How to Strengthen Your Hands as a Football Wide Receiver

There are a number of elements that go into catching a football, but soft hands and concentration are two of the most pertinent. Before we get into drills that will help you improve upon both, let’s talk a little bit about the proper way to catch a football and why it matters.

There are two ways to catch a football: with your hands and with your body. Most everything you will ever read or hear will tell insist that receivers should only catch the ball with their hands, but there are exceptions. Namely over-the-shoulder catches. 9’s and other downfield routes are focused on exposing a mismatch at top speed and are meant to be hit in stride with peak separation. In theory, a good ball from the quarterback on these routes will land “in the bucket” and you’ll pull them into your chest. If you are led by the ball a bit further, you will still need to reach and haul it in with your hands, but this is the primary situation where a receiver will catch the ball with their body. Turning to catch it with their hands would erase the separation they’ve created and minimize the success of the route.

In most every other situation, catching the ball with your hands will be advantageous. Extending the arms to meet the football creates distance between the football and the defender, and will allow you to determine when a pass becomes contested. High-pointing the ball and using your full catch radius will allow for more precise decision making and less defended passes. Now let’s get into how you can strengthen your hands to start winning these little battles more often.

Drills for improving hands and concentration as a wide receiver

We will start off with concentration, and for these drills, you will need a couple of tennis or lacrosse balls and a wall to bounce them off of or a friend to throw them to you.

Two-handed catches

Starting with just one ball, throw it off the wall or have your partner throw you the ball to varying areas of the body—your chest, head, hips and shoulders. Extend your arms and focus on seeing the ball into your hands with your eyes. This may seem over-simplified, but focussing on a smaller object and seeing it into both of your hands will translate directly to catching the football. Concentration is the key here. Catch 20-30 balls like this and keep your concentration up for each rep.

One-handed catches

With the same intent and focus from the first drill, move onto catching the ball with just one hand. Everything from the two-handed drill translates here, but catch 10-20 balls with each hand all over and around your body. Having the confidence to go after the football with either hand is important, and you can train that confidence into yourself by working your hands in this drill.

Reverse catches

Start with your back to your partner, and on their signal—”go” or “now” or whatever other word you choose—turn to face them and catch the ball with one or two hands. Practicing both will lead to an expanded arsenal of decisions when you are in the game. This drill will simulate the top of breaking routes and help you improve reaction time.

Now that you know have some simple drills to work on your concentration and hands, let’s get to strengthening those hands. Grab a football and a partner for these drills.

Sit-up catches

Sit-up catches are extremely simple, yet they train a key element of playing the position: catching the ball while moving. Start off laying on your back, do a full sit up, and have your partner throw you the ball as you are approaching the top of the movement. In addition to practicing your hand-eye coordination in motion, you will be strengthening your core.

Up-down high point drill

This is another conditioning workout that forces receivers to focus on winning the battle at the catch point. Athleticism and strong hands are key to reeling in high-point catches. To do the drill, you will complete an up-down or burpee and have your partner throw you passes that are targeted to the far reach of your catch radius. By doing the explosive motion of the up-down, you will be training to improve your vertical as well as training your mind to believe you can get to any ball. This drill will be exhausting and potentially frustrating. Channel your focus and push through to see the results.

Goal post catches

Stand behind the goal post with your arms extended past it. Angle your head to see the pass and watch the ball into your hands. This drill will force you to work on only catching the ball with your hands, and should be done in a high volume. Consider it like free-throw practice. Aim to catch 25 in a row, then up the stakes to 50 and even 100. Forcing yourself to only use your hands will eliminate the temptation to involve your body in catches that it doesn’t belong in during games.

By practicing each of these pass-catching drills—alone and with a partner; with a football and without—you will inevitably improve both your concentration and the strength of your hands. Master each of these controllable elements as a wide receiver and the ceiling of your potential will grow exponentially!

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