Picking the Right Drill For You
In recent years, there have been a lot of criticisms directed toward traditional pitching drills. Some of the most common drills, like the one-knee drill, are becoming quite controversial. In fact, some coaches and trainers believe too much focus on drills can be detrimental because they do not mimic real life conditions.
However, drills are still an effective way to teach beginners the basic motions and what it should feel like to form a proper pitch from beginning to end. They can also be used to pinpoint specific problem areas. In moderation, a well-developed drill can be very helpful.
We’ll also go over some tips on how to choose from the hundreds of drills out there, and how to maximize their usefulness.
1. Leading with the Hips
The goal of this drill is to get a feel for the weight distribution and hip movement involved in a properly formed pitch.
Start by standing with your left hip against a wall. (This will be your right side if you are a left-handed pitcher.) Raise your left knee to a right angle. Notice how your weight is distributed and how much pressure your body is placing against the wall. Then put your leg down and move your right foot farther away from the wall. Place the knee up again and notice the increased pressure as you lean into the wall. Keep stepping the right foot away from the wall, making sure to keep your right knee toward the right foot instead of caving in toward the wall. At this point, the hip should be the only thing making contact with the wall.
For a better idea of what this looks like, check out this video.
2. The Net Pitching Drill
The goal here is to form the proper hand break timing. Pulling the pitching hand back too soon can cause it to be raised high behind the pitcher’s body, which deemphasizes the power from the lower body.
Set up a net or other similar boundary close behind the pitcher. If the hands break too early when the pitcher starts to throw, the pitching hand will touch the net. This instant feedback lets the player know they need to stop and correct. To avoid touching the net, the pitcher must break hands once their lower body has begun the forward momentum. This increases the power of the pitch while decreasing the chances of injury to the arm.
To see this drill in action, watch this short video:
3. The Stride Drill
The stride length is an important indicator of the success of a pitch, as is the placement of the front foot on a lateral dimension.
The ideal stride length for a fast ball is 80% of the pitcher’s height. Other pitches vary from 6” to 8” less than the pitcher’s height.
With these markings in mind, draw a line marking the ideal placement of the foot after the pitch. You can also mark lines that travel from the mound toward home plate to show the side boundaries. A foot that lands too far inward or outward can change the direction and velocity of the pitch.
Have the pitcher note where the leading foot is landing and how it is affecting the pitch. This allows for instant feedback and the opportunity for self-correction.
This drill was compiled by The Complete Pitcher.
4. Developing a Kick
The kick of the leading foot is closely related to the oft-cited problem of hip rotation. Hip rotation in and of itself does not necessarily lead to more velocity. It occurs after the front foot meets the ground. However, focusing on proper hip rotation does encourage other elements of the pitch to get in sync.
For instance, a tight kick or a front knee that is not landing over the front foot can limit the point of extension. Ending with proper hip rotation puts everything where it needs to be for an effective pitch. This includes achieving the optimal hip to shoulder separation.
This drill works on the kick that leads the hips. First, the player must work on moving the hips toward home plate as the leg is first being lifted. The forward hip movement comes before the kick even begins. When the knee peaks, the kick begins. This fluid motion can be practiced slowly to ensure the order of movement is correct, but try to not get too caught up in slow-mo. After a few successful kicks, pick up the pace.
Here is a video that explains how to develop a proper kick.
What to look for in a pitching drill
A holistic drill is one that coordinates as much of the body as possible. For example, a drill that focuses solely on the arm is going to miss out on the power provided by the lower body.
Non-holistic approaches have good intentions. The idea is to isolate a problem area until the player gets the motions down, then go back and “put it all together.”
The trouble here is the potential backfire of breaking a fluid movement with several components into smaller parts. The pitcher may not be coordinated enough to put all of the small sections into a fluid motion. They may unintentionally pause as they put the steps together. Their mind is going, “Do A first. Pause. Then B. Pause. Okay, now we make sure C is doing this. Pause.” These micro-pauses can interrupt the momentum.
The use of a holistic approach to a drill ensures that all of the parts are working together all of the time with special areas being brought to focus. This works better for a lot of pitchers, but as with any coaching experience, you have to be willing to try different things with different players.
The second essential element of a good pitching drill is a sense of realism. Let’s revisit the one-knee drill, where a player kneels down and pitches using only the upper body and arm. Why is this a problem? Well, some believe it contributes to the problem of a collapsed the front knee. One former MLB pitcher had similar issues with this traditional drill:
“This pitching drill’s fault is that the lower body movement provides the energy that will be transferred to the upper body in the sequence leading to arm acceleration.
When the lower body is taken out of the pitching movement, the initial driving force that provides the important timing element is removed, as is the momentum which provides the energy to drive the upper body and arm.”
If the lower body will be used in the real pitch, use it in practice. The closer to reality the practice pitches are, the better the player will be able to coordinate everything properly.
3 Key Components
There are three key components of a successful pitch: balance, timing and power. Former pro player Phil Rosengren suggests that a good pitching drill focuses on at least two of these components, and that a drill must never negatively affect one of the three. For instance, if focusing on the timing of movements decreases the power, the drill lacks the ideal effect.
Why You Should Film
Imagine getting ready in the morning without a mirror. Instead, a team of people try to tell you where you missed a small spot shaving or where there’s a speck of toothpaste left on your face. It’s much easier to correct these things with a mirror!
This is the problem with running drills over and over. The player can hear the feedback, but they may have trouble visualizing the exact problem. That’s why filming during practice can be incredibly helpful.
In most cases, filming a practice pitch is going to reveal more improvements than slow, compartmentalized drills. When a player can see from an outsider’s perspective exactly what is going on, they’re going to be better able to adjust. Most people are simply visual (rather than aural) learners.
If you can, use film software that allows you to draw colored lines to indicate proper or misaligned body placement. This is just another way to visually reinforce the problem and indicate what the solution should look like.
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