In this post I am going present a very interesting analysis relative to catching the football. While breaking down film with one of the players I do one to one coaching with I noticed something that was affecting his ability to catch the ball consistently.  He was actually closing his eyes just prior to the ball hitting his hands.

So, I took him out to the field to do further evaluations of his catching skills.  As I threw the ball to him from five yards away at a pretty good pace he was actually forming a defensive posture with his body on several catches.  In other words, he was protecting himself from the ball and moving away from it as well as closing his eyes.

In reality, this would be a natural, instinctual response to anything that was traveling towards a person at a high velocity.

What I am going to elaborate on here is what I call predator/prey instincts.  Predators attack and prey retreat.  If a person is attacked they will typically go into a mode of retreat or protection.  If you throw an object at someone at a high rate of speed their instincts tell them to move away from the object, put their hands up to protect themselves, and close their eyes.

Obviously, we don’t want a receiver to react as prey would when throwing a football at them. We want to teach the receiver to react as the predator.  When a predator, specifically an animal, is attacking it’s prey the ears are forward, the eyes are wide open focusing on the prey, and they are moving towards the prey.  This is what we want a receiver to do, attack the football, and I will often reference this to my players when coaching them.

A receiver should never take a step backwards when a football is thrown at him because this automatically activates his prey instincts.  I want my receivers to step towards the ball as this will activate their predator instincts.  However, this is easier said than done with some receivers who are attempting to catch a football for the first time so I’m going to explain an extremely effective drill that will force the receiver to be aggressive to the ball.

I want my receivers to step towards the ball as this will activate their predator instincts.

Put the receiver’s heals on a line and then directly behind his heals place a row of five or six cones right next to one another.  Stand no further than five yards away from the receiver and throw the ball at him with a good deal of velocity.  The receiver is not to touch a cone which means he can not take a step backwards!  He must stand firm and not retreat in any way.

I did this with the receiver who had been closing his eyes and retreating from the ball and something amazing happened.  He caught ten straight balls without flinching.  What this drill did was force the receiver into a predator mode whereas he could not retreat.  It enhanced his focus as his eyes were wide open and he had no choice but extend for the ball and catch it as he could not retreat.  This plays on what is called the fight or flight instinct.  I put the receiver in a position where he had no choice but to fight!  He had to focus intently on the ball and catch it as this was the only way he could prevent the ball from hitting him.

To summarize, human reactions and instincts are no different than any animal.  If you understand these basic instincts, as a coach, it will help you understand how to solve a fundamental problem such as this one.  This could also apply to the player who is afraid of contact and goes into a defensive mode upon contact.  Develop drills that will force  your players to be the aggressor!  Once they are able to switch their instincts from prey to predator their confidence will sore and their performance will increase!  To see a drill to help with catching instincts click here.

Coach Van Tassel




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