The long road to fastpitch excellence
The other night, as I was finishing up the paperwork for that night’s lessons, one of the baseball pitching instructors (who coincidentally also happens to be named Ken) walked into the office area sighing and shaking his head. The reason for his consternation was the expectations of some of the players he’d just finished working with.
“These guys are ridiculous,” Ken said (more or less, and perhaps a bit more colorfully). “They walk in here and expect to be throwing 20 mph faster in three weeks. It just doesn’t work that way.”
Amen, brother, I told him. I know the feeling.
The problem is we live in a microwave popcorn, instant oatmeal, 24-hour news cycle world. That has set an unrealistic expectation in many people’s minds of the way everything should work.
All too often kids will walk in and expect (or their parents will expect) that if they take a handful of lessons that suddenly they will be stars. More likely that’s just enough time to mess them up pretty good, especially if they had a lot of bad habits before.
Bobby Simpson has the mantra “Getting better every day.” That’s a great way to think about it. The goal isn’t to take a few lessons and solve every issue. The goal is to be better walking out than when you walked in, whether that’s at a lesson or at practice.
The goal after that is to walk into the next lesson or practice either better than the last one, or at least picking up where you left off.
The old cliche “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” definitely applies. Whether you take the 10,000 hour rule as gospel or more as an allegory, the reality is it takes some length of time and constant work to see meaningful results.
Think about learning to play the piano. How good do you think you will be after four lessons? Maybe you’ll be able to play a credible version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” but you won’t be taking Chopin on anytime soon.
Or what about ballroom dancing lessons? Do you think four half hour sessions spent on the Foxtrot will have you dancing like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers? (Kids, follow the link to see who they were. They set the standard for dance in Hollywood musicals.)
Even if you’re not coming in with zero experience, if you’ve had a long layoff from practicing you’re not going to see a huge jump in three or four weeks. It takes time. Lots of time.
Typically, I find once I get a hitter mechanically sound that it takes about a year for them to see the real benefits. There is so much going on with hitting that it’s easy to be hesitant or get knocked off-track, especially in a game. With a year’s worth of using those mechanics and seeing live pitching, hitters start to get to the point where they can just go with it subconsciously, allowing them to spend their conscious brainpower on where the ball is and when it will arrive.
Fastpitch pitchers often have the same timeline. It’s one thing to be zinging the ball to your spots in practice. It’s another to do it when there are live hitters, umpires, coaches, teammates, opponents, parents and other spectators around and you’re playing for something meaningful.
As I always tell my pitching students, the circle looks bright and shiny from the outside, but it can be a cold, dark place on the inside.
None of that happens, however, without first putting in the work up-front. If it could, i.e., if some coach or instructor could add 20 mph or otherwise reach some great goal in three sessions, those sessions would cost $1,000 apiece or more, and there would be a line a mile long to get some of it.
That’s the dream. But it’s not reality. I wish there was a shortcut, but as far as I and everyone else I’ve ever met knows there isn’t one.
Instead, the key is to set realistic expectations and work on little improvements that add up over time. Approach it any other way and you’re sure to be disappointed. And guys like poor Ken will continue to pull their hair out.