Forget Everything I’ve Ever Told You About Pitching

by Randy Sullivan
in blog

Last weekend we hosted another Elite Performers Bootcamp. In the aftermath of the hurricane, the weather was fantastic. We didn’t take much of a hit here, but our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina who were more severely impacted.

During the morning session of day 1, we completed each player’s physical assessment and video analysis. One of the pitchers I evaluated (we’ll call him John) was a tall lefty with robotic, boxy mechanics. When he stepped on the mound for his video it was clear that he had been heavily coached and had worked on refining his movement pattern for a long time. He started his motion by lifting his lead leg up into a flaming pose, he then brought straight down and drifted to landing without ever engaging his back leg. During the process he opened his arms wide into a “power T” and pointed the ball toward second base before shifting his weight to the ball of his foot, striding across his body and landing softly on his lead leg while allowing his knee to leak forward as he began accelerating the ball forward.

The Stalker radar gun showed 76 mph.

John’s dad reported that he had been frustrated lately because he wasn’t attracting any attention from college recruiters and his velocity had been declining steady.

In my opening presentation I had given explanations and video and photographic examples that highlighted connected, healthy and powerful movement patterns. These illustrations were juxtaposed against patterns deemed disconnected, potentially unhealthy and less powerful. When it came time for John’s video to be analyzed, he and his father moved to the front of the room and assumed their positions in “the hot seat”. As I began grading and describing the inefficiencies in John’s delivery, I noticed an uneasiness in both John and his dad. As I spoke, father and son began cutting their eyes at one another, demonstrating the body language of nervous criminal being interrogated. I paused and said to both “I get it. This happens all the time. John, I’m pretty sure I know who your number one pitching coach has been for most of your life.”

“Yes sir, it was my dad,” he replied.

His dad laughed and interjected, “And it has all been wrong.”

I smiled, as I hearkened back to the first Texas Baseball Ranch’s Elite Pitchers Boot Camp with my oldest son, Ty.

When he was 10, it began to look like pitching was going to be Ty’s thing, so I went on line and researched anything and everything I could find on pitcher training. At the top of the Google search was Pitching.com the website of the late Dick Mills. I purchased everything he offered and dug in.

Like most pitching instruction of the era, it was grounded in a quest for “picture perfect”, repeatable mechanics. “Up down and out, drift to landing” – I must have said that to Ty a thousand times in our backyard practices. Balance point was a big thing then too so every night when he brushed his teeth I made him stand on one leg like a flamingo. He got really good at standing on one leg

We also did a lot of towel drills, because the gurus of the time told us it create “visual velocity” and make it seem like he was throwing harder than he was.

Ty was an eager and compliant student.

He executed his training plan to a tee.

I thought I was a brilliant master teacher and a candidate for father of the year.

I was convinced we had “figured it out”.

The program I designed for him was so effective that by the time he was a 18 he was a 78-81 mph “elite prospect” who was being recruited by… virtually no one.

That’s when we found The Texas Baseball Ranch and signed up for a boot camp.

It was 4th of July weekend 2009, and Ty was preparing to enter school at the University of West Florida, the only program to offer him a chance to play after high school. We knew he needed to add some velocity if was going to survive at the collegiate level, and this seemed like a positive step forward.

Upon our arrival at The Ranch, we registered, exchanged pleasantries with some of the other campers and parents and settled into our chairs in the sweltering Houston heat. During the initial presentation Ron described his interpretation of efficient pitching mechanics, the Bernstein Principle, and energy system specificity. Within an hour, he had logically debunked nearly every a pitching “absolute” I had been teaching for years.

That night at dinner, I asked Ty, “So what do you think so far?”

Not wanting to hurt my feelings, he said, “It’s different, that’s for sure. I think maybe we can use some of it…”

I interrupted him, “Here’s what I think. You know everything I’ve been teaching you about pitching for nearly your entire life? You should stop doing all of it immediately. We’re starting over effective right now.”

And so we did.

By the time he reported to the UWF campus in Pensacola, Ty’s velocity had climbed to 87 mph. Two years later he was topping out at 93. He ultimately transferred to a JUCO and finally achieved his dream of playing NCAA division 1 baseball.

When the video analysis was complete, our Director of Player Development, Josh Wagner did something brilliant. He asked, “John, have you ever played any other sports besides baseball?”

“Umm. I was a football quarterback in middle school”, he responded.

Josh chuckled and quipped, “Are we talking ‘football football’, or ‘Madden football’” as he pretended to manipulate an imaginary game controller with his hands.

“He was actually a pretty good passer,” his dad reported.

Pointing to the TV screen where John’s video was still rolling, Josh stated, “I’d be willing to bet lunch that when you threw a football, you didn’t look like that.”

So after we broke for lunch, we asked John to throw a football off the mound as if he were pitching. Below are  screen shots of final connection at lead leg weight-bearing foot plant of his football throw and his baseball pitch.

john-baseball-coveredjohn-football-covered

                     Baseball                                                                    Football 

So why the vast difference in the movement pattern for the two throws? Some would argue it’s the weight or the shape of the football. For me it’s this…

When he threw the football it was a relatively novel skill compared to his baseball throw, so he subconsciously chose the most natural and connected movement pattern he could find. However, the simple act of holding baseball in his hand stimulated his nervous system to adopt the disconnected pattern he and his loving father had engrained so well.

I see it all the time when I’m dealing with pitchers in pain. Their baseball throws are painful and disconnected, but if you have them throw a football, a weighted ball, a frisbee, a bell club, a shoe, a small dog… whatever, their arm action immediately improves and the pain disappears.

John and his dad left the camp this weekend with a customized, multidimensional training plan that included, mobility exercises, throwing drills to connect his movement pattern, a personalized weight lifting plan, and a world class warm-up and recovery process. I have no doubt that he will achieve his dream of getting to 90mph and when he does, he’ll get the opportunities he has been looking for.

The experience with John this weekend reconfirmed something I’ve known for a long time. Throwing is a natural motion. Most disconnections that lead to injury and rob pitchers of velocity are taught… drilled and etched into the nervous system by well meaning parents and coaches. It’s not their fault. They’re only trying to help. I’ve never seen a single coach our parent who was trying to make a player worse or get them hurt. They’re teaching what they know… what they’ve always been told. But their knowledge is either incomplete or flat out wrong. The coaches are teaching what their coaches taught them and the parents are reinforcing what all of the guys they paid to give their son lessons have shown them.

I know this.

I know because I did the exact same thing. And it all changed for my son when I finally realized it and gave him the most important coaching tip I have ever given…

“Forget everything I’ve ever told you about pitching.”

Do you need to add some velocity to you fastball?

If you’re not chucking it 3-5 mph ahead of your competitive peer group and have aspirations of playing at the next level, the answer to that question is yes. Since 2011, we have helped over 160 athletes break the 90 mph threshold (always measured with a Stalker radar gun on an indoor turf mound).

Our next Elite Performers Boot Camp scheduled Nov 12/13. Click here to sign up and we’ll help you learn a proven, world-class process for adding velocity.

I know there are a lot of folks out there telling you they have a program that will increase your velo. Some of them are quite good. By I offer you this word of caution: If your velocity enhancement plan doesn’t include a physical assessment by a qualified medical professional, and if it isn’t customized specifically for you may be playing with a loaded gun. If you’re in or considering program where every athlete does the same thing and risky mechanical patterns or physical constraints aren’t addressed, EJECT and RUN.

And don’t stop running until you get to Plant City, Florida for our Elite Performers Boot Camp. We’ll show you a way to add velocity safely and smartly. Your eyes will be opened to a whole new universe of opportunity.

See you at the Ranch!

randy clinic headshot

Randy Sullivan, MPT

CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

P.S. Can’t make it to one of our available camp dates, no worries. Call Amy at 1-866-787-4533 and tell her you’d like to schedule a Precision Strike, One Day, On-on -One Evaluation and Training Session.

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