There’s a common approach taken by a lot of youth pitching coaches when it comes to teaching the basics of good pitching mechanics. I call it the “pitching by steps” approach. It’s where you basically show the young pitcher different positions (or “steps”) in the pitching motion, and then have them hold those positions and progress step by step. You may be familiar with it, it usually goes something like this:
“Step One: Step back and to the side…”
“Step Two: Pivot and turn your hips…”
“Step Three: Balance position…”
“Step Four: Power position”
“Step Five: Tuck and throw”
Now, there are times when working with very young pitchers that this approach may make sense (see this article on why simple is better with young pitchers). But here’s my problem with kids learning the step by step or color by numbers approach to pitching mechanics:[h5]It removes the freedom for the pitcher to develop their own Style[/h5]
Learning solid fundamentals is a good idea. But the whole step by step thing, in my opinion, only has value at the very very beginning stages (say, with a pitcher who has never attempted to, nor been shown how to pitch at all). At that stage, it’s like learning new dance steps – getting to know where your feet go (not that I would know, you wouldn’t want to see me on a dance floor). [h5]The steps give you a framework… but then you want to get the hips into it![/h5]
You do want to spend some time getting the footwork down, learning the right “steps” so to speak… But then once you establish the basics, that’s when you should have the freedom to start making it your own and developing your own style.
See, you can have the craziest, most complicated windup in the world, but it feels right to you and it fits your personality, I say go with it. And if you practice that thing a zillion times until you can do it in your sleep, blindfolded, while standing on a chair… under water… in a hail storm…[h4]Key question: Can you repeat your delivery?[/h4]
Okay, maybe that’s getting a little carried away, but you get the idea. The key is being able to repeat your delivery. But even more than that, it’s having a high level of comfort with your delivery so it feels natural. There are always things you can fine tune, but don’t think you have stick to one set of what someone else tells you constitutes “ideal pitching mechanics.”
What would have happened to Fernando Valenzuela if he’d been made to fit someone else’s perfect pitching model? How about Juan Marichal? Jim Palmer? Don Drysdale? (Oh no, there’s that dreaded inverted W!) Bob Gibson? (What a mess!)
None of these are exactly what you would call “textbook”
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s been a lot of progress since the early days, and we have stacks and stacks of studies that show us that certain movements, mechanical flaws or whatever you want to call them, place more stress on your arm than others.
It’s why I’m a big fan of Motion Analysis and use that tool all the time. We know that certain movements contribute to greater velocity while others detract. So of course it make sense to address these things when possible.
But there’s also a whole lot of “feel” involved with being an athlete. There’s a lot of right-brained activity going on. And when you place a set of rigid constraints on the athletic process, you interfere with that flow, and you lose something really important – that human part that you can’t put your finger on, the part that makes each pitcher unique. You become “Robo-Pitcher”[h5]Quick tip: Don’t be a Robo-Pitcher![/h5]
Another big problem is that most kids aren’t going to perform the necessary zillion repetitions so they can perform their motion on their heads with both hands tied behind their back… I think it comes down to an overall lack of patience more than anything.
In today’s microwave society, we expect results… today!
(this could be another article all by itself)
We don’t want to hear that it takes years of hard work to develop your craft. That Greg Maddux didn’t just wake up one morning with an innate ability to frustrate and befuddle big league hitters with an 85 MPH fastball (remember, talent is overrated).
But in the end that’s exactly what it takes. Hard work. Countless reps. If you want to reach the highest level, get the most out of whatever potential you were born with… you need the insane drive to repeat your delivery until you know it as well as you know how to walk, or eat or breathe.
So a little note to all young pitchers: Don’t expect you’re going to get there overnight. That’s just a recipe for disappointment. And when it doesn’t happen for you right away, you’ll quit, give up and say “Well, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be”.
It’s a process. It’s about getting better… about working towards something meaningful, becoming the best you can possibly be. It’s a journey. Enjoy it.
If you want get an idea of the link between repeating your delivery and consistency in your pitching, look no further!