Monthly Archives: January 2022
Is Better Technique Worth the Effort?
We’ve all seen it at one time or another.
A player comes in with lots of raw ability. She can throw harder, hit farther, pitch faster, etc. that the typical player her age. Yet she looks like an unmade bed when she executes those skills.
Ah, we think, if only she had better technique. Then imagine what she could do.
So, we begin working with her to clean up her mechanics and what happens? Her measurables drop.
The speed reading on overhand throws or pitches isn’t quite as high as it was when she walked in, and maybe she’s having more trouble hitting the target than she used to. Instead of hitting bombs she’s hitting pop-ups or ground balls – or even missing the ball completely.
At that point you begin to ask yourself whether all that time spent working on improving her did her any favors.
In the short term, the obvious answer would seem to be no. As ugly as her technique was it was working for her, while what she’s doing now doesn’t seem to be.
But those early impressions can be deceptive. And in the long term, especially as the level of competition increases, the work she’s putting in now is almost guaranteed to pay off well later.
How do we know? There are a few factors.
Physics and biomechanics
The laws of physics are immutable. Unless you’re this guy.
Which means if what you’re doing takes better advantage of the laws of physics, all else being equal the outcome will be better.
The same goes for biomechanics. If you use your body in a way more in line with how it’s designed to be used, again all else being equal, you will achieve better results.
The key is all else is rarely equal. Our bodies are marvelous things, capable of doing all sorts of things.
But they also prefer to be comfortable when doing them. So if you’re comfortable with bad technique you will tend to do it with more enthusiasm/energy than you will something new.
That additional energy is often more than enough to compensate for any lack of solid application of physics or biomechanics, especially in younger players. As a result, the measurables created with weaker technique will often outshine those of the new, better technique.
The trick here is to get comfortable enough with the new mechanics so you can execute them with the same energy and enthusiasm as the old ones. That takes time – time which impatient players, coaches, and parents are often unwilling invest.
They’re looking for the “get rich quick” scheme, and when one doesn’t pay off immediately they’re on to the next. But any smart investor knows your best path to getting rich is to make targeted investments now and let time take care of the rest.
Another factor that plays into it is our memories tend to be selective. Sure, that player may hit a bomb with poor technique. But we tend to forget about all the popups and easy ground balls that come between those bombs.
One of the goals of better technique, however, is to remove the randomness from the performance. Players with poor technique are often all over the place with what they do. If you compare video from one swing or one pitch to the next you may see vastly different approaches.
The goal of improving technique is to lock the player into a single set of mechanics that are easily repeatable. Once she has mastered those mechanics it’s simply a matter of learning how to apply them in various situations.
That repeatable approach enables the player to adjust more easily to whatever happens because she’s always starting from the same baseline. This consistency in approach leads to consistency in outcomes.
We also tend to filter out other factors, such as the player with poor technique hits bombs against weaker pitchers but struggles against better ones – especially if the rest of the team does too. We often see only what we want to see.
Essentially, the player’s technique works up to a certain point, then fails her miserably (most of the time anyway).
With a more organized, disciplined approach, however, she will have the flexibility to apply the technique she has as the situation requires. She’ll be able to catch up to fast pitching, and wait on slow pitching, because she understands how to adjust her technique to each situation – as opposed to yanking the bat as hard as she can in the general direction of the ball and hoping for the best.
The more the player understands how to adjust her technique to each situation, the better chance she will have for success. A disciplined, informed approach will almost always yield better results in the long term.
You get out what you put in
With all of that said, it isn’t enough to have someone show you how to do something. No matter how famous they may be or how many social media followers they have.
The player has to put in the time to learn and internalize the new technique. Otherwise it’s not going to make her better, and may even make her worse since she’s now trying to walk in two worlds at the same time.
So is better technique worth the effort? In my opinion, yes – as long as you’re willing to change what you’re doing an embrace what you’re being taught.
It can offer a huge advantage to everyone from beginners to seasoned veterans. You just have to have the patience to work through the challenges, and maybe even accept lesser performance, until you reach the pot of gold at the end of the better technique rainbow.
Why Focusing on Energy Transfer Is Critical
Whether the goal is hitting farther, throwing harder, pitching faster or executing some other movement at a higher level, the first place many of us go is energy generation. Let’s take pitching, for example.
Pitchers will be encouraged to spend a lot of time on improving their drive mechanics. They’ll be told to do endless box jumps, lunges, dead lifts and other exercises to build more explosiveness into their legs. They’ll be put on devices such as the Queen of the Hill to help them learn to drive out even harder.
Yet improving the amount of drive is only half the battle. What often gets ignored in all this heavy lifting is the importance of being able to transfer the energy they’re generating into the ball efficiently, i.e., with as little energy loss as possible.
Here’s why that’s important. Imagine you need to move 20 gallons of water from point A to point B, but all you have available is a one gallon bucket. It’s going to take a lot of little trips to move all that water.
Not very efficient.
Now imagine you have a 10 gallon bucket instead. You’ll be able to take a lot more water in each trip while minimizing the number of trips you need to make to accomplish the same task.
The same is true for fastpitch softball skills. No matter how much energy you generate on the front end, that energy is only as useful as your ability to transfer/apply it to the skill you’re performing.
Of course in softball it’s not just about how much energy you can transfer but how quickly you can do it. A sudden transfer will delivery more of the energy into the ball versus a slow one. That’s just physics.
In hitting that means a quick swing that rapidly accelerates the bat to meet the ball at the optimum contact point. In throwing and pitching, that means a rapid series of accelerations and decelerations into the release point.
This, by the way, is one of several reasons why “hello elbow” pitching prevents pitchers from reaching their maximum levels of velocity.
Hello elbow finishes, where you try to muscle the ball through release by straightening out the arm as it goes around the circle, deliberately snap the wrist and then yank up on the arm (mostly after the ball is already gone), are slow, forced movements.
There is no sudden acceleration and deceleration sequence that enables the upper and lower arms, as well as the wrist, to move at different speeds at different times. It’s all one big forced movement, which prevents energy from being transferred – as opposed to internal rotation which accelerates and decelerates the upper and lower arm in sequence and allows the wrist to react to what the arm is doing, amplifying the energy instead of limiting it.
The point is spending all your time on learning how to generate maximum energy isn’t enough. You need to spend an equal amount of time, or maybe even more, on learning how to transfer that energy you’re generating efficiently. Otherwise it’s a lot of wasted effort.
Build yourself a bigger energy “bucket” and you’ll maximize your results with whatever your bring to the table today – and tomorrow.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
Wanted: A Better Strategy for Developing Young Pitchers
The other day I was talking with Rick Pauly of Pauly Girl Fastpitch about the challenges of developing young fastpitch pitchers – especially those in the the 8-10 year old range.
Rick said it’s something that has been on his mind for a while, but really came home after completing another of his successful pitching clinics, this time in Fairmont, Minnesota.
The Beginner session included several very young pitchers who worked very hard at the drills and techniques being taught. But clearly they were going to take a while before they were ready to go out and dominate.
The problem is most of them, even the rec league players, often don’t have “a while” before they have to be game ready. It can easily take several months to a year or more for young players to throw strikes on a regular basis.
Most have limited proprioception (body awareness), which means that they can’t feel where various body parts are in space. They may be trying to mimic the movements they’ve been taught or the instructions they’re receiving, but can’t quite feel whether they are successful or not in that moment.
Don’t even get me started on attention span for most of them.
If they continue to work at it they will eventually get it and no doubt become very good at their craft. They’ll be the pitchers who are mowing down the competition left and right, whether it’s racking up tons of Ks or regularly getting out of innings after throwing only 10 or 12 pitches.
The problem is that future competence is not what their youth teams need right now. They need pitchers who can get the ball over the plate.
So what happens? The most valuable pitchers on those young teams are the ones who can throw strikes, no matter how they throw them.
As a result, those girls tend to get the bulk of the innings while those who are taking lessons and practicing all the time get very little circle time. Which means some who might be quite good one day get discouraged and quit pitching while parents who are taking time out of their schedules and paying for lessons begin to wonder whether that investment is worth it.
Look, I get it. While pitching to a large extent may be an individual effort, it’s still performed in the context of a team sport. It’s no fun for everyone if pitchers on both sides are throwing walkfests, and the other eight players on the field (not to mention the team that’s batting) don’t learn much if none of the hitters have an opportunity to hit the ball.
You want there to be some sort of activity on the field that resembles actual softball.
But at the same time, the future of the game isn’t with the lobbers. It’s with those few who are trying to learn how to pitch the right way.
There has to be some sort of solution. I’m sure some of you are thinking “We let the pitchers pitch until they load the bases, then a coach steps in after three balls to pitch.”
That’s ok in theory, but the reality is the coach who’s pitching isn’t helping the hitters much at all. They’re probably not throwing with a realistic motion, and since most want to win the game (because nothing is more important in the world than a $30 plastic trophy) they’re more throwing where the hitter is swinging than teaching hitters to take the bat to wherever the ball is.
It just seems there has to be a better way. I don’t know what it is, but maybe we can all put on our collective thinking caps and figure out how we can enable young pitchers to develop while still making the game fun for everyone else.
One idea is to put restrictions on when pitchers can be pulled. Give them a chance to find their way in a game rather than getting yanked after two or three walks.
Perhaps the pitcher is required to pitch to the full lineup, or half of it until she can be taken out. That might remove some of the pressure she may feel and give her a chance to find her groove, even if momentarily.
Or perhaps we formally loosen up the strike zone to the tops of the shoulders to the tops of the ankles. (I don’t think widening it will help because, well, short bats and short arms.) A bigger zone will also give hitters encouragement to swing more rather than just waiting for the walk, or for the coach to come in and pitch targeted meatballs.
Another idea is to cut the number of outs a team is given at the plate if their opponents are using pitchers who are seeing a recognized pitching coach. In other words, if I am pitching a girl who is taking lessons but struggling, we only have to get two outs to flip the inning. That one might be a little tough to enforce but if the goal is to develop pitchers for the long term hopefully it won’t be abused.
Those are just a few thoughts on our part. Not saying they’re the right way, or the best way, but they might provide a solution.
How about you? Especially those of you who are closer to that age level.
What ideas do you have to encourage young pitchers to keep learning to pitch the right way while not penalizing everyone else on the field? I know we have smart readers here, so leave your comments below and let’s start developing that next generation of pitchers to realize their full potential.
Drill to Help Fastpitch Pitchers Feel the Elbow Lead
I know my last two posts have been incredibly long so going to try to keep this one short and sweet today.
One of the biggest challenges pitchers who are early in their journey, or pitchers who were taught to turn the ball toward second at the top of the circle, have is learning to get and maintain a bend in the arm coming down the back side of the circle. Getting that bent elbow is essential for enabling the body, and especially the arm, to decelerate a piece at a time instead of all at once to generate maximum arm whip (and thus maximum speed).
Usually what happens is the pitcher is very hand/ball-centric through the circle. That makes sense on the surface because what are they going to do? They’re going to throw the ball with their hand.
Yet taking that approach means that when the pitcher comes over the top of her head the momentum she has generated on the front side will naturally carry the hand backward. When that happens not only does the arm straighten out but the ball is actually moving in the opposite direction of the body.
In other words, as the body is driving forward, hopefully at great velocity, all the energy in the lower arm and hand is being directed backward, as if the pitcher is trying to throw to second base. As a result, a lot of the energy that was generated early will be lost, and more of it will be wasted trying to get the ball to start coming forward again. Not exactly the recipe for maximizing speed.
To avoid this issue the arm must start bending before it goes over the top, enabling the elbow to lead through 12:00 and then down the back side of the circle. This can be easier said than done, however, because it’s often difficult for pitchers to feel exactly what IS happening with their arms at that point.
So to address that issue I developed this little drill.
The advantage of this drill is that it is very targeted and tactile. I always say “if you can feel it, you can fix it.”
By having her try to touch the wall with her elbow instead of her hand, the elbow naturally has to bend. She will know instantly if she got arm/elbow bend at this critical moment because the point of her elbow will contact the wall. It the back of her hand touches the wall, the arm is too straight.
If, on the other hand, the ball touches the wall, the arm is too straight AND she turned the ball backward as she came over the top.
I recommend doing this drill 50-100 times a day every day until the arm starts getting into this position naturally. The nice thing is you don’t need a facility or a warm, sunny day to do it. Any convenient vertical surface and an arm’s length of space will suffice.
If you have a pitcher who is struggling to get arm bend/lag in order to whip, give this drill a try. And be sure to let me know how it works for you.