Thursday, April 28, 2016

Are Pitching Drills Really a Good Tool to Improve Poor Mechanics?

Prior to about 2004,  I too once believed that pitching drills were the "Holy Grail" of teaching and correcting mechanical faults.   After reading what the research says about the value of pitching drills for improving mechanics...I no longer feel that way, in fact, I believe drills may be one of the biggest reasons why pitchers are too mechanical, over-think, and sometimes move too slow.  Thus why pitching drills reduce pitching velocity.

Since 2004 I have not recommended pitching drills for pitchers at any level.

I now understand that in an activity like pitching, which is a complex two-phase motor skill with no natural breaks or stopping points, drills hinder the flow or the rhythm of a pitching delivery.

Like the golf swing, there is no stopping and yet pitchers are continuously taught to stop at the balance point in order to feel balanced. Stopping at any point teaches the pitcher's body that there is a break in the flow so it will naturally want to slow down at the point for emphasis.

The science is quite clear on why pitching drills are not valuable for improving pitching mechanics.  This article reveals the science and also provides a video showing the differences between a college pitcher doing the towel drill and an MLB pitcher throwing a baseball:

We see slow movements and hesitations often while doing video analysis...which allows us how to evaluate any pitcher's delivery by slowing it down and going frame-by-frame.   It becomes clear then why pitchers are losing 5-7 and sometimes 10 mph because they do not use their bodies efficiently to maximize force production.

Slow movements and hesitation reduce velocity.  Pitching drills tend to produce slower movements and hesitations which is another reason why they can reduce velocity.

Pitching velocity is developed mainly from the first movement that a pitcher makes as he moves from his back leg to his front leg. Most of a pitcher's velocity potential will result from how he  shifts his weight as it moves over the displacement of a long stride.

The faster the pitcher moves his body from as far away from the plate as possible, the more momentum his body will produce and the more energy will be available to shift to the ball.

The more efficient a pitcher's movement is during this short time, the more potential energy he will have to shift momentum to the next body part up "the kinetic chain". If he moves too slowly, he may not have enough impulse to get his body in the correct position for the ball release.

If he moves too quickly, he may inadvertently shift his upper and lower body together so that both will rotate at the same time upon landing. The point being made here is that the movement of the pitcher's lower body away from the back leg can contribute to improved arm speed.  In effect, the lower body is the aspect of the pitching movement pattern drives the eventual speed of the upper body and arm.

Once pitchers learn the sequence of a high velocity pitching delivery they are able to understand how to use their bodies more efficiently and productively.  It becomes clear why a drill

If pitching drills isolate the upper body and do not take into account the important and necessary role of the lower body, a pitcher will be taught something that never occurs in the total pitching movement.

The Kneeling Drill

For example, the "kneeling drill" is used commonly in youth and high school baseball. I once endorsed it. The purpose of this drill is to isolate and focus on using trunk rotation. However, the movement of the trunk in a full pitch is dependent totally on the momentum that is transferred from the lower body. Removing the lower body in this drill will have little benefit and removes a most important aspect of pitching mechanics - ordered movements sequentially build momentum.

The Towel Drill

Another popular drill is the "towel drill". This drill is designed to help the pitcher get more extension with his throwing arm so the ball is closer to the hitter at release. In effect, this drill teaches the pitcher to reach out further to extend his release point. There are three problems with practicing this drill.

The first is that a towel and not a ball is used. When you throw a baseball, you release the ball. The towel drill also requires the pitcher to fully extend out and finish the pitch while still holding the towel. Not only does a towel not feel like a ball, but also never does a pitcher not release the ball.

The second problem with this drill is that it may teach an error in how the trunk is used. Because the pitcher focuses on extending his arm, he will concentrate on reaching out . . . and in doing so his trunk will flex forward before it starts to rotate. This timing error will reduce power and throwing velocity.

However, the more fundamental difference to what occurs in a full pitch is that the ball is released well before the arm extends (Broer & Houtz, 1967; Gollnick & Karpovich, 1964; Hay, 1993).

Thus, the towel drill trains a movement that will precipitate injury and compete with proper mechanics. The only possible way a pitcher can add extension to his release point is by increasing his starting momentum as he moves away from the rubber. This should help increase his stride length which will aid in developing more powerful trunk rotation and trunk flexion both of which are major causes of power development.

The third problem and the one which I believe causes elbow injury, is that when you do the towel drill the arm is fully extended before it snaps out in front. When pitching a baseball the arm never gets to full extension but remains slightly flexed because the body protects itself from such injury producing actions...since throwing is a natural activity having been around for thousands of years.

The Major Drawback Of Pitching Drills

A major drawback with drills is they emphasize the pitching delivery in parts rather than as a completely dynamic motion with proper rhythm, tempo, and timing, and with no unnatural breaks.
This dynamic movement must be practiced in the context of one fluid motion . . . mostly at game intensity. Pitching drills interfere with that requirement.

The question that should be asked is: "How will pitching drill activities be interpreted by a pitcher's body?" The answer is they will be processed as a completely different activity with little to no transfer to a pitcher's game-delivery.

Are there places for drills or partial practice? I believe they have their place largely with beginning pitchers.   There are far better ways to teach mechanics and improve mechanical faults than by using drills.

Finally, what I see as the biggest misconception and confusion in teaching baseball pitching is the emphasis on the arm as the source of power as well as thinking that building more overall arm strength will help maximize velocity.

The arm is the delivery device of the ball and the source of control while the legs and body are what provide the main source of acceleration.

What has influenced me most is the idea that pitching is mainly a skilled activity, which proper conditioning may enhance but if it does, only to a minor degree. Pitching is not about strength or about how far a pitcher can throw a baseball.

Pitching is mainly about developing skilled pitches that the pitcher is capable of using to hit the catcher's glove or other areas in and around the strike zone.

As former MLB pitching coach Rick Peterson always has said: "Pitchers are professional glove hitters."

With more refined physical and mental pitching skills, every at bat for a hitter should be uncomfortable and unsuccessful.

Pitchers, parents and coaches should understand why it is the body that produces velocity and not the arm. This understanding should go a long way in reducing the avalanche of pitching arm injuries that have increased at all levels of baseball unnecessarily.

I honestly believe that pitchers today are wasting as much as if not more than 50% of their practice time on activities that do not improve performance.

Imagine how quickly pitchers would improve when they understand which activities are valuable and performance enhancing...and which are not.

We don't believe that pitching drills have a place in helping pitchers improve their mechanics or their pitching velocity.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

Little League: Don't Let This Happen

At Little League® International in Williamsport, Pa., and at our Regional Offices, calls and emails come in all year long about situations that are happening at one of our 7,000 local leagues. Many of these calls and emails inform us of some very positive initiatives spearheaded by our millions of volunteers. However, there are also negative situations.
"Don't Let This Happen to Your League" details a real-world scenario, how it has impacted a league, and how you might learn from it.

The names have been omitted in the following scenario, but the situation is real.

The Situation:
A local Little League program's Opening Day Planning Committee has organized a wide variety of fun, family-oriented activities for the players, families, and volunteers as part of its Opening Day festivities.

In a municipal park located within walking distance of the league's field complex, a mini-carnival has been set up, complete with food vendors, a set of mechanical/carnival-type rides, and an inflatable bounce house. The mechanical/carnival rides and bounce house are staffed by parents who signed up for one-hour shifts. During the day, two separate incidents occur, one at a mechanical/carnival ride, and another inside the bounce house, where children are injured.

A young boy slipped as he was getting on one of the mechanical/carnival rides, cutting the back of his head and sustaining a concussion. Nearby in the bounce house, a young girl became tangled in the mesh netting and broke her arm. In each case, the family took the child to the emergency room. Since it was a league function, the Board of Directors submitted the injury claim through their group insurance, expecting the claims to be covered under the league's accident policy.

The Outcome:
When the league submitted the two claims to Little League International, both were denied by the insurance carrier. The reason given for the claim denials was that the bounce house and mechanical/carnival rides were not covered by the group accident and general liability insurance for local Little Leagues even though the mini-carnival was a part of the Opening Day event. In each case, the families sued the league for medical expenses. Eventually, the league settled with the families, and the amount of the settlements came to several thousand dollars which were paid out of the local league's funds due to specific exclusions in the insurance policies.
In the first season following the settlements, the league was crippled by the unexpected outlay of funds from their league account. Player enrollment was directly impacted by the league having to increase its participation fee by 50 percent and suspending its player scholarship program for families unable to afford to pay the participation fee. Enrollment dropped from approximately 350 participants to less than 250, and the league could not afford to enter any teams into postseason tournaments for the next two seasons. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What a Curveball and GPS Can Tell Us About Our Brain

Our brains track moving objects by applying one of the algorithms your phone's GPS uses, according to researchers at the University of Rochester. This same algorithm also explains why we are fooled by several motion-related optical illusions, including the sudden "break" of baseball's well known "curveball illusion."

For more on this research click HERE

Sunday, April 10, 2016

13 Questions You Should Ask Your Pitching Instructor

Most pitching instructors have good intentions.  However, good intentions will get your son nowhere as a pitcher unless your son's instructor has deep knowledge of mechanics and the ability to videotape and explain to you and your son exactly what is going on with his delivery.

Unfortunately, 95% or more of instructors do not videotape regularly. Most, never. They simply rely on what they have learned or try to pass on to you how they pitched.

That, of course, never works for very long.

If you expect your son to continue to improve his performance, then videotaping must be a large part of his training.  Not only does the instructor need feedback to see what is going on but the student needs feedback as well.

The Most Important Questions

Here are some important questions you should ask your instructor about your son's mechanics. These questions are extremely important if you hope your son to maximize his velocity and his overall performance while reducing the risk of injury:

1.  How is my son's back leg action?  Is he collapsing?

2.  What about his posture?  Does he keep his trunk upright?

3.  How about his weight shift?  Does he let his front hip carry his lead leg out or does he let his lead leg down first?

4.  Is he moving sideways or rotating early?

5.  Does he break his hands at the right time and in the right position?

6.  How's his arm action? Does he make a nice pendulum swing going down, back and up in alignment with his trunk or is he wrapping his arm behind him?

7.  Is his throwing elbow getting to shoulder height at landing? Does he have a low or high elbow?

8.  Does he use his lead arm and glove to help accelerate his trunk rotation?  Does he get his lead arm at the right time while his throwing arm is still down and back?

9.  Does he land at his height and does he brace his front leg and hip or are his hips too low and he continues to drift forward?

10. At landing, is his head in the center of the triangle formed by his two feet?  Or is his head and trunk too far forward? Does he have some trunk tilt toward his glove side or are his shoulders level which means he is not using his lead arm?

11. When his arm lays back into maximum external rotation (arm lays back when ball is facing the sky) are his hips and trunk completely facing home plate? Has his trunk flexed forward?

12.  At ball release, are his head and shoulders positioned out over his landing knee or are they positioned back behind?

13.  Does he finish with a near flat back showing the back of his shoulder to the hitter while his throwing arm finishes down and back behind his landing knee?  Make sure his arm does not finish at waist height when viewed from the back.

You do not have to have him answer all these questions at one time, but pick 4 or 5. That will be enough for you to make a judgment about him.

If your instructor is knowledgeable he should be able to answer all these questions. If he is not he will blow you off saying this is not that important or we'll get to that or some other vague answer.

Always be asking WHY?

Always ask him to demonstrate what he is telling your son to do.

If you want your son to maximize his performance and reduce the risk of injury, then your instructor is responsible as long as you are paying him.

Ask him why he does not videotape the most complex and fastest human motion in all of sports. He will say he doesn't need to because he has experience.

If you want to learn how to help your son maximize his mechanics, his velocity and his overall performance while reducing the risk of injury, then this is all you need to use during the off-season if you want your son to improve.

Article Source: 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Come Check Us Out!

If you haven't been in a for a while, come check out the new additions/upgrades. New additions to the hitting and pitching instruction areas have been made and we are continuing to look for ways to improve your experience!