Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Violent Mechanics of Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish is the "next big thing" out of Japanese baseball. Bids have been posted by MLB teams for the exclusive rights to negotiate with the dominant pitcher. His generous assortment of pitches, including a mid-90's fastball, have convinced several Major League teams to try to sign him.

What strikes me about Darvish are his violent lower body mechanics. He is an athletic 6'5" and uses that frame to generate a tremendous amount of power. Watching this clip and the one below, there is a lot of energy dropping down and forward toward home plate. The torque created by the separation of his upper and lower halves is incredible. In the first video there is a split second (0:21) when you can see both the front of his upper body and the back of his lower body. And in the clip below, there is a moment (0:07) when you can see both Darvish's belt buckle and the name on the back of his jersey. That takes a lot of strength and flexibility - hurts my back just to watch it. The result is a lightning-fast trunk rotation and much more energy, none of which is lost in his legs. The front leg is braced so well, it sends every drop of power to the upper half and into the baseball.

Freakish indeed. I look forward to seeing more of Darvish and I hope he holds up.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Great Mechanics Lost To the Steroid Era

Federal prosecutors requested yesterday that a judge send Barry Bonds to prison for 15 months for obstructing a grand jury's steroid investigation. Sentencing for our alleged home run king is next Friday. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens continues to face charges that he lied to Congress about his own suspected use of performance enhancers. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner's second trial is scheduled for April 17th.

What a shame. When I started teaching hitting and pitching, Bonds and Clemens were among the primary examples I used for how to swing a bat and pitch a baseball. And as much as their credibility and success has been tarnished, their mechanics were exemplary.

This swing clip of Bonds, posted by Dan Gazaway at The Pitching Academy, is a thing of beauty. The legs are perfect - fully braced front leg at contact with a 90 degree back leg and back heel up. The swing is compact with a direct path forward to the ball, the back elbow in and forearm coming up under the bat. The hips are fully rotated and then some. Contact is made over the front foot, head is over the back knee, hands finish over the shoulder.

This pitching clip of Clemens is a clinic. Simple but powerful. Up, down, forward. Palms away at separation. Long stride. Elbows shoulder-high at landing. Chest to the glove and over the front knee. Follow through low.

But what a shame. Some of our best teaching examples are now more associated with steroids and questionable integrity than they are with being among the best ever. It's probably best to stick with the stars of today anyway - Pujols, Braun (narf), Justin Upton, Verlander, etc. There are many great examples for young players to learn from on a regular basis. You can learn a lot by studying the best. Even Bonds and Clemens.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Little League Eyes 2013 for Permanent 50-70 Division

Little League International has updated its 50-70 Pilot Program for 2012. This will be the third year of the trial program, which offers certain age groups the option of playing baseball on transitional fields with 50 ft. mounds and 70 ft. base paths. This year Little League will allow participating leagues to choose the make-up of their own 50-70 division from within the 11- to 13-year-old age range.

Most significantly, Little League has announced the possibility of a permanent 50-70 division to be offered worldwide as early as 2013, including an international tournament and World Series. The organization will continue to collect feedback from leagues participating in the pilot program during its third year in order to help establish the parameters of the potential new division. By most accounts, the feedback on 50-70 has been positive after the first two years, so it is expected to be implemented for 2013.

But there are several questions yet to be answered:  What will the age group ultimately be? Will the 46-60 Major League division continue to exist simultaneously? Will big-barrel bats be allowed in the 50-70 division?

My initial reaction to this inevitable change is positive. Little League is continuing a gradual change toward "real baseball" for its younger divisions. Just two weeks ago the organization announced that its Majors division will be playing "dropped third strike" rules beginning in 2012. With 50-70 baseball, baserunners will take leads and pitchers must hold them close.

More importantly, the safety impact of 50-70 should be immediate. A 46 ft. mound is too close for 11-12-year-old baseball these days. The kids are older and bigger than they used to be, and the bats are more powerful. Of course, the safety improvements would be negated if Little League decides to allow big barrels. Backing up the mound four feet does not warrant the use of bigger bats.

While many leagues, including our own, will experience a somewhat unwelcome reshuffling of age groups, the pros will likely outweigh the cons. Given the potential parameters, I am hopeful the new 50-70 division will be an 11-12-year-old league using 2 1/4" barrel youth bats. Keeping 13-year-olds in Junior League would reduce the need to back the fences up in the 50-70 division. This is an issue for many leagues around the world. I think 225 ft. is ideal, but 200 ft. is acceptable in the regular season. Maintaining the split between 12's and 13's would also avoid any increased conflicts with middle school baseball.

We'll have to wait and see what Little League decides after the coming season. Should be interesting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Bat Deals

In case the insanity of Black Friday wasn't enough for you, luckily today is Cyber Monday. There are tons of good deals out there on baseball products. I just did my own shopping at my usual spot for bats. Closeout Bats has some really good deals today and throughout the year. I tend to lean toward Eastons, and they have plenty of those and other models that are approved for Little League and other youth organizations.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Little League Rule Changes for 2012

Little League International has announced rule changes to be implemented in its various divisions of baseball and softball in 2012. These include administrative policy changes, regulation changes and amendments to its playing rules for next spring and beyond. Here are a couple of highlights:

As Little League continues to make a slow transition toward so-called "real baseball," its Major League division will now play "dropped third strike." This means that, as in older divisions of baseball, a batter in the Majors division may now attempt to advance to an unoccupied first base with any amount of outs, or an occupied first base with two outs, if the catcher does not catch strike three in the air.

Documents collected for proof of residency must now be dated or in force between February 1 of the previous and current years. This means that for the 2012 season documents must be from between February 1, 2011 and February 1, 2012. A driver's licence in effect during that time would be accepted. This rule mainly applies to the All-Star Tournament season, when these documents must be presented to Little League officials for player eligibility. Parents of potential All-Star players will be wise to plan ahead and get their documents in order before the summer season.

For additional details regarding these and other rule changes, read the full announcement on the Little League website.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hardball Under Attack In Canada

The Earl Beatty Public School in Toronto, Ontario has banned hard balls of any kind on its playground. In the video below, there appears to be a backstop of some sort in the background, so I assume this means baseball is also a no-no for the little Jays fans. At least they staged a nice protest for the news cameras. Everyone but the kid eating the sandwich is pretty fired up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

AL Cy Young Award Winner Justin Verlander

It was no surprise that Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers won the AL Cy Young Award for 2011. He was a unanimous selection after a 24-win season in which he won his league's pitching triple crown.

Verlander has many strengths, one being his incredible velocity. He is a starter, but routinely hits triple digits in the late innings of games. How does he do it? Beyond simple arm strength, he has great mechanics that allow him to generate maximum power. He loads up with a very high leg kick, taking his knee well above the waist. That leg drops down into a long and aggressive stride down the mound. But he loses no energy in that leg after it lands. He braces the leg completely like a hitter would and sends all of the energy created by his previous movements up into his hips and shoulders and ultimately the ball. He also loses nothing out to the side in his lead arm. He pulls the left elbow in close to his body to quicken his hip and shoulder rotation and keep his momentum going forward to the catcher.

This is a pitching motion not easily duplicated by young pitchers. The aggressive stride and the braced front leg generate power, but can lead to trouble. The quicker the stride, the quicker the ball must be raised above the level of the shoulders. And the straighter the lead leg, the more the pitcher must work to get his chest and arm out to a proper release point. Rushing down the mound and a high release point can both lead to high pitches, especially at the youth level. But Verlander is a master of his craft and works hard to maintain correct mechanics.

Most guys with the velocity of Verlander throw one or two different pitches and close games. But as if his 100 mph fastball wasn't enough for batters to deal with, he also has a nasty curve and great changeup. Here is a good discussion on Verlander's circle change, a pitch that can be extremely successful at the youth level.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baseball's Veterans

It's a shame that Veterans Day was nearly buried by media coverage of Penn State last week. But we all owe those who have served our country a big "thank you." Many such heroes were baseball stars who proudly gave much of their athletic careers to our military efforts overseas.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Little League Bat Regulations Announced For 2012

Little League International has announced its bat regulations for the 2012 season. Unlike last year, parents can now do their holiday bat shopping without the fear that their son's prized new stick will be outlawed before the season begins.

At the Little League Majors Division and below there appear to be no changes from last spring. The composite bat moratorium remains in effect, along with this list of approved composite bats that have been tested and proven to meet Little League's Bat Performance Factor (BPF) standards of 1.15 or below, both before and after a bat's break-in period.

At Little League's Junior League level and above, the updated rules fall in line with the anticipated BBCOR (Batted Ball Co-Efficient of Restitution) standards. There are also regulations regarding a bat's "drop," or difference between length and weight.

Monday, October 31, 2011

How to Keep Your Players' Attention

Here's a good two-part series of articles by Doug Abrams on how coaches can hold their players' attention during practice. A coach's knowledge of the game may be impressive, but it doesn't matter if he can't deliver his message. This is why former players don't always make good coaches. There are some useful tips below on how to communicate with young players.

Part 1
Part 2

Field of Dreams Sold

Dyersville - the next great youth baseball complex. In 2014, even more people will "come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom."

The "Field of Dreams" movie set and farmland is being sold to a Chicago attorney and youth travel ball coach who plans to develop the surrounding property in a "small and simple" way with 12 baseball fields built to Major League standards, and of course, an indoor training facility. Here's an inside look at the negotiations.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ESPN's Swing of Beauty

I came across this swing analysis on "Swing of Beauty" breaks down the mechanics of Michael Young, Curtis Granderson, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley. It includes some good shots of what professional hitters do so well. Check out the braced front leg of Young; the back knee bend of Granderson; the swing plane of Pedroia; and the compact swing of Utley. These are regular-sized guys who are able to put up big numbers because they have great mechanics.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Off-Season Training For Youth Players

Here in the Carolinas, fall baseball is wrapping up. Spring ball begins around March 1. What can a committed youth player be doing in these four months?

1. Rest from throwing.  The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) recommends that youth pitchers abstain from overhead throwing for 2-3 months (preferably 4 months) per year. Especially for pitchers and those who throw a lot otherwise during multiple seasons, a self-imposed shut-down period is very important. That could mean November through January, or maybe August, December and January. Each player's schedule is different. But allowing the arm to recover from the repetitive stress of each season could prevent a serious injury years down the road.

2. Play another sport.  Youth baseball practice rarely provides enough aerobic exercise. It's a sport of quickness and short bursts of power. Playing basketball or participating in another aerobic activity to stay in shape and develop core strength and athleticism is great for young players. It also provides a nice mental break from baseball.

3. Get strong. Developing core strength and support for the joints most stressed by baseball is important for players at any level. Winter is a good time to begin a training routine. Here is a brief example of one such routine young players could do on an every-other-day basis:

  • Warm Up - Get the blood flowing with a jog.
  • Dynamic Stretching - Stretching while moving - arm circles, walking lunges, trunk rotations, etc.
  • Core Exercises - For stability and power. Stomach crunches, back exercises, etc. Here are some examples of core exercises from a good website, The Pitching Academy.
  • Resistance Band / Elastic Tubing Exercises - A low stress way to strengthen the arm's support system, especially the shoulder muscles. Speaking from experience, weak shoulders can lead to elbow injuries. Resistance bands are cheap, easy and effective.
  • Light Weight Training - You can also build strength with 2-3 lb. light dumbbell exercises.
  • Static Stretching - "Stretch and hold" to regain lost range of motion. Flexibility helps avoid injuries and aids performance.

4. Learn. Serious players (and coaches) should always strive to increase their knowledge of the game. The off-season is a good time to learn proper mechanics: how to swing correctly and eliminate individual flaws; how to pitch with mechanics that will increase velocity and help avoid injuries; and how play specific defensive positions with the proper glove work, foot work, throwing mechanics and mental strategies.

5. Prepare for spring ball. Once a player's shut-down period has ended - maybe around early February - it's time to start throwing a little to get ready for the season. Gradually work up to a long toss routine to help increase velocity. Make sure to warm up properly with a jog and some dynamic stretching before throwing. Players who wait and begin their throwing routine at the first team practice are usually the ones with sore or injured arms. Those who throw more often and get ready for the season arrive with stronger and healthier arms. February is also a good time to get some batting and position practice, and shake off the rust - especially if there is a tryout coming up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Senators Push For Major League Tobacco Ban

A group of US Senators led by Dick Durbin of Illinois is pressing the Major League Baseball Players Association to ban smokeless tobacco in the big leagues. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is already on board with the movement, but says a ban would have to be agreed upon this offseason in the next labor deal.

The Senators are concerned that kids watching their baseball heroes play this week in the World Series will also see players dipping or chewing. This wouldn't have been an issue a few years ago, before the Series' start times were moved up in 2009 in an effort to allow young fans to actually watch some of the games. But now with 8:05 start times, and with the popularity of the DVR, kids will get to see baseball's good side and also its not so good. So what's new?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tragic Batting Practice Injury Kills Florida Teen

This is a sad story about about a 17-year-old Florida baseball player who recently died from head wounds suffered in an accident while throwing batting practice. This is yet another reminder of how dangerous throwing BP can be, even with an L-screen.

Harrison Jones from our own league learned this the hard way last spring while throwing a Junior League batting practice. He was rushing to finish up the last couple of hitters and didn't take the time to follow through well enough behind the screen. He took a line drive to the head, lost conciousness and fractured his skull. This was actually Harrison's second injury behind an L-screen. Ten years ago a line drive slipped through a hole in the netting. He broke two ribs and later developed pneumonia. He says he thankful to be alive and wants others to learn from his experiences.

Some important safety tips to remember the next time you throw BP:
  • Make sure to always check the netting for holes or weak spots.
  • Back up and follow through behind the tall part of the screen.
  • Wear a helmet. Many coaches and players at all levels do.
  • Consider all possible hard surfaces a ball can bounce off.

Miguel Cabrera Swing Mechanics

Miguel Cabrera is a hitting machine. The AL batting champ hits for power and average - .344 avg, 30 home runs and 48 doubles this year. This season should be his 5th time in the top 5 in MVP voting. He is batting .357 in the ALCS.

Here's a timely MLB Diamond Demo about how well Cabrera "stays inside the ball".... or as Mike Lowell says, how well he takes a direct path to the ball, keeping his hands close to his body. This allows him to take the outside pitch the other way and keep the inside change-up fair.

And you can see in other videos: more on the direct path he takes, his weight transfer to the front side (while keeping his upper half back), and his impressive hip rotation.

Whatever It Takes To Play Baseball

Here's an inspiring story from ESPN E:60 about what a youth player diagnosed with bone cancer went through in order to keep playing the sport he loves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Staying Inside the Ball

Professional hitters talk a lot about "staying inside the ball." This means that by tucking their back elbow and pulling their hands through the hitting zone, the barrel takes a direct path to the ball and the hips rotate quickly. The batter generally makes more solid contact and is able to hit to all fields. He avoids rolling his wrists too early and casting the barrel around the upper outside part of the ball, which results in pulled ground balls.

The benefits of staying inside the ball came to mind when watching a couple of at-bats from the past two ALCS games. Both batters faced faced pitchers trying to bust them inside with fastballs.

As you can see in this Game 2 video from, Ryan Raburn stays inside the ball, tucking his back elbow, taking the knob of the bat through first and clearing his hips quickly. The result is not only a fair ball, but a 3-run homer that was nearly enough for a slumping Tigers offense.

Last night in Game 3, Tigers pitcher Doug Fister went inside all night. As good of a hitter that Adrian Beltre is, he likes to get his hands extended. He got the barrel around those inside fastballs and literally got beat up with foul balls off his legs all night long. Two inches more toward the center of the plate, and those balls may have been parked in the seats. But instead, it was a rough night for Beltre and a sore knee for today's Game 4.

Pitching Is "Ninety Percent Half Mental"

Yogi Berra once said, "Ninety percent of this game is half mental." He also said Little League is good because it "keeps the parents off the streets." So true, but that's another story.

Pitching certainly makes up a large part of that 90 percent half mental. You can have great mechanics and natural ability, but none of it will matter if you have a "ten cent head." Learning how to think on the mound is a significant part of a pitcher's training. I have a couple of standard lessons devoted to the subject myself, covering such topics as thinking simple, focusing on the task at hand, dealing with negative thoughts, blocking out emotions, developing routines, etc.

Here is a recent article from the Youth Sports Psychology Blog about helping young athletes focus and block out distractions when competing. It also discusses the advantages of having a pre-game routine. Routines, before or during competition, lead to comfort and confidence (no matter how ridiculous they may seem).

Blocking out distractions is a necessity. NLCS Game 3 starter, Chris Carpenter, will work around the distractions tonight, despite the Brewers' best efforts. According to Carpenter, "It's about eliminating the distractions. If you can't eliminate those on your day, you're going to have a difficult time. I'll go out there an have my game plan and execute the best I can." Last time out Carpenter found the "zone" he needed to shut out the Phillies and send his team to the next round of the playoffs.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Moneyball Stats on FOX

FOX Sports, with help from Bloomberg Sports, has announced a new statistical feature for its broadcast of the ALCS and World Series - Moneyball stats.

Viewers will begin to see what FOX is calling a "pre-play" of each pitch before it happens, at least in terms of allowing the audience to make a prediction based on up to the minute statistics. If C.J. Wilson has Magglio Ordonez down 0-1 in the count, FOX will be able to tell the viewer what Ordonez's odds are of getting on base. (Or you can listen to the expert analysis of guest announcer, Terry Francona, who just accurately predicted a ground ball double-play, based on Ordonez's recent downward swing mechanics.)

The more sabermetrically inclined managers look at this stuff all the time. They plan their matchups around seemingly endless amounts of statistical information. Once FOX unveils its new stat features, fans at home will have access to a small portion of this info, and will have a better idea of just how good a chance their team has of coming up with that big hit they need.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs Changed Baseball Too

Here's an article from about the profound impact that Steve Jobs had on the game we love. The late Apple co-founder's consistent stream of ground-breaking and user-friendly tech devices have brought baseball to our fingertips. Whether we are researching obscure player info on an iPhone, jamming to pregame tunes at the batting cage on an iPod, or keeping the score "book" on an iPad, none of it would be possible without the vision of Steve Jobs.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power of Adrian Beltre

Impressive performance by Adrian Beltre yesterday, single-handedly hitting the Rangers back to the ALCS with 3 home runs against the Rays in Game 4. His display of power even overwhelmed a TBS camera man, who got snipered trying to keep up.
Beltre's power comes largely from his explosive hip rotation. He also keeps his weight back as well as anyone in the game, bracing the front leg and sometimes taking the back knee bend to incredible extremes in order to get behind the low offspeed pitch - his signature "marriage proposal home run."

Beltre's swing reminds me of another guy that once hit 3 bombs in a postseason game - my first memory as a Yankee fan. He is a great hitter and a stellar third baseman. Just don't touch his head.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This Day in History: Ted Williams Bats .406

It was 70 years ago today that Ted Williams went 6 for 8 in a double-header on the final day of the regular season to take his batting average to .406. That's 70 years since anyone has topped .400 in the big leagues.

Despite being widely considered the greatest hitter of all time, I've never used Williams as a reference to teach young hitters. He had a considerable hitch in his swing - cocking his hands down and up during each pitch - not seen in many of today's hitters (Jon Jay of the Cardinals comes to mind, and surely there are others). That's the way many of the great ones have swung the bat, but it takes superior strength and quickness to get away with it. A youth player with a hitch like this is often late in getting his barrel to the ball. Or he doesn't get his hands back up enough and swings under the ball. That's why most coaches teach keeping it simple and taking the hands back when loading.

But with Williams, all the key components of a great rotational swing were there - the torquing of the hips, the braced front leg, the slightly upward swing plane. And the results were incredible. Here is a NY Times article about his 1941 season. There are some amazing stats on page 2 - like the fact that he only struck out 27 times; only three of his hits were of the infield variety; and he would have had an even higher average if sacrifice flies were not counted as at-bats like today. And he didn't even win the MVP.

The Power of Positive Thinking

I like this article by Sports Psychology Consultant Justin Su'a about the effect that negative thinking has on performance. It's one of many topics that Su'a discusses on his website.

I've been telling my hitting and pitching students for years that negative thinking - thinking about what you don't want to happen - has no place when you are trying to succeed at anything. If a pitcher is going into his windup thinking "Don't throw it high," what's he going to do? Throw it high, because that's what his brain was focused on.

The only way to get that negative thought out of his head is to replace it with a positive thought - like what he does want to happen - "throw it low." He can also think about the mechanics involved in throwing a lower pitch: get the chest out, reach out for the target and follow through low. Now his brain is focused on the result he wants and he has a much better chance of getting it.

The mental side of baseball plays a huge role at the youth level, especially on the mound. A player can have the best mechanics in the world, but unless he knows how to think positively, he may not get the results he wants.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bartman Revisited

ESPN Films is back tonight at 8:00 with a new documentary on the infamous 2003 NLCS Game 6 between the Cubs and Marlins. This was the "Bartman Game," when lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman's interference with Moises Alou's attempt to catch a foul ball in the 8th innning preceeded a historic collapse by the Cubs and a continued painful wait to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.

The Marlins had an impressive lineup and the Cubs' pretty much mailed it in after the play (Moises Alou even made plane reservations home before Game 7), but Bartman was the scapegoat because his hands were the ones lucky enough to reach the ball. He's basically been in hiding ever since that night. It was a sad study on human behavior.

If this is anything like ESPN Films' previous work, it should be some good TV.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Energy Drinks Losing Steam in Baseball

Much has been written about the negative effects of energy drinks on young athletes. Their generally high levels of caffeine and carbohydrates have caused many experts to steer kids away from them.

While sports drinks work to hydrate the body, energy drinks can dehydrate an athlete. This has caused several professional baseball clubs to discourage their players from using energy drinks as a way to prep themselves for play, according to this USA Today article. Energy drinks are not considered performance enhancing drugs, nor are they on MLB's banned substances list, but their dehydration effects are alarming to many teams.

Perhaps pro ballplayers should at least pair that Red Bull with a tall glass of milk  It is not only considered to be healthier, but studies indicate that milk surprisingly hydrates the youngest athletes even better than water itself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Science Behind Mariano Rivera's Cutter

Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees became the all-time saves leader yesterday. We already knew he was the best. Now he has the career numbers to back it up. What is amazing is that he has done it largely with one pitch - his cut fastball.

Here is a good video demonstration by the NY Times on how Rivera throws his cutter and why it is so effective. And this Sport Science piece further shows why it is so difficult to hit. The break is so late, the batter must commit to swing before he knows where it's going. That late break is a product of maximum rotation and just the right finger pressure on the ball. Every pitcher's hand and delivery is different. But through experimentation, Rivera was able to find a pitch that works quite well for him.

For more on just how hard a pitch like this is to see, here's another Sport Science video about a batter's vision and timing. This is why they say hitting a 90 mph fastball is the hardest thing to do in sports. Throw in Rivera's late movement and it's nearly impossible.

A Little Leaguer will probably not be able replicate Rivera's cutter. He just doesn't have enough distance to work with in order to get that much movement on a fastball. But understanding the importance of experimenting with fastball grips and the vital role that rotation plays on movement are both valuable lessons for young pitchers today.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth

Here's an article by sports psychotherapist and performance consultant, Dr. Keith Wilson, about performance anxiety in youth sports. Wilson says that in order to help young athletes manage the nerves and stress associated with competition, we can teach them to use certain breathing techniques that will help them relax on the field.

Nervous players add to their own stress level by taking shorter breaths. Less oxygen enters the blood stream. More carbon dioxide stays in. This leads to fatigued, tense muscles. Tension slows down movement. The end result is a breakdown of proper mechanics. The pitcher cannot throw strikes. The batter swings late - if he swings at all.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling with a purpose before the pitch is thrown will relax the player and make him more comfortable. Comfort leads to confidence. The player is quick and mechanically sound. Success is more likely and the experience is more enjoyable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Angry Coaches

The opening of Greg Covi's Mom's Team article, Why So Many Coaches Have Anger Issues, pretty much says it all:

"This is real simple to answer: because they're not as good of teachers as they think they are."

But as Covi says, there is more to it....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More On Hand Separation and Stephen Strasburg

Here's a link to an MLB Diamond Demo by Al Leiter and John Smoltz about hand separation and the position of the elbows and hands during a pitcher's stride. This is on the heels of the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg's impressive return this week from Tommy John surgery.

As I noticed myself on Tuesday night, Leiter and Smoltz say that the "inverted W" that some think may have contributed to Strasburg's UCL tear is still present in his mechanics, but the violence of his arm action has been slightly toned down.

Smoltz demonstrates in the video a drill that he performed during his own rehab period from Tommy John. This looks like a great way for young pitchers to reinforce proper hand separation at an early age, so they don't have to make major changes down the road.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Importance of Proper Hand Separation

Here's a good three minute discussion by Dan Gazaway of The Pitching Academy about one of the most fundamental parts of the throwing motion: hand separation.

At the youth level, this is one of the most often flawed parts of a player's mechanics. Many kids take the ball up and out of their glove, directly behind the ear, which leads to pushing the baseball forward. The result is a lack of power and additional stress on the shoulder.

More than half of my young pitching students spend time correcting this flaw. And throwing mechanics are not easy to correct once the bad habits are entrenched. If they can learn at about the tee ball level or even younger how to correctly separate the hands (like in the picture of Tommy Hanson above) with fingers on top, thumbs down and plams out, it would help them avoid this trouble down the road.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"They Are Not Your Players. You Are Their Coach."

The heading above is a quote from a series of articles by Doug Abrams titled Who Owns Youth Sports?  The series is posted on Rick Wolff's informative blog, Ask Coach Wolff.  In these articles, Abrams has explored the "adultification" of youth sports and reflects on the days of sandlot ball - back when kids roamed free and there was available land for their use.

Abrams acknowledges that those days are long gone in most metropolitan areas. Adult supervision is here to stay. But he urges youth coaches and leagues to consider implementing the best of both worlds - allow the kids to experience the fun of creating, managing and playing their own games while doing so in a safe environment with adult supervision and expert instruction.

Here are the articles. They are a good read.

Who Owns Youth Sports?  (Part 1)
Who Owns Youth Sports?  (Part 2)
Who Owns Youth Sports?  (Part 3)

The Kevin Williams Foundation

Below is the story of the Kevin Williams Memorial Foudation, inspired by a family's love of baseball and the New York Yankees. There are many connections between 9/11 and baseball. Baseball provided some incredible moments and lasting memories during a tragic time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Youth Curveball Debate Continues

The recently published results of a five-year study on curveballs by the University of North Carolina and Little League Baseball have done nothing to cool the debate about the safety of breaking pitches at the youth level. It may be that the discussion is only heating up, as a result of that study's controversial findings, or lack of findings.

While the UNC study caused Little League to report that overuse, rather than curveballs, was to blame for arm injuries, former coach and current WFAN (NY) radio host Rick Wolff begs to differ. He says you simply cannot ignore decades of doctors' advice against throwing curveballs or sliders at a young age. Here is a podcast of his recent interview with Cincinnati orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who believes that Little League has political reasons for not banning curves.

Whether "it's politics" or a lack of conclusive information,

The Simplest Way To Get Quick

I came across this post by trainer Kelly Baggett on the Cressey Performance blog about gaining athletic quickness. Baggett brings up some good points about the importance of decreasing muscle tension in order to increase quickness.

As I tell my youth players, relaxed muscles are quicker than tense muscles. Unfortunately this idea is usually the opposite of many players' natural instinct.

When faced with an incoming pitch, the batter often reacts by "muscling up" to try to hit the ball hard. They clutch the bat tight, twist away from the pitcher and reach back for more power. But they won't find any more power back there. Since they have so much tension, the fast-twitch muscles of the front arm cannot fire quick enough. They lengthen their swing path, and sometimes completely bar the lead arm, creating a stiff, sweeping motion to the ball. The result is a late swing and a jam shot off the handle of the bat.

When a pitcher wants to blow a fastball by a batter,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Allure of Being "Elite"

I encourage you to read this ESPN article by Tim Keown about the state of travel ball in America. Although not exactly new information, Keown's commentary is on the money. I think I agree with everything he says, and would only add that what actually matters in youth baseball is fun and good coaching.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reason Enough To Back Up the Mound

Braydon Salzman was extremely lucky to avoid serious injury on Friday at the Little League World Series. Watch the video if you haven't seen it. Little League's days with a 46 foot mound are hopefully numbered.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Five-Year UNC Curveball Study Complete

A study of over 1,300 youth pitchers has been concluded by the University of North Carolina and Little League Baseball. The results: overuse, not curveballs are to blame for arm injuries.

As mentioned before on this site, it's primarily the young pitchers that repeatedly push themselves to the limit without enough rest in between outings that risk hurting themselves. Surprisingly, some previous studies have indicated that curveballs don't put any more stress on the arm than fastballs.

Still, the calls for banning curveballs in Little League have persisted. But Little League President and CEO Stephen Keener has now concluded that a ban won't be necessary.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Laying Off the Doughnuts

Here's an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about the actual effect that swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle has on your swing at the plate.

Baseball players have used bat doughnuts or other types of weights for many years in order to make their regular bat feel lighter during their at-bat. Doughnuts are not allowed in Little League, and technically neither is the on-deck circle, but players often use two bats or a weighted bat sleeve to warm up.

But scientific testing has proven that swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle actually slows down your swing at the plate by activating slow-twitch muscle fibers best used for endurance, not the quick burst of speed needed to hit a fastball.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Passing Down a Love of the Game

Here's a good article from Moms Team about "Passing the Baseball Torch" from generation to generation. It's a selection from a book by Dan Clemens, called The Perfect Season.

Making the big leagues is one-in-a-million, so one of the best things we can do for our own kids and other baseball players we coach is to simply instill a love of the game, so they can enjoy it as much as we have for so many years.

How does one come to love baseball? According to Clemens, it comes from two sources:

1. From our experiences on the field. I will never have a true appreciation for ice hockey because I never played - I can't even skate (on blades or wheels). But I know what it's like to play baseball - to make solid contact, steal a base, rob a hit, strike out a batter, or just kill time in the dugout. I loved it and thrived on it. And....

2. From the people around us - the stories they tell, the lessons they've learned, the players and teams they follow, the experiences we share with them. This is not about instructing our sons to swing correctly or driving them to succeed. It's about creating good memories and being a fan of the game.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Albert Pujols Diamond Demo

Here's a good MLB Network Diamond Demo with Albert Pujols, where he and Harold Reynolds discuss such things as tee work, staying inside the ball and taking the knob of the bat to the ball. When this guy talks hitting, we all should listen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sports Parenting the Gerry McIlroy Way

Among all the news about obsessive and aggressive sports parents out there is a good article at Bob Cook's blog, Your Kid's Not Going Pro, about Gerry McIlroy. Gerry is the father of "next big thing," Rory McIlroy, who just came off a 16-under US Open Golf Championship. Obviously Rory did "go pro," but he did it without the kind of parenting that too often makes news in golf and other sports.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What To Do This Summer... Build a Wiffle Ball Field

Here's a cool story about a wiffle ball field and league in New York. Chris Hess did it with dugouts, an electronic scoreboard, and uniforms. Our family's field (left) was done on the cheap. Hours of weekly fun for just an occasional can of spray paint. Oh - and don't forget the foul poles.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lightning Safety

The animated picture on the left is no joke. It's thunderstorm season and knowledge about lightning safety is a must for coaches, parents and players.

If you can hear thunder, that means lightning is close enough to strike. Get your players off the field and into a closed shelter or vehicle.

Here is a link to more information on lightning safety from the NOAA National Weather Service.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Don't Try This at Home

Here's how the baseball team entertains the fans (and themselves) during a rain delay at Radford University....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Joey Bats is Where It's At

Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays is the man to watch in 2011. Albert Pujols may be the greatest hitter of the past decade, but Bautista is the best in the game right now. His numbers make that obvious. After two months, he is 1st in home runs (19), on-base percentage, runs and walks. He is 2nd in batting average at .353. Since the 2010 season began "Joey Bats" has hit 73 bombs. This year he is on pace for 65 - an unheard of number in the supposed post-steroid era.

How does he do it? Just watch his swing over and over. Notice the violent hip turn, the firm front leg, and he doesn't swing level to the ground, kids - he's level to the pitch with a high finish, and then some.

Let's hope Bautista doesn't go the way of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and now apparently Lance Armstrong. Because this is fun to watch:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Analysis of a Youth Sports Social Experiment

The Sports Letter blog recently interviewed Doug Merlino, author of the book, The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White. In the book, Merlino has followed up on a social experiment he was a part of while in the 8th grade in 1986, in which his basketball team was created specifically to mix players from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

I found this interesting because of some general similarities to our own league. We are not a social experiment, but we do have a healthy variety of families.

Merlino says that in order for kids to truly benefit long term from such an experience, it must extend from the playing field into other areas of life. He says, "We went to play basketball because we liked to do it.  In that sense, it was very useful in bringing these two different cultures together. On the other hand, if things are just about what's happening on the court, you can start to fool yourself.  If you say, it's integrated on the court, therefore everything's fine, you're missing something.  As I point out in the book, sports has its limitations."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Playing Catch With a Purpose

I read a good post at The Pitching Academy about the benefits of throwing often when done with a purpose. Baseball is fun, and it's fun to just go out a throw the ball around. But when teams are warming up for practice, players - especially pitchers - can gain a lot from working on their mechanics.

Far too often I see a kids that have been taught to pitch or throw correctly, some by me, go out and warm up for practice with poor mechanics - not closing up, glove flying out, no follow through. They get nothing out of those ten minutes other than getting their arm loose. But if they would focus on what they're doing during that time like they would the rest of practice, they could improve their arm strength, their mechanics, their control, their various fastballs and their changeup or other offspeed pitches.

Mechanics can be learned at an early age. Once players get in the habit of throwing correctly, they'll never lose that skill. It's like riding a bike. But until the good habits fully take over, players will continue to fight against the bad habits on the mound and in the field. If they don't close the shoulder, or tuck the glove, etc., during those 30 throws before practice, how can we expect them to do it in a game?

And that changeup grip takes months, if not years, to get comfortable with. Pitchers who practice it during long toss or while cooling down can speed up that time significantly. Play "catch" with a purpose and some focus and the progress will show.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Recommended Reading for Serious Pitchers

Here's a link to a NY Times article on Harvey Dorfman, former MLB "Mental Performance Coach" who helped the careers of countless pro baseball players. Dorfman lived in North Carolina at the time of his death in February. He authored one of my favorite baseball books, The Mental ABC's of Pitching, which is guide to controlling your thoughts and emotions as a pitcher. I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

No Hands, No Arms, No Problem

This is impressive. Check out how Tom Willis throws out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium with no hands or arms. An inspiration indeed.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Root of Big League Arm Trouble

I just read an important blog post by Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance about the importance of limiting the amount of pitching by youth baseball players: Your Arm Hurts? Thank Your Little League, AAU and Fall Ball Coaches.

This is another strong warning to coaches and parents that the high school, college and professional pitchers that end up having arm surgery are often the ones that threw too much at a younger age. Many times the damage is done earlier in their careers, even though the pitcher may not feel any pain until years later.

As Cressy reminds us, pitching a baseball overhand is a violent, fast, unnatural act. Unless you're this guy, your arms hang down and your shoulders are rounded. Throwing underhand is more natural for the human body.

Throwing overhand is a complex motion. There's a lot that can go wrong over time. That's why we need to ensure that our youth pitchers are taught proper mechanics. And we have to be careful that they don't throw too many pitches, and see that they get enough rest, both between outings and during various shut-down periods throughout the year.

Cressey stresses the importance of strength training and playing other sports. Kids need to develop their overall athleticism and strength, and should not specialize in one sport until their late teenage years, if then.

Little League pitch count regulations are beneficial to protecting young arms. But they don't prevent a player from participating on multiple teams. And not every 11- and 12-year-old can handle 85+ pitches in a game. The doctors that Little League consulted when that number was put in place recommended less. So it is up to coaches and parents set the rules. Just because a kid loves to pitch, it doesn't mean he should always push himself to the limit.

Here again is the link to the article. If you are a coach or a parent of a pitcher, I recommend taking a couple of minutes to read it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Slow, Perfect Pace of Little League

Here's a good article from Delaware Online by Jason Levine about the atmosphere of a Little League park. His league happens to be in Delaware, but it really could be anywhere. As Levine says, "When I'm at a Little League game or practice, I don't want to go home." I think there are a lot of people at MP that can identify with that feeling. That's why on a nice spring Saturday, many of us stay all day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The History of Metal

With all the talk going on this year about the safety issues surrounding composite metal bats, I found this article on the history of aluminum bats interesting. The quality of these bats has come a long way since they were first introduced in 1970 - from the hunk-o-metal I used while playing on our fields, to the lightweight alloys and composites of today with a nearly can't-miss sweet spot. Enjoy...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Albert Pujols: Hall of Famer On and Off the Field

60 Minutes will be running a story on Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals tonight at 7:00 on CBS. Widely considered to be the best player in the game and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, Pujols has also made a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of people in need. He is passionate about helping both the poor people of his native Dominican Republic and those, like his own daughter, born with Down Syndrome.

This guy is the real deal. He is a role model both on the field and off the field.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dynamic Stretching for Baseball and Softball

Unless we seek out new information, youth coaches tend to do things the same way it was done "back in the day." Passing down the knowledge we have gained from years of experience is often beneficial to our players.

But a large part of instructing youth baseball and softball players is based on health and science. And when it comes to health and science, you don't want to be passing down information that is decades old.

One aspect of youth sports that has changed since we were playing is stretching. Doctors and researchers say there's more to it now than just tugging at a particular muscle for 20 seconds (static stretching). These days, dynamic stretching, or stretching while moving, is considered to be more beneficial for athletes preparing to play while reducing the risk of injury.

Here are a couple of good articles on dynamic stretching:

First is a Mom's Team article about the proper way to warm up for athletic competition - light aerobic exercise followed by dynamic stretching. The article goes on to say that static stretching is not only without benefit, but can also weaken muscles.

And here is an article by Yankees strength and conditioning coach, Dana Cavalea, about the goal of dynamic stretching - to get moving and activate the nervous system and muscle groups, not only single muscles.

To see some dynamic stretching in action, below is a video of the 2009 Wake Forest baseball team preparing to play. This was actually followed by another clip of the same team going through a static stretching routine. So they have not abandoned it altogether.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nutrition for Youth Ball Players

The postgame snack schedules are just about set now. Team Moms across the league probably know who is responsible for every game of the season. But take time to consider what types of food we should be giving out to our kids at the park.

Here is one article on nutrition for youth ball players. It lists five basic nutritional facts to teach our young athletes:

1. Protein allows the body to build muscle and enhance strength.
2. Carbohydrates provide energy. Complex carbohydrates are best for longer lasting energy.
3. Certain types of foods provide more protein.
4. Processed foods are generally less healthy than unprocessed, fresh foods.
5. Eating more, but smaller meals, is considered by many to be healthier.

Sometimes the right choices don't come in individual snack bags. And consider also how much energy is required to play a T-Ball game. Sometimes the calories after the game might outweigh the ones burned during the game.