AHhh… spring is in the air, the MLB season is officially underway, and I’ve got the soundtrack from “The Natural” pumping in the background…

Makes me wanna get outside and throw the ball around!

Alas, those days are over…

So instead, on this fine spring day, I’m gonna share a little tidbit for maximizing your throwing program I picked up from my JERK teammate (at least that’s what I thought of him at the time).

It’s my freshman year at Northwestern, and I’m coming off a fall and winter of rehab and limited throwing.

After a thorough introduction to the brutal cold of winter in Chicago, we’re finally getting outside as a staff to get our throwing in.

Coach Stodds takes us out onto the football turf while the position players are working on… whatever they do when us pitchers aren’t around.

I’m pumped to finally be able to air it, let it go… unleash my arm after being forced to keep it contained… and at the same time I’m a little nervous.

I got paired up with one of the seniors – he was built more like a bodybuilder than a pitcher, and let’s just say he wasn’t the friendliest of guys.

I could tell he wasn’t especially happy to be throwing with me, either… In his mind, I was just a DUMB freshman who was probably gonna steal innings from him.

And with the perspective you only get when removed by time and a thousand-plus games, I can look back now and realize he was pretty much spot on.

I had a LOT to learn…  (and he made sure I knew it)

Anyway, we work it back to about 120 feet, then 150… and I have ZERO feel for the ball.

Every throw from HIM hits me right in the chest.

Every throw I make forces him to reach up (or JUMP up) to keep it from flying over his head.

I can tell he’s getting annoyed.

Then I completely airmail one 10 feet high, sending him trotting after it. I hear him say to a fellow senior, “Are you KIDDING me with this guy?”

He fires it back at me on a line and hits me right in the chest…

My next throw?

15 feet over his head.

This time I can literally SEE the fire burning in his eyes…

He gets the ball, regroups, and in angry fit of rage proceeds to launch one 100 ft over my head…

I watch it sail over and CLANG against the metal bleachers halfway up the stadium steps.

“What a complete #&*%!”   I think to myself.

I turn to glare back at him, only to be met by a smile and look that says, “No, YOU’RE the #&%!”

“Go get the BALL!” he shouts.

I can hear some my teammates laughing, telling him to take it easy on me as I’m climbing the steps to retrieve the ball.

But I also realized (even though I didn’t appreciate his approach) he was right…

Here I was playing D1 baseball and I can’t even go through my throwing program without it turning into a circus. Something had to change.

I had to demand MORE of myself, hold myself to a higher standard…

I had to learn to make an ADJUSTMENT.

As I geared up for my next throw I was fuming…. But I was also determined NOT to overthrow it and give him more ammunition.

I purposely reset my sights LOW, made a good hard throw, and one-hopped it off the turf, hitting him right in the chest.

Gradually, my throws got more and more accurate… His anger subsided, I got in a groove, and all of sudden I was feeling pretty good.

And while I may not agree with (or condone) his approach, I will say this:

My teammate taught me a valuable lesson that day. 

It was the start of me turning into a PITCHER instead of a thrower…

And taking a new approach with my daily throwing program.

And today, it’s something I preach all the time with my pitchers…

Your daily throwing program is one of your most valuable training tools if you know how to use it.

Over the years I developed a system that worked for me. And I encourage my pitchers to try it out for themselves, while giving them the freedom to tweak things to fit their style.

And it starts right in your warmup.

They’re often amazed at first by how they can improve their command and velocity at the same time.

Every throw matters.

You can see this approach in action inside my Motion Mapping Method program (and discover a step by step process for getting IN-TUNE with your pitching delivery).

Until next time…

Committed to Your Pitching Success,

Coach Phil

PS – Dealing with “jerks” is an unfortunate fact of life… (another little tidbit – a lot of times, they’re really just mad at themselves).

Don’t let ’em get you down… Instead, look for what you can LEARN to help you get better (even if it’s from someone you think is a jerk at the time). Maybe someday you’ll even thank them for it.

In Part II of my series on the long toss debate, we took a look at some of the benefits of long toss. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re sold on long toss and want to make it a part of your regular training regimen. Well that’s great, but during the winter months that can be a bit of a problem.

See, one of the limiting factors when it comes to long toss is you need the right training environment. Key requirements:

  • Open space: A big field or open space so you can really open it up (up to 350 ft)
  • Decent throwing weather… tough to long toss when there’s a foot of snow on the ground.
  • Daylight (unless you have access to a huge indoor turf field). With the sun rising later and setting by 5pm, good daylight can be tough to come by during the winter months.
[h5]So what do you do when you can’t long toss?[/h5]

If you like long toss, that’s great. I’m all for it if you’re smart about it and it doesn’t take away from improving other aspects of your pitching. But when it comes down to it, all you really need for an adequate throwing program is a bucket of baseballs and a net.

Here are some things I used to do during the cold winter months:

My brother and I worked out a deal with the local high school Athletic Director who let us use the gymnasium to throw in the early morning before school started. We couldn’t go past 120 feet, but it was better than nothing.

One winter I lived in Hoboken, NJ and didn’t have a throwing partner nearby, so I set up a net in my garage and did my full throwing program from no more than 10 feet away. Caveat: one day a week I would drive 30 minutes to the local baseball facility to get my throwing in at a full 60 ft.

One off-season I got an apartment in FL with my brother so we could throw outside during the winter. But even then, our schedules didn’t always line up. So there were plenty of days where I would just get a ball and go seek out the nearest supermarket or Home Depot and throw against the wall near the loading dock in back.

So if you like long toss, fine that’s great, it’s just not always practical. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get your throwing in.

Bottom line, if you’re committed, you find a way. No excuses.

[h5]Here are some guidelines if you’re forced to throw inside this winter:[/h5]  
Warm up to throw, don’t throw to warm up: It’s easy to get warmed up when it’s hot and humid. In the winter you’ve got to work a little harder, but it’s critical. Sometimes when you’re throwing into a net or a wall on your own there’s a tendency to rush through it without setting aside the appropriate amount of time to get your body heated up. Don’t make this mistake!

Ease into it: Similar to the early high-arc phase of long toss, build up to full speed gradually to set the arm up well to throw max effort safely. Again, avoid rushing. Once your arm is really feeling good, then you can start letting it go.

Use step behinds: Throwing this way helps you simulate long toss and get some of the same benefits (throwing with good momentum, getting your arms and legs in sync).

Use a radar gun for instant feedback: One of the biggest benefits of long toss is the instant feedback it provides. To throw far, you have to throw hard. Using a radar gun can give you that same kind of instant feedback to know when you’re implementing more efficient mechanics.

So if you can’t get outside to throw this winter, don’t use it as an excuse to not get your throwing in. You can still get plenty of quality throwing done when the environment is less than ideal. And as you get closer to the start of your pre-season, make sure you’re spending more and more time pitching on the mound.
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This summer I was sitting outside watching my two year old play in our front yard. She’d given me one of her toys to hold, a little plastic animal, and noticing her bucket (she’d been playing with a pail and shovel) about 15 feet away, I decided to play around and take a shot. To my surprise, it went right in on my first try (it gave her a good laugh, too).

I’m a strong believer that there’s far too much early specialization when it comes to youth sports today. But that’s a bigger discussion and probably warrants an entire series of articles all its own.

Today I just want to discuss how playing other sports as a child can make you a better pitcher. I’m focusing on basketball because a) it’s what I know, and b) it relates directly to the way most people think about accuracy and good mechanics.

With pitching, we as coaches and parents tend to place a lot of emphasis on mechanics. And for good reason… you need good mechanics to throw hard with consistency. But when it comes to accuracy, thinking too much about mechanics is a recipe for disaster. It’s tough to throw strikes when you have 5 people yelling at you:

“Bend your back!”    “You’re flying open!”    “Get your arm up!”
[h5]How are you supposed to focus on hitting the glove
when you’re thinking about where your arm is?[/h5] Growing up I played a lot of basketball, and I kept playing all the way through high school. The age of specialization was coming, but hadn’t fully arrived. We had a hoop out back, and I spent countless hours out there taking shots from all over the blacktop. And I developed a pretty good outside shot.

Are good mechanics important in basketball?

Sure. Good form certainly helps, it just isn’t emphasized the way it is in baseball. When a player misses a shot, how often do you hear a coach blame poor mechanics? A coach might have you practice hitting 50 free throws, but he’s not critiquing you after each miss. “Bend your knees! Use your legs! Get your elbow in! Extend your arm!” …at least not if he’s a good coach.

Focus on the desired result: When you practice a shot in basketball, focusing on the path you want the ball to take, imagining it go through the net, is usually a lot more effective that thinking about having good form. Repeating a shot over and over allows you to get the feel for it. Sure, a mechanical adjustment might help if you are wildly inconsistent. But overall, just finding what works and getting that feel and repeating it is the better approach. Why should pitching be any different?

Why are some players such awful free throw shooters?

Free throws are the only time you shoot when the game is stopped. You’re not in your natural rhythm. In short, there’s too much time to think. Players start thinking about things like mechanics and past negative outcomes and get into what I call right-brained thinking. But often, you see the same player make that shot in the natural flow of the game, no problem.

The same principles apply in pitching… You’re out there alone on the mound, nothing happens until you throw the ball. If you can stay loose and in flow, you give yourself the best shot at executing a quality pitch. If you start worrying and obsessing about mechanics, you don’t have a shot.

Now I’d never practiced that shot with the toy outside before that moment, so how did my body know what to do? Simple. I wasn’t worried about mechanics.

I’ve been throwing, tossing, shooting things all my life – baseballs, basketballs, footballs (heck, you can also throw in there tennis balls, apples, rocks, snowballs and a slew of other objects light enough to hold and toss). I know what throwing a heavy object feels like, I know what throwing a light object feels like.

Now if I took that same shot 20 times, would I make it every time? Not a chance. Was luck involved? Maybe. But the point is, I made the shot without giving an ounce of thought to mechanics or where my release point needed to be. I just felt the weight of the toy, and my mind told my body exactly what it needed to do to throw it in the bucket.

You’ve probably had experiences like this before. Ever make a wild basketball shot, or throw a crumpled up paper into a trash can? How did your body learn how to do that?

The mind/body connection is more powerful than most people realize. Doctors and scientists don’t even completely understand how it works, but there’s no denying it. And you enhance this connection when you play more than one sport.

This is also one of the benefits of long toss. You learn how to hit a target from different distances. It takes you out of the confines of the pitching delivery – you can stop thinking “I need to have perfect mechanics” – and gives you instant feedback. You can read more about that here: The Long Toss Debate (Part II): The Benefits.

So are good mechanics important for pitching? Absolutely. Are mechanics the biggest cause for control problems? Not exactly, but they’re certainly a factor.

But here’s the bigger question: Will thinking about mechanics make it easier to throw strikes?

Absolutely not.

Mechanics are important for power and consistency. But once you commit to making the pitch, you have to just trust your mechanics, focus on your target, and execute the pitch.

Here are some quick tips for developing a solid, repeatable delivery, so that when it comes time to compete, you’re not thinking about mechanics.

  • Use good drills: Drills are helpful for training different aspects of the pitching delivery. BUT, and this is important…
  • Stick with drills that train good movement patterns (rather than focusing on positions!) There are a ton of bad pitching drills out there.
  • Repeat your delivery: Repetition breeds consistency. This can include mound work (bullpen work) or what’s sometimes referred to as dry work or shadow work (basically practicing your delivery without a ball). If using a towel helps give you the feel for practicing your delivery with something in your hand, that’s fine too, just make sure you use it this way.

Bonus tip: Practice your delivery with your eyes closed.
It will really help you hone in on what your body is feeling.

[h5]When working on control and command, emphasize FEEL over mechanics.[/h5] Throw one low and away – how did that feel? Repeat it. Now throw one inside – how did it feel? Repeat. The same way repeating your delivery improves consistency with your mechanics, repetitive “target practice,” so to speak, will improve control and command.

Instead of focusing entirely on one specific skill like pitching, I encourage young athletes to play other sports. The challenges and unique demands of each sport will improve motor coordination, body awareness, and make you an all around better athlete. And being a better athlete will make you a better pitcher.
[hr] Special note: While I’ve had the idea for this article for a while, aspects of it were heavily influenced by an article I read recently on BaseballThinkTank.com. Lantz and his team do a great job – if you’re not familiar with it, you should add it to your list. After going back to re-read that article, I’m embarrassed by some of the similarities, so wanted to make special note of that here. Here is the link: Discover Why Pitchers Can’t Throw Strikes And How It Can Be Fixed In 5 Minutes!

 

 

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