Playing Catch with a Purpose

Written by VersusThu Aug 18 2022
Playing Catch with a Purpose

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Every day you play catch is an opportunity to get better. Learn how to play catch with a purpose and improve your throwing mechanics as a pitcher.

Playing Catch with a Purpose

Learn how to consistently improve your game every time you play catch.

For most people, playing catch is a fundamental part of baseball.

Whether it's with parents, family, or friends, the activity is a common introduction to the sport. Playing catch is often the first thing a player learns to do. And these early days, there’s a lot to learn.

Using a glove, throwing, running to make a catch—these basic skills can take a while for a beginner to learn.

However, once we’ve got these fundamentals covered, many of us view playing catch as nothing more than a warm-up.

It’s one of the final drills before getting stuck into practice or starting the game. A laid-back way to get loose and warm, plus shoot the breeze with teammates.

There’s no problem with any of this. But playing catch can be more—much more.

Making the Most of Every Opportunity

When you think about it, the cumulative time spent playing catch over the weeks, months, and years, represents a big opportunity to get better. 

Even spending a little of this time more focused—intentionally practicing and refining skills—can pay big dividends.

In the words of MLB legend Adam Wainwright,

“Every time you play catch is an opportunity to get better”.

We got Waino to give an exclusive video masterclass on this topic, that turned out to include WAY more information than we expected.

While the lesson is focused on pitchers—players of any position will get something out of it.

Waino covers the theory and philosophy behind playing catch with a purpose, and practice in general. He dives deep into optimum throwing mechanics for any position, plus runs through how to structure a session of catch.

This video follows on from Adam Wainwright's previous session on Stretching and Arm Care. 

You can access both videos with a subscription to Versus—plus loads more exclusive content from some of the world's best athletes and coaches. They cover everything from mindset, training routines, and all aspects of pitching & hitting. 

You’ll also get never-before-seen content from some of the biggest names in baseball and softball. Superstars like Albert Pujols, Jennie Finch, Amanda Lorenz, and of course—Adam Wainwright. 

The Versus team will give you the inside scoop on their personal sporting journeys, including discussing their early lives. They’ll explain how they managed such monumental achievements—letting you see exactly what makes a top athlete tick.

We’ve summarized many videos into articles, like this one. But seriously, if you want the full experience, head to the website or download the app to sign up. It’s the closest you’ll get to personal instruction from these legends, without trying to figure out how you’d ever manage to get 1:1 time with them.

Now, let’s get back to the topic for today.

Every Time You Grab a Ball—It Matters

Waino starts the video with these words of wisdom; setting the tone for the rest of the training. You’ll also hear him talk about “perfect practice,” which means throwing at practice like would in the game.

Both of these statements get to the core of Waino’s philosophy on training. 

Put simply, Adam believes that the best way for a player to level up is by focusing on every opportunity that presents itself to get better, while always practicing the way you want to play in the game.

As an interesting side note, Tim Walton, world-renowned college softball coach, also has similar beliefs about practice. We cover them in our article: How to Develop the Ultimate Practice Plan.   

First up, we’ll start by looking at how Waino plans a session of catch.

Gradually Increase the Distance

This might sound obvious, but you want to throw from different distances while playing catch.

Waino runs through short, medium, and long distances in a session, using the following as a rough guide:

  • Short - 35 to 40 feet
  • Medium - 50 to 60 feet
  • Long - 60 to 70 feet

He starts in short, just to get the flow of the arm moving properly. 

Waino’s advice here is to make sure from the outset to throw like you plan to in the game. 

He hits all his ideal set points in each throw, making sure his hands break at the right time, and his feet and the rest of his body are always where they need to be.

After a little while up close, Waino moves out to a medium distance where he pays particular attention to his throwing line.

Always Keep it on a Line 

Now, while Waino does go quite far back while playing catch, he only goes as far as he can keep throwing on a good line. 

This is an important point.

While pitchers might be a little more focused on maintaining a downward angle to replicate throwing from the mound, maintaining a good line is essential for all players. 

The purpose of playing catch generally isn’t to practice throwing long airballs—it's to get in some strong, straight throws to a target—just like you want to be doing in the game.

So, the rule for playing catch is, only go back so far as you can maintain a good throwing line.

By all means, build up your throwing distance over time but once you lose your straight line, it’s time to come in a bit closer.

Keep Your Hands Close to the Body      

One of Waino’s biggest pointers is to keep your hands close to the body while throwing.

The key is paying close attention to hand positioning during the break. 

As Waino explains, if the hands shoot away from the body at the break, your arm path is going to be an arc that has to swing back in to finish the pitch. This will result in a big loss of power and control.

Instead, keep your hands close to your body throughout the throw—efficiently staying right down the line and straight towards your target.

Point Your Chin at the Target

In Waino’s words,

“If you keep your chin pointed towards the target, everything else seems to fall in line.” 

This cue is keeping your chin aligned with the target as long as possible which can be a huge help for anyone spinning off and losing their throw arm side up, or ‘pull-hooking’ it down.

As well as aiming your chin, Waino recommends making sure to get your body way out in front of your knee. Focus on “really throwing all the way through your delivery, right through the target—not to your target”. 

Put another way, don’t just try to get the ball to your partner. Aim to shoot it right through them along that straight throwing line like if they weren’t there, it would still hit a target on the same line 10 feet or so behind them.

Be Consistent When Throwing Long

When you’re playing long catch, be consistent with how you want to throw in the game. Again, the main mistake people make involves getting sloppy with footwork.

When throwing long, you’ll likely need some added momentum to get the power to keep that straight line. To do this, Waino utilizes a two-step movement that he can consistently replicate in game.

He lines up straight and steps forward with his front foot. The back foot trails and goes behind the front foot, allowing the addition of some momentum into the throw.  

Here are some pictures to demonstrate.

All the standard throwing cues discussed so far still apply here:

  • Chin pointed at the target
  • Throw all the way through
  • Body in front of the knee

Keep a Soft Front Side

This final point comes through better on video, but we’ll do our best to describe it here. Waino recommends keeping a “soft front side” for two reasons.

The first is simple. Keeping a soft front leg ensures that you finish a throw in a strong athletic fielding position—not stiff and off-balance. 

The second point relates to the front arm and shoulder. Waino explains how some people teach pitchers to actively pull down hard with the front arm and shoulder—in an attempt to get more velocity on the ball.

While this sounds workable in theory, Waino explains how that in practice that it tends to pull a pitcher’s head and front side off target. This results in a situation of having to ‘wing’ the throwing arm through, placing a lot more pressure on the arm, while also making an accurate pitch more difficult. 

Waino’s advice—keep the front arm soft. That way you can focus all your energy and attention on getting that back throwing arm right on target—just how you want it. 

By keeping a soft front side, Waino states...

“my back leg and arm can really whip through—and I can explode through the pitch.”

Never Waste an Opportunity to Get Better 

Waino’s approach to the simpler aspects of training—like stretching and arm care, and playing catch—gives a unique insight into one of the core practices that’s no doubt contributed to his lasting success.

Hearing him speak on these topics, it's clear that Waino literally never wastes an opportunity to get better

It goes without saying that any player at an elite level puts in 100% when practicing their specific skills. But to be on top and still be so intentional and thorough about the basics—that's unexpected.

Yet this relentless dedication to improvement is a common theme among all the Versus athletes and coaches. 

All of these top performers embody the belief that any time you pick up a ball, bat, or glove—any time you even think about your chosen sport, or train your body in general—is an opportunity to get better. 

So whatever you do, if you want to make it to the next level—never waste an opportunity to get better!

To learn how to get the most out of your unique sporting potential, head over to the Versus website or download the app to sign up. 

You’ll get access to all of Adam Wainwright’s exclusive training videos—plus loads more next-generation digital training tools, from our team of world-class elite athletes and coaches.

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