I recently had a conversation with a buddy of mine about his golf swing. He was telling me that he needed to improve his game because he didn’t want to be embarrassed when playing with colleagues and potential bosses. He then launched into a diatribe about all of these instructional videos he had been watching on the Internet and how he was trying to work on these very specific aspects of his golf swing. But he told me that he feels like his swing has gotten worse since focusing on these instructional tips. After listening to him a saying came to mind: When in doubt, return to athleticism.

I certainly didn’t coin the phrase as I had recently heard Coach Ron Wolforth tell some of his pitchers this at the Texas Baseball Ranch. When I heard Coach say it I began to think about those times I spent hours working on a drill trying to improve some specific skill and the more I concentrated on improving it the worse it seemed to get. Part of the problem at times is that we like to break things down into their respective parts and then try to improve those specific movements. Baseball players/coaches are notorious for this. And while this can be a great way to see what improvements are needed and to focus on drills that specifically target these weaknesses, it can also create a disjointed, unathletic, and unsynchronized movement.

How many of you have taught, or been taught, something like this: there are 3 key positions to pitching. First, you must pause at the top of your balance point; Second, you need to stride out to foot strike and be sure your arm is in the cocked position with the ball facing 2nd base; and last, you need to follow through properly. I know I was taught something along those lines when I was younger. Now how athletic is that drill? Think you are going to get 90+ mph out of that? Or even 85+? I doubt it. There is no athleticism. Although something akin to those “3 positions” might be traveled through in some big league pitcher’s delivery, the pitching movement has been effectively broken up into such small parts that its athletic nature has disappeared. (Please note: I am being very generous when I state that some MLB pitcher travels through similar positions to the ones taught above, but bear with me for the sake of the explanation.)

While hopefully the drills you are performing are not as static and unathletic as the ones I just mentioned, they may make you feel as though you are losing sight of the big picture because you are too caught up in the minute details/mechanics of the pitching motion. That is precisely when you should “return to athleticism.” Get away from any planned movements and just let yourself be an explosive, dynamic athlete. Perhaps you should go long toss and try and set a new record for distance, or maybe you need to do a few “turn and burns.” Whatever activity you choose, just forget about mechanics and be explosive. Try to move faster, and throw it harder, or further, than you ever have before.

This is why athletes at the Texas Baseball Ranch are known for having large gains in velocity. For one, the drills athletes perform at the Ranch are not nearly as stagnant as many of the drills available (like the pause at the top and at footstrike drills discussed earlier). The drills at the Ranch incorporate athleticism, even if, for example, it is just working on the final phase of movements that occur during release. But even with athletic drills, it is possible over time to begin moving with less energy and momentum as the specific focus of the athlete during the drill is on something other than athleticism. Perhaps pronation is the focus of the drill and the arm speed prior to release begins to slow, or an athlete is working with the Connection Balls to develop a more efficient arm action and his momentum and energy going into the throw begins to slow down. It is at those times that the athlete needs to just remember to be athletic and let it fly. Because at the end of the day, the entire pitching motion needs to be blended together and all the drills merged into one final athletic delivery.

As Coach Wolforth says, “It is important to remember that what happens between the dots is far more important than the dots themselves.” In other words, the drills focusing on the “dots” are helpful, but not the end all be all. In my opinion, the reason that Major League Baseball is becoming such a Latino/Caribbean dominated sport is due to those players LACK of instruction. They know the way to get off their island is to throw it harder or hit it further than their peers. This is incentive for them to be as athletic as possible. In the United States we are fortunate to have an abundance of coaches, technology, and training aids. But lets not forget that at the end of the day athleticism is what counts.

As for my concerned golf buddy, I shared this little mantra with him. I told him to stop watching so many instructional clips and to just be athletic with his stance and swing. Watch Tiger or Rory hit from the tee and then get out there and grip it and rip. Once the mechanicalness of his swing is gone and some athleticism is back, then he can try to focus on some specific things once again.

Who knows if he’ll take my advice, but I sure hope that some of you do. At the end of the day athleticism is what counts, whether trying to throw it 90 mph, smack a 450 ft home run, or hit a 300 yard drive. So the next time you find yourself too focused on mechanics or breaking down some aspect of your delivery/swing/other movement, just back off and let it fly/rip, simply return to athleticism and remind your body what that feels like.

Until next time,

Brian Oates


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