Bullpen Routine: Keeping Pitchers Sharp

Here’s a copy of the bullpen routines that we use for our pitchers.  This document was put together by our pitching coach, Mr. Ryan Bemont.  The “Base Bullpen” and “Short Bullpen” are the two that we use the most.  As well, we will modify these routines during the season as needed.  The modification is based on which pitcher needs to be penned and how often he has thrown.  For example, if we have a commonly used pitcher, we may use a modified short pen between starts just to stay sharp and focus on mechanics.  If it is a player that may not be throwing as much, the longer routines will come into play. The short pen is the primary routine used before a game.

FB= fastball

CU= change up

CV= curve

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POLISH PRE-GAME: Ideas on How to Design a Great Pre-game Routine

No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes a whole orchestra to play it. 

~H.E. Luccock

Your pre-game infield/outfield routine is extremely important. First impressions are important, aren’t they? Well here’s your chance. A fungo routine should be organized, positive, and keep everyone involved. If it is well structured your team can gain an edge in the “intimidation” factor.

For the routine to be effective, it has to be organized and practiced. That’s right, you need to practice your pre-game practice. You should run your pre-game routine around 30 times prior to the first game. If you have a youngner group of players, often times the amount of practices that you are allowed is less.  My advice its to practice it as much as you can, but maybe add levels of difficulty to it as the season progresses.

You and your players should shift from drill to drill in unison, quickly and efficiently. This tells your opponent that your team means business that day. If I have to tell my players where to go and what drill to start during pre-game, that says that my team is undisciplined and not well-practiced. I love showing up and seeing opposing players stumble around their supposed routine. As well, I doubly enjoy seeing their coach getting frustrated when it is going smoothly. My players and I can smell the blood in the water.

Keep in mind that being organized doesn’t mean flawless. Keep in mind that it is a pre-game practice. If a player makes a physical mistake, that’s a great time to make one. Better then than after the first pitch. The only time a reprimand should occur is when a player or players show a lack of hustle, not a lack of physical skill. Do not verbally reprimand your players for physical errors during this time. If a ball is misplayed come right back to that player and allow him to shore up his technique and boost his confidence. A positive vibe during this time is essential. Praise players all during this session. Also encourage the other players to encourage each other verbally. “Chatter” during this time keeps your guys loose and focused on the task at hand at the same time. To encourage positive talk during our pre-game infield sessions we’ve incorporated a specific point at which the chatter is to begin. We perform a “silent round” of fungoed ground balls. During this section the players simply focus on proper fielding and throwing technique for ground balls. When the round is done I say, “Hey Dogs! Ready to go?” I then announced the name of the next round, “5-4-3” which is a double play round. As well, the announcement of “5-4-3” serves as our players cue to begin chatter. The atmospheric contrast between the silent round and the chatter is a great attention grabber. The focus of our players is increased, and the other team knows who’s in town. I like to finish our full pre-game session with a loud team led “break”. For example, we use “1, 2, 3, TEAM!!!”

If you’d like to see a diagram of our routine click the link below:

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/pre-game-infieldoutfield-routine/

Organization is key. For the “teacher slash coaches” reading this, it’s all classroom management. Keep them moving with a purpose. A great way to do this is to have 2 or even 3 fungoes going simultaneously. We use 2. Standing between 2nd base and the mound, I start working cuts to the outfielders. Meanwhile, an assistant coach works ground balls and bunt fielding technique to the idle infielders. Later we add a second 1st baseman, or “short 1st” and work double plays and single put outs. I stand in foul territory on the 1st base side or home plate and my assistant stands opposite to me on the 3rd base side. Later still, we work our catchers’ throws to bases and pitchers covering first base during the same session. We try to get as a many important skills covered during a short period of time (usually 12-15 min.) as we can. In the same vein we try to get each individual player as many “touches” or times active with the baseball as we can. It really is a thing of beauty when the routine becomes etched in players’ minds. They move form session to session like clockwork and much more gets done. It will take time and practice though. Lastly, remember 2 or more fungoes going at once is a great idea, but this also means that 2 or more baseballs are flying around too. Baseballs will get loose. Keep this in mind when designing yours. Finally, when designing something for junior high players, modify for ability level. Arms are simply not as strong at that age. Modify, but don’t dumb it down.

Here are some cool Youtube clips that I found.  They are good examples of a teams maximizing their time and touching upon many skills during pre-game. The first two clips are baseball and the third is a softball example.  Fastpitch softball teams, often times, have very quick and efficient pre-game routines. There are a ton of things to be learned by watching  good softball teams do their pre-game routines. Although, these are not the only examples. My advice is to watch what other teams do and ultimately create something that is yours. 

Please feel free to comment. Especially, if you have any ideas to share 🙂

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 & Softball Fielding Drill: The Bucket Game

Bucket Drill

This is designed to be a fun fielding drill. Divide the players into 2 teams. Place one team at SS and the other at 2B.  Have 2 coaches alternate hitting to each team. Each coach will need a bucket of balls.

Objective: Field a ground ball cleanly while moving forward and hit one of  the two buckets placed on home plate. 

Scoring: One bucket should be placed on top of the other. The top bucket is worth 3 points. The bottom bucket is worth 1 point. The top bucket is worth more in order to encourage better throws that a catcher could handle in a game situation.  It’s up to you, but I allow younger kids to bounce it in, and it still counts. Depending on age and the skill level of your group adjust the scoring accordingly.

I like to draw a line in the dirt as starting point for 2 reasons:

  1. If you don’t, the players will start creeping closer to the bucket in order to make the throw shorter as the drill continues.
  2. You want to keep the players in the habit of moving forward on ground balls. They must actually field the ball in front of the line, but they can’t cross the line until the ball is hit by the coach.
  3. It also allow me to adjust the depth.  One day your team may do it at the edge of the infield grass, and sometimes deeper. Depth could also be varied throughout the game.

I recommend hitting through each team 5-7 times.  The team with the most points wins. I also suggest making it worth something for the winning team.  The winning team could have their end of practice conditioning cut in half, or maybe they could watch the other team put all of the gear away. Be creative.  I like the competitive nature of the drill, and it simulates an aggressive throw to the plate.  Players of all ages (t-ball to college) will really get into it. Enjoy 🙂

If you have any variations on this drill or ideas on how to make this drill better please leave a comment.

If you like this drill, check out this one:

https://coach5150.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/7-point-drill/

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/