The Side Step Is Satan? by Randy Sullivan, MPT
OK, admittedly that subject line is a little extreme, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
It seems like every kid that comes in to see me – especially the ones who have had lots of pitching lessons – does one thing in almost EXACTLY the same way.
And frankly, it’s driving me crazy!!
What is it you ask?
It’s this wasteful, cookie cutter little side step windup. Or maybe I should call it a non-step. I mean it’s kind of a step without stepping.
Look I’m not against it totally. I mean, I see a bunch of MLB guys doing it too. But does it have to be done by EVERY SINGLE AMATEUR PITCHER WHO EVER TOOK A PITCHING LESSON?
Many of the guys that come to see me are looking for increased velocity. Yet when I start the video rolling, nearly all of them do the same thing.
Tiny step to the side.
Lift the leg.
Pause at the top.
Put the leg down.
Try desperately to come up with some sort of momentum to home plate.
And chuck it up there about 78 mph.
It’s mind numbing!
If they’re going to let us wind up, why not take advantage and gain some momentum toward the plate?
I’ve seen guys get 2-3 mph bumps by simply starting with a bit of a back step and increasing their tempo to get moving toward home plate with some intent.
Remember back in the day when big leaguers would take those awesome “I’m about to ram this white thing down your throat” massive windups?
So where did this ridiculous little robotic, cloned side step come from?
My guess is that it’s the result of well-meaning yet uninformed pitching coaches with incomplete understanding of motor learning attempting to achieve the ubiquitous yet ever elusive unicorn known as the “repeatable delivery”.
(How’s that for unnecessary flowery language?)
They’re trying to simplify the delivery to make it “repeatable.”
There is no such thing as a “repeatable delivery!”
Nikolai Bernstein killed that theory with his famous blacksmith experiment that first introduced what motor learning scientists call the degrees of freedom problem.
Every pitch is an individual snowflake and will result in its own set of deviations or errors. Instead of trying to become mechanical repeaters, we should be trying to create world-class in-flight adjusters to all of those deviations.
But in attempt to achieve the unachievable, pitching coaches across the country have fallen prey to the mistaken assumption that the key to consistency is to “simplify” a pitcher’s mechanics. “There’s too many moving parts in that delivery,” they say. So they start taking things away.
But many times, when you simplify the delivery, you suppress athleticism and you stifle adjustability.
One of the finest pitching coaches I’ve ever seen is Flint Wallace. He coached both of my older sons at Weatherford College, a JUCO outside of Ft. Worth, TX, where he churned out D1 and MLB drafted pitchers like butter from a milk cow. Flint is now the Director of Player Development at the Texas Baseball Ranch where hyper-individualization reigns. But there is one thing Flint would never let any of his pitchers do…
THEY WEREN’T ALLOWED TO STEP TO THE SIDE!
He always demanded that every pitcher’s first move in the windup was to step behind the rubber.
So what’s the potential problem with the side step?
Well, aside from robbing the athlete much needed freedom and tempo, it could promote a quad dominant first move toward home plate.
When you step 90 degrees to the side of the rubber, you move your center of mass weight distribution toward the heel of the foot. Then you reverse direction and head forward toward the arm side dugout. To stop your momentum from taking you too far forward, you have to shift your weight to the ball of the foot. Some guys are able to accomplish this and make it back to a more neutral position with their weight distributed across the entire foot. But many guys just keep on going. When you do this, the knee slides forward of the toe forcing your quads to become more dominant than your glutes and projecting you toward the on deck circle.
Now your body knows it can’t throw the ball to the on deck circle so you have 3 choices:
- You can plant your lead foot across your body and throw hook shots toward home plate.
- You can fight your way back to the center line, a move that presents itself as some sort of disconnection – most commonly a lead leg opening early, a glove side pull, or an abrupt postural change.
- You can push with your quads and leap off the rubber, immediately stoping your trail hip rotation and forcing you onto your lead leg prematurely and into an early launch.
None of these are good options.
So here’s the deal.
I’m not saying you have to take a back step, but let’s at least take it for a spin. Be willing to be a little different for a change.
Step back, or maybe even at a 45-degree angle, gain some momentum and see what happens. It might be a little uncomfortable at first. And of course, if it hurts you should bag it and move on. But I’m guessing you might be surprised at the results.
We still have some spots available for our Elite Performer’s Boot Camp July 15/16.
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See you at The Ranch
Randy Sullivan, MPT
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch