The following list of drills is in the sequence that we generally use with young players that come to us for instruction. We try to emphasize to all players that the most important aspect of working on throwing is to get started correctly. With that thought in mind, a first teaching session might focus only on the proper grip and the proper arm swing to achieve the correct position of the throwing arm and hand when the stride foot lands. With this instruction, the player is sent home to practice these simple, but critical aspects of throwing. When the player returns in a week to 10 days, we can tell a lot about his disciplined approach to working and his probability of success if we continue to work together. If the player doesn’t have a good work ethic, we are generally not enthusiastic about continuing the teacher-student relationship. As has been mentioned often, several years of throwing incorrectly will ingrain muscle memory that can only be changed with a hard-nosed and disciplined work ethic. We don’t like to waste our time on guys that “sorta want to get better”.
One other aspect of instruction that we try to get across during the first session with the player is that the number of repetitions isn’t nearly as important as the percent of repetitions that are done correctly. I think most players have the idea that the more times something is done the more improvement they are going to make. By contrast, what the player needs to understand is that he has already thrown the ball thousands of times incorrectly and his body already knows how to do that. Now, his body needs to get the feeling of how to do the action correctly. Any regression back to bad technique is recognized by the muscle memory and reinforced. So, it’s much better to do 10 repetitions perfectly than 50 repetitions that might be 50-75% correct. Generally, all players are in a rush to get better. The truly disciplined ones will recognize that it has taken a while to establish the techniques that are being used now and it will take a while to get them corrected. The quality and quantity of the practice routines, not just the quantity of practice routines, is the key to improvement.
This message was delivered clearly in a golf instruction lesson from Jack Nicklaus. He said that over the years, many players hit more balls than he did, but no one hit more balls correctly than he did.
This drill is excellent for working on the hand position that the player should use on the baseball. The player should spin the baseball, much like snapping the fingers, and then catch the ball with the throwing hand. As quickly as possible (without looking at the ball), the player should get the ball into the ideal grip with the fingers on top and the edge of the thumb on the bottom (as shown). This is a drill that can be done by the player at home, so a large number of repetitions should be expected. It takes a large number of repetitions for the desired grip to begin to feel normal. As the player gets more comfortable with this grip drill he can progress to getting all the different grips for different pitches. If you can get the grip without looking at the baseball you’re a long way toward having one less thing to think about on the mound.
Another benefit from this drill for a pitcher is that the finger snap that spins the baseball for this drill is the feel that is needed at release of the curve ball. The curve is thrown with a “karate chop” action of the forearm and wrist with the finger snap out in front at release. The faster the chop and the faster the snap the faster the ball will rotate. The break on a curve ball is proportional to the rate of spin generated on the ball.
Thumbs Down Drill
This drill is intended to insure that the player starts the arm swing properly. The player should stand with his feet separated beyond shoulder width with the hands together at the waist and weight on the balls of the feet. The player should separate his hands, thumbs down, and slowly swing both arms in line with the shoulders. The throwing arm and glove arm should be extended until the ball and arms are even with the shoulders. From there the throwing arm bends at the elbow to achieve the ideal position with elbow even or above the shoulder, the ball above the head and pointing away from the head and the throwing elbow bent at greater than 90 degrees. The non-throwing elbow can be considered the site for the pitcher to aim at the target. Having the elbow bent downward on the non-throwing arm tends to be desirable so the pitcher is aiming with the lead elbow. The emphasis point for the drill should be to have both arms relaxed throughout the swing while keeping the arms aligned with the shoulders.
This is the best drill I’ve found to prevent a player from taking his arm behind him during the reverse swing. The player should stand with his heels, lower back and upper back against a solid wall. The lower back and upper back should be against the wall throughout the reverse arm swing (until the arm has reached the position where the elbow is even or above the shoulder and the ball is above the head.) The solid wall will give immediate feedback to the player when he takes his arm behind him because his knuckles will hit the wall. Sore knuckles have a tendency to offer negative feedback for poor technique. The drill needs to be repeated several times a day until the player’s normal arm action stays parallel with his shoulders. It’s a drill the player can do in his room using a pair of rolled up socks for the ball.
Out on the field, a coach can stand behind the player with his back acting as the wall, in line with the desired reverse arm swing. If the player is taking his arm behind his back he will hit the coach in the back. Since most guys don’t realize they are going behind their back because it just feels natural, you need some type of immediate feedback to emphasize the point.
There is another method that a coach can utilize to get the point across to a player who is taking his arm behind his back. The coach can stand at about a 30 degree angle in front of the player but well outside the reach of the player’s throwing arm. What you ask the player to do is work on the reverse arm swing by taking the ball towards you. In effect, you are asking the player to swing his arm on a line at an angle in front of his body. This is only an exercise for a player that takes his arm behind the back. Overcorrection is just a teaching aid to get the desired inline arm action.
Another similar concept to use as a teaching aid is to have the player think about steering a large captain’s wheel on a ship. As the player allows his throwing arm to follow the rotation around the captain’s wheel from bottom to top, the arm goes through the exaggerated reverse path in front of his body rather than behind his back. Ultimately, we want the arm swing to be in line with the shoulders, but this “ship’s wheel” exaggeration is a good technique for correcting a behind-the-back reverse swing that feels natural to the player.
After the player establishes a good feel for the relaxed, reverse arm swing that leads with the ball (not the elbow) with his feet on the ground, he needs to incorporate movement of his lower body into the action. Proper incorporation of the lower body is accomplished by making sure the weight is on the balls of the feet and the knees are bent slightly. He should start by jab stepping the pivot foot behind and then lifting the lead leg as he starts the reverse arm swing. As the player lifts his stride foot he should incorporate upward tilt in the shoulders and hips to aid in keeping the weight back. The player should then take the heel of the lead foot close to the ground as it moves first closed to the target and then toward the target as the foot nears the landing position. The sequence of pictures of Kolt below shows the proper technique.
Prior to the lead toe touching the ground, the throwing arm should be in the position where the elbow is even or above the shoulder and the ball is above the head. When this second stage of the thumbs down drill stops, approximately 75-80% of the player’s weight should be on the back leg. To achieve an ideal reverse arm swing, the hands will need to separate early (as the stride foot moves forward) to get the elbow above the shoulder before the lead foot lands. This later timing requirement needs to be accomplished while still maintaining a slow smooth reverse arm action.
Coaching this drill for young players requires that you do some “hands on” type instruction. You may need to slightly resist the forward movement of the hips to keep the player’s weight back. Typically, you need to work with the player to keep the lower body action slowed down so that the arm can get up in position before the stride foot touches. It seems that most players want to rush the lower body and consequently end up with a lot of weight forward when the stride foot lands. They also typically have difficulty in keeping the arms moving quickly enough to achieve the correct position of the throwing elbow when the stride foot lands.
An object other than a ball could be thrown to give the player an alternative to work on this drill in his home. If the player uses a rolled up pair of socks or some other soft object in place of the baseball, he can work on this wall drill in the house. Again, the key is to increase the number of repetitions when the drill is done correctly. I don’t recommend throwing the socks hard since throwing a light weight repetitively can be hard on the arm.
Hip to Shoulder Separation
In order to get the concept of the hips and shoulder separating, you start these rotation drill exercises with the pitcher standing facing a doorway with his elbows at shoulder height, against the door facing as shown in the following first picture of Kolt.
The pitcher maintains his elbows against the door facing while he rotates his hips, starting by pulling his lead hip backward as he would on the mound. This position is shown in the second picture.
The player will feel the torsion developed in his lower back and torso after he rotates his hips while keeping the elbows on the door facing. This is the “wound spring” that is described in the earlier segments of the website and is a major key to generating maximum rotation velocity. It’s a good idea to do these rotation exercises as though you are both a right handed pitcher and a left handed pitcher to maintain balance in the back and torso muscles.
This drill is an exercise to increase strength and flexibility in the rotating muscles of the body and to build a consistent feel for what it takes to create the hip to shoulder separation. After the player is comfortable with the hip to shoulder separation drill, he should follow the hip rotation with release of the back elbow from the door and by pulling the lead elbow down and away from the door facing. The emphasis should be on fast shoulder rotation to complete the action.
This drill is the essential element of the Turbo Effect section in this web site.
This drill is a direct extension of the hip to shoulder separation drill above. It would be a good idea to be warmed up prior to executing this quick hips drill. The intent of this quick hips drill is to have the player concentrate on only his legs, hips and torso in attempting to maximize the rotational energy that he can create.
The player needs to have his back several feet from a fence or wall that is directly behind him. His weight should be on the balls of the feet, his hips and shoulders should be tilted slightly upward (in the throwing direction) and his arms should be outstretched slightly in front of him. The player should focus on a maximum effort, explosive turn that starts with the player pulling his lead hip back and down toward level while keeping the shoulders in position. The turn finishes with the upper body also being rotated down toward level. At the completion of rotation the player’s stomach is ideally aimed at the fence behind him.
Again, make sure to start with the weight on the balls of the feet with the hips and shoulders slightly tilted with approximately 75% of the weight on the back leg. It isn’t recommended that you do this drill on grass turf because you will destroy the area where the players turn with their cleats. An ideal location to do the drill is a gravel area where the feet can easily rotate.
As with the hip to shoulder separation drill, it is best if the athlete attempts to balance the front/back and right side/left side. In order to accomplish this balance in the quick hips drill, hard turns should be executed both in the throwing direction and the reverse direction. This drill emphasizes maximum exertion and will add strength to the major muscle groups of the trunk.
Quarter Turn Drill
After the player has become comfortable with this maximum effort turn drill, he can move on to this explosion drill that emphasizes the early external rotation and the full extension at release. It’s best if this drill is done in a batting cage or where a net is available to throw into.
The start position for this drill has the toes on the stride foot facing the target with the hips opened as if the stride foot has landed. The shoulders and hips are slightly tilted upward and the shoulders are aimed at the target to place the “torso spring” in tension. The arm should be externally rotated in the shoulder to place the “shoulder spring” in tension.
Starting in this static position the shoulders are then rotated 90 degrees to where the shoulders are facing the target. When the shoulders are facing the target the arm should be at full extension. Effectively, this drill is executing the throwing motion starting with the two springs wound and finishing with a fully extended throwing arm. The throwing target should be well above the head to help emphasize that the weight is held back as long as possible.
Concentration should still be on a relaxed arm and a maximum speed shoulder turn. This starting position for the quarter turn drill results when the pitcher’s hip turn is nearly complete. The hip turn starts the external rotation of the arm in the shoulder socket but the shoulders have only slightly started to open. The player should be encouraged to feel the arm whip forward toward full extension at release toward an elevated target.
Weighted Ball Drill
[CAUTION: A weighted baseball should not be used for throwing hard or throwing long distances without close supervision. We use the weighted ball exclusively for training as explained here. Use of a weighted ball should be accompanied with rotator cuff exercises as described later in this book.]
This weighted baseball drill is utilized to get the player to better understand three different aspects of throwing after the player has achieved the ideal arm position at stride foot landing.
establishing the feel of a relaxed arm, from the shoulder to the fingers
establishing the feel of starting the throwing action with the hips instead of the arm
establishing the feel of external rotation in the shoulder socket
I generally start this drill with a 10-ounce baseball and very quickly move to a 7-ounce ball to limit the stress that is applied to the shoulder. The drill begins with the player in the position where the elbow is even or above the shoulder with the ball above the head. The player is instructed to relax the arm and to concentrate exclusively on the lower part of his body. With the weighted ball held in a relaxed hand and arm in the launch position, the player is instructed to execute a hip and then shoulder turn. He should feel the resulting external rotation in the shoulder due to the ball staying in position while the shoulders turn.
With the 10-ounce ball and a start in the desired arm position, there is a significant tendency for the ball to stay static in position while the lower body and then the upper body rotate. (It’s a simple physics principle that a body at rest tends to stay at rest.) When the ball stays still as the torso turns, if the arm is relaxed the upper arm is forced to externally rotate in the shoulder socket. The external rotation in the shoulder socket is extremely important for the player to feel and understand because it is the critical element that allows the baseball to be whipped during the throwing action. External rotation in the shoulder loads energy into the shoulder in a spring-like fashion and this energy is given back to the upper and lower arm in the form of hand acceleration (whip).
This early external rotation isn’t a normal feel for the average player, because he isn’t totally in control of throwing the baseball with his arm and hand. In actual fact, when the player utilizes these techniques properly, he doesn’t begin to throw the baseball with his arm until the arm has externally rotated completely in the shoulder socket and the upper body is well on its way toward the completion of a full quarter turn.
This drill is similar to the weighted ball drill and emphasizes the lower body as the driving force of the throwing motion. It logically follows the Thumbs Down Drill, the Rotation Drills and the Weighted Ball Drill. The player starts with his feet well outside the shoulders with the weight on the balls of the feet. The throwing hand should be in the optimal position and the elbow of the glove hand should be used as the site. The player begins with his weight slightly shifted to the back foot with the hips and shoulders tilted upward. At this point, with the knees flexed, the player starts the turning action.
The action begins by pulling the lead hip backward and downward while maintaining the shoulders in line with the target. As the hips begin to open the upper legs, hips, and lower back help to execute an explosive turn. The turn loads coil type tension (external rotation) of the arm into the shoulder socket and also loads coil type tension into the torso. The result is rapid acceleration of the upper body which whips the throwing hand toward the target. In theory, a player should be able to execute this drill and throw very close to as hard as he can using a windup or stretch.
However, this drill is best implemented by throwing the ball no farther than 20-30 feet and focusing on the feel of the throwing sequence. The player should work this drill with a bag of baseballs, throwing balls into a net. In this manner he can get a lot of repetitions in a short amount of time. The points that should be stressed are the arm’s starting position, a relaxed arm and shoulder, the explosive turn starting with the lead hip and then a good finish with the back side coming over to where the two feet are even at the end of the throwing action. It’s best to throw the baseball upward at about a 30-45 degree angle to emphasize maintaining the weight back until the very last second.
To summarize, then, different players have different aptitudes and awareness of their bodies. Generally, it takes a lot of repetitions before a player establishes a good feel for the explosion and the resultant early external rotation arm torque. Throughout the repetitions, you need to continually emphasize that the explosive motion is strictly rotation. There shouldn’t be any significant forward movement of the upper body until the hard turn has been executed. Again, throwing uphill (simulating long toss into the net) helps keep the weight back.
Two Piece Drill
This is essentially a combination of Stage 2 of the Thumbs Down Drill and the Explosion Drill and it is intended to make the player focus on each aspect of proper technique. The player should count a two second pause between the Thumbs Down Drill portion and the Explosion Drill portion. Early on, the player should visually check the critical arm position before exerting the hard turning action to throw. As the player improves, the two pieces of the action can be allowed to be closer and closer together until they form one dynamic throwing motion. Again, a bucket of balls and a net is useful to be able to execute a significant number of repetitions in a short amount of time. The throwing distance should be limited to 20-30 feet.