Tips for Baseball Pitchers: Finding Target Line

Target lineThis one is for baseball pitchers that miss wide of the plate, either right or left.  A common thought on pitching is for the pitcher to get everything they’ve got going towards the catcher. In other terms, we want the pitcher to get all of their weight and momentum going in the correct direction. For example, I like to ask a pitcher how much they weigh. If the say “175 pounds”, then I say, “Well you need to get all of those 175 pounds going in the correct direction.”  We do not want  25-50 of those pounds going in some other direction.  Loss of  effort and force in the direction of our goal (the catcher’s mitt) means lost velocity and control. 

“Target line” is a term that many coaches use with pitchers.  It basically means that there is an invisible line from the center of the rubber that extends through the center of home plate. As pitchers become more advanced, they can adjust target line on their own in order to hit different spots.

The real fight with this one is to get the player to understand how to perform the physical task of staying on target line with their front foot, and placing it into their muscle memory. The earlier that you teach this concept, the easier it will be. I start teaching this concept to players as young as 7.  But a 15 year old that does not stay on target line may have 8-10 years of bad habits built into his muscle memory and it will take longer to correct.

How do we get the pitcher to target line?

  1. Begin from set position or “stretch”. Make sure the front foot (strike point foot) has the ball of  that foot has target line running right through it.
  2. The foot in contact with the rubber (post foot) can either be even with target line or slightly offset (behind). It really is a comfort level thing for the pitcher.
  3. After balance or knee lift, the front foot that started on target line should land slightly open(45°), but back on target line. If the foot lands totally open or pointing at the catcher, the hip will open up too early and a velocity loss will occur. Compare this to how a front foot should land when a player is hitting. A great tool to use to teach this skill is a balance beam or simply a 2×4.  If  don’t have either of those, draw a line in the dirt or use a line on a gym floor.  Have the pitcher go from the stretch to strike point repeatedly. If the pitcher’s front foot lands off target line the beam will give instant feedback.
  4. Encourage pitchers to direct their chin towards the catcher as well.  This will prevent unnecessary force going away from target line.
  5. From the wind up, young pitchers seem to start with their feet directly in the center of the rubber. Well, too often this encourages them to be off target line. I like to start righties on the left half of the rubber and lefties on the right half.  As pitchers get older they can vary this position.  For example, as a pitcher gets older throwing the ball right down the heart of the plate is not always the best thing to do. Adjust target line to meet their efforts to hit corners and also to come inside from the opposite side of the rubber.
  6. Another great drill to reinforce this concept is “step behinds.” It is described in the following post: https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/throwing-progression-for-accuracy-arm-strength-playing-catch-the-right-way/

Here are some cool clips from Don Cooper of the Chicago White Sox. A good friend and I were actually at this clinic. I’m a Cubs fan (and a new D’backs fan….Go Clay!!!) and even I’ll say he was an AWESOME speaker!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjnbLg3UzKQ&feature=PlayList&p=F9D23C1C6B677D76&index=29

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTndWLd0skk&feature=PlayList&p=F9D23C1C6B677D76&index=28

Please check out this poll related to pitch counts. I want your opinion!!!

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/pitchcounts-baseball/

 

Baseball Pitching Drill: “3 Hops”

pitching3hopsdrill

I really like this drill for players ages 12 and up.  This comes with one reservation. If the player can not hold a balanced knee lift for 7-10 seconds, this drill is probably a bit too advanced.  For me, a balanced knee lift is defined as the knee lifted towards the rear armpit so the the upper leg is parallel to the ground or higher with the weight gathered over the back foot.  Meanwhile, the player needs to be able to do this with out tilting his shoulders back in order to maintain balance. If that is the case, then the player should simply work on getting to that position, being able to hold it & repeat. Only then, is the “3 hops” drill is appropriate.

This drill is outstanding for players to develop body control and core strength.  Ultimately, we want the pitcher to be able the control balance throughout  the hops. If the player loses balance at any point prior to the 3rd hop, he should stop and begin again, as opposed to finishing the rep in an incorrect manner. After the last hop, it’s imperative that you pay attention to foot strike as the player throws the ball. It should still be initiated on the in-step ball of foot and with weight 75-80% back, just as it should as if the pitcher were throwing a pitch without the hops.  The foot should land slightly closed, not pointing directly at the target in order to prevent premature hip rotation. One goal of the drill is to be able to maintain good mechanics despite the hops, not create a bad habit, such as, landing heavy on the front foot.  Thus, one variation you may want to try is to have the pitcher freeze at foot strike after the 3rd hop without actually throwing the ball. Then, check for proper foot strike and ball position. Lastly, I suggest starting to teach this drill on flat ground.  Then, move up to the mound. This will increase the player’s chance of success with the drill.

Initially, I like to include verbal cues with this drill. Such as:

  1. “Ready” (starts in stretch position)
  2. “Balance” (make sure they’re here before 1st hop is cued)
  3. “Hop, Hop, Hop” (1/2 second between hops) 
  4. “Go!” (meaning throw)

As the player becomes accustomed to the drill.  The coach should reduce the verbal cues and allow the player to self-coach and pace himself.  Finally at mastery, you should be able to have your more disciplined players do this drill on the side as part of a bullpen session on his own. Lastly, don’t be afraid to bring the player(s) back to basics with the verbal cues from the coach.

Baseball & Softball: Throwing Progression for Accuracy & Arm Strength “Playing Catch the Right Way”

IMG_0222One question that I get all the time is, “My son or daughter’s arm needs to get stronger. What can I do?”

Well, I really think it depends on age. For players ages 5-11, I say…… “Mechanics, Mechanics, Mechanics”. Learning to use larger muscle groups more effectively is the key.  This is difficult, because much of it requires balance and core strength, which the majority of these players ages 5-11 have very little. Teaching concepts, such as:

  1. Getting weight on the balls of their feet prior to throwing
  2. Weight slightly back
  3. Reaching back and showing the ball as if someone was standing behind them. This is especially difficult with girls because they really have to fight “big ball, little hands”. I saw it when my daughter first picked up an 11″ ball, from playing with a 9″ baseball in t-ball. Then I saw it again this year when she transitioned into a league that uses a 12″ ball.
  4. Eyes on target. I like to tell kids to pick a spot in their partners glove the size of a dime, see it, and throw to it.
  5. Step with the glove-side foot towards the target. Although, I suggest refraining from telling them to “point their toe at their partner”. I believe that this eventually promotes players, especially future pitchers, to landing heavy (too much weight forward).  Focus on getting the whole leg and foot  going towards the target in a soft, but aggressive manner.
  6. Extend the previous step by teaching a crow hop to help smaller bodies use momentum.
  7. Getting elbows “equal & opposite” distance from each other after separation.
  8. Release ball in front and let arm follow through after release. I like to tell kids to “waive good-bye”.
  9. Finish with a “clean glove-side”. This simply means allowing the glove-side elbow to collapse as the throwing arm comes through its motion. When the glove-side elbow remains stiff , the glove will finish below the waist.  Often times this will lead to players losing accuracy, usually high.
  10. Lastly, make sure that their “playing catch” partners provide a good chest high target. You should emphasize that recievers of throws have their thumbs together at chest level in order to help their partner.

For older players (ages 12 & beyond) here’s a typical throwing progression that  I’ve used:

Daily Throwing or “Playing Catch” Progression

  1. On Knees; place throwing elbow on glove at chest high & elbow up; allow  upper to remain still & only bend elbow and release the ball; make sure hand extends downward after release (hand should not look like it’s throwing darts); possibly use a ball with one ring of tape around it in order to emphasize proper rotation; 8-12′ apart; 10-12 reps.
  2. Flat Footed Facing Partner; emphasize “equal & opposite” elbows & “clean glove-side”; Twist torso; 15-25′ apart;  10-12 reps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  3. Glide (Transfer weight on balls of feet);   place feet on target line at a distance as thought they’ve already strided the glove-side foot to throw; opposite foot position of the previous step; rock forward-back-forward while maintaining the nose over the belly button; release ball to partner on 2nd forward movement; 20-30′ apart ; 8-10 reps.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  4. Step & Throw (separation & strike point); Basically, just like #5 listed above ; now emphasize glove-side foot landing on the in-step ball of foot at about a 45 degree angle; 40-60′ apart based on age & strength; 10-15 reps.
  5. Step Behinds; baseball pitchers only; for balance & target line; start in a stretch position; back foot steps behind front foot towards target; knee lift towards rear armpit & throw; great chance to work on touch pitches like change-ups; 45-60′ apart; 10-15 reps
  6. Long-toss; gradually moving back from each other; using crow hops; emphasize “no rainbows”; straight throws as if they were an outfielder throwing through a cut-off man; the highest a ball should get is twice the players height; get to a distance where partners are one hopping each other; 100-130′ apart based on age & strength; 5-7 reps.
  7. Run Daily; Running helps the arm recover.

On a regular basis, players need to do more than “loosen up”.  To often this “loosening up” time ends up being a social session for not only the players, but also the coaches. Thus, this allotted time usually lasts longer than necessary with no goal in mind. Arms need to get stronger as the season progresses.  Be patient. In turn, keep an eye on your team. If you’ve played 6 games in 5 days. It may be wise to have a light arm day. Rest is necessary. That’s you have your team “loosen up” with 5 minutes as the maximum, or do not throw at all.

Please click below and visit my poll on pitch counts. I want your opinion. Please vote!!!

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/pitchcounts-baseball/

Baseball Instruction from MLB Network: Diamond Demos Marathon

This Sunday, June 7th, the MLB network will be having a “Diamond Demos” marathon from 12 noon to 3:30 pm (CST). Diamond Demos reminds me a little bit of the old, Johnny Bench “Baseball Bunch”stuff.  The only thing missing are the poor child actors, the San Diego Chicken,  Tommy Lasorda in a wizard costume (engulfed in a puff of smoke), and more powder blue than legally allowed.

Cast of "The Baseball Bunch"

Cast of "The Baseball Bunch"

Man, I miss that show.  Seriously, there was some great instructional advice on the Baseball Bunch. I specifically remember the episodes with Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, and Ozzie Smith (all of which were notorious Cub killers). Here’s an interesting link to a New York Times article about the Baseball Bunch and a must see clip:

http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/remember-the-baseball-bunch/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es04Seu21bQ

Diamond Demos is an in studio show that features MLB players and managers, both current and former, giving excellent instructional information for all ages. Everything from bunting to baserunning is covered.

 I know it’s channel 213 on DirecTV. Unfortunatley, Dish Network and some cable companies do not carry the MLB network. For your convenience, I’ve added the MLB network link. You can find their on air schedule very easily. Get those DVR’s Ready!!!

Baseball Drill: “7 Point Drill”

7point drill

 

“7 Point Drill”

A little history on the drill. We were having trouble getting our base-runners to take challenging lead-offs at first base. I wanted them to find their own lead-off limits. We had tried doing drills with base-runners only, base-runners and pitchers only, and etc. It still wasn’t getting better. So, I thought, let’s make it as close to a game situation as possible. In the end, there is ZERO DOWN TIME for any player, which is what I think makes a good drill. The greatest part about drills like these is that there will always be a player that succeeds & a player that fails. It happens on every rep. Therefore, the chances for coaches to teach and also reward with praise become unlimited.

  1. Base-runners (BR) – Working on straight steal, delay steal, & etc.; reading picks
  2. Extra BR- Working on reading picks & yelling “BACK!!!” on a pick to first
  3. SS- Covering 2nd or backing up a throw on a steal; p
  4. 2B- Covering 2nd or backing up a throw on a steal
  5. Catcher(s)- Throws to 2nd base, pitch outs
  6. Pitchers- picks to 1stbase, slide steps to home, pitch outs
  7. 1B- Holding runners, tags, communicating “Runner!!!” on a steal, getting in fielding position after a hold

 

You can include CF & RF for backing up throws. It really depends on the size of your roster. Also, eliminate one of the points if need be.  For example, if you’re looking to give your catchers’ arms a rest, modify the drill.   Also, I recommend using cones as starting landmarks for the SS an 2B. The middle infielders will have a tendency to cheat if you don’t.  

The extra base-runners need to be LOUD. For me, that’s the only punitive aspect in the drill.  It doesn’t take much physical effort to use your mouth, but I do expect a big mental effort while they are waiting to be the runner. A few push-ups will usually cure that scenario. I want the same mental effort in the dugout during the game.

This drill can be done with one coach if the team is disciplined correctly, but I usually don’t place it in my practice plan if I don’t have at least 2 other coaches that day. The 1st time it will take 30-40 minutes to set up and run.  As the season progresses and expectations of the drill are clear, 20 minutes will be sufficient.

Softball Modifications:

  1. 1B- Covering snap throws from C
  2. Base-runners- getting a good secondary lead from 1st & 2nd base, variety of steal options
  3. OF- should always be included
  4. C- snaps to 1st  or 2nd

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Hitters & Pitchers: Breathing to Relax & Succeed

Do you remember that one at bat in your youth  you’d like to have back? That one at bat that you had a chance to knock in the tying or winning run. The pitcher was pretty darn good, too. Unfortunately, you didn’t get the job done.  And, it’s not because you were robbed on a line drive, or the umpire punched you out on a close one.  It was because you weren’t focused and relaxed enough to succeed.

So, many players (I don’t care what age) are remarkably tense in the batter’s box or on the rubber.  This nervousness is an automatic advantage for the opponent. My own seven year old son is dealing with it right now. He’s facing real kids pitching to him, not a parent or the tee. He is now facing kids he knows from PE class and around town. Kids that age are already measuring themselves athletically.  They know who throws hard, who’s wild, and who’s meat. I’m glad to say, that my son finally relaxed last week and got his first hit. It took 5 games though. In the previous 4 games, the mechanics were there, the head was not.

The same issues persist with the 10 and 11 year old girls we coach.  It can be worse, because they look at the season schedule. They know whose pitching for those other teams.  They’re heads start spinning days before a game is even played.

It’s even worse with high school players.  They not only look at the schedule, they memorize it.  They even predict the schedule before it comes out.  Over the last off season, I heard girls of the high school team where I’m currently an assistant, already talking about a pitcher from a rival high school. They knew that they wouold see her a number of times. A pitcher that was already going Div. 1. A pitcher that they had seen repeatedly in summer traveling teams (ASA). Ususally, the tone in their voices was not one of confidence, more like uncertanty.  I’m pleased to say our girls beat her two out of three times this year. Most recently in the regional championship. Go Lady Bulldogs!!!

Sow how does a player get relaxed? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Teach your players how & when to breathe. Yes, breathe!!! A true deep breath will get more oxygen into the blood stream and lower an elevated heart rate. During a good deep breath a player should take air in through nose.  If they expand their chest they’re not breathing deep enough. A “chest breath” doesn’t allow as much air into the lungs. During a true deep breath, the stomach should expand more than the chest. Finally, exhale completely through the mouth. Try it yourself. Do it 5-6 times and see if you’re more relaxed. 
  2. Have your hitters start to do this when they’re in the hole. Then continue, while on deck, in between timing pitches. Next, don’t be afraid to call an offensive conference during an at bat, just to have a kid take a deep breath.
  3. Pitchers are no different, especially, when they’re struggling. How about after a tight call from the umpire. Teach your pitchers to go to the rear of the mound and breath, but not too long or the umpire may think that he/she is being shown up. But a deep breath during times of pitching frustration goes a lot farther with old “blue” than do facial expressions and pouting body language. You can also teach your catcher to recognize when the pitcher needs to relax. Have them go out, thus saving your trips.
  4. Lastly, for hitters, teach controlled aggression. Mentally, baseball and softball need  to be played with the volume turned up to 7, not like football where the volume needs to at 10 (or 11 if you’re a Spinal Tap fan).  Tell them to get into the box with an attitude. Dehumanize the pitcher, and talk to them about finding the ball early and what they’re going to do to a good pitch. And assume every next pitch may be the one.
  5. Oops, forgot one. Prior to that conversation you have with your spouse, on the importance of upgrading your 27″ tube TV to a 50″ flatscreen HDTV, the breathing seems to help. Can’t hurt.

By the way, think back to the at bat I asked you to remember from your youth. Think about the pitcher. He’s probably not as scary today. If you were in little league with Josh Beckett, I apologize, and disregard the entire post. 🙂