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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.

Trek fans get it.

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.

How softball parents feel when the season is about to start.

Removing randomness

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.

Who can argue with that?

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.

Greater flexibility

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.

Such as a home run instead of a single with three errors.

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.

Feel the breeze

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.

And deal with the creepy leprechauns.
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The Up and Down Side of Modeling Elite Players

woman working girl sitting

One of the first (and most important) pieces of advice I give to parents who are trying to decide on a path for instruction for their daughters is to look at what elite-level players do. If you’re not being taught that, you should re-think what you’re doing.

Take pitchers for example. If you want to know whether you should turn the ball toward second base at the top of the circle and push it down the back side of the circle or turn it toward home and then pull it down with your palm face-up, video of elite players will give you the answer.

(SPOILER ALERT: The correct answer is pull it down. Ten points for Gryffindor if you got it right.)

Then there are hitters. Some people will tell you to swing with your bat and/or shoulders level at contact. But again, a quick Internet search of great hitters in both Major League Baseball and Power 25 fastpitch softball will show you that just ain’t so.

So does that mean you should just pick an elite-level player and model yourself after her (or him)? Not necessarily.

The thing you have to keep in mind is that elite-level players get to that level by virtue of more than their mechanics alone. There are a whole lot of other factors, beginning with their DNA, that go into making an elite player.

The hard reality is some players succeed despite their mechanics. Their athletic ability, focus, dedication, etc. is such that they can overcome even significant mechanical flaws.

Some pitchers will be hunched over and will throw their shoulders forward as they throw, even though biomechanics says they would be better off keeping their shoulder locked in around 45 degrees. But when they’re throwing 70+ mph doing what they’re doing, and racking up the Ks and Ws, most coaches aren’t going to worry it until it becomes a problem.

Does that mean you should follow their example? In a word, no. That player is succeeding in spite of her mechanics, not because of them. Us ordinary mortals can’t count on getting the same results.

The same goes for hitters who primarily rely on their upper body strength to hit for power. Somehow they have managed to make it work for them.

Most of us, however, will find if we are upper-body dominant we won’t be able to adjust to pitch speeds/location/movement. We’ll hit the ball a mile if it’s pitched where we’re swinging. But if it’s not – and the whole strategy behind pitching is to NOT pitch to a hitter’s strengths – we will likely swing and miss. A lot.

So what’s the answer? Should we try to understand and follow the mechanics of elite-level players or not?

For an answer, I would look to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson. Yes, he died long before the first fastpitch softball game was played, but he had a pretty practical view of the world.

thomas-jefferson-portrait_800

Jefferson could call for a sac bunt with just a twitch of his eyebrow.

One of my favorite quotes from good ol’ Tom was “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” In other words, know what’s important and what’s not.

When looking at mechanics, don’t just look at what one or two elite level players does. Look for the common threads between all of them, and see what the majority tend to do.

Also, look at what other factors may affect the success certain players are having. If your daughter is a 78 lb. stick, modeling the mechanics of a preternaturally strong, thick-bodied beast of a player probably won’t deliver the same level of success.

Your daughter is going to need incredibly clean, efficient mechanics because she needs to get every bit of her body generating energy to transfer into the ball.

If your daughter isn’t an amazing athlete – that’s ok, you can admit it – she’s probably not going to be able to get by with too many standard deviations from what is biomechanically optimal. Again, you’ll want to stick with the things elite players do that are alike rather than excusing non-standard mechanics because so-and-so does the same thing.

Seeing what elite players do and following their example is a good thing – until it’s not.

Use video of elite players to see generally what all (or at least most) tend to do so you have a path to follow. But avoid techniques or mechanics in those players that appears to be outliers.

It’s your fastest path to success.

Main photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com
Photo of Thomas Jefferson via Good Free Photos
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