Hitting, blocking, receiving, throwing... being able to do these things well is super important.
Yet something that doesn't always get talked about is the need for catchers to be effective leaders and skilled at managing the game.
This post explores the importance of the "soft skills" of catching. Keep scrolling to read more...
Catching is Hard
Those who catch play one of the most unique positions on the diamond. What they do and now they do it is unquestionably different from the other 8 on the field.
And not only that, it's straight up hard to play the position.
Hard on your body.
Hard on your mind.
And notably, hard to master.
Traditional Catcher Training
Much of the training out there intended to help catchers master their craft focuses largely on the “hard skills”.
What I mean is, skills like blocking, receiving, or framing.
These are all important, no doubt. You have to master these skills in order to keep advancing to higher levels.
But hard skills alone are not everything. You must master the “soft skills” of catching in order to be a truly effective and lasting backstop.
What the Pro’s Say
About 18 months ago I began a quest to collect advice from professional catchers.
My goal was to find out from actual pros what they thought the most important skills were for young catchers (both Baseball and Fastpitch Softball) coming up the ranks.
In that time, I've heard from over 20 pro catchers.
And much of their feedback wasn't what I was expecting.
For example, former Reds, Astros and Indians catcher Eddie Taubensee remarked that leadership was one of the most important skills that a catcher should have.
Mark Parent said his best piece of advice for catchers was to "Lead by example... make sure when you're on the field, people know they can count on you.”
And former Twins and White Sox backstop Glenn Borgmann said his top advice for catchers was to “Be in charge” of the game.
When multiple pros are saying similar things as their best advice for catchers, you need to pay attention to that.
Catchers as Managers
These responses received from the pros also got me thinking about something: there seems to be a ton of managers in the MLB who were a catcher in their playing days.
So I did some research. Looking back on World Series managers over the last 25 seasons, a surprising 60 percent of the winning managers were former catchers.
Don't believe me? Check out the table below to see for yourself. (Note: we go back 26 years due to the 1994 MLB strike).
|Year||Winning Team||Manager Name||Manager's Primary Position Played|
|2018||Red Sox||Alex Cora||Infield (multiple)|
|2013||Red Sox||John Farrell||Pitcher|
|2011||Cardinals||Tony La Russa||Infield (multiple)|
|2007||Red Sox||Terry Francona||First Base/Outfield|
|2006||Cardinals||Tony La Russa||Infield (multiple)|
|2005||White Sox||Ozzie Guillén||Shortstop|
|2004||Red Sox||Terry Francona||First Base/Outfield|
|1995||Braves||Bobby Cox||Third Base|
|1993||Blue Jays||Cito Gaston||Outfield|
*Joe Torre played multiple positions during his MLB playing days, but the most common position he played was catcher (with over 900 MLB games played behind the dish).
What are the odds? On a typical 40 man MLB roster, around 8 percent are catchers.
Now consider that every big league manager has some professional playing experience (either in the majors or minors).
How is it that a majority of World Series winning managers in recent years come from a position that makes up less than 10 percent of professional rosters?
It is because catchers are leaders. Good catchers know how to motivate their teammates, manage the game, and direct the flow of each inning.
And they hone and sharpen these soft skills season after season.
Difference Between Leadership and Management
Saying that catchers are leaders and that they are skilled at managing are two interrelated, yet completely separate, things.
Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.
Management is the effective use and coordination of resources and labor to achieve defined objectives with maximum efficiency.
In other words, leadership is all about influencing others to act, while management is about directing the actions of others.
Both are integral tools for catchers, useful at all levels of Baseball and Fastpitch Softball.
In fact, I believe that good catchers have a high supply of leadership and managerial skills, that's why we are seeing so many of them as MLB managers.
How to Improve Your Leadership & Management Skills
So we’ve established that being able to lead and manage are important skills that catchers need to have.
However, these may not currently be strengths of yours. You may need to do some work to improve in these areas.
If that’s you, here are some ways to improve your Softball or Baseball leadership and management skills in order to help you become a better catcher.
- Study it. Take some time to read about great catchers or coaches from Baseball and Softball history. Learn what they did to become successful at their craft. Also, find other catchers that lead and manage well and talk with them.
- Learn from your coaches. Listen to what your coaches say. Ask questions. Pull them aside to get additional insight into how they plan, organize and strategize for each game.
- Be students of the game. Learn the fundamentals of the game, then keep learning after you master the fundamentals. Understand the different roles, functions and movements of each position on the field.
- Hustle. Set an example for your team by hustling during practice and during games. Back up first base when there’s a ground ball. Go attack the ball when it’s bunted and go get the out.
- Encourage the team. Be a vocal encourager to your teammates. Cheer them on during practice and during games.
- Be selfless. Be a good teammate and think about them before you think of yourself.
- Speak up. A leader opens their mouth when it’s needed. Don’t shy away from speaking when something needs to be said.
- Learn your teammates. Understand your teammates – especially your pitching staff. Know what motivates them, what frustrates them, what calms them down. This information is useful, especially during games.
When combined with a strong bat and solid defensive fundamentals, mastering “soft skills” like these will turn you into a premium level catcher.
The “hard skills” of catching (think blocking, throwing, etc) are important, without question.
Yet the “softer skills” – particularly being able to lead and manage – are similarly important for catchers playing both Baseball and Fastpitch Softball.
To set yourself apart from everyone else and standout as a catcher, you need to be able to exercise good leadership and effective management of the game and of others.
This is validated by feedback we have received from numerous MLB catchers.
There are things you can do today to improve upon these skills, and we encourage everyone to do so.