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How to protect catchers knees from injury

How to Protect the Knees of a Catcher

The position of the catcher is one that arguably (I will argue that because I was a catcher myself) requires the least amount of movement during the game with the possible exception of the first baseman. The catcher will have to stand from time to time in throwing the ball to the bases, chase errant pitches that get behind them and cover home plate when a runner is coming in.

However, catchers are arguably the most likely to suffer from long term issues with their knees because of the excessive squatting that they must perform through most of the game. In fact, many doctors report that while softball injuries do not occur as often as many contact sports, the most frequent comes from catchers who have usually injured their knees over time.

The pain and discomfort are actually worse for teenagers who are still in the process of growing. In many cases, teenagers will often quit the position and find another on the softball field in order to avoid damaging their knees even more. However, once the damage has been done, many catchers have reported continual pain in their knees long after their playing days are over with.

So, the problem is just exactly how can a catcher protect their knees while still performing at a high level during the game? To answer that, it is important to fully understand what is happening and then taking the appropriate steps to ensure that any damage to the knees are minimal at best.

What Causes Pain in the Knees?

The causes for the pain are rather straightforward. The deep squatting actually pulls on the tendons and squishes the cartilage in the knees. Then, rising from that position to throw adds even more stress which starts to break down the cartilage and puts even more pressure on the tendons as well.

In some ways, it causes injuries similar to repetitive motion that leaves the knees weaker and more susceptible to injury. Quite often, a single event that causes a tendon or ligaments to snap was set up by the years of abuse caused by being in a prolonged squatting position.

If not corrected soon, catchers will also suffer muscle damage to the knees as well, leaving them in chronic pain which is only exacerbated when standing, walking or jogging. Many catchers have suffered from permanent damage to their knees which have crippled their mobility.

How Can Knee Problems Be Avoided?

However, despite the rather dire sounding issues that surround the knees of a catcher, there have been several advances in how to prevent these injuries from taking place. Prevention is the best form of knee protection since you avoid all the issues that can crop up in your future. The earlier you act to protect your knees, the less likely you will suffer an injury or have to endure long term pain.

What follows are some simple, yet effective ways to protect your knees while being the catcher of your team. The more you can do to protect your knees, the longer you can play without discomfort or putting your knees in jeopardy of being injured.

Knee-Savers: This is an interesting invention that is about as simple as it gets. A knee-saver is a little cushioned block that sits atop the back of the shin guards. This physically prevents the catcher from squatting fully down on their knees. The purpose is to increase the angle between the thigh and the knee which results in less stress being placed on the tendons, muscles and cartilage.

Currently, there are no long term studies that have been performed to know if knee-savers really work. However, simply increasing the angle of the knee from the thigh does offer some relief.

Stretches: This is the most traditional way to help avoid injuries to the knees. The purpose of the stretching is two-fold, to gain more flexibility so that the tendons and cartilage can be stretched further without injury and to strengthen the muscles in the knees as well. Interestingly enough, the best types of stretches are lunges and squats which will put the knee in a similar position, but not as much as the deep squatting that occurs during the game.

These types of stretches will help the tendons and muscles maintain their proper form and also loosen them up so that they are less susceptible to injury. In addition, it is recommended that catchers stretch after the game as well to help the muscles wind down.

Seek Immediate Treatment: As soon as any pain is felt or injury has occurred, it is best to seek out a physical therapist immediately. This is because the earlier the injury or pain can be addressed. The more likely a catcher will be to fully recover. At this point, a catcher should obtain a “patella-femoral brace” which will stability the kneecap and keep it properly aligned to help prevent further injury.

Plus, icing the area of pain can take down the swelling and also help in the recovery process as well by actually increasing the blood flow which accelerates the healing process as well.

Other Tips to Avoid Injury

In addition to knee-savers and stretches, catchers can employ a number of other methods to keep their knees healthier. Remember, it’s not just the time during the game that puts pressure on your knees, it also happens during practice as well.

During practice, keep a bucket of balls nearby so you don’t have to get up and chase them if the pitcher should fire one past you. Also, instead of squatting, sit on a small bucket, stool or cooler so that the pressure is off your knees. Limit the time you spend in the deep squatted position as much as possible during practice sessions.

In addition to your knees, keeping your hips, quadriceps and gluteus in shape will also take some pressure off of your knees. You’ll want to perform additional exercises away from practice that strengthens your core muscles and all of your leg muscles so that you have more overall strength and flexibility as well. This should also include your calves and hip flexors as well.

By taking a total approach, catchers can minimize the risk of long term damage to their knees with a combination of pre and post game stretches, exercises, knee-savers and limiting the time during practice of being in the deep squatted position.


Fundamentals of Catching: Part 1 Blocking

As a catcher myself and training throughout the years this is one skill that has been to me an after thought to many catchers and coaches. Although, It’s unrealistic to expect a pitcher to throw a perfect strike every pitch, and in some situations, the pitch might be out of the strike zone on purpose. As such, it’s crucial for every catcher to be skilled in blocking. When a ball is in the dirt, you only have one job: Prevent the ball from getting past you. But don’t let this responsibility daunt you.

Catching might not by glorious or popular, but in my opinion it’s the most important spot on the field. If a catcher can’t catch, the pitcher can’t pitch, and it all starts with proper blocking technique. So take the following tips to heart and you’ll be unstoppable behind the plate.

In part one we will take a look at the stance. We truly have to put ourselves in a position to be able to get our feet out from under us and get our knees to the ground. The only thing that can slow us down is our feet, but lets not allow that to happen. We first have to get into a stance that allows you to move your feet quickly when necessary. This stance, again, should be balanced with a strong lower-half and a relaxed upper-half. What this means is your legs should be in a flexed position (strong) and the upper-half of your body (chest, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands) should be in a relaxed state to be able to react quickly. Let’s compare this to our hitting and fielding stances.  How should you feel in your stance? It is very similar to any athletic stance. Flexed lower and Relaxed Upper. Create a rhythm to stay loose, just like in your batting stance. Relaxed muscles are fast muscles!

Stay tuned for more catching tips.

Fundamentals of Hitting

Hitting a softball is not easy if you don’t have the right fundamentals nailed down. Coaches emphasize correct softball hitting fundamentals because they know: for players to be successful at the plate they need to have the fundamentals properly aligned.

If you’re a softball player and want to learn more about the hitting fundamentals of the game here is a quick review of what you need to know:

Fundamentals of Batting

Quick Hints And Drills—Coach Angela Long

Knees inside feet
60-40 wt distribution
Two eye look
Soft arms; bat more in fingers
Step to hit/feet together stride then hit drill/out front tees
Soft stride-pillow-ball of big toe-slightly closed
Contact-palm up palm down/stop the bat to prevent roll
Hit vs firm front side
Short to it long through it—big zone drill-long tee
Good hitters take pitchers in their legs!!!!!! High tees drill
Hands inside the ball-back toss/fence drill/throwing drills/inhibitor drills.
Trigger drills-step back-walk up-tap drills-fungo self toss
Ball on heel to check wt transfer
Mound tee and mound toss as well as double tee drill for uppercutters
Track pitches in bullpen-foot down-hands back-work on load
Bp-other way first/Tony Gwynn 56

Swing Mechanics

  1. Set-up
    Balanced and comfortable athletic position

    1. Lower half of body flexed and balanced
      – Knees slightly bent and weight on balls of feet
      – A square set-up with the feet is preferred for simplicity
    2. Upper half of body tall, level, and square
      – Tall—back relatively straight
      – Level—eyes, head, shoulders, and hips on level plane
      – Arms and elbows relaxed and bent
    3. Grip should be comfortable and tension free with the fingers. Usually with middle knuckles of the top hand in between the middle and large knuckles of the bottom hand
    4. Rhythm and movement—Hitters should have some kind of constant movement in the set-up. Not a stationary position!
  2. Start
    Making a movement away from the pitcher prior to initiating the swing

    1. No start causes premature weight transfer with stride.
    2. Weight remains inside of feet at all times.
    3. Number of ways to get started:
      – Knee cock—front knee moves inward toward back knee
      – Push back—front foot pushes body back
      – Roll back—front side rolls toward back side
      – Hand trigger—back and up
      – Many more ways and combinations
    4. Hands get started with movement back
    5. Getting back early and soon are keys to a good start, which occurs prior to the pitcher’s release point.
    6. General rule—pitcher turns and hitter gets started
  3. Stride separation
    Power position in which to start the bat toward the ball

    1. Stride foot must be down before the swing starts.
    2. Stride should be directly toward the pitcher with the front foot closed.
    3. Direction of the stride helps determine plate coverage
    4. As a general rule, the hitter’s head should move 1/2 the distance of his stride length.
    5. Stride should be against/on a soft front leg with the weight balanced
    6. Bat and hands are in the launch position (4-8 inches back from shoulder) upon stride landing
    7. Hips, shoulder, and head should stay relatively tall, level, and square upon the foot landing
    8. Back leg should be bent (ride it out), not straight (falling off the back side), when the front foot lands
    9. Timing is different for all hitters depending on body type, stride length, stride height, swing path, and bat speed.
  4. Approach
    Hands start the swing down and inside to create a shorter path to the ball but a longer path through the contact areas

    1. Once the stride foot lands, hands and backside of body rotate down through the zone with hips and shoulders relatively level throughout.
    2. Contact is made out in front in relation to the body. Inside pitch is hit farther out in front than the pitch away.
    3. Bottom hand starts the swing and the front arm stays bent until it straightens naturally out in front near contact.
    4. Hands should be “palm up, palm down” at contact with eyes and chin slightly down.
    5. If “on time” contact is made against firm front side with the back leg in an “L” position and balanced.
    6. The swing turns the body, not the body turning the swing.
    7. Let the front side “see the ball” and the back side “hit the ball.”
  5. Finish
    Create length through the hitting zone with extension out front

    1. Finish naturally the swing that was started. Do not try to “help,” “quicken,” or “add power” to the swing by forcing or shortening the finish.
    2. The body should be balanced and relatively level on the finish.
    3. The swing should finish at shoulder level or higher. If you finish below the shoulders, it will signal that you cut the swing off prematurely.
    4. Most swings will end up shoulder height or slightly above. A low finish is usually a sure sign of a swing that has been cut-off prematurely. The head and eyes should be on the contact point throughout contact. To ensure this head position is there long enough, practice leaving head and eyes on the contact point until the swing is completed. Shoulders rotate around the chin during the swing and the chin ends up touching the back shoulder upon completion of the swing.

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Hello and welcome to the new PLAY BALL! blog. I’m so glad you’re here; I hope you find some interesting and helpful information, new ideas, and opportunities to join the conversation! Here’s where you’ll find the latest & greatest news on everything about women’s softball – from cool product updates, tips and drills, information on recruiting to interviews with leaders in women’s softball.


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Until next time friends…

Angela Long