My experience in working and counseling players and families in the way of youth sports has made one fact clear - I do not claim nor do I wish to...
Velocity, power, speed, strength. Those are words that pitcher’s would love to hear in a description of their pitching skills. Obviously we all want to blow a fastball by a hitter at will and when we do it is an empowering feeling.
Velocity, power, speed, strength. Those are words that HITTERS also love to hear as well. Exit velocity and launch angle are as common as spin rate and arm speed for pitchers.
So who are the successful players? Where can a pitcher find that something extra which equates to a small margin of victory over hitters? It is not so deeply rooted in their mind!
Sports psychology posts are a trending topic on social media. This blog post, I suppose, is part of the trend except that there is really no in depth psychology to it! Pitchers have to, in the end, think for themselves and trust what they do best, whether it is throw hard or slow, fastballs or breaking stuff, power or pure junk style. Victory comes in many shapes, sizes, and methods. Find, accept, and ignore others who criticize your style of pitching. Coaches and scouts have earned the broad brush reputation of notoriously “picking apart” pitchers, telling anyone who will listen what a kid can’t do more than what positive attributes exist. Whenever you are told what you can’t do it is important to listen to the voice inside of you – the positive inner voice that knows what you can do and do well. It will be there for you.
Knowing what you do best is empowering and leads to one’s best performance in most all walks of life. In baseball pitchers are able to create a plan of attack. A pitcher who has a great curveball will be more confident in getting to that curve during an at bat but will “set up” the hitter with other pitches. Maybe a fastball up and away first or a curveball in the dirt to be followed up with a second curve when the hitter is likely looking fastball. There is no set pattern that has to be followed. Every outing is a new game and with it a new plan of attack based on your feelings that day and the trends of the opposition.
The best pitchers are thinking two or three pitches ahead all of the time. Part of this involves knowing and studying the opponent as much as possible. It may be as simple as learning from one at bat to the next if it is a new team or looking at trends and spray charts for a regular league opponent. It could even be watching a swing during the other team’s batting practice that gives you a clue of how to pitch to a particular guy. Use your mind and imagination to create the perfect plan for your style of pitching then execute the plan as best you can.
Often I will go out to the mound and talk to a pitcher with a three pitch plan for the next batter. This is not a bad idea for pitchers to use on the mound, especially when times are getting stressful out there. For example, if a hitter has been showing a trend for hitting to the opposite field I may suggest something like, “Let’s go fastball off the plate away then hard in, then breaking pitch away for the third pitch.” If nothing else it takes the stress of the pitcher having to be perfect for the next pitch. He has a little “breathing room” with a three pitch plan.
One time I made a visit to the mound and was met with the comment, “I have nothing today.” We have all been there but the reality is we sometimes have to continue to compete (Like the time in AA ball when my manager came out to me after I had given up six runs and told me, “We have nobody else, you are staying in.” It happens.). After being met with those words, I immediately said, “You are going throw each of your pitches in order, fastball, curve, slider, change, and keep doing it for the inning, don’t worry about the count.” He had nothing to lose and this is where having an imagination can get you out of a jam when you have seemingly tried everything. By the way, he got a pop up and two ground balls to get out of the inning. It wasn’t a pretty outing for him overall but that adjustment helped him get our team back into the game. More often than not it works! Give it a try the next time you find your self or one of your players in a jam on the mound and always remember to be a competitor.
I like to tell pitchers, “If you stink, we will get you out of there, don’t worry. Just keep trying for us.”
As we reach the end of another baseball season we enter prime time for self assessment. The end of the baseball season is good for remembering the peaks and valleys of the year. With the physical evaluation comes an emotional evaluation. Remember how you felt during the winning moments and who was there to support you in your circle of development. Were there times when you had nothing and gave up mentally?When did you feel the most fearless?
Also find someone you can talk to about the season and let them know what you want to do better and ask questions. If you are not asking questions you are slowing the learning process. There are no dumb questions when it comes to pitching and the more you learn the stronger your mind and imagination will be.
Remember, your inner voice will not leave you.