Friday, May 8, 2009

Pitching Instruction

RT Staff Note: Yesterday, we showed pichers how to grip pitches. Today, we are pointing out teaching points for coaches. Go to Steve Ellis' The Complete Pitcher to view the entire article or go to view other articles on pitching techniques and training.

Pitching Instruction - Teaching Points For Pitching Coaches
By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro

It's easy for pitching coaches to leave out some very important, and often over-looked issues that affect young pitchers on their team. So in this article, I want to address some of these. These are not ranked in any specific order of importance, just labeled as common faults and in the order from the start to finish of a pitch. First I'll tell you what they are in order, and then I'll break each one down into a little more detail. You'll find I have a unique way of looking at the whole process because each one eventually leads to poor pitching, especially at the youth level, and some times it's not even the pitcher's fault for poor pitching performance.

The first 3 things I put on the shoulders of the manager or parent, the second group is things the manager or parent work together with the pitcher on, and the last group of 10 things are the actual mechanics of the pitch, neither one of these 3 groups can be neglected if you hope to not only improve the pitcher, but lay the foundation for them to prosper even when you're not their coach.

A) Improper stretching and warm-up
B) Nothing constructive or positive from the manager or parent.
C) Poor catching (catcher) technique.

Manager / Pitcher:
D) No routine or Mental Approach.
E) Not Properly Instructed and No Practice Routine.

1) Poor lead leg action
2) Poor head/eye movement
3) Poor balance/body movement
4) Poor hand separation
5) Poor elbow location
6) Poor upper body / shoulder position
7) Poor post (back leg / foot) use
8) Poor landing
9) Poor follow-thru / finish
10) Poor fielding position


A) Improper stretching and warm-up:
This is so overlooked it's scary. I will actually dedicate a newsletter on this subject because I want to cover not only pre-game, but during-game and post-game. Please see the pitching instruction guide for details on proper stretching and warm-up. Real quickly, since you should already have the electronic guide to review, it's a series of things the pitcher does, not just the game time routine, but the pre-game routine and post-game routine as well that will help develop a consistently successful pitcher. You notice I don't just say a "successful pitcher" or a "consistent pitcher", it's "consistently successful pitcher" because I see a lot of what I call "one inning or one game wonders", and "consistently bad pitchers". In one of my next newsletters I talk about these as well. Please refer to the pitching guide you should have received from us and review the stretching/warm-up sections. We have developed some of the best young pitchers in the area, and it comes from being detailed in everything they do, from pre-game, during-game, post-game, between games, off-season, etc. We make little 3x5 cards with simple reminders of what they need to on game days and off-days. We'll email you a version of how we did it in a near future newsletter.

B) Nothing constructive or positive from the manager or parent:
I see too many managers mean well, but don't realize what they're saying has an impact. You've heard it before right, "just throw strikes", "come on, we need an out", "don't walk this guy", "There's a guy on 3rd, no pass balls", etc. I know it's difficult to always say the right thing, but managers need to learn canned phrases like: "we believe in you", "you can do it", etc. Until the manager really learns the mechanics of pitching and knows not only how to see what's happening, but can communicate correctly to the pitcher what's happening and what to do, they need to be positive at all times with their pitcher. We'll be covering some of the "how to identify" what's happening and what to do to correct it in newsletters coming soon.
Also, a phrase that is easy to remember is: "Practices are for coaches, games are for the kids". This really is true, and although a good manager that knows pitching, knows you can't make big adjustments during the game with young pitchers. You can make minor changes, but there will be days where the pitcher simply is off, and constantly barking out "get your elbow up" won't last of the course of the game. Stay positive and remind them that it happens even to Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.

C) Poor catching (catcher) technique:
This is almost always overlooked. You don't have to have been a catcher to understand this. The reason I bring this up is because the catcher is important to the pitcher, and if he's doing a poor job of setting up and/or giving the pitcher a poor target, the pitcher is already starting out at a disadvantage. Having a good target to focus on is very important. In the instruction guide I talk about the pitcher not only focusing on the catchers mitt, but pretending there's a dime in the mitt and he focuses on the dime. I see a lot of catchers squat down, face the mitt to the ground, or constantly open and close the mitt, etc. Try to work a little with the catchers and get them to understand they're an important part for the pitcher to be successful. Just a little work with them and have them "set-up" in a good catchers position, give the pitcher a good target before the pitcher starts his motion, and have them keep that mitt open and not moving around. Sounds simple, but at young ages, many catchers and managers don't work this part of it.

D) No Routine or Mental Approach:
Way too many pitchers at this young age don't develop good habits or routines. I talk about this in the instruction guide as well and why it's so important to the complete pitching package. Many, no, make that most youth pitchers I see, even good ones will make the pitch, get the ball back, and do something totally different as far as getting ready for the next pitch. If you watch most good big league pitchers, they're creatures of habit. They will follow the same general process between each pitch. Once in a while, if they're struggling, they'll change a few things, such as speeding up the process from getting the ball to the time they pitch or slowing down, just to try and shake off the problem and find a different rythm.

They will all develop their own little systematic approach between pitches, but make sure you work with them on this, I talk about this in the guide as well. It's an important part of keeping their focus and getting them mentally ready for the next pitch without outside influences taking them off their focus and/or rythm. I call them "pre-pitch checks" a lot like a pilot taking their pre-flight check of the airplane to make sure it's ready before take-off, your pitcher will start their takeoff to success if they develop a good pre-pitch checklist. Things like getting the ball back from the pitcher, walking behind the mound, and taking 3 seconds to do the pre-pitch checklist, and it can vary, but they should mentally and quickly tell themselves the count, the outs, the situation, base runners, etc. visualize themselves making the pitch with all the right mechanics, but fluidly. Also what they do if they get the ball, and then the all important "I will pitch this ball where I want it and I believe in myself", etc. Sounds like a lot, but it's not. The pitchers we work with on this, along with making sure the catchers are doing a good job with the target, etc., they make very few mental mistakes on the mound because they're ready.

I'm not talking about sitting in the dugout as an 11 year old facing the wall and humming and getting into a trance like state. It's simply getting them to understand that the kid up to bat wants to get a hit, and unless the pitcher is prepared, then they maybe disappointed in how the game or his pitching will turn out. Just try to have them focus when they're out there. I know they all have buddies and friends they'll be joking with during innings, etc. That's part of the fun, they should have fun, but when they have to pitch, get them to stand behind the mound, do their pre-pitch check, take a deep breath and get on the mound focused and relaxed to pitch, and visualize the pitch.

E) Not Properly Instructed and No Practice Routine.
Most youth pitchers don't receive proper training until it's too late. Muscle memory is built at an early age, especially with pitchers, and it's difficult to change their current mechanics. Many things can be improved, but the longer parents or coaches wait to start teaching the youth to pitch correctly, then it's like betting on the lottery that they'll end up with good mechanics. This is another huge reason we're firm believers in video analysis right from the start, and to keep using it. We started using it when our pitchers were 8 years old and are using it now through ages 14. It's the only way to really isolate where problems are. It's also important to show them the good things they're doing, always with a positive focus. Not only that, but getting information from us on what to do with these mechanical faults is just as important. It's like knowing you have engine trouble, that's great, now you know your car isn't working, and unless you're a mechanic, you won't know how to fix the mechanical faults. This is why we highly recommend our very affordable video analysis service. In 15 minutes you can do the video, send it to me and within 72 hours I'll email you a report complete with still photos pulled from your video. You can place an order online and send the video, or you can print the order form and send a check or money order with the video. For details about making the video, please go to:

Also, is pitchers not having a good practice routine. We cover this as well in the pitching guide. At the very least, pitchers need to do a few simple drills to improve balance, arm and shoulder movement, etc. throughout the week, along with doing long-toss regularly. Too many pitchers don't work at it, they show up at the game and think they're ready to pitch. Remember, they're just kids, so don't think you're going to get them to spend an hour 4 times per week.

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