Pitching Mechanics Don't Have to Be Complicated

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Little bit of a different post today… At the end of the long season, it’s always a good idea to take a step back and look at the big picture. Give yourself some time to recharge and take stock of where you’re at in your career (and in your development).

And I guess from my years pitching in the minors, I’ve gotten programmed to fall into that mode right around this time of year. And as I look back and take stock of where I am today as a coach, knowing the journey that led me here, I’m compelled to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned along the way during my life on the mound…

[h4]28 Ways Pitching Better Prepared Me for Life[/h4]

1. I learned to focus on Process over Outcome
Success as a pitcher is all about making good pitches. Take care of your approach, focus on executing good pitches, and good results will come… Never let a bad outcome negatively affect your approach. Bad stuff is going to happen in life – you’re not always going to get the results you’re looking for. But when you learn to detach yourself somewhat from the outcome, and focus on the process – doing your best in every given situation – things have a way of working out in the end.

2. It taught me the value of hard work (talent is overrated)
We’re all blessed with certain abilities and talents. For me, the ability to throw a baseball fairly well was one of them. But as you move up the ladder (in baseball and in life) you begin to realize there’s much more to high achievement than raw ability. If you want to unlock your true potential, you’ve gotta put in the work.

3. I discovered the power of a positive mental attitude
Early in my playing days, I thought I had a good attitude because I worked hard and listened to my coaches… but in reality my attitude was awful. If I had a bad outing or fell short of my expectations, I would get down on myself, beat myself up, and be overcome with negativity. Then one day, I read a book called Maximum Achievement and it completely changed my outlook on things. A light bulb went on… Having a positive mental attitude has made a HUGE difference in my life. And the opportunity to help that light bulb go on a little sooner for young pitchers is one of the reasons I love coaching so much.

4. I got real familiar with overcoming adversity
Like too many pitchers, I had to deal with my share of serious arm injuries and setbacks along the way. And while I wouldn’t wish ’em on anyone, you learn a lot about yourself during those tough times. You do a lot of soul searching… you dig deep and find out what you’re made of… if you’re never tested, how do you know?

5. It kept me from becoming too soft…


At Northwestern, the baseball team (along with several other NU sports programs) had the distinct honor of cleaning up the football stadium the morning after home games (part of how we raised funds for the season). So every Sunday morning, when the rest of the student body was in bed sleeping it off, we’d trek down to the stadium at 8 AM and spend the next 4 hours picking up cold, wet trash people had left under their seats. I hated it at the time, but I know I’m better for having done it… and to this day, I always pick up my own trash before leaving a game.

6. I learned all about the importance of Setting Goals
Having a dream is great. But something magic happens when you have a clear goal, write it down on paper, and commit to it.

7. It taught me the importance of being a team player (goes without saying)

Maybe not the best example, but couldn’t pass up a chance to share one of my all-time favorite DeNiro scenes.

8. I learned about taking care of the little things
Being a good pitcher is all about executing good pitches. But to be a complete pitcher, you need to work on all facets of your game. Things like fielding your position and controlling the running game. It’s why we’d spend so much time on bunt defenses in college and countless hours on PFP’s (pitcher’s fielding practice) in the pro’s during spring training. Having big goals is great. But when it comes to getting things done and being successful over the long run, you’ve got to take care of the little things.

9. I learned how to breathe, remain calm and execute under pressure
As a pitcher, you’re out there alone on the mound. You have to get comfortable being in the spotlight, all eyes on you. There are a lot of factors outside of your control, and it can easily get overwhelming. But as you progress and develop as a pitcher, you learn to relax, filter out the noise, and get laser focused on the task at hand.

10. I developed an ability to process a lot of information and act decisively
There’s a lot going on during the course of a game. You have to factor in the situation, the score, the count, the hitter, who’s on base, how many outs, what inning is it, what did the batter do last time at the plate? This is one of those skills I draw upon on a daily basis.

11. I learned that running is great for clearing the mind
While long, slow distance running might not be the best physical training for pitchers, the running I did during my years pitching did a lot for my state of mind. And I haven’t found any sort of conditioning that provides the same degree of mental benefit as running.

12. I learned how to live on a budget
Life in the NY-Penn League is a little less glamorous than life in the show. You jam 3 guys into a 2 bedroom apartment and sleep on rented mattresses and live out of a duffel bag. You find some work during the off-season so you can pay the bills, living paycheck to paycheck, and busting your butt to get your training in so you can keep pursuing your dream.

13. I had to learn how to budget my time
If you want to play college baseball, you better start thinking about how you’re going to manage your time. At Northwestern, I learned to budget my time, meet deadlines, and balance the demands of division I baseball program with a heavy academic workload. You need to be able to prioritize, make sacrifices, and get the important stuff done.

14. I learned to deal with naysayers and doubters
This comes with the territory… Dan Blewett had a nice article on this recently:
Hecklers Are No Longer In The Crowd

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

15. I learned the importance of self-assessment
I look at my journey through baseball as basically a training ground where I learned all about maximizing performance in way that prepared me for life as a coach. It involved constant assessment, testing, questioning my training methods, always working to improve upon the last season. Goal setting is great, but if you want to put together a solid plan for reaching that goal, you need to know where you’re starting.

16. I learned how to pack my bags in under 5 minutes
In the minors, you basically live out of a suitcase for half the season, pulling into hotels at 2am. You learn to pack only what you need… Traveling light teaches you to weed out the junk and focus on the essentials.

17. I learned about dealing with failure
Nobody likes losing. But if you want to play the game of baseball, you better get used to dealing with failure. The best hitters in the game get out almost 70% of the time (unless you’re Big Papi in the World Series), and even the best pitchers take their lumps from time to time. And one of the things that helped me the most in my career was learning to view failure as a feedback mechanism. When you view it through that prism, you can learn from your failures. You learn to keep an even keel…

18. And then there’s dealing with success (the game will humble you)
Along those same lines, pitching can be extremely humbling… Let yourself get too high, and you’re setting yourself up for a big fall sometime down the road. Unfortunately this is a lesson you usually learn the hard way… keep your highs low and your lows high.

19. I learned that the harder you work, the luckier you get
There’s always an element of luck involved in life. Your whole life can change from a chance meeting, being in the right place at the right time… but one thing’s for certain – you don’t get those lucky events or encounters by just sitting around on the couch.

20. I discovered the benefit of developing good habits
They say ballplayers are creatures of habit… That’s because the season is looong – it’s a day-in, day-out grind. And over time you develop a certain routine – find out what works for you – and it keeps you on track. And it’s no different in life… Develop good habits, and let them guide you.

21. I learned the importance of pushing yourself to the limits
In college, 6am winter workouts were the norm… they were absolutely brutal and usually ended up with somebody puking (I had the honor of being that individual on several occasions… good times). But that kind of intense training makes you stronger, mentally and physically. I’ll never forget a game I pitched my senior year. I had been up all night the day before with a stomach bug. I couldn’t hold down any food or water, it was ridiculous… I was throwing up outside the dugout before the game, and had to step off the mound and rest my hands on my knees on several occasions during the game. But I battled through it for a compete game victory. It wasn’t my best pitched game, but it’s the one I’m proudest of, and I owe a lot of it to those tough winter workouts.

22. I learned all about the power of visualization
When you can see your desired outcome, you give yourself a sort of mental blueprint to follow… And when I say “visualizing” I really mean experiencing the result in your mind, engaging ALL of your senses. This is powerful stuff, and I use it’s a tool I still use to some extent every day.

23. I learned the difference between amateurs and professionals
There’s a big difference between training, competing and working like an amateur vs. what it means to be a pro… this applies to every endeavor, not just baseball. It’s about your mindset. When you have an amateur mindset, you have wishes, things you’d like to do… you wish you could be a great pitcher, but when things get tough, you’re okay giving in and moving on to the next thing. Being a pro means really committing to that pursuit, nothing will stop you from being your best. It keeps you at the gym when the amateur goes home. It’s a commitment to excellence.

24. I learned the value of increasing your skill set
When I got to college, I basically had 2 pitches, a hard four seam fastball and a good curveball. But I knew if I wanted to take my game to the next level I needed to improve my arsenal. By my junior year I’d fully developed my changeup (the Braves scout who drafted me that year called it my best pitch). My senior year I added a slider, which became my put-away pitch. In the minors I added a sinker that allowed me to pitch more to contact and kept my pitch counts down. And this is one of those things that’s become a habit for me over the years. Get good at something, then look for ways to improve by broadening my skill set.

25. I learned that it’s not what happens to you… it’s how you respond.
Stay in this game long enough, and you’re going to have to deal with some setbacks and heartbreak. You can either get down in the dumps, throw up your hands and give up, or you can dust yourself off and get back on your feet. It’s not how many times you get knocked down…

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
– Henry Ford

26. I learned the importance of addressing your weaknesses
From the time I went through my first real growth spurt as an adolescent, I always dealt with flexibility and mobility issues in my legs and hips – this had a big, negative impact on my pitching delivery. Later in my pro career, I got serious about addressing this weakness and started doing yoga… The benefits were awesome. I only wish I had started sooner.

27. I learned that it’s good to get beyond your own backyard
Between college and the pro’s, I played baseball in just about every part of this country, from Florida to Hawaii. I played in Winnipeg, Canada and spent a season living in Columbus, GA. Growing up close to New York City, it’s easy to get a myopic view of the world – it’s fast paced, people are in a hurry, and they’re usually stressed out… It doesn’t have to be that way…

28. I discovered the joy of returning home
After a long road and years playing all over the country, I got the opportunity to end my career with the Brideport Bluefish less than an hour from where I grew up. And it was pretty cool having a lot of friends and family members who could finally see me play before my career came to an end.

Baseball diamond (hardball) at night with stadium lights on

Wow, this post got long in a hurry… And that’s really the tip of the iceberg (I started with a list of 60 things!). But I think it demonstrates why I’m so grateful for the time I had as a pitcher, and why I’m so passionate about coaching and working with young pitchers today. Thanks for reading.

Think of anything I left out? Let me know what pitching has meant to you over the years, I love hearing from you!