More than one way…
Last night one of my students had one of those breakthroughs that make coaching so rewarding. Before I get into the breakthrough, allow me to give you a little background.
Rae Ann is a lefty who has been with me for a few years. Up until this year, I had her throwing a peel drop and a “cut under” curve among other pitches. The drop was ok, although it would often tend to come in a little low. She had good movement on it, though. But she really struggled to get the proper spin on the curve. She just couldn’t quite seem to get the hang of getting her arm into the proper position to get under it.
About halfway through the off-season I suggested we try throwing a curve where the hand comes over the ball instead of under. From what I saw, it seemed like that would work a little better. So we tried it. I told her flat out I didn’t have as much experience with this version, so we’d be learning together. My daughter Stefanie threw that curve when she was pitching, but I never paid much attention to the technique since I was just a bucket dad back then.
The first thing that happened is we wound up switching Rae Ann to a rollover drop. The first time she tried the curve she wound up throwing an awesome drop. It had great movement, very sharp, and came in more at the knees. She’s been throwing that ever since. But we still couldn’t quite get the sideways spin on the curve. We couldn’t really even get a drop curve spin. She pretty much came right over the top of the ball no matter what we tried.
Then last night I had an idea. We slowed down her motion, and I told her to imagine she had four foot long fingernails. Take those fingernails and trace an arc on the ground as she throws. The idea was to help her get around the ball rather than over it.
At first it had a minor effect. But as I let her work through it while I talked to her dad Matt, suddenly it came together. We got both proper spin and movement on the pitch. The cue of tracing the arc had helped her understand and visualize what she needed to do. I tried telling her before to come around the ball, but she didn’t feel it and it never helped. Having something visual, however, did seem to work.
So there you go. As a coach you’re constantly challenged to communicate techniques, ideas and other things to your players. You can’t just settle for what’s worked before. With a little persistence, and a little imagination, there’s always a way. You just have to find it. Expecting players to just “snap to” to what you’re saying is a bad way to go. Work with what they can understand and you’ll see the results.