Before I go into the topic for this month, I wanted to make a couple announcements and opinions about stuff. First, I’m extremely proud to say I will be speaking a the NFCA convention in Las Vegas this year. It’s my first NFCA gig so, I plan on making it one of my best. There will be 2 other pitching instructors there and apparently we will all be part of a discussion panel on various pitching topics. I’m really, really looking forward to this. If anyone who gets this is planning on coming to the NFCA convention, please say hello!
I received a ton of emails about the USA-Japan men’s fastpitch game that ESPN had on last month. While some were pleased to see softball (regardless of the gender) on TV, others wrote with blazing critique about the USA men’s team. Now, I should preface this by saying a couple things. #1. I was in Taiwan working with the Chinese Taipei Olympic team at the time of the broadcast so I did not see the game. #2. USA was missing many of the top players who were not on the team for a variety of reasons. The game on TV was won by Japan but, the championship of this mini-tournament was won by the USA 7-0. Much controversy was made over the pitcher the USA had.. many thought he had a massive crowhop, others were unimpressed with his speed. Well, if this would’ve been an official ISF event instead of an exhibition series, I think the umpires would’ve been more strict with the rule regarding his leap. They usually are sticklers for the rules at Pan Am Games and World Championships where men’s pitchers and women’s pitchers have IDENTICAL pitching rules. In regard to the speed, I don’t know what to tell people. In my mind, this puts to rest the ridiculous claims of people who claim to have thrown over 100 mph. The fastest male pitcher I’ve ever seen is throwing 86mph with extremely ‘liberal’ pitching rules so, for someone to claim they threw 100+ while using restrictive rules is stretching it. I have no doubt people are sincere in believing they pitched 100 or close to it but, I think that might be the result of their equipment instead of their ability. 86 mph from a pitcher, with a virtual hop, skip and jump in their delivery is the best I have ever seen at the World tournament.
One of the more frequent emails that I get from people coast to coast is also one of the more difficult ones to answer. It usually goes something like this: “How do I know when to change pitching coaches?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to answer this. There’s just too many variables.
Most of these emails include someone saying they feel the peak has been reached by the current pitching coach and it’s time to move on. I have always maintained that if a pitcher peaks or plateaus, it can mean that something is not correct in what’s being taught. In my mind, a pitcher is either progressing or something is wrong.
Now, this is the time I put in my disclaimer about being careful. Just because a pitcher is not doing well does NOT mean it’s the fault of the instructor. Every pitching coach has students who do not do what they are taught. That’s either because the pitcher doesn’t practice or they simply don’t care about improvement. Lets face it, sometimes your child’s development is more important to you than it is to them. You’re thinking about the 2008 summer softball season and they’re thinking about what to wear to school or if the boy next to her in math class thinks she’s cute. I understand that. But, there are the few pitchers out there who live, breath, and eat softball. These are the ones who take their coach’s words as gospel and work day and night. Every coach (pitching, hitting, or fielding) loves these kids. But, they are few and far between. Just because “Sally Jones” is a student of Bill Hillhouse, does not mean Sally Jones is doing what she is taught to do. From my perspective, that’s frustrating. But, it’s even more frustrating when you have another student who takes that same knowledge and carries their team to a top 5 finish at Nationals. My point is, lets not be too quick to blame the coach.
A lot of times I will hear from parents that their current pitching coach can get pitchers started but they need someone more “advanced” to get the pitcher to the next level. Well, I become an unpopular guy when I explain to them that it’s entirely possible that she will have to start over if what was taught first wasn’t right. (Yes, I still stand by my belief that there IS right and wrong!) If the foundation for a building is not sturdy, then adding extra floors on top is pointless and impossible. So, I’m always very weary of people who say they can get someone started but that’s about all they can do. Why is there a limit on what just getting them started? Why can’t those starter coaches get pitchers to the next level? Well, it’s a broad generalization but it’s mostly because they are teaching improper fundementals.
I’m amazed when I read emails and message boards at the amount of people who measure success by speed. While speed is one tool for measuring improvement, it can also deceive. The fastest pitchers in the world are rarely the best pitchers in the world. On top of that, speed can mean the pitcher is using muscle not mechanics. But, this is sometimes hard to detect at very young ages when an 11 yr old is striking out 15 batters per game. The pitcher, the coach, and the parents believe they are on their way to success. But, as the years go by, the speed decreases, the strikeouts diminish, and the hits become more frequent. Often times, this is when I get those emails… and I’m sure other pitching coaches do also.
So, who do I know if my pitching coach is teaching the right things? It’s simple. Is your coach teaching what the best pitchers in the world are doing (mechanically speaking)? I’m willing to bet that if you analyze and watch closely, you will see that young girls seem to be taught very different things from what the USA women (and men) are doing. Correct mechanics should not be age specific… there is a right way and a wrong way to do anything regardless of age. The sooner they start the right way, the better. It’s a nightmare for a kid to learn one way of pitching, then find out later they have to redo everything in order to get better. I see it all the time. So do other coaches.
I beg you as parents to do your homework for the sake of your daughter. Is what this coach is teaching (and demonstrating) the same thing as what the elite pitchers in the world are doing? Remember, the elites are all doing the same exact things with their bodies but have different ‘styles’ to get themselves into these positions. In the key points of their motion, they are in exact positions. It’s not my rule, it’s not my way of doing it. It’s just how the body works, it’s that simple.
Good luck to everyone with their off-season training programs. I will be updating my webite frequently with clinic dates and locations. I hope to meet as many of you as possible wherever I am.