Practice and Training are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Every baseball team and player practices, but not all of them train.
Let me explain what I mean…
Practice is what we universally call anything that involves throwing, hitting, throwing a bullpen, taking ground balls and fly balls, etc.
Practice is defined as, “Repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it”.
Most practices are just designed to engrain or imprint a player’s current level of skill, so they can just perform that skill more routinely.
The issue is that this is often the only development a player receives. There is little or no portion of their time dedicated to training.
Training is defined as, “The act, process, or method of one that seeks to improve skill, knowledge, or experience in a certain area”.
Training would be things like working to increase bat speed, throwing velocity, running speed, fielding range, etc.
Practice is applying what you learned. Training is learning how to improve something or do something new.
Practice is about getting enough reps in so you can perform your skill instinctively. Training is about being able to perform that skill better than you could before.
Practice is about successfully performing a skill over and over. Training is about pushing until you fail.
Practice is often about looking good. Training often looks ugly.
Practice is often about being efficient. Training is about improvement.
Practice is often the same old routine. Training is about change and adaptation.
Understand that top-level players train, they don’t practice.
So please don’t mistake practice for training, but make sure every rep of every drill or exercise is working towards improving.
Until Next Time… Keep Getting After It!
At The Texas Baseball Ranch®, we can help you determine the specific areas you need to focus on in you’re training.
We have three dates remaining in our 2018 Summer Elite Pitchers’ Boot Camp schedule.
Learn more about these exciting, information packed 3-Day events at
If you’d like to spend more time with us this summer, check out our Extended Stay Summer Intensive Program.
It’s typical …
and it’s highly ineffective.
According to Bosch, one of the world’s most preeminent experts in skill acquisition and motor learning science, “The body shows remarkably little interest in what the coach has to say.”
That’s because when learning and refining movement skills, a couple of truths exist.
First, you cannot repeat a movement. Every repetition will result in a subtle deviation from the previous trial. “Repeatable mechanics” are a unicorn! Instead of being a guy who “repeats” his mechanics, you should strive to be a world class, in-flight adjuster to the deviations you make. And those adjustments have to occur subconsciously — without thought. You see, when we measure the amount of time it takes for a neurologic impulse to travel from the brain to the muscles and back up to the brain again, it becomes clear that there isn’t enough time for any adjustment in the pattern to occur by way of conscious thought.
Our players are required to perform skills that don’t allow time for thinking. Therefore, we can no longer continue to coach them with methods that demand conscious thought all the time.
“On your next pitch, I want you to focus on …”
“Ok, on this one, you need to think about …”
“When you get right here in the motion, you need to concentrate on …”
Listen to us!! Can we please stop? There’s no time for thinking, or focusing, or concentrating!!
Trying to enter a motor learning domain via a cognitive input is a futile endeavor. If words, verbal cues, and cognitive thoughts are the primary means of coaching, they can interfere with learning and erode performance.
When you were a baby, and you learned to walk, we couldn’t use verbal cues to teach (thank goodness). Instead, we used one of the six different motor learning techniques we use at The Florida Baseball Ranch® to elicit the necessary movement pattern. we created a safe environment and gave you a goal — “Come to mommy (or daddy)”. Then we let your infinitely intelligent body self-organize until you accomplished that goal.
We get banged on a lot about self-organization. Critics call it “FIO (figure-it-out) coaching” and when they do, it shows a gross misunderstanding of skill acquisition and motor learning science. Self-organization is far more complex than traditional explicit, verbal cue-laden coaching. It requires a lot more creativity and thought than “TWT coaching.”
Here’s an infographic showing some the various ways we can influence a movement pattern without using verbal cues.
Choosing and executing the right technique, on the right athlete, at the just the right time, and under just the right conditions — that is the art of master teaching.
This is what I’ll be speaking on at The Florida Baseball Ranch®/Dutch Baseball Skill Acquisition Summit on Sep 8-9. I’ll be joined by several of the leading skill acquisition scientists and the most progressive thinking coaches, physical therapists and athletic trainers in the business. The scientists will lay out the theory and the coaches will show you exactly how you can implement it into your practices.
It will be the first time ever that skill acquisition science will be applied specifically to baseball on such a grand scale.
We can’t wait to see you at The Ranch®
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO, The Florida Baseball Ranch®
At our baseball training programs camps, we work with players of every age and experience level. It’s not uncommon to have a major league client on site, but it’s also not unusual to see a cool 9 year-old running around .
Spring Training is beginning soon for major and minor league professionals, college and high school seasons are rolling and the young guys — middle schoolers and below — are launching into their rec and travel ball campaigns.
About this time of year, as the arm pain management division of the Baseball Ranch® consortium, I field a lot of questions about growth plate injuries.
So what are growth plate injuries, and how do they occur?
First let me tell you what they are not… usually they are not catastrophic. So when you find that your son or daughter, or one of your players has suffered a growth plate injury there is no need to panic. Most of the time, a simple period of rest is all they need to get back on track.
Think of growth plates as little factories, manufacturing bone cells and depositing them on the bone to make it longer. There are several growth plates in the shoulder and the elbow. When an athlete is fully grown, these growth plates fuse and the factory shuts down. At younger ages, growth plates are highly active and vulnerable to stress.
When exposed to abnormal stress, the body will usually break at its weakest link. In older athletes, the weak link is the connective tissue (rotator cuff, labrum, UCL). In the younger population the weak link is the growth plate.
Not all growth plate injuries are the same. In our baseball training camps and programs, we treat growth plate injuries very differently depending on the type of injury. If you’re dealing with a growth plate injury, it’s good to understand the classifications.
The Salter-Harris classification is a simple and easy to remember system to identify the nature and severity of a growth plate injury. It uses the name “Salter” as a pneumonic memory jogger. According to sketchymedicine.com, it goes like this:
Depending on the classification of the injury, treatment could range from simple rest, to casting, to surgery.
Most of the growth plate injuries we see are of the “S” variety — the growth plate becomes separated, and manifests itself in the form of pain. This type of injury may or may not be seen on x-ray. But, if a young athlete experiences persistent pain in the shoulder or the elbow, you should be suspicious of a growth plate injury.
The same variables that contribute to soft tissue injuries in the older athlete, also place the growth plates at risk. I discussed these factors at great length in my book, Start With The Pain: The Complete Guide To Managing Arm Pain In The Elite Throwing Athlete, but as a review, here they are again in order of significance:
Type 1 contributors: structural/physical related (tightness, weakness, asymmetries, imbalances, etc…)
Type 2 contributors: movement pattern related.
Type 3 contributors: tissue preparation and recovery.
Type 4 contributors: training related factors.
Type 5 contributors: workload (pitch counts, innings limits).
Type 6 contributors: nutrition, hydration, sleep, and psychological stress.
Coaches at our baseball training camps know that, when you have a soft tissue injury (UCL, labrum, rotor cuff) that doesn’t result in catastrophic failure, it’s very important during the rehab process that you provide controlled stress to organize the healing tissue along the line of resistance. It’s a concept known as Davis’s Law – a physiologic precept stating that all connective tissue in the human body organizes itself to resist the stresses under which it is placed. For this reason, in the case of soft tissue injuries to the throwing athlete, rest may be the worst thing you can do. If the tissue is not completely disrupted, it needs a mechanical signal to guide reorganization as it heals. This is when we recommend light throwing or throwing in the Durathro® Training Sock for players in our baseball training programs.
But when it comes to growth plate injuries, tissue reorganization is not the primary goal. Protecting the growth plate and preventing the injury from progressing to a more serious situation is the order at hand. In that regard, the growth plate injury is one of the few throwing disorders for which I would indeed prescribe total rest. An acceptable amount of rest could range from 2-8 weeks depending on the nature and severity of the injury. By “rest”, we mean avoidance of throwing, not complete cessation of all training activities.
When working with injured players in our baseball training camps, one of our mantras is, “Never let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you can.” While the athlete is waiting for his growth plate aggravation to subside, he should work to eliminate any possible constraints in stability and/or mobility that might be contributing to the problem. He may also be able to work on improving lower half power and efficiency – traits that will help him attenuate stress on the arm once he’s read to resume throwing. During this time, the young athlete can also learn a quality warm-up and recovery process that will serve him well when he eventually resumes throwing activities.
After the appropriate rest period has elapsed, it is extremely important to address all the movement pattern related variables that might have contributed to the injury. A video analysis of the throwing pattern should reveal any arm action of lower half inefficiencies that might have combined with structural, preparation, recovery, or training related factors that could have created an environment for his injury to occur. From this analysis, an individualized corrective throwing plan can be designed and executed.
Frequency, intensity and volume of throwing should always be ramped up gradually, monitoring the athlete for any report of pain.
If you are the parent or coach of a young thrower, awareness of the possibility of a growth plate injury could lead to early detection, intervention and avoidance of a more severe injury.
Do you need to get an x-ray or a MRI immediately if your adolescent thrower reports pain? Probably not.
Most growth plate injuries are relatively benign and respond well to brief rest. However, in the case of intense, intolerable pain, or if the pain persists even after a couple of weeks of rest, it may be helpful to seek out imaging to get a more clear picture of the situation and possible treatment options.
Are you having arm pain? If you are, I’m sure you’d like to get it settled. If you don’t take care of it now, at best it could nag you throughout the rest of the year and at worst it could evolve into something more serious.
We literally wrote the book on arm pain management. Learn more about how we eliminate arm pain. Then give us a call at 866-STRIKE3 (866-787-4533) and let us set you up with a Precision Strike One Day, One-on-One Evaluation and Training Plan.
We’ll do a total body physical exam and a video analysis to identify any variable that might be contributing to your pain. We’ll work with you to develop a training plan tailored to your specific need and we’ll help you return to pain free throwing quickly and safely.
We can’t wait to see you at The Ranch.
“Overhand throwing is an unnatural movement.”
The 2020 Vandy commit from Boca Raton, FL was a low to mid 80s lefty when I met him on September 23, 2016. He and his father made the 3-hour drive to the Florida Baseball Ranch® for a Precision Strike One Day One-On-One Evaluation and Training session. We conducted a full head-to-toe physical assessment and a video analysis of his movement pattern. We noted a few mobility issues and a slightly elevated distal humerus and crafted a customized multi-dimensional training plan. Nelson “bought in” to the process completely and diligently executed his program. After a few tweaks, a little work on his mobility, and some power building, it wasn’t long before he was touching 88 mph.
Nelson and his Dad returned to the Ranch for a pre-season check up in December of 2016, upon which I noted that his mobility had improved significantly. His dad Ross Berkwich, a lifetime Yoga instructor, had seen to that! His video analysis showed that he was much more biomechanically efficient and essentially free from gross constraints. More importantly, he was pain free and ready to have a great year.
He entered his high school season with high hopes and even higher expectations. Things seemed to be progressing well. Nelson was his usual dominant self on the mound. But then one cool night in April, during a routine district game a couple of weeks before the high school playoffs were to begin, Nelson’s elbow started to hurt. The next day it was worse, and even after several days of rest, he still couldn’t muster up a full effort throw without experiencing pain. The location of the pain was right over his UCL. Fearing the worst, local coaches and medical acquaintances advised him to seek a MRI.
Instead, Nelson’s father called the Florida Baseball Ranch®.
After discussing the young lefty’s playing and training activities over the last 4 months, his father sent me video of Nelson making a sub-maximal flat-ground throw in an unidentified hotel parking lot. It wasn’t optimal but it was the best we could do since we needed to act quickly. Nelson’s high school playoffs, summer season and a tryout with Team USA were approaching rapidly.
When I reviewed the video, I noticed that during the past 4 months, which had consisted primarily of pitching in games, resting, and throwing bullpens, his former arm action disconnection — the elevated distal humerus — had returned. But, more importantly, he had become quad dominant in his first move, projecting him toward the first base on-deck circle. In an attempt to compensate, he opened his lead leg early but still found himself landing across his body. This prevented him from adequately rotating around his front hip, causing his deceleration pattern to become linear, which resulted in a valgus stress on the medial elbow when he reached full extension. Click here to read more about the dangers of a linear deceleration pattern. In my view, it wasn’t one thing causing his pain… it was probably a little of all of the above.
I felt certain we could help him if we could improve his arm action and his lower half efficiency. But, how were we going to change his movement pattern during the season, especially if he couldn’t throw a baseball without pain?
I texted Nelson and asked him if he had his sock with him. He said he did so I told him to go back outside to the parking and make a few throws with a 7-ounce ball in the sock and let me know how it felt.
Within 5 minutes I received his reply:
In our Start With The Pain system Nelson would be classified as a Level 2 intervention. This would typically involve a 25-day return to throwing program that would include sock throws, a connection ball, and a series of corrective throwing drills. As his movement pattern improved and his pain subsided, we would gradually wean him from the sock and the connection ball and then ramp up to full intent baseball throws.
But, Nelson didn’t have 25 days. His high school playoffs were set to begin in less than 2 weeks and I knew he really wanted to be there for his team.
Since Nelson had trained with us extensively and had demonstrated heightened body awareness for a player his age, I felt he would be able to make the necessary changes more quickly than most. I immediately went to work and wrote a 10-day return to throwing plan. He would spend the first 3 days performing 8 different corrective throwing drills in the training sock at 5 reps each (no baseball throws). Then each day he continue with his drills, shifting the ratio of sock throws to baseball throws to 4:1, 3:2, 2:3, 1:4, and 0:5. He would also taper his use of the connection ball until it was no longer needed. As always, Nelson’s pain would be our guide. He was instructed to keep the intensity of his throws below the pain threshold and to check in with me every day with a report on his progress. By the 10th day, Nelson was pain free with all his drill throws, so we decided to try the mound. He threw a 15-pitch bullpen without pain, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, he was ready to answer the bell.
Nelson continued to have a fantastic year on the summer travel ball circuit. And then last week, I got a text from his dad who was elated to report that Nelson had touched 89 mph, made the final cut and been placed on the roster for 15u Team USA. At the time of the text Nelson was on a plane to Columbia with his teammates on a mission to claim the title of World Champions.
We couldn’t be happier for Nelson and his family. This young man exemplifies the qualities of integrity, passion for the game, perseverance and the relentless pursuit of excellence we espouse. He is truly a “Ranch Guy.”
From fearing a Tommy John injury to representing his country on the world’s biggest stage… what a ride that must have been for Nelson and his family!
Proud of you dude!!!
Now go bring home the Gold!!!
And here we go again. The long toss and weighted ball police are back at it.
I was perusing through twitter last week and saw this blast.
“Study. Max Distance Throwing Changes Mechanics and Puts More Stress On The Arm.”
It was accompanied by this infograph.
First of all… that study is not news. It came out in 2011.
But since we’re getting into it again, I guess I can engage.
The longstanding argument against long toss is as follows: 1)It increases joint stress in the elbow and the shoulder, and 2) throwing mechanics change with increased distance of throws.
Both are true…
And that is exactly why I like long toss… as a training tool.
Ok. So lets go through this again:
We’ll start with the “increases stress” argument.
People in the throwing universe tend to fall into one of 2 categories. You have the “there are only so many bullets in the gun so you should save them” crowd, and then there are those who believe you can load as many bullets as you need.
Here’s the deal. A physiologic principle known as Davis’s Law states that all connective tissue organizes itself to resist the stresses under which it is placed. Davis’s law applies to nearly ALL connective tissue — at least any tissue with a blood supply. Human tissue does not have a free will. It cannot decide not to participate. It can only respond to the stresses we put on it. Therefore, adding stress to a connective tissue will always force an adaptation that can make that tissue more resilient.
People in the “save your bullets” camp – some of them esteemed medical professionals – seem to believe that somehow, the UCL, the labrum, and the rotator cuff are “special” tissues not subject to the laws of nature and therefore cannot be made to become more robust. I would submit that you must add stress to those tissues if you plan to be a high level thrower. If you completely avoid stress you get weak, fragile connective tissue that could be vulnerable to injury. The key is to add stress incrementally over time, gradually increasing the tissue’s ability to resist. If you add stress too rapidly, the tissue fails. If you add it too often or for too long, the body begins to lay down the strongest tissue it knows (bone) and that becomes a calcification.
Opponents of long toss argue that increased stress on the elbow and shoulder makes it a dangerous practice. I would suggest that not “feeding the arm” with gradually increasing controlled stress as presented in Alan Jaeger’s well known long toss protocol could be even more dangerous.
Now let’s shift gears and tackle the second point of contention… “biomechanics change with increased distance”. You’ll get no objection from me on that one either. The biomechanics of long toss clearly change with every throw… and that’sthe beauty of it.
Let me explain.
In every human movement, there are components that must be stable and others that may vary. The stable components are known as “attractors”. The variable components of a movement are considered “fluctuators”. Attractors can be identified by The variable components of a movement are considered “fluctuators”. Attractors can be identified by finding patterns that are commonly demonstrated by performers across all levels and experience and ability. For example, ask a baby to throw a ball and he will usually lift his arm to about 90 degrees of shoulder abduction.
The same pattern is seen among the most elite and experienced throwers in baseball.
Movements with significant time pressures and those that put the athlete in “at risk” positions if not stable can also be attractors.
Three key attractors I have found in throwing are:
1) Isometric co-contraction of the trail hip musculature at the peak of lead leg lift. 2) Isometric co-contraction of the rotator cuff and peri-scapular musculature with the humerus abducted to about 90 degrees at lead leg weight bearing foot plant. And 3) Isometric co-contraction of the quads, hamstrings, calf, and hip musculature of the lead leg at weight bearing foot plant.
Fluxuators on the other hand are components of the movement that can vary between athletes and even between repetitions by a given athlete.
Examples of fluctuators might include differences in stride length, depth of back knee flexion, arm slot, lead leg action, tempo, or postural tilt. An adequate number or fluxuators are necessary, but having too many could be detrimental to performance and safety.
When movement attractors are stable, the body automatically begins to eliminates some fluxuators until only a few remain. With less options to choose from, the efficiency and effectiveness of the movement improves. However, if too many fluxuators are removed, the athlete loses adjustability. This can result in rigidity and lack or flow in his movement.
The “Anti-Long Toss” crowd apparently fails to recognize the neurophysiologic dynamics and variability demands of human movement. They’re hooked on the “SAID” principle. That’s an acronym for “Specific Adaptation To an Imposed Demand”. It’s a concept commonly referenced in gyms and physical therapy practices and it means that the body will adapt specifically to the exact demands placed on it. In other words, you don’t learn to putt golf balls by shooting baskets and you don’t strengthen your hamstrings by doing biceps curls. The SAID principle would suggest that the pitchers should only train with 5 oz baseball mound throws at 60’6”, because that represents the exact demand required in a game.
It seems logical until you understand the “degrees of freedom problem” as it relates to attractors and fluxuators.
Dr. Nikolai Bernstein first presented the degrees of freedom problem with his famous “blacksmith experiment”. In this investigation, he showed that the number of motor pattern options for performing any movement is virtually limitless and therefore rigidly repeating a movement is an impossibility.
The “repeatable delivery” does not exist.
Every single throw will present a unique set of subtle deviations or errors. Additionally a pitch doesn’t follow one specific pre-established motor pathway from start to finish. Instead, the neuromuscular system subconsciously adjusts that pattern’s pathway, intensity, timing and synergy throughout the throw. Instead of seeking a “repeatable delivery” we should be going after world-class, real time adjustability of movement.
To optimize movement efficiency you need some fluxuators (but not too many). If your training involves throwing only mound pitches from 60’ 6”, you engrain the attractors so deeply that all of the necessary fluxuators are eliminated and you have no adjustability. Now, when your arm begins to drift outside the rigid boundaries you’ve created, you have no pre-rehearsed motor plan to bring it back. With no capacity for adjustment, the arm could wander into areas beyond tissue failure thresholds, and injury could occur.
The key to safe and efficient throwing is to make sure your attractors are stable, but not too stable and to have just enough fluxuators available to allow sufficient choices for adjustment.
That is the beauty of long toss!
Every throw is a different distance with a different release point and a different coordinative demand. This variability allows you to practice the necessary adjustments subconsciously in a controlled environment, thereby becoming a more efficient and effective thrower.
This is also one reason weighted ball training can be an important tool – especially the way we use it at The Baseball Ranch®. A typical weighted ball protocol in our practice would involve performing 4 different deceleration/connection drills, 5-8 feet from a target pad while sequentially progressing downward in weight from a 2-pound ball, to a 21-ounce ball, to a 14-ounce ball, to a 7-ounce ball, to a 5-ounce baseball and finally to 3-ounce underload ball. Note: in our process, when making full arm action throws, we never go above a 7 ounce ball. In a recent study, Fleisig et al, noted that “pitching with slight variations in ball mass challenges the athlete’s neuromuscular awareness and coordination… and therefore seems like a reasonable variation for training pitchers.”
So does that mean I am encouraging every throwing athlete to go out today, purchase as set of weighted balls, find a football field and start chucking? Absolutely not! But once your delivery is connected, you are free from massive physical constraints, and you’ve have had an adequate ramp up period, then long toss and weighted ball throwing may be an essential addition to your overall training program.
The variable stimulus presented by long toss and weighted ball training could help you develop adaptable, adjustable movement patterns that add velo, improve command and decrease your risk of injury.
So actually, despite claims to the contrary by the long toss and weighted ball Gestapo, not using long toss and weighted balls could increase the likelihood of getting hurt.
@ me if you want.
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
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.
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.
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.”
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…
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?
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:
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.
Add some velo. We just had 185th 90 mph guy… you could be next.
Solve your arm pain. We literally just wrote the book on arm pain management. It’s call Start With The Pain
When you attend an Elite Performer’s Boot Camp, you’ll get a personalized plan to get you on track for greatness beyond your wildest imagination.
See you at The Ranch
Randy Sullivan, MPT
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
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?
Be unique and #BeELITE!
It’s a term I coined a long time ago.
Any time 3 or more of anything falls, I call it a “that thing” valanche.
This is an Avalanche…
This is a Ballvalanche…
And this thing…
This accident waiting to happen…
If you attempt to add to or take away from this chaotic cluster nut, the slightest perturbation of the equilibrium could begin a cascade of events resulting in a bona fide bowlvalanche.
How do you avoid this catastrophe? To paraphrase hall of fame pitching coach, Elmer Fudd, “Vewy carefully.”
Take away what you must.
Add what you need.
But be very cautious in doing so.
It’s like that when you work with pitchers too.
Imagine this Tupperware Jenga display represents the complexity and individuality of the throwing motion (and its probably not far off). One can easily visualize its precarious nature. When attempting to make mechanical adjustments, if you add too much or add it too quickly you could get a bowlvalanche. On the other hand if you take the opposite approach and start minimizing movement, taking things away… one wrong move and… you guessed it… bowlvalanche!!
My intent is not to disparage anyone, and by no means do I ever claim to have it all figured out. Every pitching coach I know truly has a heart for helping his players improve, but often our knowledge is incomplete. In our attempts to help, we do more harm than good. Sometimes we add too much, putting a disruptive personal stamp on the athlete, forcing movement patterns that inhibit the pitcher’s ability. What often follows is a cascade of disconnections and kinesthetic confusion that leads to an erosion of performance that can progress to pain or injury.
Sometimes we fall into the archaic 1980s approach of reductionism. We try to “minimize movement to maximize efficiency”.This represents a deep lack of understanding about injury and performance. It’s a failed model. For over 30 years pitching coaches at very high levels have taken a “less is more” approach while attempting to produce “a repeatable delivery”. We continually misunderstand the difference between simplification and efficiency. We “simplify” the pitcher’s mechanics to the point of robbing him of athleticism and more importantly, his adjustability.
The hardest thrower we’ve ever developed (99.7mph on our mound and 98 in a nationally televised Division 1 game) was
drafted in the 12th round by a MLB club. Over the next 12 months, they “coached him” down to 85 mph, then released him. Well done!
And here we go again. In pursuit of this elusive “repeatable delivery” the pitcher’s movement is pared down to it’s simplest form. The athlete loses athleticism and explosiveness, but more importantly he loses his adjustability.
So what does it mean to have an adjustable delivery?
To explain this we must address the fundamental flaw in reductionist thinking – that a repeatable delivery is even possible. Listen closely…
It does not exist.
You cannot repeat your mechanics.
Every pitch will present a unique set of subtle, yet important deviations or errors. Instead of repeatable mechanics, what we need to pursue is world-class, in-flight adjustability that gives the athlete pre-organized solutions to self-correct when his delivery begins to veer off course.
Dr. Nikolai Bernstein proved it with his famous Blacksmith experiment back in the 1920s. He
took some of Russia’s greatest blacksmiths, tagged them with lights at strategic places on their bodies (the first biomarkers) and used serial photography and rudimentary motion pictures to observe them performing the singular task of driving a nail into a log with one swing. What he found was revolutionary to the motor learning industry, yet many coaches still don’t get it. When he compared the movement patterns of these high level hammer swingers across all subjects, Bernstein noted that they all demonstrated slightly different swings. They all achieved the goal every time, but no two subjects displayed the same pattern. But, more importantly no single blacksmith was able to repeat the same movement pattern on any of his trials. The results were always the same – the nail was pounded into the log — but the path to get there was different every time. It created a problem in motor learning science known as “the degrees of freedom problem”. Top down, centrally controlled models frequently used to explain movement patterns do not account for the variability present in all human movement.
Instead of seeking repeatable mechanics what we’re really looking for are repeatable results.
If an athlete can’t make real time adjustments to his movement, he has no means to self-correct and he is left to the mercy of his connective tissue restraints (e.g. UCLs and labrums). Training subconsciously with variable stimulus (weighted balls, varied surfaces, multi-dimensional drills, and modulating goals) while permitting creativity allows for self-organization of patterns with built-in adjustability. When the athlete’s arm begins to stray off course he already has a pre-formatted solution to the error and his body automatically rights itself and returns to a mote efficient, powerful, accurate, and durable pattern.
As a matter of principle, I avoid making injury predictions. But in my humble opinion, Stephen Strasburg should not try to “simplify his mechanics.” Instead he should develop an efficient throwing pattern that minimizes his disconnections while maximizing his adjustability. Otherwise, he may be looking at another trip to the DL and ultimately a catastrophic… bowlvalanche.
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
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