On Thursday, July 28th I’ll be hosting an Educational Clinic for player, parents, and coaches. The clinic will be focused on how to develop pitchers in the off-season. The clinic will be held at Athletes Training Center (13809 Industrial Road, Omaha, NE) and there is no cost to attend. There will be two sessions – a 7pm and 8pm session. The 7pm session is focused on developing youth pitchers and the 8pm session is focused on high school pitchers. To register for the free clinic visit my Facebook event page by clicking here.
If you Google “youth pitching instruction” you’d return a couple million hits in about 0.63 seconds. There’s no question that privatized instruction in youth sports is a massive industry and it will be even bigger tomorrow. With that — just like any other industry — there will be some bad that comes with the good. But, this is not about “what it used to be like back when I was a kid” for fear of sounding like an old man. Rather, this is about the process parents should go through when trying to find a pitching coach for their kid.
There are three questions you should ask the prospective pitching coach:
(hint: the questions become harder as you go.)
- What’s your approach for player development?
- How do you track progress?
- What’s your exit strategy?
Let me explain why I think these three questions are critical.
What’s your approach for player development?
This should be a fairly straightforward question for the pitching coach to answer. If it isn’t, don’t bother asking the other two questions. This question is important because you need to understand if the coach has a strategy for developing the pitchers they work with. Here are some things to listen and look for:
- Pitchers will go through a pre-assessment before a development plan is established.
- Development plans will have articulated goals the pitcher is striving for.
- The plans are tailored to the specific needs of the pitcher.
As I mentioned earlier, this question should be straightforward and simple for the coach to answer. At this point, you should be interested in getting the conversation going.
How do you track progress?
Pay close attention to this answer. It should align with the answer to the first question and give you insight into how progress is measured. Someone really smart named Anonymous once said, “What you can’t measure you can’t improve.” Here are some things to listen and look for:
- Performance measures are established relative to the goals set for the pitcher.
- Each session is tracked and the player has access to the data after it’s recorded.
- The coach analyzes the data with the player to see what it’s telling them. If it isn’t showing improvement, adjustments are made to the approach.
Documented progress is important. Make sure there is a system in place to gather the results from a bullpen session, etc. so it can be analyzed after the fact. Simply reflecting on a session right after it’s done isn’t good enough. Both the coach and the player will forget the specifics of how it went once the player has left.
What’s your exit strategy?
Don’t be surprised if the answer to this questions is: “What do you mean?” The majority of instructors are looking to have your son see them each week. They probably won’t have an exit strategy or think an exit strategy is important. The answer to this question will reveal their core belief around development (remember question #1?).
Let me explain what I mean. The privatized model of instruction can create an environment where a player becomes dependent on the instructor if you’re not careful. What you typically see in a private lesson is a coach giving a player verbal cues before, during, and after a drill, pitch, etc. While this may yield immediate results in the training session, it rarely translates to success outside of the training session. The player becomes dependent on the verbal cues rather than internalizing why a certain movement is important, what the movement looks like, and how to make it repeatable.
Going back to question #1, the best coaches ask questions to their players rather than giving them commands. This forces players to think — not only about what they are doing, but why they are doing it. Once a player can articulate answers to these types of questions, true progress is being made. I refer to this as “becoming their own pitching coach.”
The answer to the exit strategy should be centered around having the player move on once they can independently understand how to build a training plan and stay accountable to it.
In summary, privatized instruction is an industry that is going to be bigger tomorrow than it is today. More and more coaches are going to want you to let them get your kid to the next level. I hope these questions will help you understand how exactly they plan to do it.
If you asked a high school player if getting recruited was important, they’d quickly say yes. That’s not surprising. But, what may be surprising is that if you asked the same players what it takes to get recruited, they’d most likely give you the wrong answer. That’s because most players (and parents) think getting recruited is all about athletic skill and being able to throw 90mph. If you can just elevate your game to a high enough level, your mailbox will be full of letters and advisors will be begging to meet with you. Right?
The truth is recruiting coordinators see some of the most talented players across the country when watching a game and never even write their name down. They are so accustom to seeing talent, they look for something more. Something that will compel them to invest in a player, not just be interested in them. I’m talking about a player’s intangibles. The things you can’t teach.
Here are 5 ways to stand out and get noticed by recruiting coordinators. (Please note: none of these require you to throw 90mph.)
1. You take your pre-game work seriously. Recruiting coordinators tend to arrive early to games in order to see how players prepare. They know that quality players commit to their pre-game routine just as much as their performance during the game. If they see you goofing off instead of getting ready, chances are they’ll just head to someone else’s game.
2. You hustle everywhere you go. Recruiting coordinators love effort. They want to see you sprint on the field, sprint off the field and hustle no matter where you are headed. Hustle is a form of toughness and recruiting coordinators love tough players. Always sprint through your spot, not just to it.
“The number of pitches thrown has the strongest correlation to youth pitching injuries.” – Dr. James Andrews, Renowned Orthopedic Surgeon
(Source: Andrews, Dr. James R., Any Given Monday – Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them, For Athletes, Parents, and Coaches – Based On My Life In Sports Medicine), p. 55).
While I whole-heartedly agree with Dr. James Andrews, I think there is more to the story. In professional baseball, the number of pitches thrown is tracked in every game, for every pitcher. If a starting pitcher is hovering around 90 pitches after the 6th inning, he is probably having a great game and is positioned to go back out for the 7th. The math on that works out to be 15 pitches per inning – which is generally considered to be the average number of pitches thrown per inning. Depending on where at in the season, that pitcher may go beyond a 100-110 pitch count. But, as realistic as this total pitch count example may be in professional baseball, it should not be used in the context of youth baseball.
In youth baseball, the dynamics of multiple games per day each weekend makes managing pitch counts crucial for the coach. A coach should focus on long-term development for the pitcher, rather than short-term successes. Meaning, coaches must make the hard decision to replace a pitcher in order to protect that pitcher’s long-term development. I’m often told by youth baseball coaches that I don’t understand when I discuss this with them. Their argument is that they only have a few “arms” that can throw strikes so those “arms” are the ones that pitch. My response is typically, “Looks like you need to develop more “arms.” I do get it.
There is pressure to win the tournament and many coaches believe that they just need to manage total pitch count or total innings pitched over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That could not be more wrong.
Coaches need to pay attention to total pitches per inning more closely than total pitch count or total innings pitched. Total pitches per inning is a better indication of the stress or workload a pitcher is facing in a given game. Think of it this way, if I asked you to do 30, 30 yard sprints in 30 minutes, do you think you could do it? That’s sprinting around the bases 7.5 times. You could probably do it, but you’d be feeling it. Now, what if I asked you to do the same 30, 30 yard sprints, but instead of 30 minutes I gave you 60 minutes. How would you feel the next day? Better than when you ran it in 30 minutes!
My point is this – pitching is an explosive movement and the duration over which a total number of pitches is thrown is important when the question is regarding the stress/workload on a pitcher.
The tough decisions coaches have to make will never go away. But hopefully the below chart will help. This chart highlights the importance of total pitches per inning and when a pitcher should be replaced. Share this with your players, with parents, and most importantly with other coaches so everyone is one the same page about protecting the arms of youth pitchers.
One of the biggest myths about pitching is that you have to be able to throw 3-4 pitches to compete. Players often approach me right before the season with a good fastball, change, and curve, but also with a desire to get command of a slider or cutter. Pitching is not about how many pitches you throw – it’s about how well you throw the pitches you have. As I work with pitchers early in the season, I remind them that early in the season isn’t the ideal time to learn a new pitch. A pitcher’s primary goal early in the season (and early in a game!) should be to establish the command of your fastball. Regardless of how many pitches you have, each “secondary” pitch (e.g., change-up, curve, slider) works off of your fastball.
If you establish the command of your fastball early, you’re going to set yourself up for success. Here’s why:
1. Your focus is on establishing rhythm. Not on making sure you throw all six of your pitches in the first inning. Let’s face it, as pitchers, we are amp’d up when we first take the mound – which can result in emotional thinking. By focusing on establishing your fastball early, you allow your mind and body time to slow down and get into a rhythm so you can think rationally.
2. You’re not showing hitters all of your pitches. Even if a hitter knows you’re throwing a fastball, that doesn’t mean he is going to hit it. As pitchers we need to remind ourselves that great hitters get out more often than they get a hit. If you can get hitters out early in a game with a fastball, you will set yourself up better for late in the game when you show them your nasty curve they haven’t seen yet.
3. You’re setting the tone. There is nothing better than an inside fastball to let a hitter know that you are ready to compete. By working to establish your fastball early, you are also working to set the tone for the game. Your telling the hitter – if you’re going to beat me, you’re going to have to beat me with my best stuff.
4. You’re setting up your other pitches. When you have established your fastball early in a game, all of your other pitches are set up. The key to pitching is keeping hitters off-balanced and the best way to do that is by getting command of your fastball early and then working in your secondary pitches.
5. You’re giving yourself a chance to go deep into the game. For most pitchers, throwing a fastball for a strike is easier than throwing a secondary pitch for a strike. By establishing your fastball in the zone early, you’ll have the best chance to go deep in the game.
So, as you kick-off your season or get ready for your next appearance, remember to establish your fastball early and often.
One of the first questions parents, players and coaches ask me before sending in their video for analysis is, “How should I shoot the video?” It’s true that sending in quality video goes a long way when asking someone to review it. So, if you are going to take advantage of my free video analysis offer, check out the 7 tips for shooting video below:
1. Shoot the video with your phone or tablet.
2. Shoot the video facing the side of the pitcher or directly in front of the pitcher (or both!).
3. Make sure the pitcher’s entire body is in the shot (from head to toe).
4. Make sure the video captures the entire delivery and don’t stop the video until the pitcher has completely followed through.
5. Make sure the lighting is adequate.
6. Clearly say the pitchers name at the beginning (or the end) of the video.
7. Send full-speed video (not slo-mo).
You open the locker room door and hear everyone talking and laughing amongst themselves. Then you walk in. Conversations stop and heads turn. The proverbial pin drops and you hear it. Joining a new team can be uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be.
Over the years, I have been on many different teams and experienced meeting new teammates many times over. I’ve also experienced being on a team and having a new teammate join the team. In fact, one time, I experienced a new teammate walk into the locker room only to greet his new teammates by saying, “Your new captain is here!” That experience and many others helped me realize what players should not do when joining a team. More importantly, though, it helped me realize what they should do.
Here are five ways to win over your new teammates:
1. Be around the team. When you join a new team make it a priority to spend time with your new teammates. Focus on getting to know each of them first. Connect with each of them on a personal level. Great teams are filled with players that have great relationships with each other.
2. Learn from them. You have just joined a team that has a certain team dynamic. Work to learn what the dynamic is and how you can fit into it. New teammates will appreciate your desire to learn about the team and will take the time to explain the culture and the expectations.
3. Be humble. At first I wanted to write shut your mouth, but be humble has the same meaning. Let your new teammates ask you questions about yourself and your experiences. Don’t offer them up first. And, when you do answer their questions, make sure you mention the others that contributed to your success. It’s never just about you.
4. Be the hardest worker there. Show up early and stay late. You don’t want to give the impression that you think you’ve already solidified your place on the team. Let your hard work show that you desire a place on the team and that you know you must earn it.
5. Care deeply about the results. Teams win and lose together. Focus on the team’s results rather than your individual accomplishments. If the team is winning, your personal success will happen.
If you’re joining a new team, it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. In fact, it can be a great experience. Follow these five ways and win your new teammates over.
I love watching tough players. I loved competing against tough players. The toughest players make you raise your game; they make others around them better. If you were to visit locker rooms across the country you would hear coaches telling their players they need to be tough. They need to show toughness, both mentally and physically. But what do they really mean? What makes a player tough?
If you watch games on television or in person today, it is hard to cut through all of the flash to recognize a tough player. Crazy hair, 2-foot-long beards, and oversize jerseys present players as more concerned with their appearance than their play. Throw in the ridiculous bat flips, players jawing at each other, and other forms of “big leaguing” and it becomes even harder to understand if players truly know what it means to be tough.
I often wonder if these players realize how they come across – not only to other players and coaches, but to recruiting coordinators. Over and over, I hear how important it is for a player to get recruited – by a college, a university, or a professional team. Everyone is focused on getting recruited. It seems that if being recruited is a top priority, being a tough player should be a top priority, as well.
I was fortunate to learn what it means to be a tough player at a young age. My parents were incredibly supportive of my desire to play professional baseball. My father spent hours upon hours working with me and talking through the various aspects of baseball so I could better understand the game. And it paid off. At an early age, I was playing against players four to five years older than me and doing well. My father never let that go to my head, though. He always said to me, “Remember, there is always going to be someone out there better than you. Just focus on getting better each day.” He wanted me to be a tough player.
This desire continued through my high school years when I transferred high schools to Omaha Westside to play baseball for Coach Bob Greco. That transition was one of the hardest transitions I have made in my life. I lived away from home, knew only a handful of people when I started, and went back to my hometown of Fremont, Nebraska, on the weekends. It wasn’t ideal, but I knew I had to be tough. Luckily, my family, close friends from Fremont, new friends from Westside, and all the families that let me crash on their couches supported me. Looking back, if I hadn’t stuck with it, I would have missed out on some of the best years of my life and might not have met my wife (you’re welcome, honey.)
Coach Greco is the best high school baseball coach in the country. And that’s not just my opinion. Last year, he deservedly was named the top high school baseball coach in the country by the American Baseball Coaches Association. Year after year, Coach Greco produces winning teams and championships for Omaha Westside. His intense focus on creating tough players and building tough teams causes that to happen. Coach Greco has no time for soft players, and he made that clear to me one day during my junior year. I remember him pulling me into the dugout during practice and saying to me matter-of-factly, “Tom, you’re pitching like a scared little boy. If we are going to win the state championship, we need you pitch like you can. You need to pitch like a man.” And that was it. He told me to get back to practice. His words were to the point and incredibly impactful.