn’t help to notice how very well organized this team throwing session was. These kids where 12. It was amazing and I was sitting their watching it had appeared that all of these kids had a purpose and understood what they were trying to accomplish with their throwing session. They were moving their feet, they were giving a target to each other to try and hit, some kids look like they were straddling a base and placing a tag, and kids were getting excited by making tough throws and hitting their target. They were having fun with this throwing program, but you can tell they were working on things as well.
I watched this one team for teh rest of that night, and the thing that amaze me was how well they catch adn threw the baseball, at 12 years old.
I remember talking to one of the dads and complimeneting his sons team on how well they catch and throw the baseball and he said, yeah Man, this coach is unbeleivable. It’s weird, he doesnt have a kid on the team and he is from Poland, and he has this throwing program that is designed to improve one throwing, fielding/catching, and hitting. It’s incredible, they are improving on all areas of the game by playing catch.
At the time, it didn’t make much sesn to be but as I got into coaching and trying to learn as much as I could about the game, I quickly learned how brilliant it was.
When the game/practice was done, I introduce myself to the coach. His name was Kacper. I never did get his last name and I regret that because I would love to have reached out to him and tell him thank you for teaching me about his throwing program and looking at things from a different lens. I did’t always comprehend what he was teaching me at the time, but I get it now and I appreiocate it.
After some small talk and compliment Kacper on his team, I asked him about his throwing program, where his team who was full of energy and having fun grabbed my attention. Kecper, was thrilled that someone outside of his team even had a slight awareness with how well his team catch and throw the ball.
He was so wiling and open to sharing his process. He had a bit of an accent so it was challenging at first to make out what he was saying, at least for me it was, so I didn’t not comprehend everything he was saying. I didn’t write anything down but I remember how detailed it was and how it was a process. He invited me to his practice and I was still struggling with what I wanted to do so I kindly rejected his invitiation. He told me the invitiation stands if I ever wanted to come.
I really didn’t want to go to this practice, but I did end up going and it ended up being the best decision I ever made when i comes to what I am doing know. I didn’t know this at the time, but it was. I showed up. I had my pen, notepad and ready to listent and hopefully learn something.
HAHA, I learned something alright.
Kecper started practice off and I could help to notice how organized and structured his practice was. It started with a warm up that, at that time, you just didn’t see with 12 year old kids. It was top notch, as top notch as a 12U team could perform.
I observe Kecper, and the man just enjoyed coaching these kids and loved what he did. He was a volunteer with no kid on the team, but treats every kid as his own. He was the second coach I saw that took the approach like this along with my high school coach. The kids loved him and was willing to do anything for him.
I took my notepad and pen out and I wrote on the top “If I was going to coach, that would be the impact i would have hoped to have on kids that love the game of baseball.
After, the kids got done warming up, now it was time for their throwing program. I was excited about the throwing program. That is what interest me and what I wanted to learn more about.
The throwing program was about 30 mintues long. It was amazing to watch. I asked Kacper, how long does have you had this team? And how long does it take to get to the point where 12 years old can play catch like this?
He said, he had the team since they were 6 years old and the majority of his team has been together that whole time. We train year round, so we have been at this for 6-7 years now.
He then went on to explain, look, what you are seeing is them playing catch, you don’t see what they are working on to improve their throwing, fielding/catching/ and hitting abilities. If you did’t know then and didnt watch closely, you would have thought they were playing around. Kacper, reminded me, they are 12 – let them have fun.
I asked Kacper, if he could explain to me is process again, on how his program helps a kid improve their throwing, catching/fielding, and hitting abilities. Here is what I have learned:
Starting with catching/fielding/recieiving:
Kacper, told me that he refers to a ball coming at you in any fashion is catching the ball. Ground ball, fall ball, thrown ball, it doesnt matter. You are catching the ball. He explained that when they are 6 years old, his focus was more on getting each kid to catch the ball first. He knew it would take more time to throw a ball striaght so he wanted to teach them how to catch and move their feet first.
He started with a tennis ball and these kids, with no glove, would be on their knees about 4-5 feet away from each other and they would roll the ball back and forth to one another.
The only instruction was, track the ball into the hand and catch the ball with both hands. The kid would get one point for tracking the ball into the hand and two points for fielding the ball cleaning.
It was interesting, I had asked Kecper, wouldn’t one think that by 6 years old they would know how to catch the ball? And he said, yes, but it’s not enough to catch the ball, you must use propery fundamental to field the ball. The attention to details matter. He also said that we have to be aware too that they are 6, so they are not going to be perfect but we want consistetncy in movement.
Over time as Kecper saw the kids making progress with using two hands and tracking the ball all the way into the hand, they would progress to standing and a baseball glove on. They would follow the same process is that they would tracking the ball all the way into the glove and field it with both hands, first using a tennis ball and then the baseball.
They would then progress to underhand toss. The two kids would stand 6-8 feet away from each other and they have to track the ball and catch the ball with two hands, first with a tennis ball and then a baseball.
From there, since they are not the greatest at throwing and keeping the ball straight, the coaches would then roll and throw baseballs at them. They are instructed to tracking the ball all the way into the glove and use two hands.
When they are able to handle routines play at them, then the coaches would roll the ball or throw the ball slightly to the left or the right which would force the kid to havge to move theiur feet.
So now they got one point for tracking the ball, two points for catching the ball, and three points for moving their feet. The difficulty of the task, the higher the point.
So a process, and really cool and successful process that appears to be working.
He had a dad volunteering to help him and he was a numbers guy, so he would keep track and tally up all the points and there would be a winner. Some kids wanted to win the whole things, somejust wanted to beat their partners and some just wanted to beat their own personal record. Which was pretty cool process to see, that everyone is different in what they perceive to be success for them.
As the kids got older and better with the early on process, they progress into playing catch with one another. The person o the receiving end – so the guys catching the ball, is going to hold the glove at chest hight. As they get better and progress then they will move the target and call for different types of throws.
When I say different type of throws, we are talking about positional specific throws that one will have to make, such as the infielder making a throw to turn a double play or the outfielder need to learn to throw a long hop. Kacper, makes sure everyone develops the skils for all position whether they play a position or not.
What we ended up seeing but the time they were twelve years old, these kids were keeping track of their own score, making sure they were catching the ball, trainign the ball, m oving their feet and etc. Kacper talks about how practice and almost a breeze now. Work hard in the beginning and it will get easier later. It’s true!
Another thing he kept stressing over and over, was they are kids. They are going to make mistakes and there are days where you feel like they arent making progress but they are, whether you see it or not.
Now lets talk about how KacPer had his team throwing the ball and the process he used:
Kacper is all about throwing the baseball to a scpefic location. This was before velocity dominated the conversation. I will add to, kacper, was a huge fan of throwing a lot. For as young as these kidw where they were throwing a lot. At the time, I didn’t have much of an opinion but knowing what I know know and what I beleive, I believe in throwing alot as well.
He explained that at 6 years old, most kids are afraid of the ball coming at them. So we removed that aspect when teaching them to throw. They would throw into the fence, this was before ball parks start regulating on what one can and cannot do on the fields.
He would line all the kids up in front of the fence, he would take a rope and make a circle on the fence in front of the kid. He and his coaches would position the kid into the throwing position they wanted them to throw from. When all the players were in the right position, then the instruction was, I dont care how you do it, but hit that circle from the position you are in.
Once they got good at that, he would move them back and back. Eventually transitioning over to a regular baseball with the same objective of throwing the ball to the target from the position you are in.
Eventually he would put them into an infield, or outfield, or catching position and tell them to make the throw to the target form the position you are in.
Once they have gotten good at this, they we are throwing to our partner. Our partner is standing on the other end of us with the glove in front of his chest, and our objective is the hit the ball into the glove. When they got decent with that, then they would do the same thing from specific positional position.
The process was, as they were going out, they would try and hit the chest with every throw. And as they start to come in the are doing some outfield spefic type throws, like long hops and just straight down pulling it down. When they got back into with in 90 feet, they would work on field arm angle throws, feetwork type throws and all that type of stuff.
It was impressive, again for a group of 12 years old. It was improessive for 12.
One other thing that Kacper shared with me, he wanted to kids to understand that their eyes needed to be locked in on a target. A lot of kids eyes will move to track the ball as they throw the ball, instead of staying locked on to a target. A Lot of kids do this, they just need awareness.
Lastly, Kacper shares hiow playing catch can help you as a hitter.
He would explain to me that kids are afraid of the ball, because they were not picking up up early enough. So we would have to train kids to pick the ball up as early as possible preferrably out of the hand.
He went on to say, you know where else that is important? Hitting!!
In hitting, you are trying to pick the ball up as early as possible, preferrably out of the hand and tracking the ball all the way to the bat or catchers glove. Players have a prime oppotunity to work on this skill every single time they play catch.
He says, its it tought to measure if a kid is seeing the ball but with enough time and working with enough kids, you will be able to tell who can see the ball and who cannot see the ball. They have to be trained on how to proerly do this. This is where he brought up Dr. Bill Harrison – Kacper is who first told me about Dr. Billi Harrison of Slow the Game Down.
He said he felt, that reminding them top pick the ball up out of hand is a constant reminder. It one things that kids will not do conssitently until they are reminded.
Kacper, said that he would have kids have different throwing partner each time they play or practice becasue he wanted everyone to learn picking up the ball out of hand from different release points.
It was overwhelming learning about all of this but i understand it more than I did then and its really just a siomple process.
Kacper was so efficient with his practice time and they got alot done.
If I would have stayed in touch with him, I wonder if he would have been able to take this same approach in today instant graficiation culture. This is truely a process. I am sure he had one for hitting and pitching and defense as well. So that would be my question if I am lucky enough to ever to reconnect with him.
As I reflect on this process that Kacper showed me, I believe it shaped my approach in having a process for everything i do with my players. I sell a process and the process works, if you work the process.
I only met up with Kacper 3,4,5 times that summer and I regret not doing so more. I had just got done playing and teaching the game was a lot harder then it was playing. At this time in my life I didnt even know or think I wanted to coach.
As I sit here writing this and refelcting on this, I ended up walking away from the game for little bit. I traveled the world and work but the whole time I was doing this, I could n’t stop thinking about baseball. The best decision I ever made when it came to my coaching career, was riding out to the local ball field in Naples Florida to run into Kacper who shaped my approach when it comes to making everything a process.
I hope this gives some insights and maybe some ideas of how you can improve your throwing programs for the younger guys. Thanks for tuning in.