How Visualizing a Bad Performance Can Help an Athlete Avoid One

The fear of failure—and the shame, embarrassment and ridicule that accompanies it—is a major hindrance of fluid, athletic motion and good performance on the field. It’s common wisdom that positive visualization and self-talk will enhance an athlete’s mindset, boosting confidence and outcomes on the field. Though this wisdom is tried, true and effective, it may not address a core problem that plagues ballplayers at all level: fear of failure.

 

The Fear of Failure Will Crush a Ballplayer…If He Lets It

Today was the day—you filled out the recruiting questionnaires, attended the showcases, filmed the videos and emailed the coaches. And today, the recruiting coordinator is in the stands with his radar gun fixed squarely on you.

Holy. Crap.

You’re nervous, your coach is nervous, your Mom, Dad, Grandma and dog are all nervous. It’s the biggest day of your young life. How do you separate yourself from the crushing disappointment you’ll feel if you, well, choke?

As a former pitcher myself, I can tell you for a fact that the thought will run through your head. You’ll be out there on the mound knowing full well:

If I pitch well today, I may get my chance. If I don’t pitch well, I may never get another.

Coaches and athletes alike know that when you try harder…things only get worse.

 

The Best Players Don’t Give a Darn

In the sports world, a revered trait among athletes is to be perceived to not give a darn. Though I’m using the PG version of this sentiment, it rings true—the best athletes rise to the occasion and succeed under pressure because they’re either not afraid to fail, or are completely detached from the idea of failing. Either way, the best players pitch, hit and play like nothing is on the line…even when everything is on the line.

Positivity and confidence-boosting techniques definitely deserve a place at the table, but they may not remove the fear of failure in the same way as the technique outlined by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the famous 18th century book Hagakure.

 

Why Samurai Regularly Visualized Their Own Death

Hagakure, compiled by author Yamamoto Tsunetomo, is a guide in Bushido, the code of the Samurai warrior. Samurai lived and died by the sword, and as such were subject to intense physical and mental training. Too many American athletes neglect mental training altogether, but they can learn countless lessons from the Samurai code. This passage from Hagakure is especially important:

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

 

Why Is It Good to Meditate on Such Awful Things?

The goal, Tsunetomo explains, is to have experienced death so many times in one’s own head that he becomes immune to it, detached to it, and unconcerned by it.

When a Samurai had imagined his own death enough, he entered battle with a sense that he was already dead. How could he be afraid of his opponent’s sword if he was already dead?

The goal was to obtain a clear mind that allowed the warrior to simply react without fear and thoughts slowing down his sword.

Athletes of all sports report entering the zone, which is this same state of thoughtless action in which they play at their full potential without being slowed down by an anxious, cluttered mind.

 

How Does The Samurai Code Apply to The Ballplayer?

Baseball is clearly not life or death.

However, time spent visualizing the outcomes an athlete fears and struggles with can have a clear, tangible benefit. If a player only spends his mental training reinforcing confidence and positivity, what is he to do when he finds himself on the brink of failure, or when he has failed?

Experience always helps—things are less scary when we’ve been there or done them before. For pitchers who get nervous and fearful with runners on base (a common affliction), visualizing himself giving up those runners and watching those runs score—all the while in the safe, calm, no-consequence environment of his own head—can help him realize that it’s not the end of the world. Failure is a huge part of every sport.

The best athletes learn to shrug their shoulders in defeat, call it a fluke and turn the page. But when athletes take it too hard, get too anxious, and dwell on it too much…they struggle to make in-game adjustments or move on mentally to the next game.

 

How to Do This

Athletes, if you’re mature enough to have read this far, you’re capable of doing this yourself: sit down, close your eyes, get comfortable and imagine yourself in a pressure situation. Then, imagine it all going wrong. Do it over and over, then open your eyes 5, 10 or 20 minutes later.

You’re okay, right? You’re still you. Remind yourself this—the goal is to detach yourself from negative consequences and know for a fact that no matter the outcome, you’ll play another day.

And for parents and coaches, sit down with your athlete(s). Explain to him or her the drill and close your eyes together. Then, when you come to, have a discussion. Explain how negative outcomes will always be there and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them. When we face our fears, we realize that they hold only as much power as we allow them to. And, we give ourselves the best chance to succeed.

 

For The Samurai, They Played For Keeps

For the Samurai warrior, combat was not a game—it was life or death. If a Samurai was afraid of being killed in combat, his swordplay would suffer and he would almost certainly be killed—it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mental training is sacrosanct in martial arts, because they know that a fluid, uncluttered mind yields the best performance; the body can react and do what it knows how to do. For this reason, meditation, visualization and mental training is just as vital as physical training.

Modern athletes can use this technique—meditating and visualizing negative consequences—as part of their mental training. It is not necessarily the right practice for everyone, but as athletes and coaches look for an edge in performance, they should give it a try and see how it fits into their mental skills routine.

 

Want to Learn More on The Mental Game From Coach Dan?

Sign up for his free pitching strategies video course, called Ace of the Staff Lite. 

It’s filled with mental strategies for all facets of pitching – holding runners, pitch sequences, confidence, and much more.

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A New Reason Why Youth Athletes Shouldn’t Specialize Early

It is well-documented that young athletes should not be specializing early in any one sport. Baseball is an often-cited culprit, as the repetitive stresses of throwing accumulate much faster with players who specialize and only play baseball. These players end up playing most of the year, never giving their body the rest it needs nor the unique stresses and stimuli that other sports can provide.

…but we know all this, right? It’s well-documented that early-specialization in baseball is a major risk factor for throwing injuries. Rather than re-hash this, today we’re going to draw on the wisdom of coach and educator Paul Reddick, in what he says is a critical, but often-overlooked reason that young athletes – not just baseball players – should be playing multiple sports.

 

Sports Help Young People Grow Emotionally and Socially

Sports offer numerous life-lessons and growth opportunities, including the following:

  • Meeting new people
  • Working as a team
  • Interacting with others in a stressful environment
  • Dealing with adversity
  • Dealing with failure
  • Dealing graciously with success
  • Helping, teaching and mentoring others
  • Accepting that luck, unfairness and inequity are parts of life
  • Learning physical limits
  • Learning mental and physical toughness
  • Much, much more

But specifically, from Paul Reddick’s point of view, let’s discuss some major reasons young athletes should not specialize early.

 

Reason #1: Missed Opportunities to Make Friends

Paul explains in his video how he met a lifelong friend through a sport that he was – quite plainly – bad at.

If players only stay in their most successful lane, limiting the pool of social exposure to other athletes, they’re limiting the amount of positive interactions and potential friendships they can develop.

Takeaway: Kids may be missing out on amazing friendships they might develop when exposed to new people and experiences.

 

Reason #2: Learn to Play Different Roles Within a Team

We’re not talking about shortstop versus third base. Rather, Paul rightly argues that young athletes should be put in situations where they can be both successful and unsuccessful. This forces them to adjust their mindset as they learn to play supporting roles on teams. These roles can help young athletes better understand team dynamics and how even star players can contribute in unique ways.

In business, relationships, and sports there are all sorts of roles that people play to make sure overall goals are met and harmony is achieved. Players don’t learn this when they’re allowed to only play when they can be the star. Kids need to learn

Takeaway: Kids should learn to support others and the team from different perspectives. This helps them understand how to not be the star in an organization, which they will need later in life.

 

Reason #3: Players Learn to Compete When They Can Play Other Sports

Athletes competing in only one sport year-round will run into long periods where they only train and don’t compete in games. This is a natural progression of in-season to off-season, but when players choose multiple sports, they can continue to learn how to compete and build mental toughness without burning their bodies out with repetitive motions.

We all know champion professional athletes who have ice in their veins in the most pressure-packed situations. Paul Reddick argues that they didn’t develop this shooting free-throws or hitting off a batting tee, though both activities have their place. Rather, they learned to develop the eye of the tiger, so to speak, through regular competition and being placed in situations where they had to step up and be mentally tough. For athletes who play multiple sports, they’ll get more opportunities to do this in more unique ways.

Takeaway: Early-specialization can rob a young athlete of the chance to compete more often with more unique experiences and challenges. Multiple sports provide the venue to be placed in more situations that require mental toughness for a larger portion of the year without increasing repetitive injury risk.

 

Check Out the Full Video Here Below

Paul has some great advice for parents and players that we at EBP wanted to share with our audience. Check out the full video below from which this article was adapted, and be sure to leave us a comment if you agree or disagree!

10 Keys to a Better Long Toss Session for Baseball Pitchers

Note from the Editor-in-Chief: We love long toss at Elite Baseball Performance, especially programs that are smart, individualized, and well structured for the right time of year.  Alan Jaeger has done a lot of great work in this area and has really helped popularize long toss in general.  Dale does a great job discussing some of these concepts and points he uses to get the most out of long toss below.  If you are interested in learning more, we encourage to learn more from Alan’s Thrive on Throwing 2 program and be sure to check out his J-bands for your arm care program.  

 

In baseball, there is no substitute for a well-conditioned and healthy arm. Virtually no baseball specific activity can be done successfully if you have a weak or an injured arm. You can’t make accurate throws if you’re an infielder, you can’t gun down a runner from the outfield, and you certainly can’t pitch well.

I’ll say it again: the bottom line is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, conditioned and healthy arm to play the game. It can be the deciding factor as to whether a player moves on to the next level.

In this article, you’ll learn how to better structure and improve your long toss sessions/

“Your arm is your life line as a player — it can either be an asset or liability. Be proactive — it is one of your five major tools, so treat it that way.”

 

 

When Should a Player Implement a Long Toss Routine?

The primary goal of any throwing program should be to put the arm in the best position possible to be healthy and perform at the highest level. The next priority is to build strength, endurance and accuracy. The most important time to establish a throwing program is during the offseason, for two main reasons:

 

  1. No Interference From Games and Practices

When a player is in the offseason, there are no demands of games or practices giving players the freedom to follow a sound throwing routine. This freedom allows players to throw based on their own personal needs and work on specific mechanics. Also, in the absence of excessive game related throwing, the player will be better able to recover adequately between sessions.

 

  1. Less Wear and Tear From In-Season Throwing

When a player is in season, bullpens and game-related throwing put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the arm. It has been shown that arm strength, more specifically rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency, actually decreases over the course of the season. Because of this, we don’t want to add any excess stress on the arm during the season.

 

How to Long Toss

A long toss session can be broken into two phases: the stretching-out phase, and the pull-down phase.

 

Stretching-Out Phase

This is the first stage of a long toss session where our goal is to let the arm stretch itself out with a loose arm action. Here we are allowing our arm to throw as far as it wants to throw while keeping throws pain free and effortless. Be aware of keeping sound mechanics.

The goal of this phase is to “stretch out the arm,” creating a greater capacity for arm speed using a longer, looser arm motion. Progressively throw farther and farther until comfortably maxed-out in distance. After peaking in distance, we’ll start the pull-down phase.

 

Pull-Down Phase

After reaching maximum distance during the stretch out phase, we will work back in towards our throwing partner. Because the muscles have been lengthened and the arm has been adequately loosened, we have a greater capacity for the arm to generate speed.

As you come in, you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull your throws downhill and not sail them over your partner’s head. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw to gain this control, you cannot effectively increase your arm speed.

To pull your throws down to your partner, we will have to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw toward your throwing partner. We want to focus on maintaining good balance and creating downward extension through your release point towards your target.

The number of throws during the pull-down phase will vary from player to player. A general rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw.

Arm speed and endurance comes from the combination of both phases. The additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well-conditioned muscles. Now that we’re clear on what a long-toss session looks like, let’s discuss some ways to maximize your training effect.

 

Baseball Field

 

10 Tips to Get The Most Out of Your Long Toss Session

  1. Warm up properly using a dynamic warm up.
  2. Always maintain sound throwing mechanics. Don’t let your mechanics degrade by overthrowing.
  3. Keep your throws loose and nearly effortless. You should not be straining to reach your target.
  4. If you max out in the stretching-out phase in terms of distance, don’t worry, just stay at that distance and continue to work there until your arm allows more. Remember, the end point of your throwing distance should still see a nice controlled throwing motion with your normal mechanics.
  5. Remember that the goal of a long toss program is to progressively build arm strength through increasing distance.
  6. Let your arm dictate the number of throws that you perform at each distance. If you feel strong, feel free to throw a few extra, but remember: if at any point you feel sore or fatigued, stop throwing. You should never throw through fatigue and certainly not through soreness.
  7. When returning from max distances to throw from 60 feet, concentrate on finishing through your release and forcing the ball down – it is easy to miss high.
  8. Use a step behind before every throw. It keeps the hips properly closed preventing the arm from flying open too early, especially as you stretch out to longer distances. Add a second crow-hop if necessary to build momentum.
  9. Starting a long toss program early on will help you develop a unique understanding of your arm that will pay big dividends for years to come. Get to know your arm now and put yourself ahead of the competition.
  10. Perform a cool down. Gently stretch and perform a post-throwing mobility routine to help speed up your recovery and maintain muscle tissue quality.

 

Don’t Forget Arm Care & Prehab

Even the strongest arm is vulnerable to serious injury if not properly cared for with functional rotator cuff and scapular stabilization exercises.

By neglecting the importance of a rotator cuff strengthening program and an adequate throwing warm up routine, you are pushing the odds in the favor of injuring yourself at some point.

Elite Baseball Performance has a great free arm care program designed to build your base strength.

 

Use These 10 Tips to Improve Your Arm Strength & Health

Without the opportunity to long toss, the arm won’t gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Following a quality arm care and long toss regimen will pay dividends in the long-run. Use the guidelines in this article to have better long toss sessions and build arm strength for years to come.

4 Tips for Strength Coaches to Connect with Baseball Coaches

The ability to connect with players is a topic getting more and more attention in the sports performance world these days. But, what are some strategies for connecting with the coaches of the athletes you train?

This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I figured no better topic to get me back into blogging.

I see a lot of articles on the science involved with being a strength coach, how to be a great programmer, how to teach the squat, top five accessory lifts for baseball players etc.

But, as we all know, being an effective strength coach is more than just the nuts and bolts of a micro-cycle or setting up correctly for a deadlift.

Strength coaches need to be equipped with a certain set of interpersonal skills which allow them to communicate efficiently with the many different personalities they will deal with daily. Athletes are the obvious example that comes to mind, but here I want to focus on the importance of a good relationship between the strength coach and skill coach, and how it can make or break the progress of the athletes involved.

I have seen this relationship from multiple angles in my career, both as both a player and an strength coach. If you’re not careful and collaborative, the dynamic can quickly turn into a coach vs. coach relationship leaving an athlete in a tough spot.

One coach pitted against the other can be escalated to even greater heights thanks to the infinite amount of training information available at your fingertips thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, with little guidance on sorting out the good from the bad.

Most coaches develop their ideas and philosophies through personal experiences. Because no two coaches have the exact same background or coaching path, it’s unlikely they’ll see eye-to-eye on every training philosophy; that’s why strength coaches need to be adaptable!

It is naïve to believe there is a one size fits all approach that a strength coach can use to effectively communicate with every sport coach they will encounter.

So how does a coach with knowledge and expertise in getting athletes faster and stronger best communicate with a coach whose main concern is putting together lineups, winning games, and teaching how to throw a change-up?

 

Check Your Ego at The Door

In coaching, just like any other profession, there are egos involved. Some strength coaches and baseball coaches are slow to change the way they do things, especially if they have had some success. Resistance or hesitation to implement a new training style or program should not be met with resentment by the strength coach.

Instead, the strength coach must be able to communicate the basic tenants of their program to the sport coach. Explaining how the program would benefit the athletes and ultimately improving sport specific performance.

Remember, the sport coaches measure success in wins and losses, not vertical jump height and back squat numbers.

Too often I have seen a strength coach get frustrated and “write off” a coach because they are unwilling to implement fully what the strength coach recommends. Avoid the urge to get upset, and keep being a professional!

Understand where the coach’s reservations are coming from and keep an open mind, perhaps they have some good points based on their experiences that could help you grow as a baseball strength coach.

However, you can communicate to the baseball coach see the “value” in your program, building trust as you develop a relationship. Start by getting small “training” victories and build these small victories on top of one another.

These victories lead to players buying in you, which will hopefully eventually lead to their coach buying in as well as they start to see the results.

 

Share the Same Goal – Developing Players!

Another thing that is easy for strength coaches to lose sight of is the fact that they are there to elevate the on-field performance of the athletes they work with, through performance training.

Performance training is not the end goal for athletes! This elevation in on-field performance manifests itself in performance!

When I feel I am having trouble communicating or getting through to a coach, I remind myself of this fact, we both want the best for our athletes!

Finding this common ground with a sports coach can create a very strong foundation in which a cohesive work relationship can be built.

Again, patiently describing how you can help the coach and their athletes develop will create value in your training program.

 

Give a Little to Gain A Lot

Many times, a strength coach must be willing to adapt at times to achieve a greater overall goal.

A quick example of this might be getting on board with a baseball coach taking his team through an basic workout or training session once a week to allow those athletes to come train with you 3 other days that week.

Sure, in your head you know that the players will only have minimal gains in performance by training ince per week, but start building that relationship with both the players and coaches will help develop into a longer relationship.

Trying to be a dictator or a “my way or the highway” strength coach, is a sure way to drive them away from you and your training. This is especially true when you haven’t worked with a sport coach before.

 

Be Part of the Team

This is a tricky point, one that I feel is vitally important, but can also be easily misunderstood. I have heard strength coaches complain about how they don’t get respect from baseball coaches and sometimes even athletes they work with.

They get hung up on being called “coach”, complain about buy-in, scheduling difficulties, players being on time, the list goes on.

Usually these are the same coaches that don’t ever attend games or practices, rarely to ever show interest in the athletes on-field performance and then wonder why they may be treated differently from other “on-field” coaches.

As a player, I wanted my strength coach to be “all in” on me and the team! It made me feel like he was a part of the team when I would see him at our games.

I think it’s also an important way to show the sport coach that you care as much about team’s success as they do. Showing up at games, practices etc. can go a long way to smooth over any bumps that may be present in a relationship with a sports coach.

It can also begin to help coaches and player see you as an integral part of the staff. Demanding everyone call you “coach” will not earn you anything but a reputation as power hungry egomaniac.

All of this is great, but it must be mentioned here: you are not a sport-specific coach! Know your role and stick to it.

In no way should you involve yourself with any on-field activities/instruction unless explicitly asked to lend a hand.

It is not unusual to see a competent strength coach playing catch with a rehabbing pitcher or maybe helping out shagging balls during batting practice, but again, only do so if you are asked to assist!

Overstepping your bounds is the quickest way to a sport coaches dog house. Stay in your lane!

As the strength and conditioning profession continues to evolve, interpersonal relationships are becoming more and more important.

Yes, the ability to connect with athletes is an integral part of the job, but so is the ability to connect with their other coaches. Understanding and employing the tips above will go a long way in making sure you relate to the coaches in working towards a common goal for your athletes.

Quick Tips to Never Hang a Curveball Again

You’ve got the hitter 0-1 after a sharp first-pitch fastball for a strike. You then break off a nasty 1/7 curveball, and he swings and misses. The hitter is on the ropes and took an ugly swing, so the catcher calls again for the curveball. You nod in agreement, rock, kick and deliver….

…a big, fat hanger.

He blasts it into the gap, and you don’t know what went wrong. The last curveball was a hammer – hard and straight until the last second, at which point it dropped off the table and embarrassed the guy with the bat. But in trying to make the next one even better, you tensed up, tried too hard, and hung it.

This is an all-too-common scenario, especially for young pitchers.

 

How to Fix Your Curveball During a Game

Some days, a pitcher just doesn’t have it. But no matter how good – or bad – a pitcher’s stuff is on a given day, he has to battle to find, and right the ship before it’s too late. Most days, a pitcher will take the mound with his B or C-grade stuff, and he’ll have to battle and adjust to eek out a win.

Pitching is a game of adjustments. Remember – mechanics are half the battle, and pitchers need to keep a clear mind to let the body do what it knows how to do. Too often, pitchers struggle to locate off-speed pitches because they’re too anxious and nervous about falling behind in the count, failing to execute, or giving up hits.

Relax, pick your spot and execute. Check out the video below for quick adjustments that can be used immediately on the mound!

 

 

How to Throw a Hammer Curveball

If you liked this video, be sure to download my free eBook, How to Throw a Hammer Curveball. You’ll also get access to my entire VIP library of pitching eBooks, courses, videos and weekly updates.

 

How Baseball Players Can Hit Fewer Pop-ups and More Line Drives

In baseball, hitting has been undergoing a revolution in recent years. People are finally starting to realize that hitting the ball on the ground is not the best approach if one wants to have success at the plate.

Hitters are starting to learn that trying to drive the ball in the air can lead to much more success and help them earn chances at the next level. However as more coaches advocate for hitters to drive the ball in the air and avoid hitting ground balls, getting the ball too high in the air – at too high of a launch angle – also results in very little success and can make for a very frustrated hitter. It’s hard to know how to balance all of the information that is how out there on hitting.

In this article, we will discuss how to avoid hitting weak pop-ups that result in outs. With improved swing mechanics, we can turn these pop-ups into line drives and driven fly balls.

 

Pop up vs. Fly Ball 

By definition, a ball hit at a launch angle below 10 degrees is a ground ball, 10-25 degrees is a line drive and anything 25+ is considered a flyball. However, there is a big difference between a ball hit at a 30-degree launch angle and one hit at 60 degrees.

The driven fly balls that hitters are looking for are – depending on the hitter – usually between 25-35 degrees. Anything over 35 degrees, for most hitters, will result in an out. These weakly hit balls that sit in the air long enough to have a fielder camp under and record an out are considered pop-ups.

 

What Causes a Pop-Up?

Anytime the ball goes in the air, the hitter makes contact with the bottom half of the ball. When we drive the baseball in the air (25-35 degrees) we hit just below the centerline of the ball. When the ball gets skied to the infield or shallow outfield, the hitter hits well below the center of the ball. Basically, the lower on the baseball the bats make contact, the higher the launch angle.

 

Ground Ball

Line Drive

 

Pop-Up

 

Why Hitters Hit The Ball Too High In The Air

Often when you see a hitter pop the ball up, it will be accompanied by a coach yelling, “Don’t uppercut.” In fact, the overwhelming number of players that I work with come in believing that pop-ups are caused by the bat moving up too much through the zone. This causes players to avoid dropping their back shoulder, try and stay on top of the ball and keep the ball out of the air. However, this often times causes the problem to get worse. Let me explain.

Every pitch in baseball moves on a downward angle or plane as it travels toward home plate. Successful hitters keep the bat on the plane of the pitch for a long period of time. The longer they stay on plane with the ball, the greater window they have for making hard contact.

Don’t believe me? Watch the video below of a high-level hitter swinging the bat. The bat drops below the baseball and works on an upward plane back up to the ball.

 

Example of Good Upward Plane in a Swing

This would be, by most coach’s standards, upper-cutting. Yet, this is what successful hitters do to square up the ball – hitting the center of it – and create line drives and driven flyballs. Most young hitters try and avoid this because they are so ingrained with the idea of staying on top of the ball or trying to create a level swing.

Taking a downward or level path to the ball actually decreases the time that the bat and ball are on the same plane. This increases the chance that a hitter will either hit the top of the ball and create grounders or clip the bottom of the ball and create weak pop-ups.

 

Example of a Pop-Up

In the video below you’ll that the hitter’s swing plane does not match that of the baseball, and as a result pops it up. His swing plane is too flat.

 

Fix Your Swing and Hit More Balls Hard By Using A Slight Uppercut

The term uppercut has a very negative connotation in the world of baseball. However, just about every high-level hitter swings with a slight uppercut, and doing so is a vital component of having success at the plate.

As stated earlier, successful hitters will have the bat will drop below the ball to get on plane with the pitch early. From here, they will work the bat on an upward path to meet the ball. Most young hitters are so ingrained to avoid working the bat up or “upper-cutting” that they are actually putting themselves more at risk of hitting weak pop-ups by allowing the bat to work level or down, thus increasing the chance of clipping the bottom of the ball.

 

Hitting Drills to Improve Your Swing & Drive The Ball 

Tee-Behind Bat Path Drill

This drill is great for reinforcing a slightly upward swing path. If you swing down on the ball, you’ll hit the second tee in your follow through. If a proper upward swing path is used, the barrel will just clear the top of the second tee. Anytime you hit the second tee, you know you didn’t have proper swing plane.

 

Two-Tee Bat Path Drill

This drill will help you understand what a slight uppercut looks like. Place two tees in front of you, with the center of the second baseball (farther from you) aligned with the top of the first ball.

When done right, you should hit both squarely. If you have insufficient upward plane, the second ball will be popped up and mishit as you swing beneath it on too flat of a swing plane.

Final Thoughts on Swing Plane

With any type of bat path, it is possible for a hitter to hit any part of the baseball. However, most of the time that balls get popped up, it is because the bat is not moving up enough through the hitting zone. Even though most coaches advise against upper-cutting, moving the bat on a more upward path through the hitting zone usually leads to more line drives and far fewer weak pop-ups.

Safe Implementation of a Baseball Interval Throwing Program

Whether it be a pitcher or outfielder rehabbing from shoulder or elbow surgery or injury, no greater sense of joy and excitement overwhelms them than the first day they can throw a baseball.

For some, it is the highlight of last three to four months of hard work, dedication and determination to return to the sport they love and have grown up playing. For others, especially rehabilitation specialists such as physical therapists and athletic trainers, it can be the scariest.

The first time our throwers start throwing, we always have that one question in the back of our mind…will they reinjure themselves?

Although, we would never return someone to throwing without physician clearance, a satisfactory clinical exam, a battery of plyometric testing and proper screening of pitching mechanics, the possibility of re-injury exists.

Before you start the throwing program that has been prescribed, it is important to consider some key components for the program to be properly executed.

Lastly, effective education and communication must be approached for a thrower to fully return to a competitive state.

Key Components to Address Before Starting A Throwing Program

Over the last few years with adolescent baseball injuries on the rise, there have been many throwing programs available for free on the internet developed by baseball coaches and rehabilitation specialists on how to return to throwing following an injury or surgery.

This can be concerning since key variables and questions may not be addressed in these programs. It is critical to analyze the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Common Questions About Interval Throwing Programs

The Who, What, and When

  • Who should I be throwing with?
  • What types of pitches should I throw? Are my mechanics okay?
  • How do I monitor my mechanics changes?
  • How many days a week should I throw?
  • How many days should I rest?

The Where, Why, and How

  • How far should I throw?
  • How hard should I throw?
  • How am I going to monitor my velocity?
  • Should I throw from the mound or flat ground?
  • Can I complete multiple sets in one day?
  • Should I throw on a line, crow hop or arc my throws?
  • If I experience pain, what should I do? Continue or stop?

These key components all need to be addressed because implementing a throwing program without proper supervision and knowledge of that program can be doing more harm than good.

If you do not know the answers to ANY of those questions, you need to ask!  Your doctor and rehabilitation specialist should be able to answer those questions and customized their answer to your unique injury and situation.

For those of us who work in the clinic, we wish we could go outside and throw with our throwers. However, that is not always practical due to limited space, time management with other patients and lastly, insurance.

As rehab specialists, we hope to keep our throwers to the very last day of their rehab. However, insurance does not always allow this due to a limited number of patient visits.

In these cases, what do we do? There have been many times where throwers have been given throwing programs with no direction or insight on how to initiate or complete the program.

Interval throwing programs are an essential part, if not the most important part of the rehabilitation process and should not be overlooked by any means.

It’s what allows us to find out if our throwers are ready for advancement in rehab or if they can return to sport.

Would we allow an ACL patient to initiate running without proper supervision or guidance? How about a soccer player with a sprained ankle? Would we allow them to initiate agility training without first assessing isolated linear and lateral movements?

We know that return to play outcomes are much higher in ACL patient’s when supervised rehabilitation occurs. Why are we not doing the same for our throwers?

These questions must be addressed and the interval throwing program must be supervised at all times.

Players must be monitored so that velocity, volume, mechanics and pain can all be addressed if the thrower has questions, concerns or incidents arise during the program.

Ways to Safely Implement an Interval Throwing Program

The best way to make sure that all of this occurs is through education and communication.

We need to sit down with our throwers and their parents/guardians to educate and direct them on the throwing program itself, how to initiate it and what to do if they have questions or concerns.

The more detail and direction we can provide will ultimately lead to our goal of a safe return and their goal of returning to baseball.

We also need to make sure that there is always an open line of communication between our throwers, their parents/guardians (if the thrower is an adolescent) and the rehab specialist.

Our athletes must know that they can contact us any time if questions or concerns come up so that we can properly guide and educate them through the process. Injuries take a toll on our throwers not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically.

Telling a baseball player that he or she cannot throw can be one of the most disappointing things they could hear.

It is our job to make sure that we provide the highest quality of care to get them back to throwing quickly but most importantly, safely.

The last thing that we would ever want to happen is to have one of our throwers reinjure themselves due to something so simple such as improper guidance, which could have easily been prevented through proper education and communication.

The interval throwing program is something that must never be overlooked or taken lightly. It is such an important part of the rehab process that allows throwers to stress the surgically repaired or injured tissue in a safe and controlled manner.

It also allows our throwers to become more confident as they move throughout the throwing program and their overall rehab.

Most importantly, it gives us the objective information that we have been waiting to find out for the last few months which is, are they ready to return?

Before starting an Interval Throwing Program, it is important to consider the key components of that throwing program by analyzing the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Lastly, effective education and communication can go a long way for the athlete.

The Thought Process of a Big Game Pitcher

Why does one pitcher succeed with below-average velocity and “stuff,” while another who throws 96-98mph posts a 7.00 ERA?

Why do flame-throwing rookies have such a hard time getting outs, despite amazing ability? Regardless of how hard a pitcher throws, he must learn how to read hitters, execute pitches, and process all the information he’s given on every swing a hitter takes.

In this article, you’ll learn the process of big-game pitchers, the guys who teams trust when the game is on the line. Becoming an Ace takes a lot of mental bandwidth, and I’ll give you an outline below to help expand yours.

The Four-Zone Process

Between at-bats, we need to remind ourselves all our duties before and after the pitch. Within this checklist are simple things like knowing the score and which base we’ll back up on a double.

But, there are higher-level processes like analyzing the hitter, the situation, our own strengths and weaknesses, and how it all fits together when we choose the next pitch.

In short, smart pitchers are much like computers. The more experience one has – both playing the game and going through a logical, analytical process – the faster one can process larger amounts of information.

The faster you process the simple pieces, the more bandwidth you free up to think clearly about the reason you’re choosing the next pitch. And, you MUST have a reason behind every pitch you throw.

Zone 1: The Big Picture

In this zone, we’re standing in the grass behind the mound. We just retrieved the ball following the conclusion of an at-bat, and we’re taking it all in to prepare for the next one.

We think about the big things, such as the score, the inning, base runners (where and who they are), what base to cover on a single or extra-base hit to different parts of the park, where to go with a comebacker or bunt, and the overall situation. What needs to happen next for us?

Zone 2: Focus on the Hitter and Runner, and situation

In this zone, we’re standing at the bottom of the mound, narrowing our focus from the big picture and more custodial tasks (like which bases we cover).

We narrow our focus and think about the hitter and the baserunners – what threats they present and how we’ll deal with them.

The first focus can be who’s up, and what has he done thus far? 0-2 with two Ks, or 2-3 with two doubles? What do we know about his habits, swing, etc.? What’s the situation ask him to do? Bunt? Swing away? Hit behind the runner?

What’s he capable of? Can he hurt us? What can’t he do? How did we pitch him last time? What’s his swing look like? What do we see? What’s his approach?

The next focus could be who is on base? Is it a stealing situation? Is there a base open? If so, will that change how you pitch the hitter?

How fast are the base runners? Is the lead runner a stealing threat?

How aggressive have you seen the baserunners lead, steal or break on balls in the dirt? Do we know if they like to go on a certain pitch?

Considering all the above, how much attention do they need to be paid? What do I think I might throw first pitch? Do I need to protect it if that’s the one I choose?

The last focus can be what’s the situation? What is the best possible result?

What do I need? Strikeout? Ball to stay on the infield? Do I have a base open? Is the double play in order?

Is the hitter likely to change his approach because of the situation? Am I changing my approach because of the situation? How does mine match up with his? What’s my escape route? How do I get the result I want?

Zone 3: Planning for the Pitch, At-Bat and Running Game

In Zone 3, we are straddling the rubber as the hitter completes his warm-up swings. This is our waiting position – as he gets in the box, we then step on the rubber and narrow our focus even more. What do we want the catcher to put down?

First, we summarize the hitter. What are his tendencies? What has he done?

What does his approach appear to be? Does it change as the at-bat changes?

What are his weaknesses? Does he have a swing flaw? Slow bat? Obvious bat path? Where does his bat-path live?

Next, we remind ourselves of our strengths. What are we good at? Does our strength match his weakness?

How did we pitch him last time? Did it work?

What do I feel confident in today? What do I want to stay away from?

What can I not allow him to beat me on? What is my go-to pitch when the game is on the line?

Lastly, we do some planning of the at-bat.

If I get my intended result on the first pitch, where might I go next? If I don’t, what am I probably coming back with?

How likely is it that the runner steals on the first pitch? The second?

Do I need to pick over on the first pitch? What move do I show him? A? B? C?

Am I in big trouble if this runner steals the next base? Is this a base-open situation? Do I need to throw it over the plate if I fall behind? Or, can I pitch him tough until the end?

What’s the first stepping stone to the result I want?

Zone 4: Choose your pitch and execute

We’ve done our diligence and checked off all the questions above (and probably many more).

With all the work done, we step onto the rubber and peer in to get our sign. We’ve chosen our pitch and know what we’re doing with the runner. Now, ALL the work is done, which leaves us with one thing left: Execute this pitch.

The One-Pitch Mindset: Crucial, But Difficult

One we’ve considered all possible information and chosen a pitch we believe in, it’s time to block out all potential consequences, stakes, results, AND all the stuff we were just thinking about. None of it matters once we’ve come set.

After the pitch is chosen, the pitcher has one job: lock his eyes on the mitt with tunnel vision and give 100% focus to executing the pitch.

Nothing else can come between the visual tunnel to the mitt. Not the roar of the crowd, the potential embarrassment if he lines it into the gap, not our potential release if our ERA goes up. None of it.

Our job is to execute one single pitch. Then, execute one single pitch. Then, execute one more single pitch. If we do that until our day is done, we’ll have strung together the best possible outing.

Remember this old proverb, “A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”?

Pitching is the same way. One pitch at a time, then look back at the end and see what you’ve strung together, how a string of single pitches joined into an amazing outing.

The Secret Formula?

If someone out there tells you that pitching in games merely expresses your currently skill level…they’ve never stepped foot on the mound. These people think throwing is pitching, and it’s not.

You don’t learn any of this stuff until you’re on the mound, taking in the situation and thinking your way through it. You can become a darn good thrower in practice, but you don’t become a pitcher until you’re in the heat of the moment and forced to think your way through it.

And, if you don’t have a coach who is pushing you to think through the above checklist, you’ll never stick at the highest levels of baseball. Pitchers make it, throwers don’t – it’s just that simple, because at every level, hitters get smarter and there will always be guys who can turn around a 99mph fastball.

Learn How to Become the Ace of Your Staff

If you want to learn this stuff faster, to not have to suffer through years of trial and error not knowing what to look for, and not knowing the best strategies to live by, my online course Ace of the Staff is for you.

I designed this 13-hour, 80+ video course to pass along the lessons it took me a decade to absorb, so that younger pitchers with a passion for the game can learn faster, and climb higher.

3 Drills to Enhance the Rhythm of the Baseball Swing

A baseball swing is an intricate series of movements that need to be correctly timed together to optimize the swing outcome.

The energy of the swing begins at the bottom and works up through the body. This is then transferred into the bat, then the ball.

An athlete needs to generate force from the ground. As in all rotational sports, this is initiated at the pelvis.

As the hips open for the swing, the torso follows next. This is then followed by the lead shoulder and finally the bat. Each region subsequently moves faster than the one prior to it.

This ideal sequence allows each region to build speed on the region below it. This movement pattern facilitates the summation of energy on each level.

Consequently, as each body region builds speed the area below it slows down.

With this sequencing the baseball swing is a quick and powerful movement.

The Science of a Powerful Baseball Swing

Aside from the sequencing mechanics, the stretch shortening cycle plays a significant role in this power development.

The stretch shortening cycle triggers maximal muscle activation in a minimal amount of time. It is the combination of a countermovement stretch at the tendons and the body’s involuntary response to being stretched.

In the world of strength and conditioning, this is the cornerstone for plyometric exercise.

A simple example is a box jump. The athlete quickly drops down before exploding up and onto the box.

The stride in a baseball swing occurs simultaneously with the loading of the upper body. In the cage, we cue hitters to point the knob of the bat to the catcher in this load.

This movement of the upper body separating from the lower body is the countermovement stretch. The explosive movement in the opposite direction (towards the pitcher) occurs next.

To maximize the benefit of weight shift, correct timing with the pitch is necessary. Load too early or too late and the hitter’s power and timing with the pitch are gone. Therefore, it is vital to get the lead foot down in time, not early or late.

Practice with a Tee

The tee provides a controlled practice setting to refine swing timing. Hitters should be encouraged to hone their swings off a tee prior to any machine or live swings.

Even during a game tees should be available for hitters to settle in their swing between innings. In a game, the on-deck circle provides another opportunity for hitters to sync their swing timing.

Once a hitter has their swing ready, their attention in the on-deck circle should shift to timing their swing with the pitcher’s rhythm.

This is common practice for experienced players, however, younger players will need to be educated on this use of the on-deck circle.

Drills to Enhance the Rhythm of the Baseball Swing

To develop a better baseball swing, try these 3 drills.

Step Through Swing Drill

The first drill to restore the swing’s rhythm is a step through swing.

The hitter assumes their regular stance 3-4 feet deeper in the batter’s box than normal. Next, the hitter crosses over their back foot and plants it at the normal location.

Their lead leg strides as their hands load back, which creates the lead into a normal swing.

The key movement and moment in this drill is the stride of the lead leg with appropriate separation/load of the hands. Coaches can cue their athletes to feel the stretch from their lead hip through their torso into their shoulders.

An important point is that this drill is not a softball slap. The athlete should not rush the tempo of the drill by running through it.

Step Back Hitting Drill

The second drill is referred to as a step back. In their normal set up, the hitter steps their back foot to their lead foot, then steps the trail foot back to its normal positioning and swings.

Again, the focus is on developing an easy tempo in the swing. The right foot lands to immediately trigger the step and separation into load.

However, there should not be a stop in motion. Any stoppage will allow a loss of energy from the stretch reflex.

Lead Leg Hook Hitting Drill

The third drill is a lead leg hook. In their normal batting stance, the hitter takes their lead leg and crosses it over the front of their back leg.

 

From here, the hitter strides to their normal distance and swings.

The key coaching point is to only move the lower body while preventing the upper body from moving forward prematurely. This would lead to lunging at the ball.

As their lead leg is striding, their hands are moving into the loaded position. Similar to the above drills the hitter should feel that core stretch.

Swinging a baseball bat may not be dancing, but hitters know what an out of rhythm swing feels like.

Hitters also know the awkward feeling of pounding a ground ball into the grass 10 feet in front of home plate or the loss of pop on a grooved pitch. Additionally, coaches know what lack of timing in a swing looks like.

The key to any swing is to properly time and load the lower body for energy to transfer to the upper body.

Off a tee, these three drills should be used frequently to restore the rhythm of a swing.

The Proper Way For Baseball Pitchers To Push Down The Mound

The pitching motion is an explosive lateral to rotational movement down a hill in under two seconds.

The greatest key component to this explosive movement is “leg drive,” or the moment the pitcher moves down the mound after reaching peak leg lift.

Competing terms like “tall and fall” or “drop and drive” combined with balance and toe tap drills have caused confusion and reinforced slow twitch movements to hinder pitchers’ abilities to complete leg drive athletically and efficiently.

The most common diagram we know in physics is that of the roller coaster on a hill to illustrate potential and kinetic energy.

At the top of the hill, the roller coaster is at peak potential energy. It then converts to kinetic energy as it moves down the slope and gains speed.

A pitcher’s center of mass needs to move with the slope of the mound the same way a roller coaster moves down a hill.

Now, imagine that the roller coaster has a motor to kick-start it down its hill. This motor is the pitcher’s back leg, which is used to create additional force in the ground and accelerate more explosively.

The Load And Go

After peak leg lift, the pitcher needs to focus on driving the rubber back towards second base and pushing his entire body down the mound.

The pitcher will shift weight to the middle/outside of his back foot, stabilize his back knee over his back ankle, and drive his body as a single unit down the mound. The timing trigger for this is hand break.

The pitcher should think two phases: load and go. Leg lift is the “load” where the pitcher’s weight shifts over his back leg. Hand break is the “go” where he explosively drives away from the rubber.

Notice there is no “fall” in the way I describe this move. On the flip side, there’s no drop either.

We DO NOT want the pitcher to sit down or sink his weight into the ground attempting to bend his back leg and push. This is a slowing action that causes the back leg to break down and lead to early rotation.

When doing a box jump, we don’t bend our knees slowly and try to squat down as low as we can to execute the jump. Instead, we move as fast and fluid as we can, causing our leg to bend to a comfortable flexed position (around 45 degrees) and then explode upward.

A Simple Drill To “Load And Go”

If a pitcher thinks “push fast” or “drive fast” away from the rubber with his entire body, the back leg will naturally bend and move efficiently and explosively down the mound. The following drill can instill this intent into a pitcher:

 

Start at peak leg lift, fully relax the front leg and DO NOT worry about it. It does nothing once in the air.

Hold a counterweight (kettlebell, dumbbell) of some kind to represent the baseball. The counterweight is heavier to cause the pitcher to feel his weight all the way over his back leg at leg lift. It will also help the pitcher lean slightly back during leg drive to not leak energy forward.

Wrap a band for increased resistance to cause more intent in leg drive. However, you don’t need the band to get the movement down.

Drive far out and DO NOT go into rotation. Keep both feet closed and just push sideways. Focus on moving faster and faster out of this position without leaning or sinking in posture.

The bottom line is, when describing the mental approach to leg drive, “tall and drive” much more accurately depicts the movement to your pitcher.