Benji Johnson

Blocking for Youth Catchers: Why Being Overaggressive is Just As Bad As Being Passive

Favorite Quote: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."

 Benji played 3 years at the University of North Carolina where he was fortunate to have been part of two national runners up teams during his tenure at UNC. He played in the College World Series in 2006 and 2007 and says one of his sweetest memories from the world series was in 2006 when he caught a throw from his pitcher who had just fielded a squeeze bunt and he threw his body infront of home plate to stop the runner from scoring. It is this kind of play that took Benji to the next level when he was drafted by his favorite childhood team, the Atlanta Braves.  Today Benji works locally and remotely with aspiring catchers and has the popular catching site benjijohnsoncatching.com and the social media accounts below.

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Summary and Action Plan below


10-12 years old, guys just getting started - the biggest issue he encounters is mental/emotional: In practice: Being afraid of the ball, how bad it’s going to hurt, not quite sure about getting down

Gametime: fear of making a mistake, letting someone down.

Benji doesn’t believe in just getting more reps to improve their performance, rather completely changing the mindset of the player.

To get a kid to be a more aggressive blocker he can tell them that their effort is really helping the team and pitcher...and for some that’s enough to make them compete at their best.

For others, drill progressions are a better route to work them into a natural block.

Everyone has flight or fight response, when the ball comes flying at you the kid is either going to 1. Get out of the way of it, or 2. Attack it aggressively….and neither one of those work.

Progressions start with extremely easy challenge:

Instead of ball bouncing at them he starts with rolling the ball. And not even fielding the ball with the glove, just the bare hands.

Once they build confidence in those actual proper movements then you can start to move into drills with the ball bouncing toward them.

When a kid gets TOO aggressive trying to block the ball. Any time you get aggressive think about the emotion...you get tense, you try to do too much.

Instead of “absorbing” the ball they attack the ball and basically become a hard object themselves, so instead of the ball deadening, the ball careens off of the body much too far.

An example of a somewhat aggressive blocker who gets himself too forward too often is Gary Sanchez with the Yankees. He had a few balls in last year’s ALDS vs Astros where he botched a few blocks when he went down and balls kicked off of him.

His timing was usually off. He was late, his hips kind of sink down and shoot forward, which is common with kids who are overly-aggressive. Their hips shoot forward and put themselves in bad angles and the ball bounces off all over the place.

You want to be a “pillow” back there, not be aggressive.

Benji started catching because he got hit in the face with a grounder in the infield and was a little afraid of the ball, so he put the gear on...and how he fought his fear was by being overly aggressive. So he had to teach himself how to be calm and allow the block to come to him.

A couple of things to help be softer (caveat: every kid is different). Most important is rhythm and timing. If they get down too late then they’ll be rushing and movements wil be a bit more panicked and fast.

Two timings:

  1. Segment timing of the body movements (hands down first, then knees, then chest, etc)

  2. Timing with the pitch (when body segmenting above needs to initiate)

Favorite drills

Rolling drills are great to minimize the challenge to maximize the movement. Once they master the movement (while keeping their emotions in check...no fear in them) then you can increase the challenge.

Benji loves rolling balls at the boys, watching them simply work on their movements (body timing) and then throw the ball to them on a hop.

Young guys should definitely be working side to side (lateral blocks) in the rolling block drills also.

Kids are taught to angle their bodies back to home plate on a lateral block, which is problematic because kids will over rotate, exposing their side to the ball instead of their gear...or the ball hits their gear but bounces off an awkward direction.

Benji preaches maintaining squareness to the pitcher. This will enable you to best control the ball.

Now, variability is necessary because controlling a fastball in the dirt is different than controlling a breaking ball, so this isn’t a single set-in-stone movement.

Because young players don’t have much lower body strength yet, they will lift their bodies with their shoulders and sort of “flop” to the side. Not idea. You want your legs to move you side to side, so leg and core strength are very helpful for a young catcher.

Hands go first, and it’s an opposite leg push on lateral block.

Catchers need to use the game situation to plan their anticipation.

Some coaches want their catchers to block everything. Benji likes for his catchers to only block in blocking situations so they can focus on proper receiving. Though you have to be careful giving a young catcher (8,9,10 y.o.) that responsibility to go back and forth.

A major leaguer that is a great example of a good blocker:

Roberto Perez with the Indians, Yan Gomes too.

Robinson Chirinos with the Rangers is a talented blocker too.

Lucroy is great at absorbing the ball with his midsection.

Kids younger than 12 years old we should try to stress staying off of the knee, just to work on coordination of reaching with the glove...but as they get older there is no real problem with going to the knee. Though if you make it a habit of going to a knee some umpires won’t give you that pitch. But this can influence some umpires. More movement as a catcher (going to a knee) = pitcher missed his spot = ball. Little movement = pitcher hit his spot = strike.

But most sure thing to do is to catch the ball instead of blocking. Not a major problem but try to focus on less movement and more on hand skills.

Advice for parents: Have patience.

Letting them figure it out and get comfortable, it won’t be perfect right away. There’s a lot of pressure on a catcher and wanting them to be 100% perfect right away is going to set them up for failure.


Catchers, spend your next practice session (or two or three) simply working on rolling drills, no bouncing balls. Roll 10 ground balls straight on, 10 to the left and 10 to the right.

Make sure timing is right - not late and NOT EARLY either. Just because it’s easy don’t get lazy.

Hands move down before knees. On side to side, try to push with the opposite leg to get into position, not a body flop.

Trust and use your gear, the ball won’t hurt you when you do this so don’t turn away (which can expose side and neck...which THEN the ball could hit you where it hurts). Work on absorbing, being a pillow. Being overly aggressive won’t keep the ball softly in front of you, which the best catchers do.

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