Time to wade into controversy…ask any random handful of coaches this question, and one will either get an answer of “Yes!”, “No Way!”, or “Depends on the Catcher”. This old catcher who was raised by a catcher tends to fall on the “Yes!” side of the argument, though I will allow that sometimes it “Depends on the Pitcher.” And no, that is not a typo.
In my opinion, every catcher should be calling the pitches for the game as soon as she is catching a pitcher who has more than one pitch and can locate her pitches. I will use my own 11 year-old daughter as an example (who, by the way, is a fantastic little catcher and way better than I was when I was 11 years-old). When she was 10 during the 10U Spring Rec season, she caught a couple of young 9 year-old pitchers who were still trying to get strikes over the plate consistently, and there was really no pitches to call other than fastball right down the middle of the plate.
However, later that same year catching a great 13 year-old pitcher in our 14U Winter Ball season, she called her own game because her pitcher could locate four different pitches. My daughter was up to the task and quickly figured out what worked and what did not in a given situation. We lost the first two games of the season (and yes, probably partly due to her learning on the job), but then won the rest of the games that season and finished comfortably in first place by three games.
There are numerous advantages to allowing catchers to call their own game. First and foremost, they become better ball players because they are forced to think about each pitch, to read the batter and the game situation, and to develop a feel for what works with their pitcher that day. They become incredibly tuned to the game and literally become a coach on the field over time. Take it from me, watching a catcher grow into her position is a great thing to see.
There are also other advantages as well. When the pitches are being called from the dugout, it tends to take more time as the catcher sees the pitch call and then relays it out to the pitcher. The longer it takes to call the pitch, the longer my entire team is standing out there in the hot sun (or the cold rain, or whatever) wearing down without anything happening. The longer they are out there, the less sharp the defense tends to be, which leads to errors, which leads to even more time out there instead of eating sunflower seeds in the dugout. Even if the pitcher and catcher take the call from the dugout together (without the catcher relaying the signal), then both players take their focus off the field and put it into the dugout when they should be focused out on the field.
Also, the pitcher is much more likely to shake off the catcher if she is calling the game than if the coach is calling the game. The pitcher too should develop a sense of what pitch and location works best in what situation so that she can get a better feel for the game and become a better player. It is too easy for her to just become a robot out there if the coach is calling every pitch.
Finally, if a coach is calling pitches from the dugout, everybody can see his signals, and everybody on the opposing team can begin to figure out what the signals are. I have seen All-Star games lost because parents knew when the change-up was coming because they had cracked the other team’s signals, shouting out “Here comes the change!” before the pitcher began her windup. The coach invariably becomes frustrated, and the pitcher tended to fall apart, when that happened. If a catcher is calling the game and shielding her signs well, only the pitcher and the infielders can see what pitch is coming.
Most coaches at the Rec level or the Rec All-Star level seem very uncomfortable allowing their catchers to call the game. I am convinced that this is not because the catcher is incapable of figuring out how to do so, but because coaches are afraid of losing and think that, as adults, they can call a better game than their pre-teen catcher can. Initially, that may be the case until the catcher figures it out, but I firmly believe that eventually that catcher will do a better job than her coach if given the chance. The coach is on the sidelines managing the game, while the catcher is *in* the game and certainly has a better idea of a pitch’s movement and how the umpire is calling the game that day.
Early in my daughter’s first season calling her games, I would make a pitch call maybe two or three times a game. Generally, though, I let her learn during the game on her own. Of course I provided guidance before and after games, but I try not to instruct any of my players during the game. I do call plays from the bench, particularly 1st and 3rd plays, and once in a long while I may still call a single pitch from the bench (though I have not done so this season so far).
We coaches, particularly at the Recreation level, are supposed to be turning girls who happen to play softball into softball players. Winning should be secondary. Players should be allowed to grow which includes making mistakes and learning from them. This goes double for catchers. Plus, it has been my experience that having a catcher who calls her own games leads to victory anyway.