By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS) and Bahram Shirazi (MBA, BSEE)
A few years ago, all you could expect from your pitching program was to help you with your mechanics. That’s just about what most people expected and looked for in a pitching program. Fortunately, times have changed. Today, pitching mechanics are only a piece of the overall puzzle. There is much more to training pitchers than simply teaching them proper mechanics. Whether you’re looking for an off-season or baseball throwing program, here are six questions you can ask pitching coaches and some guidance on what to look for…
1. Do they have a good understanding of anatomy/can they assess a pitcher physically from a movement and strength standpoint?
Pitching is one of the most complex movements in sports. When you’re training pitchers looking to throw as hard as they can, a FULL movement and strength assessment by a qualified coach is a must. Correcting bad movement patterns before they become habits, and correcting habits before they become injuries is paramount. A thorough assessment helps the coach get to know the athlete’s movement patterns (as in, are they hypermobile, normal, or very restricted), making mechanical fixes on the mound that much more apparent.
So, if a thorough movement, strength and power assessment isn’t mentioned when you inquire about starting a program… run the other way. How can they possibly address your needs on the mound if they don’t know or can’t tell what you can and can’t perform physically.
2. Can they provide you with a customized and individualized throwing program?
The demands on pitchers these days is higher than ever. Looking to perform in tryouts, school ball, travel ball and showcases from March through sometimes October is daunting. It also requires ramping up, high intent and working on mechanical fixes at different times so that the athlete reaches peak form at the exact time needed.
When we say throwing program, this includes pre- and post-throwing protocol as well. If you want to throw at your maximum velocity all season long taking care of the shoulder is critical. Having a comprehensive routine for both before and after is a must. It involves a thorough understanding of how throwing a baseball impacts your body and what to do in order to bring it back to neutral.
Simply throwing a bunch of drills together off the internet, while better than nothing, is not optimal and, anything less than optimal is un-acceptable. Make sure the pre- and post-throwing is available to see and explained as to not only the “how” but the “why” of the drills.
3. Can they help you improve your velocity? And what is their track record in doing so?
Velocity clearly is a must in today’s environment. It wasn’t long ago that most coaches believed you either have velo or you don’t. Well, that’s simply wrong.
It’s not just mechanical folks. In the pitching world the word “velocity” is the holy grail. Unfortunately, there is no single training/throwing method you can use to increase velocity as every pitcher is different. What may work for one athlete may not work for another. Losses in strength/mobility, poor body weight numbers, even sleeping habits and overuse (periodized throwing program) are all part of the big picture.
The modern-day pitching program needs to take all variables into account. If a program’s only methods for improving velocity are fixing mechanics and doing long toss, then they’re not fully equipped to help you in this regard. Improving velocity in the weight room is a big part of how velocities have continued to rise in recent times. Look elsewhere.
4. Can they teach you how to throw different pitches effectively and move the ball?
Technology has completely turned this area on its head. Pitch design is about using cutting edge technology by incorporating data analytics and high-speed video capture to help pitchers develop their pitching delivery and movement patterns. The advent of technology such as Rapsodo Pitching cameras can identify pitch movement patterns through data analysis. Helping pitchers assess and improve their ball movement patterns should be an offering in every pitching program.
5. Can they provide you with a complete and thorough overview of your pitching mechanics and leakages? Do they prescribe correctives pertaining to specific issues?
The pitching delivery is among the fastest movements in all of sports. So much occurs in such a short period of time that the naked eye cannot possibly keep up. To properly address mechanics and leakages you must at a minimum look at high speed video for any mechanical disconnects. Coaches might tell you that they can see everything with the naked eye. Let’s just say that slo-motion video can be extremely helpful. If possible, access to a motion capture system can provide an even better overview and analysis of any underlying mechanical issues.
In addition, every pitcher should then be given individualized pitching correctives and mobility/movement drills, that are specific to his delivery. Learning how to move properly and becoming as athletic as possible should be paramount in any program.
6. Do they have all the necessary equipment? Do they know how to properly use it?
This is a big one. From weight room to inside the nets, training in today’s environment requires specialized equipment and coaches that know how to properly use the equipment. This ranges from something as simple as the correct way to perform band work to analyzing data from a Rapsodo pitching machine, or a kinematic sequence or collecting power output with force plates/jump mats outside the nets.
Anyone can put bands on the wall and a Rapsodo camera on the floor. Learning to read the information and more importantly how to address issues is a whole other story.
You need to make sure that the coaches are qualified to work with the equipment. Too often equipment is purchased as “eye candy” in order to keep up with other facilities and then it sits in the corner and collects dust. Ask how, why and when the equipment is being utilized and incorporated into the programming.
Hopefully these questions can help guide you make better choices. In closing, every situation and athlete is different and so should their roadmap. Simply telling everyone to “grow into their velocity” or that “weighted balls will get you injured” is just as bad as telling everyone to go “long toss” or that “everyone needs to use weighted balls”. It’s all about assessing the athlete’s individual needs constructing an individualized game plan in the weight room and in the nets and applying the appropriate dosage. Remember, there are no absolutes.
Times have changed! You should expect much more from today’s pitching programs.
See ya’ in the gym…
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