One of the most frequently asked questions I get at almost every catchers’ camp is this… What do I need to do to play at the next level? What are the components to playing baseball at the collegiate level and beyond?
4 Key Components To Playing Baseball At The Collegiate Level (and beyond)
I initially published these “keys to playing at the next level” 4 years ago, but felt it was time to dig a little deeper.
Practice your craft and practice often. I’ve always said, “When you feel like you’ve worked enough, work some more.” You should strive to get better at what you do well, but more importantly get better at what you DON’T do well. In practice and games become comfortable with doing what is uncomfortable. To improve your craft as a baseball player you have to work hard and smart in practice, on the field and in the weight room.
Skill development has been around since man first picked up a stick…or bone…to hit something. It wasn’t about how far he could throw it or how hard he could hit it (that comes later) it was about seeing if his hand-eye coordination allowed him to catch or hit things thrown at him. He had to develop the skill of catching/hitting before he could focus on improving his strength and speed. Therefore, in preparation for the competitive season, you must develop your skills BEFORE you can improve on-field performance (and before we get into weight training).
In baseball we talk about repetition. To quote a colleague: “Repetition is King”, you can’t do something once or twice and expect to improve on it the next time you do it. There are certain drills that you will need to ingrain in your muscle memory so when you get into a game situation you won’t have to think about what to do because you’re in “auto-pilot.” The skill has already been done countless times over and over with much success.
We should utilize drills like receiving tennis balls for receiving success, block & recover drills for blocking success and quick hands drills for throwing success. If drills like these are practiced correctly, on a day-to-day basis then they become second nature.
These drills are important to develop the skills that you can draw from throughout the season. It is much easier to stay healthy and play at a high level when you don’t have to think about how to do things, because you’ve already done them over and over again…you just do what works!
Strength & Agility
Once you get your mechanics consistent, the next step is to get stronger and quicker through physical training. Your goal is to perform your responsibilities on the field in the most explosive and consistent way possible and you do this through improved muscular development.
One of the most important aspects of strength training is using functional movements (moves we use on the field). For example, there are certain exercises I can do with a barbell or dumbbells that will help strengthen my core, but they won’t necessarily help me make the throw to second any better. Some “core exercises” will help with our overall athleticism and explosiveness but, anytime we can make the exercises sport specific or even position specific, the benefits increase tremendously.
You need to train your brain as much as you train your body! Controlling your emotions, understanding the importance of confidence and learning what I call the “Three D’s” (Dream, Dedication & Discipline) are paramount.
Are you or your catcher covering ALL the bases or just one or two?
Follow your Dream (of playing in the big leagues?); Stay Dedicated and work hard on each component (work ethic); And finally, stay disciplined, avoiding all of the distractions that come with being a student-athlete (social life).
This is something that must be worked on daily. It’s a lesson in toughness, mental strength and self-control. You need to have a short memory when it comes to the successes and failures during any given game or practice. Don’t dwell on mistakes, learn from them and move on with positive thinking. It is important to remember that the power of your mind over your body is tremendous… stay positive!
And your intellect will play a huge role in you being successful in life and baseball. Baseball IQ is very important; you need to understand what “good” looks like so you can actually get there and know what “bad” looks like so you know what to avoid and work hard to minimize.
You can’t succeed on the field if you aren’t succeeding in the classroom first. We are called student-athletes NOT athlete-students. You can’t help your team if you’re academically ineligible.
If you want to be a student-athlete then treat yourself like one. You must understand the importance of your studies and its relation to baseball and vice versa. This is something that takes time and practice throughout your collegiate career, but it starts with you as an individual. Like I mentioned before, Discipline.
In order for you to be successful in anything (and I’m not just talking about sports) education plays a huge role. The saying “knowledge is power” is very true…the more educated you are the more opportunities will come your way!
It’s important at this level that you develop firm study habits early on. The longer you wait to do so, the more difficult those habits will be to acquire in the future.
While these four components play a huge part into your success as a baseball player it is important that you understand that they must be worked on simultaneously and cannot really be performed separately from one another. Two of them require strength, conditioning and agility training while all four require mental toughness.
You need to get stronger for the physical aspects of the game (especially when competing against advanced players at the higher levels) but if you don’t have a firm grasp on mechanics then it’s just going to make what you’re attempting to do much harder than it has to be.
Likewise, if you are working hard at improving your physical abilities (strength & speed/agility) and putting in the work on the mental side of things, none of that will matter if you’re not putting in the time in the classroom with your studies.
You have the ability to make a difference! I’m not saying that you are going to be the next #1 draft pick or even a professional baseball player, but if you dedicate yourself and give your best effort while learning what it takes to become successful in life then there is no telling of where you will end up. You owe it to yourself as an individual first and foremost because it’s your life; “The only person that can write your story is YOU!”