Why Am I Doing This Drill Again?

A new student came from a long distance to see me and I could see that she was very hesitant. After watching her warmup routine and seeing her throw a few pitches I told her I was impressed. I asked who had taught her to pitch. She and her father figured out most things on their own. He admitted that he had tried to get her to do some things he saw on the internet and that usually caused her to struggle, so he decided to trust her instincts.
I love those students and parents. This kid was pretty amazing. They said people had tried to change her, but she was pretty dominant on the mound, so coaches would eventually leave her alone. We see this over and over. Pitchers have figured out how to get power in the hips, how to relax the upper body, and everything is smooth and fast. They don’t look like many of those pitchers who are snappy and jerky, so people think they must be wrong and seek to change them. This kid was afraid I would offer more of the same, so she relaxed and bought totally into our system when I told her she was right on track.
If a kid has been through years of lessons, often we have to overcome inefficient moves caused by drills they have learned. A good example is the wrist snap. Okay, hold on. Don’t get excited. We know this is thought to be the Holy Grail of pitching, but for just a moment open your mind and think. Kids who are very aggressive with the wrist snap will always have a corkscrew, or bullet spin. The key word is aggressive. If you make an arm circle and aggressively snap the wrist at the bottom, your entire arm and your back leg will stop suddenly. You have introduced tension into the move. The body is eliminated from the pitch. It also causes the ball to spin off the side of the hand, harming spin and taking away the whip that naturally occurs at the fingertips. Why would we think a bullet or corkscrew spin is terrible for a third baseman but okay for a pitcher? It decreases efficiency.
If a wrist snap increased ball speed, we would be insisting that all centerfielders and catchers spend time doing them daily. Ah, but in their case, something entirely different is causing that throwing power. Yes, the use of the core. If you are confused at this point, let’s think of the golfer. Poor golfers try to “muscle” the club with the upper body. Bad result. Great golfers are smooth, letting the hips do the work. When we get a new student who is also a golfer, dancer, or figure skater, we know she will “get it” and she naturally adapts to our style. Be very careful about introducing tension into the pitch. The wrist plays an important role, but too much focus on it can cause a breakdown in the motion. We will talk more about the role of the wrist at a future time.
We also see kids point their glove arm, locked solidly, toward the catcher and they do several circles before releasing. So, what has she learned? The body seeks symmetry, or balance, in the moves. When one side moves, the other side of the body seeks to balance the move. That’s why nobody throws overhand with the arm locked and pointed. The opposing arm is quite active in seeking to balance and coordinate the move. Locking that arm causes a kinetic reaction that defeats that natural balance. She becomes robotic and stiff, usually carrying that into the pitch.
We see kids do a walk-through during warmups. They take three or four steps very quickly and throw the ball. Great concept but usually execution is terrible. The kid goes running at the catcher, glove flying everywhere, falling through the pitch in an awkward position. Have we done her more good than harm? The key is to know exactly what we are trying to get from the drill. If she is trying to build one good habit but absorbing three bad ones, I don’t see that as a good trade.
The kid mentioned at the beginning of the story was hesitant to work with me because she had seen a couple of instructors who tried to force drills on her that made the body stiffen and jerk. I named the drills she disliked and she was surprised that we are not fond of them either. Then we showed her several ways to compliment the way she naturally pitched, helped her get more power from the legs, and taught her to stride off the mound explosively. With the body awareness this kid already had, it was easy to teach her a couple of moving pitches in just a few minutes.
Next time you are faced with a new drill, ask the person suggesting it for four benefits, then how to measure success. If it does not make sense, question it. If the drill does not lead to the success it is supposed to have, if it creates problems in other parts of the motion, or she instinctively does not like it, give it some careful thought. People who teach such things often have the best of intentions. They mean no harm. It’s just like the old rec coaches used to teach kids to point their glove to the target when throwing overhand. They had best of intentions. But if you ask any major league or college player, they can quickly explain the problem that creates.
We love drills, especially ones that help a kid visualize or feel success. If you meet one of our instructors you will see strange tools like a bat, painter’s tape, strait line chalk for carpenters, a squeak toy, a water bottle, a tarp, cell phone, and several types of bunji cords. My instructors have come up with amazing, unique, and fun drills with these things to help kids feel the right things. And, yes, they can immediately give you four benefits for each drill and ways to measure success that are logical and easy to understand.
Why am I doing this drill again? We love for you to ask because you need to know. It can be the most important question you will ever pose.

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