Coach Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch has established what he considers to be the “Big 6” for his athletes at the Ranch. The “Big 6” are the 6 elements Coach Wolforth believes are most critical for a pitcher to master in order to be exceptional. In my last blog I discussed the first critical element out of the 6—pain. Pain must be eliminated before an athlete can push himself harder on a consistent basis and make improvements, such as better velocity and command. Pain is a giant hurdle to any athlete’s ability to be successful. But once the pain is diminished, and eventually extinguished, a pitcher has other aspects of his game that need to be targeted and improved. The remaining 5 elements that athletes who train at the Texas Baseball Ranch focus on are: throwing 66% of off-speed pitches for strikes; fastball velocity at 3-5 mph faster than competitive peer group; Improving recovery time between outings; Improving the mind set; and having personal integrity.

I know my first thought after I learned of the Ranch’s "Big 6" is that it is a very detailed list. It encompasses everything from a pitcher’s health, to his “stuff,” to his mindset and character. However, many of you might be thinking, “Of course if an athlete masters all of those things he will be a good pitcher.” But how many of you specifically focus on improving the factors listed in the Big 6? I know I didn’t when I played. And if you don’t deliberately practice improving the "Big 6" how can you ever truly improve them all? You can’t. Mastering that broad of a spectrum of qualities doesn’t happen by happenstance. I wrote a blog in the past about the importance of deliberate practice. Only with deliberate practice can an athlete improve specific aspects of his game. That is part of the genius of the "Big 6." By having the most important qualities that a pitcher should try to improve listed, he can deliberately focus on improving them.

Now lets briefly discuss the elements (excluding pain) of Coach Wolforth’s "Big 6." The first is for a pitcher to be able to throw his off-speed pitches for a strike 66% of the time. That means for every 3 off-speed pitches thrown the pitcher can throw 2 of them for a strike. That is a lot of strikes with off-speed pitches. I know I was never able to accomplish that routinely. But that is the whole point. Throwing 66% of your off-speed pitches for strikes will put you into an elite category. And that is what the "Big 6" is all about. Making a pitcher elite. How do you train to throw 66% of your off-speed pitches for strikes? The key is to be connected in your delivery. A pitcher has to be synchronized in the movements of his delivery in order to consistently throw off-speeds in the zone. Accordingly, the way to help stay connected is to perform throwing drills with the Connection Ball. Of course, during these drills you want to actually be throwing your off-speeds pitches. Additionally, you want to use the Advanced Command Trainer. The Advanced Command Trainer is the size of a strike zone and provides audible feedback every time a pitch is thrown in the zone (because it hits the target). If a pitcher can stay connected through his delivery and can consistently throw his off-speeds in the zone, he will also have no trouble throwing his fastball for a strike, meaning training for command with off-speeds is also training to throw strikes with a fastball.  I wrote a blog a little while back discussing the use of the Advanced Command Trainer to help increase a pitcher's execution of pitches in the strike zone.

The next element of the “Big 6” is to throw 3-5 miles per hour faster than a pitcher’s competitive peer group. This is the one that so many of us already pay so much attention to. The majority of pitchers want nothing more than to throw harder than their peers. And, perhaps unfortunately, velocity is what so many scouts are obsessed with. This is most likely the single element that the Texas Baseball Ranch and Coach Wolforth are best known for—developing velocity in pitchers. Velocity is created at the Ranch through many different ways, but most notably velocity is increased through more efficient movement patterns, weighted ball training, and through objective measurement.

More efficient movement patterns are created through Connection Ball drills and from encouraging athleticism during the delivery. The Connection Ball drills, and other throwing drills, are often performed with the TAP Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, which provide for overload and underload training. And on velocity days, every throw a pitcher makes is measured by a radar gun and the pitcher records the velocity. Therefore, before each throw the athlete knows precisely the velocity he is trying to beat, which helps the athlete make greater gains in velocity. As for knowing what velocity qualifies as 3-5 mph faster that your peer group, this is generally somewhat easy for athletes to determine as they are the ones routinely seeing other players pitch and the velocities their peers are throwing. Further, with all of the showcases that record velocities and put them online it is not difficult to determine the top velocities for each age group.

The fourth element is to improve recovery time. This element is closely related to the first element of eliminating pain, but it is a different concept. Pain can keep a pitcher from pitching at all or from pitching at their peak performance. Recovery is focused on how quickly can a pitcher pitch in one outing and then be back to 100% ready to pitch again. The goal is to recover better and faster than an athlete's competitive peer group. Some pitchers might not have any pain, but it takes them a full week to regain their peak velocity due to soreness, tenderness, or the like. Recovery time is speed up at the Ranch through the pronation drills, which include using the Connection Ball, Pronation Bench, and Extreme Duty Weighted Balls. Additionally, products such as the ShoulderTube, Resistance Tubing, and Wrist Weights help to strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons used during the throwing movement. Essentially, these exercises and products help to build stronger brakes to help decelerate the arm, while also trying to improve a pitcher's deceleration movements after he releases the ball.

The next of the "Big 6" is focused on improving the mindset. An athlete's mindset is incredibly important, yet it often goes unaddressed by athletes, coaches, and trainers. What is the proper mindset? What mindset does an exceptional athlete have? Well some of the qualities are tenacity, perseverance, persistence, and resiliency. An athlete needs to be committed, focused, and have perspective. These qualities will ALWAYS be more valuable in the long run than talent alone. This is often the reason why so many athletes with incredible amounts of talent never amount to much while other, less talented individuals, put together remarkable careers. So how does Coach Wolforth tackle an athlete's mindset at the Ranch? He starts by changing his athlete's speech patterns. No longer does an athlete say "I can't." But instead, change that to "it would be difficult” or “it would be a challenge." Coach Wolforth is adamant that "I can't" should not be in an athlete's vocabulary. If that is the mindset from the outset then the athlete will fail to accomplish his goals.

The last element of the "Big 6" at the Texas Baseball Ranch is personal integrity. If it is fair to say that an athlete's mindset is not usually addressed by athletes and coaches, then it’s only fair to say that personal integrity is almost NEVER addressed. At the Ranch, Coach Wolforth instills in his athletes that integrity matters. Coach Wolforth wants each of his athletes to be a person of sincere and genuine honesty, honor and integrity. I'd be willing to bet a number of people reading this just rolled their eyes. Who cares about integrity, right? Some might say, "If you aren't cheating you aren't trying." But think about how far a lack of integrity has gotten Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriquez, Ryan Braun, Barry Bonds, and Aaron Hernandez. They are disgraced. They are not taken seriously and will never be respected. At the end of the day, if people can't trust you, you will never make it as far in this world as you could otherwise.

This reminds me of a story a good friend of mine told me. He was a college teammate of a player who was being scouted heavily by pro scouts. This young man had previously been arrested and lost his scholarship to a Division 1 school for theft. The scouts were all concerned about this and numerous scouts asked my friend the same question about this young man: "Would you feel comfortable leaving your wallet unattended in the locker room with him around?" This is what the scouts were concerned about: his character, his personal integrity. That is not what you want scouts to be concerned with. You want people to know that you have the highest personal integrity. The professional athletes I named above did whatever it took, cut corners, and broke laws. They had incredible talent, achieved great things, and yet all people will remember them for is for their lack of honesty and lack of integrity. It is important and should never be compromised.

If a pitcher wants to be exceptional he needs to try and master as many of the "Big 6" as possible. Of course, all 6 elements are never truly mastered as a pitcher must constantly keep targeting and improving each element. However, simply knowing the 6 most important aspects of a pitcher's game helps an athlete target each of the areas through deliberate practice. I believe Coach Wolforth's emphasis on the "Big 6" at the Texas Baseball Ranch is what has set it apart from other camps and training facilities around the country. His athletes know precisely what they are seeking to improve and they are able to do so consistently, which in turn makes them much more competitive athletes.

Until next time,

Brian Oates