Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pitching Drills For A Smarter Practice And Better Pitchers

There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of pitching drills on the internet and in print. It's becoming a larger task sifting through all of the advertisements and "Buy our stuff!" websites than the actual job of teaching our pitchers how to get better. The fact is that a lot of these sites offer some pretty good information if you can get to it without your credit card, the problem is getting to the good stuff before your brain explodes.

Instead of writing down how to do a bunch of pitching drills, let's review a few keys that will make your practices far more useful and truly effective. If you incorporate the correct attributes into the pitching drills that you're already doing, chances are they will work perfectly to make your pitchers better. If you're lost and trying to find some ideas to use for working with your pitchers, the following article will form the foundation for the instruction.

First, let's ask the most important question:

"What am I trying to accomplish with my pitching drills?"

Slow down and think about this question. With every pitching drill that your players are doing, what is it that they are learning? In most practices pitchers will go to the bullpen and throw thirty or forty pitches and then return to practice to work on whatever it is the rest of the team is doing. What is your pitcher learning from that? Answer that question and then decide if that's enough, if that pitching drill is doing enough.

The bullpen session could be teaching the pitcher a few small mechanical corrections, perhaps it will increase accuracy slightly, and it will aid in pitch development. Other than that, a bullpen session does very little. The second question that you should ask is this:

"What skills do my pitchers need in a game?"

Think about some of the things that your pitcher needs to be good at in a game. From the example above, the three things we thought of that were improved in the bullpen session are indeed important in a game. Also important in a game are the following: The ability to focus well on the task at hand, knowing how to pitch certain situations, having good chemistry with the catcher, knowing when and how to throw out of the strike zone effectively, how to pitch certain counts, when to use certain pitches, and multiple other mental aspects of the game. How many of those do a traditional bullpen or pitching drill develop?

If the skills that your pitchers need in order to do well in a game don't match up with the things you're trying to accomplish in your pitching drills, they should. The best way to practice getting better in the games, is to practice like it is a game. Far too many coaches don't do the steps above, and wind up spending almost all of the time they have for pitching drills working on things that barely improve their pitchers. Seasons are short and practice time is shorter, pitching drills must be designed for maximum instruction in the game time skills.

Here's one example of how to make a bullpen far more effective:

Instead of a traditional bullpen, have the pitcher and catcher set up imaginary batters and situations. Have the two of them communicate with each other and the coach a specific plan of attack for each batter and each situation that they think up. Have them work through a few innings of imaginary baseball, changing and adapting to each change in the game. Use different pitches, but use them smartly based on the count and the situation, not just to throw them. Make the bullpen more like a game. Your pitcher will still throw his thirty or forty pitches that he normally would have in a typical pitching drill or bullpen, however in this drill he'll learn far more of the skills he needs to learn.

This is just one small example, but it illustrates the principles of "practice like a game" very well. There are always ways to make pitching drills more like a game, and there are numerous ways to include training in the mental realm of baseball. Knowledge of the job and mental confidence on the mound are second to none in creating a great pitcher. The only way to make your pitchers better at them is to practice them.

In summary, pitching drills are a great way to make your pitchers better, but only if you do them right. Working on three skills and expecting good results in the other dozen required during a game is a fools game. Make the pitching drills more like a game, and the game will begin to come more naturally for your pitchers.

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