Youth Baseball and a Pitcher’s Approach
Pitching truly is an art. Whether you’re a coach, player, bystander, dad, mother, fan, or anyone ever involved in the sport, it is likely that you’ve either heard that phrase from someone or witnessed it with your own two eyes. Hitting is an art, too, but we’re not supposed to give them as much credit.
In youth baseball – which are the kids playing through the ages of 9 to 12 – pitching is often reviewed in detail. And, unfortunately, it is often too much detail. Refining mechanics is one thing, but completely trying to overhaul a child’s kinetic chain by thinking a few mechanical adjustment will suffice can do a lot more harm than good.
A child should have one motive – no, two – for each pitch at this age: throw strikes and throw hard.
Throwing strikes sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. In fact, it is the reason many, many players in the minor league systems lose their jobs. Plus, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But they don’t!
By throwing strikes consistently, over time a child learns how to manipulate the ball within the strike zone. This doesn’t help them just as they grow into the higher tiers of youth baseball, but sets up a throwing career for the rest of their lives. Consider the acts of disciplines, principles, and habits that are formed through continuous, focused effort.
Let’s use carpentry as an example. When a carpenter first begins his quest to work with wood in ways that make men marvel, it typically starts very small. A quick lesson of tools, their uses and functions, how they work, and how to remain safe with all of the required equipment is necessary and remembered for the remainder of his life. This needs to be done in baseball a little bit more, but I digress.
Then he begins using those tools. It is important to note that some people pick up carpentry much faster than others. Some have a way with wood that is easy, while some require much more work. One person might learn to complete dovetail joints in their third week as an apprentice, while another may require six months time. Talent is apparent, but skills are acquired.
This happens in baseball as well. Some kids have more talent than others. The knack for strong hand-eye coordination, an understanding of what the ball is doing or the proper swing path isn’t necessarily thought about, they are just executed. This is not just a baseball thing, but also a life thing.
Over time, the carpenter learns a number of new procedures, techniques, and systems that make his woodworking craft better and better. But it takes a lot of time. He didn’t start off building chairs before putting together a table (in most cases). There were building blocks that built on a foundation of knowledge and practical skill. As experience grew, the carpenter understands what he does best and finds himself using techniques that he enjoys and is proficient in to complete many tasks. The same can be said of pitching.
When a child learns to throw strikes first, before trying to work on effective velocity or pitching inside or changing eye levels and yada, yada, yada, he is building a foundation of practical experience and feel that he can build on in the future. So many young players are so concerned with the minute details of pitching that they become flustered and give up on the fun of what really makes pitching, pitching!
Let them feel what it’s like to throw strikes so they can remember it for the rest of their lives. By throwing strikes and knowing what the ball feels like off the hand when it is in the zone is not a random skill, but the most essential building block to throwing other pitches for strikes as well.
Now this may have caught you by surprise. Good! I’m not here to give you the same advice everyone else is giving. Rather, I’m here to give you the truth (of what I believe) and present it in a way that you can decide for yourself what you think is proper and right. I tend to have a strong opinion and I believe in my opinion. You should, too!
It’s important to note that these two goals work in tandem. It’s not like kids should go out and do one or the other. Rather, they should aspire to do both at the same time: carry a high intent to throw strikes, hard.
There are many, many different programs out there teaching kids how to throw hard, but all you really need is intent, desire, and the work ethic to put it together.
When kids are not stained by improper mechanical lessons and the nit-picking of building “clean” mechanics, they will let their bodies show them the best way to throw a ball fast. It will require some patience. And, don’t get me wrong, there will times where some instruction is required.
There are some obvious mechanical efficiencies that the body uses to throw harder. A simple YouTube search can solve that problem. (I would recommend YouGoPro and TopVelocity to start) However, just as a carpenter must quickly learn from his mistakes if he is to continue growing in his craft and business, so will a child learn that certain ways of throwing a baseball actually bring discomfort and pain!
As they say: no pain, no gain.
Except the goal should be for children to feel no pain when throwing( Check out these 5 TIPS TO HELP YOUNG PITCHERS PERFORM BETTER AND PREVENT INJURY! ). Discomfort should be experienced and learned from, not sustained. No child wants to live in a sport that continues to hurt them! But through this, a child learns how to effectively utilize his athleticism and movement patterns to build a foundation that can grow in strength, size, and speed to continue throwing faster.
The approach should not be complex or difficult. Simplify whenever possible and then cater the approach to the level of skill that a pitcher possesses. However, don’t stray away from the principles of pitching. Much of a carpenter’s time in the workshop is spent refining the pieces to create a masterpiece. Pitching must start with a strong foundation on which to continue the process of creating a masterpiece.
Stick to the basics.