Catchers calling their own games

Went to the National Sports Clinics Advanced Clinic in Chicago over the weekend. One of the topics of discussion was catchers calling pitches instead of the coach from the dugout.

That’s a topic I find very interesting. There seems to be a lot of resistance in a lot of circles to allowing catchers to call pitches. From my own personal experience I’ve seen a lot of coaches squatting on buckets at the front of the dugout, frantically signaling pitches. When I’ve watched on TV in the Women’s College World Series I’ve seen the same thing — coaches calling the pitches. 
In the college game I suppose the rationale is that they have all the charts on the opposing hitters, that they know all the weaknesses and thus can make better decisions. I guess you can make an argument for that. Yet often it seems like the person in the dugout calling the pitches used to be a player. If her coaches never let her call pitches when she played, when exactly did she learn? How did she become such an expert between the time she played and now? Or was she maybe, just maybe, perfectly capable of doing it before, only she wasn’t allowed to?

In the youth game the thinking must be that the catchers don’t know enough to call pitches. How could a mere kid know more than the coach? Forget the fact that the coach is most likely not a professional coach with tons of experience in it. It’s just too important of a function to leave to a player.

Either way, that’s bunk. Calling pitches is not rocket science. It’s a skillset that can be learned like anything else. Coaches who don’t allow catchers to call the game are doing them a disservice. As long as the signals are coming in from the dugout the catcher is never going to learn the nuances of the game. She’s merely going to throw down the number of fingers she’s told to throw down, without learning why.
That doesn’t mean you have to stop cold turkey and throw your catchers to the wolves. If your catcher has never called a game before, start her with an inning. Go over what you want — how you want to mix fastballs and changes if that’s all your pitcher has. If the pitcher has more pitches, give her some ideas of what to throw when.

Why bother? Because the catcher can see things the coach can’t. She knows (or should know) what the umpire is calling. She knows whether the curve ball that got crushed was hit because the hitter hit well or the curve ball didn’t break. She can probably also tell where the pitcher’s head is because she’s looking right at her.

If that’s not enough, here’s a nother good reason: you want your players to think. Coaches who try to control every aspect of the game and their players wind up with a lot of brain dead players. Then they get mad when their players make mistakes. How are they going to learn to think for themselves if they never get the chance?

The answer is they won’t. Coaches, give your catchers the opportunity to start calling their own games. They just might surprise you.


About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on December 10, 2007, in Catching, Coaching. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I completely agree – with a large asterisk. Why not let a catcher call pitches? My answer to that is based on your answer to another question – who is the most important player – the pitcher or the catcher? I’m sure 99+% of you just said it is the pitcher, and I agreed with you a year ago (even though I am an ex-catcher – albeit only high-school level). About 1 year ago I read an article that stated something to the affect that a poor catcher can ruin a good pitcher on any given day. If that catcher is calling the game and doesn’t know what the pitcher’s strengths are, if she doesn’t know how to keep that pitcher in a rythm, or that princess (learned that nickname this past weekend at the same conference) takes two pitches to recover from throwing a change-up, or the catcher calls off-speed pitches because it is easier for her to catch them or her hand is sore, or doesn’t call the high pitches because she has a hard time stopping them, or …get my point? That is only the mental aspect – I’m not even talking about a poor blocking catcher or one that can’t hold runners or one that drops 3rd strikes has an effect on the pitcher. A good pitcher could make an average princess (I can’t stop using that nickname now) look really good too. So who is the most important player? I know I didn’t change many of your minds and didn’t expect to, but I think you understand the importance of a catcher. So why did I say all of that? It is to point out that the catcher needs have the basic understanding of how to call a game and why to call certain pitches at appropriate moments. They need to be aware that princess’s best pitch was the drop yesterday, but today, it isn’t being called for strikes and needs to throw her change-up more. We can’t let our catchers hang the pitchers out to dry. Princess’s psyche is fragile – she isn’t as tough as the catcher and needs to stay confident. We can’t let the catcher put that pitcher into a funk. I’m not saying she has to be perfect (lord knows I am not when I call a game) but she needs to be competent. She needs some serious training before she just starts doing it. She will learn some, if taught to pay attention, by studying what the coach calls. She should be told to study the calls the coach sends in and ask questions why a certain pitch was called. It is a huge task that the coach must take on to teach that catcher the basics o how to call a game, but it must be done before she calls her first game. Once she understands the basics, let her call the game, but have the coach call in the sign in situations he/she feels needs a special sign. Tell the catcher to be ready for that and not be concerned about it, but see if she was going to call the same thing and take it as a challenge. Train them before sending them in there – princess will thank you.


  2. Pitchers should call their own game. Catchers give signals to know what is coming up or down. Pitchers shake off pitches. Oh, but girls have and use 5 pitches or more. Chelsea Thomas should call her own game and coach the bases too, to motivate her team mates to get her one run at a time. She didn’t get much help now did she? Shame shame shame.


  3. Paul Gallagher

    Most parent, and some coaches, in travel ball call pitches based on what they have been practicing instead of what pitches that day are working. Too often, pitches are called that make no sense for the game situation or count, and you look over at the person calling the pitches and see their frustration that the same pitch (that they’ve practiced on) is repeatedly getting smeared by the batter or ends up in the dirt or over the catchers head. It’s maddening to see a pitcher fall behind in the count as they cycle through 5 pitch types when only three would do, most of the time.


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