Did you see the recent article on Bryce Harper in the Washington Post? If you haven’t read it yet, check it out online (there are some pretty cool interactive graphics).
Now I’m all about pitching here, but like I said in my interview with hitting coach, Mark Brooks, you can learn a lot from a hitter.
If you’ve ever had a chance to watch Bryce Harper hit, you know how much power he gets into his swing. He absolutely attacks the baseball – it’s the perfect example of “controlled aggression.”
In the article, Adam Kilgore does a great job examining the mechanics that produce that power (many similarities between hitting/pitching mechanics), but even more importantly, HOW he developed that swing (hint: it’s not all about mechanics).
When you read it you’ll see there are a lot of lessons that carry over to pitching (and really any athletic pursuit). Specifically, there are some great lessons here for parents and coaches when it comes to working with young athletes…
Including what I consider the single biggest mistake most people make when teaching young pitchers.
For parents, it also shows how the right approach, support and encouragement can go a long way towards helping your child maximize their potential.
(Side note: I have to thank my own dad for bringing this article to my attention… he’s always had a way of putting good info in front of me and letting me take the reins from there – thanks Dad).
[h5]Some key excerpts with lessons for pitchers, parents and coaches:[/h5]
Bryce Harper: “I don’t know how I got my swing or what I did. I know I worked every single day. I know I did as much as I could with my dad. But I never really looked at anything mechanical.”
Lesson 1: It’s about hard work
Read those words again, “I worked every single day.” There are no shortcuts. Nothing beats hard work and persistence.
Lesson 2: It’s not all mechanics!
Read that last part, “I never really looked at anything mechanical.” Don’t make it all about mechanics! Mechanics are important, but sometimes the best thing you can do is just focus on what you’re trying to accomplish (hitting or throwing the ball hard), and let that goal/intention guide you. In time, the body will figure out how to organize itself to get the job done.
“When his father returned home from his job as an ironworker, Harper begged him to pitch to him or feed him soft toss. Ron Harper erected a net in the garage.”
Lesson: Follow your inclination… Nurture it, develop it.
We all have things we’re inclined towards from an early age. That’s what you’re most likely to do well. Bryce used to beg his dad to work on his hitting. Not all kids will do that. If your son shows that kind of love for pitching, listen to him. Encourage it, even if it means just getting a net and a bucket of baseballs and letting him get after it.
Bryce Harper could not fathom how many soft tosses or batting practice pitches his father threw him. “Millions,” he said. “Absolutely millions.”
Lesson: You’re not just born with it.
Early in the article, Bryce talks about his swing being “God given.” But when you read that last statement, it should be clear that while there’s little doubt he was born with unusual talent, that power swing and his success today are the byproducts of hours of deliberate practice. As he says, millions of reps.
When he played football in high school, he would sneak into the batting cage between the end of class and practice, taking swings while wearing fully padded football pants.
Lesson: You have to have Passion!
If you study high achievers in any field, there’s one thing that stands out again and again. Almost without exception, their success was fueled by a burning passion bordering on obsession. If you want to be the best you can be, if you really want it, nothing will get in your way.
Side note: in this day of early specialization, take notice… he played multiple sports!
Ron coached his son with small reminders and large bullet points… he never bogged down Bryce with detailed instruction. “I’ve always been a big believer in, there’s times when you got to let people go and let them figure it out themselves,” Ron Harper said.
Lesson: Don’t over-coach! Give the athlete the freedom to develop their own feel.
This is probably the biggest mistake people make when coaching young pitchers. They think it’s all about mechanics. So they give the pitcher 15 different things to think about mechanically… this doesn’t work!
Athletic performance is predominantly right-brained activity (your feeling, sensing side). When you start over-analyzing you interfere with that process by bringing in the more analytical left side of your brain. The result? Paralysis by analysis. Kids become stiff, mechanical, and things get out of sync.
Mechanics are important, but don’t bog the young pitcher down with too much information. Make some suggestions, nudge them in the right direction, then let them go to work and figure it out.
But Harper has made modifications. Nationals officials say he actually was swinging harder when they drafted him — so hard, Schu said, his head would move as much as two feet during a swing. The “head travel” prevented Harper from recognizing pitches and led to misses.
“He knows how to shorten up and get the barrel to the ball,” Schu said. “And then he’ll pick some counts where he’ll let the big dog eat.”
Lesson: Train the intent to throw hard… then learn to dial it back.
Developing a powerful swing or pitching delivery comes from hard work and a lot of high intensity training. If you just practice having a nice, clean delivery, you’ll end up with a nice pitching motion that’s easy on the eyes… but without that intention to throw hard you’ll never reach your full potential.
Bonus lesson: Keep learning, keep growing.
It’s equally important to note, just because he’s reached the big leagues that doesn’t mean he’s stopped learning. The best athletes are always looking to make adjustments, find ways to improve.
As a pitcher, developing power and velocity is important, but you’ll have better command and success if you learn to operate at 90%. Then you can pick your spots and crank it up when you want to blow them away.
So that’s a lot of pitching lessons from just one article on hitting. Believe it or not, I even left out some things to try to keep this post from getting too long! So go check out the article, and if you’re a parent or coach, I hope this piece makes you think a little differently about how you’re working with your young pitchers.
And if you’ve read this far, I hope you can do two more things…
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