Friday, August 10, 2012

What To Accomplish This Fall

Little League Fall Ball is the Spring Training of youth baseball. It's an opportunity for players to work on their skills in a low-pressure environment. Many players are learning new skills, like pitching and catching, and are just beginning to gain confidence. Others are trying to become consistent hitters, or better fielders. The instructional aspect of a good Fall Ball program creates an ideal environment for player development.

Here is a list of what players can accomplish this fall:

1. Fix Your Swing Mechanics. Don't just take BP and accept wherever you're hitting the ball as long as it's hit hard. Learn correct swing mechanics, practice them on a tee and in front of a mirror. Then put it all to use in BP. Learn from the result of each swing. If you're not hitting line drives, there is a reason. Fix it. Every player has something to work on.

2. Focus on Throwing Mechanics. You can't pitch well unless you first learn to throw correctly. Pay close attention in warm-ups to the mechanics of each throw - how the hands are separating, how the ball is positioned during the stride, what the lead arm is doing, etc. Don't just play catch. Throw with a purpose and make sure you're repeating good habits, not bad ones.

3. Get Some Pitching Experience. The low-stress atmosphere of fall games is a great time for inexperienced pitchers to get some innings. Focus on the mechanics you've learned, not what the batter does with the pitch. It's about you, not him. If you execute pitches the way they are supposed to be executed, be satisfied and keep doing it, regardless of whether he hits it or not. You can't control what the batter does, so it's misguided focus. Thinking about results will only distract you from executing each pitch with correct mechanics. The more you pitch, the more comfortable, and therefore confident you will become on the mound. Then when the games matter next spring, you'll be armed with a good delivery and the confidence to go with it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Selected Reading Material 8-8-12

Tips On How To Handle Setbacks by Mike Jacobs, Evansville Courier & Press  -  How yo move on and plan for future success.

Long Term Baseball Development: Attention to Detail Matters by Eric Cressey, Cressey Performance  -  Focus and get something out of your warm-up throwing and flexibility exercises.

Dan Duquette On the Young Pitchers and Their Struggles by Steve Melewski, MASN Sports  -  Some insights on how one Major League organization places a priority on biomechanical analysis and developing a repeatable correct delivery.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good & Bad Baseball Mechanics on Display at the Olympics

Baseball is unfortunately not an Olympic sport anymore. They had to make room for trampoline and women's wrestling, I guess. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of good examples of some of the most important mechanics that go into a good baseball swing or pitching motion.

I use a various Olympic sports on a regular basis as a way to teach how a baseball player's body should or should not move in order to gain more power, quickness and consistency. Here are some examples that are currently being broadcast from London:

Diving.  A baseball player's core is his main source of power. How quickly and powerfully he is able to rotate his core has a direct effect on how much energy is transferred to the baseball. Hitters are able to rotate quicker by pulling the bat through the zone with their hands and elbows close to the body. A compact swing is a quick swing. Similarly, pitchers are able to rotate quicker by tucking the lead arm back into their body. This is like a Olympic diver controlling the rate at which his or her body turns during a mid air twist. When the arms are in, the body twists quickly with little resistance. When the arms are extended away from the body, the additional weight outside the diver's center of gravity slows the rate of rotation. This type of twisting can also be seen in gymnastics or the aforementioned trampoline. If this were the Winter Olympics, the best example would be figure skating.

Tennis / Table Tennis.  A good tennis stroke is an example of how not to swing a baseball bat. A topspin forehand where the wrist rolls over through contact creates a shot where the ball dives back to the playing surface before reaching the base line. This is somewhat like a pulled ground ball in baseball - if the top hand rolls over as contact is being made, the barrel is raised up and around to the upper outside corner of the baseball, likely resulting in a grounder to the shortstop. A backspin drop shot in tennis is achieved by chopping down through the bottom of the ball with an abbreviated finish - the equivalent of an infield pop-up. In order for a hitter to get maximum carry on the baseball, he must avoid the early rolling of the wrists. Keeping the top hand under the handle at the point of contact as he pulls the knob of the bat forward and up through the ball into a high finish will result in backspin line drives with some distance. If the batter continues down through contact into a low finish, he will end up with that drop shot he does not want.

Shot Put.  Unlike the shot put, a pitcher's delivery is more of a pull than a push. As he separates his hands and strides toward home, the ball should be turned away from his body. He then uses his front side - hip, elbow and shoulder - to pull the ball forward with power and velocity. If the pitcher separates his hands into a position where the ball is shown toward third base, he will end up pushing the ball more like the shot putter, with much less velocity.

Javelin.  There are several similarities among the mechanics of pitching and javelin. Most noticeable is the firm front leg, which sends the energy created by the stride up into the core rotation, and ultimately the javelin/baseball. With hitting, we call it "putting on the brake," like in a car, and the stride leg is completely braced like the javelin thrower. Another mechanical similarity on display is the lead arm. As the javelin is being released, the lead elbow is pulled into the body for efficient rotation and more power from the front side. This is nearly identical to a top level pitcher.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Baseball Doesn't Have To Be So Expensive

There's been a lot of web chatter about how much money parents spend on youth sports these days, baseball included. There are $200 bats, snazzy gear bags, brand new cleats, tournament fees, travel expenses, heat gear, cold gear, etc., etc.... so much to spend to help your kid keep up with the Joneses.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to always hand the best products and experiences to our children on a silver platter. It wasn't all that long ago that we swung cheap hunk-o-metal bats while wearing Toughskins and sneakers. I'm not against modern improvements to the game, but there are ways to do youth baseball without dipping into that home equity line. Here are some:

1. Buy last year's bat model. It may not have this year's paint job, but it's the same bat and it's $100 less.

2. Or better yet - just use the team gear. Most youth teams have their own bats, helmets and catcher's gear. If they don't, they should.

3. Shop online for discount clothing and cleats. Baseball pants, sliding shorts, undershirts, gear bags, gloves... You can find it all at clearance prices just like anything else.

4. Play Little League Baseball. No child is turned away because of an inability to pay.

5. Play on one team at a time. Playing for (and paying for) two teams during the same season can lead to overuse injuries anyway. Save your money and your kid's elbow.