Until I Learned Better

Maturity is the realization that I did not know as much as I thought yesterday, and the determination to know more in the near future. During the long drive home from an event last week, it occurred to me how much we have learned over the years and how naïve most of us are in the beginning.

There was once a time when I believed a strong arm was so important to a pitcher that I considered a weighted ball. Out of curiosity, I read a lot of the research available on the subject. It is not the arm that is the problem at all, and far, far more injuries occur from people trying to strengthen the arm, or build the wrong muscles in the shoulder, than in just about any other action in softball.
There was a time when I actually bought into the idea of a wrist snap. Then, one day I realized that a wrist snap at the back hip is among the worst ideas anyone ever had. Today, when a dad comes in asking why we don’t wrist snap at the back hip, I hand him the ball and ask him to play “catch” with me. We stand 40-feet apart and he just steps forward and tries to toss me the ball underhand (no circle needed). The only rule is that he must wrist snap at the back hip. They never, ever get the ball anywhere near me and once they feel the tension caused by the snap, they will never again let anyone push this on their daughters.
A snap is a tense move. What is tension in the human body? Simply put, tension is when the muscles that are designed to perform a certain action are being opposed by muscles that should not be activated during that action. In other words, the bicep is trying to flow through the pitch, but the tricep locks tightly to stop everything. Interesting. Can you name any position in any sport in the world where we believe tension increases speed? Of course not.
The more we learned, the more we explored ideas like synchronization. You know what that is, right? Actually most people do not. They think of timing. That is a tiny, tiny part of it. Being in “sync” means that every muscle which is supposed to be involved in an activity is actually involved, and yes, at the right time. For the vast majority of pitchers, this is simply not happening.
Then we have a term, “leakage”. When the body is out of sync, when timing is off, when the core is compromised, many muscles are in the wrong position to help. Let’s say a right-handed pitcher’s hips are still facing third base while the shoulders are trying to turn toward home. A pitcher in this position is putting a lot of energy into the trunk in order to establish this very poor position. This is energy that should be transferred into the ball, but it is leaking into another part of the body, and dramatically increases the risk of injury while producing a very poor result.
Last week at a college exposure camp I asked participants how many had been injured in the past year. As usual, among students outside of our group, it was way over half. I asked the first 7 to tell me the injury, and I would not only describe the breakdown in their form, but how to correct the injury. I saw the college coaches step forward, completely skeptical that I could do either. Yes, I got a little lucky, because all 7 were common injuries we see among non-students all of the time, so it was very simple to explain the form breakdown that led to the injury and the type of approach that we would need to take to correct it. At that time we had the full attention of the college coaches.
Ten years ago we would not have been able to do the things we do, but I am so lucky to be surrounded by some amazing people, have access to incredible research, and we have a pitcher base these days of nearly 6,000 kids across the country, so we are constantly conducting research.
In an age where so many of the concepts popular in pitching are throwbacks to the 1990’s, it is refreshing to be around a devoted group of Instructors who are not satisfied to be years ahead of the curve, but determined to know way more in the future. They push me, they bring expertise to our group which makes all of us better, and they constantly ask questions that nobody else has posed. This day, I just want to say thank you to those Instructors who trusted me, believed in our mission, and have changed the lives of pitchers across the country.