Understand the development of catching skills
Several manipulative skills are basic to sport performance. In these skills, a performer must gain possession or control of an object by reaching to intercept a moving object or stopping it with an implement. The most common manipulative skill is catching. Fielding in hockey also allows a player to control the ball or puck, such that it remains in the player’s control rather than bouncing or rolling away. Of these reception skills, we know the most about the development of catching.
Baseball trivia buffs never tire of recounting great outfield catches. Perhaps the greatest was Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. The score was tied 2-2, with two runners on base and no outs. Vic Wertz hit a long drive to right center field. Mays turned and ran full speed, his back to home plate. Just a few feet from the wall (which was particularly deep at New York’s Polo Grounds), he was able to stretch his arms and catch the ball, then make a tremendous throw back to the infield. The Cleveland Indians weren’t able to score that inning, and the New York Giants went on to win the game and sweep the series.
Catching is relatively difficult as a developmental task. During early childhood we see children throw and kick, even if their movement patterns are not yet proficient. But if young children catch a ball, it often reflects the skill of the thrower in getting the ball to arrive in outstretched arms. It is the interception aspect of catching that makes it difficult. With this in mind, let’s consider how catching develops and then examine interception in catching.
The goal of catching is to retain possession of the object you catch. It is better to catch an object in the hands than to trap it against the body or opposite arm because if the object is caught in the hands, the catcher can quickly manipulate it - usually by throwing it. A child’s initial catching attempts involve little force absorption. The young child pictured in figure 9.5 has positioned his hands and arms rigidly. Instead of catching the ball in his hands, he traps it against his chest. It is common to see children turn away and close their eyes in anticipation of the ball’s arrival. The next section discusses characteristics of proficient catching and then examines how children typically develop proficient catching.
Beginning catching. This young boy holds his arms and hands rigidly rather than giving with the arrival of the ball to absorb its force gradually.
© Mary Ann Roberton.
In moving from novice to proficient catching skills, as shown in figure 9.6, a child must
- learn to catch with the hands and give with the ball, thus gradually absorbing the ball’s force;
- master the ability to move to the left or the right, or forward or back, to intercept the ball; and
- point the fingers up when catching a high ball and down when catching a low one.
Proficient catching. The ball is caught with the hands, and the hands and arms give with the ball.
Developmental Changes in Catching
It is more difficult to identify developmental sequences for catching skills than for most locomotor or ballistic skills because the sequence is specific to the conditions under which the individual performs the skill. Many factors are variable in catching - for example, the ball’s size, shape (e.g., a round basketball vs. a football), speed, trajectory, and arrival point. Haubenstricker, Branta, and Seefeldt (1983) conducted a preliminary validation of a developmental sequence for arm action in two-hand catching. They used progressively smaller balls as children demonstrated better skill. Table 9.1 summarizes the sequence, which was originally outlined by Seefeldt, Reuschlein, and Vogel (1972). At 8 years of age, most of the boys and almost half of the girls tested were at the highest level of arm action. Virtually all of the children had passed through steps 1 and 2 by this time. Slightly higher percentages of boys than girls performed at higher levels at any given age, but overall this group demonstrated well-developed arm action by age 8. Table 9.1 also suggests the key observation points that can help you place performers at a developmental level.
Catching is specific to environmental and task constraints.
Strohmeyer, Williams, and Schaub-George (1991) proposed developmental sequences for the hands and body in catching a small ball (table 9.1). A unique feature of this work is that it is based on catching balls thrown directly to the catcher as well as balls thrown high or to the side of the catcher. These sequences suggest that as catchers improve, they
- are better able to move their bodies in response to the oncoming ball,
- adjust their hands to the anticipated location of the catch, and
- catch the ball in their hands.
The investigators tested their sequences on a cross section of children between 5 and 12 years old. All of the children over 8 years old made some adjustment in body position in response to the oncoming ball, and 11- to 12-year-olds successfully adjusted their body positions about 80% of the time. In contrast, this older group could properly adjust their hand positions in response to the ball only 40% of the time if the ball was thrown directly to them and less than 10% of the time if it was thrown to various positions around them.
Think of your own skill level in catching. What kinds of catching tasks do you find easy? Is there a catching task you find difficult?
Catching, like striking, involves anticipating where a ball can be intercepted as well as the ability to complete the movements that position the hands at that location. As we would expect, children better predict the ball flight as they get older, especially when the viewing time (path of the ball) is short (Lefebvre & Reid, 1998). The anticipatory aspects of manipulative skills are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this chapter.
Observing Catching Patterns
Catching can be observed from the front, allowing you to toss the ball, or from the side. It is easy to assess the product in catching tasks. One can simply record a percentage of balls successfully caught, noting the task constraints, including the size and type of ball used, the throwing distance, and the trajectory of the ball.
To assess catching skill, environmental and task constraints such as ball size and ball trajectory must be tracked and replicated.
Parents, teachers, and coaches often want to know about the movement process used in catching. Figure 9.7 "Observation Plan for Catching" provides a suggested developmental sequence that indicates which step the catcher demonstrates for each body component. For example, if you observe a child who extends her arms, palms up, and scoops a large ball thrown to her, trapping it against her chest, all without moving her feet, the developmental levels would be step 3 for arm action, step 1 for hand action, and step 1 for body action.
Illustrations © Mary Ann Roberton.