We hear about this type of player all the time…
Lil 10 yr old Johnny finishes “warming up”…(which is a post topic for another day)… and Dad squats down behind the plate. Johnny is just about ready to begin his delivery and then you hear it. That, all too familiar coaching cue… “HIT THE GLOVE!”
Lil Johnny fires the pill and misses high and away. Dad yells back, “Come on now Johnny you need to focus! Hit the target! Hit the glove! Johnny reloads and misses down and in a bit, in the dirt. Dad says, “Take yer time, keep your eye on the target, reach out to the glove and throw me a strike. You can’t get a hitter out if you can’t throw strikes.” Johnny backs off on the next pitch just a bit and throws one across the plate. Dad praises his son for his ability to throw strikes and mentions again the need to have control if you want to be a successful pitcher.
Throw Strikes or Throw Hard
Johnny has been coached to be a strike throwing machine since he first picked up a ball and has had success doing so. He is not one of the harder throwers but his Dad reminds him, “velocity will come with age and strength as you develop Johnny”. He doesn’t get to pitch much right now because he doesn’t throw as hard as many of the kids and therefore gets hit pretty good. But when his velocity increases, in combination with his “pitch ability”, Johnny will be fine.
Fast forward 6 years and now 16-year-old Johnny still cannot find a roster spot on a high level travel team because his velocity is not up to par with the other players.
Can’t You Add Velocity Later
Now, there are any number of “experts” out there that will give you a host of reasons why Johnny, and so many others like him who are excellent “pitchers or players”, don’t throw as hard as their competition. And certainly, genetics and poor mechanics can have something to do with it.
But I would like to just share a couple thoughts about what we at the BaseballThinkTank believe about velocity and how it can be better developed.
Start players young…as soon as they want to throw a ball, or a rock, etc. teach them the “Intent” of the 5 simple words – “As Hard As They Can” by showing them what “as hard as they can” looks like (visual feedback). Dad…or someone else if necessary, (Remember the Volkswagen commercial) demonstrate by throwing the object as hard as you can into a wall, net, or across a field, or over the tree…it doesn’t matter, just show them your intent to throw HARD and they will mimic the effort!
Stop playing catch and praising them for accurately “throwing it to Daddy”, or the glove. You don’t want to teach them to “guide” the ball to the strike zone. Intent to throw hard only!
Teach Them Through “Feel”
Give them something to throw at that will make noise. A wooden wall, plastic pool, big piece of aluminum, etc. The louder the noise the ball makes (Audio feedback) the harder they will throw.
Forget about “mechanics” until they are around 10yrs old or so.
These are just a few key ways to not only teach the “intent” to throw hard, but also help to develop better natural arm action in the process. Remember, if you want to throw hard, you have to try and throw hard all the time!
As these young players begin to develop their ability to throw hard they will also desire to be more and more accurate. Velocity, along with control, require efficiency in combining complex moving patterns. While their initial focus should be to throw hard, they will naturally begin to develop motor control for command on their own.
As an instructor, I can tell you that trying to train/teach velocity to older players is much more difficult than teaching them to throw strikes.
Therefore, teach them to throw “as hard as they can” at a young age. We can always develop control. For now, praise the intent, not the result
As Lantz Wheeler, founder of the BaseballThinkTank, likes to say, “Be the guy nobody wants to throw with!”