Can Command be Learned in Season? BY: Gunnar Thompson, NASM-CPT, PES, CPPS
The coach looks down the list of pitchers he has available on his roster. He has to make a choice on who starts, who comes in relief, who closes, and who sits on the bench. The majority of the time the coach is going to select his harder throwers. He may decide to pick a few guys who have deception in their delivery like the old Dontrelle Willis or Chris Sale. He also may choose a couple lefties, if any are available, because there just aren't that many of them out there. But the coach will ALWAYS have to pick someone with command. Before we get into a debate about command and what that word means, my simplified definition for the purpose of this post is the ability to throw strikes and to not walk multiple batters in a row. Notice, I did not mention the ability to hit the glove on every single pitch, or the ability to throw off-speed pitches in the strike zone at will. The truth is that those abilities are not the norm and are typically the skill of an elite pitcher. But the bottom line is that a coach cannot allow runs to be scored without a chance of defending against them. Now some of the pitchers reading this post may have just felt their heart sink. You may be thinking that it is impossible to gain command in the middle of the season, and that you have no choice but to wait until the off-season to work on your command, but I can tell you from experience that it is possible. Let me share with you how I approached control that I think can be of benefit to pitchers who are currently in season.
The first approach to throwing strikes for me was to continue throwing at normal intensities. I found that every time I tried to slow things down and guide a pitch in to the catcher's mitt I would either get hit hard or the ball would be in the dirt. I found that throwing at my normal intensity was critical for throwing strikes and having my best stuff. I was a 100% max effort every throw kind of guy, and I am certain that I needed to throw that way to have better command.
The next step in my progression was to play the “Giant Game of Darts." This "game" was introduced to me by Ron Wolforth. The premise is simple: if you missed low, aim higher next time. If you missed outside, aim further inside. Now this sounds like common sense, but I still see pitchers who aim for the same spot every time even though they continuously miss to the same spot each throw. As an athlete, you must make adjustments every single play. As pitchers, there must be adjustments made before the play starts. I cannot tell you how many times I would be missing high out of the strike zone, and I would have to aim in the dirt in order for it to be a strike. This may sound extreme, but it worked for me. One thing to keep in mind, the game of darts is ever changing. From batter to batter and inning to inning, it is crucial to know where you missed on the previous pitch, and make sure the next pitch is not a miss to the same location. To me, this is what makes the Advanced Command Trainer an invaluable tool because you can clearly see if you miss the target.
The most commonly overlooked component with command is an athlete's breathing. Before I lose your attention, let me explain just how important breathing is. You take over 20,000 breaths in a single day. The majority of these are taken with poor posture and shallow chest inhalations. This means your body is already lacking oxygen and has an abundance of CO2 which changes the PH level in your body, making it more acidic. This change will not allow the body to perform at its best. During my certification of CPPS last year, we spent an entire day talking about the importance of breath and the correct manner in which to breathe and brace. Looking back at my playing career, I didn't give my breathing as much attention as I should have, and I believe this was a major contributing factor to my injuries and poor performance. If you are interested in learning to breathe properly, I highly recommend you spend approximately ten minutes to watch the video below. It is a game changer.
Last, something that may surprise a lot of people is adaptive training or “Khaos Training” in season. I have written a series of blogs on the importance, implementation, and equipment needed to create an ever changing training environment for an athlete. The majority of people believe this is designated for the off-season, but I believe it is a necessary component in season as well. Obviously, the volume and workload of the training will be different in season versus out of season, but an athlete needs to keep forcing his body to adjust to new stimulus. Training these constant adjustments is critical for having command of pitches during a game. Training should not end when the season begins. It should just change and become more specific and precise.
In conclusion, the above are several things that I believe to be beneficial for increasing a pitcher's command in season. A pitcher must be able to throw strikes and not walk batters in order to benefit himself and his team. In the end, it is all about making adjustments. You must have the right mindset, intent, and training demands in order to succeed in making those adjustments. If you are struggling with command are you going to just throw your hands up in despair and wait for the off-season or are you going to make changes now that will help you and your team?
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