Lessons from a Misguided Pitching Coach

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I was thinking the other day about how I first got into coaching, well over a decade ago now…

I was still pitching in the minors at the time, and I had decided to join a good friend of mine in Hoboken, NJ for the winter.

For me, there were always three big things that needed addressing at the end of the season:

  • Where was I going to live?
  • Where was I going to get my throwing in?
  • How was I going to pay the bills until spring training?

So when I got to Hoboken, I did a search and found all the indoor baseball facilities in the area. I drove out and met with the owners of each of them.

And turns out, they were all looking for qualified instructors… Hmm, maybe I could actually get my throwing in, make some money to pay the bills, and help some young pitchers in the process… sounded pretty good!

But was I qualified?

I wasn’t sure about that… I knew what worked for me, but surely there were some magic drills or techniques for teaching young pitchers how to develop “good pitching mechanics.”

I don’t know about you, but that was my biggest fear starting out… I didn’t want to hurt young pitchers by teaching them bad information.

So I started doing my research, reading up on how kids learned, formed new movement patterns, etc.

And I drove far and wide to meet with pitching coaches and private instructors who had built successful businesses.

One morning I got up early and drove out to upstate New York to meet with one of them… that day was truly eye-opening and will forever stick in my memory.

The owner really seemed like a great guy. Extremely positive, passionate about helping young ballplayers… We hit it off, talked and he started showing me all the ins and outs of how he ran his business and did his pitching lessons.

He even pulled out a big binder from under the front desk… this was his coaches manual, a sort of employees handbook for new instructors.

It clearly laid out how instructors were expected to conduct lessons, along with the sequence of drills and coaching cues… I was impressed.

He had a plan in place with his business. He was setting himself up to be successful.

But there was one thing that stuck out and still gives me chills when I think about it…

It was one of the coaching cues…

“Thumbs to the thigh, fingers to the sky!”

“Nice, that’s catchy,” I thought. “I like that, easy to remember and seems to make sense”…

Then I watched a lesson…  The instructor took the pitcher into a back room with a mirror where they worked on this move… thumbs to thigh, fingers to the sky… over an over, really locking it in.

Orgainzed, I thought… I liked that it had structure. They really had a process the pitcher could follow…

But then he took me over the his viewing area to show me some videos (this was back when it was all on VHS tape). He wanted to show me some of the recruiting videos he’d put together for his guys. They seemed really well done.

But then some alarms started going off in the back of my head… I watched pitcher after pitcher, all pretty decent looking high school prospects hoping to pitch in college.

And they all looked exactly the same…

And worse, there was something that didn’t seem quite right in their pitching motion… took me a bit to put my finger on it (once you’ve been coaching as long as I have you can spot this from a mile away).

It was almost as if their motion happened in two distinct parts. They got the arms up and got out to a “power position”, then they threw.

It led to this odd pause in their delivery right around front foot plant… right at the crucial moment for transferring momentum and power… They were completely breaking the flow of momentum, robbing themselves of power.

Who knows how much velocity they were leaving in the tank!

But at the time, all I knew was that  here was this well-respected coach with a thriving business and a slew of pitchers and parents who loved what he was doing for them.

I thought, “I guess this must be how you do pitching lessons.”

And so I basically followed that model early on… I still shudder when I think about it.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I realized the error of my ways… I found pitching coaches and mentors who opened my eyes and got me back to teaching the principles of Balance, Timing and Power that had been so important to me in my own development.

Back to helping pitchers become more fluid and dynamic, showing them how to tap into their own athleticism rather than sticking to some cookie cutter approach.

And the thing is, I know that instructor above had good intentions and meant well… he was just a little misguided… That happens to the best of em.  And who knows, hopefully he’s come around and gotten away from his old, mechanical approach (it’s never too late)…

So here’s the bottom line and really the main lesson here…

Even though I don’t agree with what that instructor was teaching, I’m grateful I took the trip out there and that he was generous enough to have me sit in with him.

Because I learned two very important things…

One…

  • I learned the danger of using bad pitching drills

(Despite what some say, drills do work… both for good and for ill. Use them wisely)

And two…
  • I learned the power of having a System

First, arm yourself with good information… then have a solid plan for implementing it.

Here’s one of the things I hear a lot from parents – let me know if this sounds familiar.

“I have a good idea what my son needs to work on… we just struggle with what he should be doing day to day.”

And here’s the good news… You’ll find everything you need for setting up your own custom training program inside the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint.

And sorry, this one got long in a hurry… But if you read this far, maybe you can do one more thing… Send me an email, let me know what you’re struggling with right now. I love hearing from you and want to help. Thanks!

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