Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Youth Pitching Flaws

My last top ten list dealt with youth swing flaws. Today I will tackle a more important topic - pitching flaws. A mechanical problem on the mound can lead to a lot of walks or hits, or even worse, an arm injury. Here are the most common flaws that I have seen in working with youth pitchers over the last several years. The older the player, the harder these are to fix.

1. Striding Too Short.  A short stride can mess up a lot of things:  front side stability, velocity, release point, follow through... Stride length should be 85-100% of a pitcher's height. That can be a tall order for a young pitcher that may not have the strength and athleticism yet to support such a stride. But if his stride is too short, he won't be able to support himself anyway. This very important mechanical aspect can be obtained through practice.

2. Incorrect Hand Separation.  Many young players begin their throwing motion incorrectly by taking the ball up and out of the glove with their fingers behind the ball and their thumb up. This leads to pushing the baseball with less energy and more stress on the arm. Pitchers should separate with fingers on top of the ball and thumbs down, raising the ball up facing away from the target before pulling the ball forward.

3. Not Getting the Arm Up.  When the front foot lands, it's time to throw. At that most important moment a pitcher's elbows should be shoulder high. The throwing arm should be bent (not past 90 degrees) with the ball up behind the head. If his ball positioning is too low, the pitcher will likely lead with the elbow forward and upward, causing high pitches. This problem is often a result of getting the front foot down too early - either because of rushing the motion or striding too short.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Selected Reading Material 4-18-12

Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl by Eric Cressey  -  An oldie but goodie. Breaking down the medical science behind presidential pitching mechanics, shoe throwing, etc.

Mike Matheny Letter to Parents posted by Kevin Seitzer  -  Before he was manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Matheny coached a youth team. He lays it all out there for the parents here.

Wanted: Creative Athletes... Needed: To Save the World  by Meagan Frank  -  On the importance of building creative play into organized youth sports practices.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Resist the Urge to Be Elite

Heed this man's advice. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. And I would say it usually isn't.

Here is a good article at Sports Dad Hub by Kevin about his son's experience on a "bad team" (a bad fit for him). Sometimes you have no control over what team you get or who the coach is. Sometimes it's just a not-so-great experience that you must endure. You make the most of it and look forward to better seasons. But sometimes you are faced with a choice, like in this article. Sometimes your kid is coveted by an "elite" team. You are honored, and tempted to leave behind the comfort and fun.

Bad choice. Not worth it. These teams are often "a dime a dozen." They can be a haven for daddyball. Go down that road at a young age and you could be jumping from team to team every six months. Eventually your kid may be so burned out, he quits altogether.

Resist the urge. Baseball is not a job when you're a little kid. Let them have fun. Make some good memories. Teach them the fundamentals. Keep them wanting more. There will be time to be elite later.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Selected Reading Material 4-9-12

Nine Sports Parent Actions That Will Sabotage Your Child's Performance by Janis Meredith - Great advice on what not to do. Remember, your kid is watching you.

Nine Important Don'ts.... by Kirk Mango - Response to the above article. More good advice, including five "do's."

The High Cost of Youth Sports by Doug Glanville, TIME Magazine - "Nothing opens a parent's checkbook like guilt and fear...." Review of Mark Hyman's new book, The Most Expensive Game in Town. And here's some info on his first book, Until It Hurts.

Sports Letter Interview: Author Mark Hyman on the Commercialization of Youth Sports by David Davis - Good interview. Most important quote: "Parenting has become a very competitive activity."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Top 10 Youth Swing Flaws

It's spring break around here. No games for a while. Time to get back to basics and work on the detailed mechanics of the game. My team will be doing a lot of hitting, among other things. Every player is working on something - an adjustment to make - and they know what it is. No one is perfect. They all have at least one flaw and it probably falls into the list below. Here are the top ten swing flaws I see in working with youth players.

1. Rolling the wrists too early. Despite the fact that the barrel is what makes contact with the ball, the hitter should think more about the knob of the bat. If a hitter throws the barrel at the ball with the top hand behind the handle, rather than pulling the knob through contact with the top hand under the handle, the barrel will cast up and around the ball, creating a steady flow of weak ground balls instead of line drives.

2. Lunging. Many young hitters have their legs "backwards." At the point of contact, the front leg should be straight and the back leg bent. A braced front leg keeps the upper body back behind the ball at contact (a wide stance helps). It sends energy up to the hips where it is needed. Lunging forward with a bent front knee causes a loss of energy and lowers the hands under the ball. The upper body and head drift forward and hip rotation is weak.

3. No backside rotation. After the front heel lands, the back knee should turn in to a 90 degree angle. The back heel rotates up to the sky with shoelaces facing the pitcher. If the hitter keeps the heel down, he cannot fully open his main power source, the hips. He also can't get the hands through quick enough - it's an open invitation for an inside fastball on the handle. If he pushes with the back foot rather than rotating, he will pop himself up into a tall position, creating one or both of the above flaws.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MLB Opening Night

The 2012 Major League Baseball season begins tonight with Cardinals at Marlins on ESPN. For a little primer, check out David Schoenfield's 100 Reasons to Get Excited for MLB. And there is much to look forward to. The game is in a good place these days.

I encourage young players to watch games on TV. Learn the game. Watch how big leaguers carry themselves on the field. Pay attention to the details of the game - the swing mechanics, the fielding techniques, the pitching strategies, the baserunning and defensive situations. Study how the best players swing the bat or pitch the ball. And remember that if you have a DVR, you can pause live TV to get a better look at their mechanics - that's a great way to learn. I like to go frame by frame and break down guys like Justin Upton, Cliff Lee, Robinson Cano and others to see what makes them so good.

This should be a great season. Go Yanks and Bravos, but my prediction is Tigers over D-Backs in 6.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Selected Reading Material 4-2-12

Youth Sports Travel Destination Tournaments: The Original Hunger Games by Stats Dad - Survival of the fittest at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

What Baseball Does to the Soul by Colum McCann, NY Times - Reflections of an Irish soccer fan on family and his love of baseball.

Sports Parenting: A Parent's Role in Raising Athletes in Today's Youth Sports Culture - Part 1 by Brie Isaacson - Advice for parenting elementary school aged athletes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Neighborhood Games

I came across this post at Sports Dad Hub, about a game called Hotbox. When I was a kid, we called it Pickle - a simple neighborhood game where you have two bases, a fielder at each, and runners that try to steal as many bases as possible. The only hitch is that the fielders can't leave their bases and have to make quick throws to get the runners.

This reminded me of another game we played called Roller Bat. In Roller Bat, there is a batter, who tosses the ball to himself to hit to a group of fielders. If the batted ball is caught in the air by a fielder, that fielder becomes the batter. If the ball is fielded off the ground, the batter lays the bat down square to the fielder and the fielder rolls the ball toward the bat. If the ball hits the bat and then the ground, the fielder becomes the batter. If the ball misses the bat, or it hits the bat and pops up into the batter's hands, he gets to keep hitting.

Simple games, loads of fun. Good stuff to pass on to the next generation. There is always Wiffle Ball too...