Coaching Pitchers While They're Pitching
I wanted to address something that I see a lot of coaches do in a game, and it goes a long way toward ruining their pitchers. This happens at all levels, but it's more dramatic in youth baseball. It's when coaches go out to the mound to give mechanical advice while their guy is pitching in a game.
Now don't get me wrong, there are some great pieces of advice that relate back to something physical the pitcher has been working on that can be given during a game. However, all too often this physical advice becomes the only advice.
Follow us on Twitter to join the thousands who get updated on our new articles!
Here's one question I would ask in this situation; "What do you want your pitcher thinking about on the mound?" When you ponder this question, keep in mind that if you're dealing with a youth pitcher you're ingraining inside his mind the things he'll think about in his future trips to the mound as well. Here are some mechanical cues that I've heard some coaches yelling out this year:
- "Push with your legs!"
- "Get out in front!"
- "Quit letting your shoulder fly open!"
- "Your glove should start high and pull down!"
- "You're just throwing it, pitch!"
Now, all of these might be valuable things to say to a pitcher and perfectly acceptable cues to help a kid get better. What we're thinking about in this article however, is when we want to be giving these cues. Read the first 4 above and consider whether a high level pitcher is thinking much about those things on the mound. What do you think? Now read the last one, and think about whether that one is closer to something we would like our kid who is competing to have in his head. Here are a few more:
- "Throw hard!"
- "Challenge him, be tough!"
- "Pound the zone!"
- "Get in rhythm, get comfortable, and drill that glove with confidence!"
Compared with the "Push with your legs" advice, how do these ones sound? We believe that when we're coaching pitchers who are competing, this second set of instruction is exactly what we want. As a pitcher develops into and through his career, these are exactly the thoughts we want floating around in his head. Things like compete, intent, tough, confidence! We want those words front and center all the time when they are on the mound.
Arms, shoulders, legs, all that stuff belongs in the bullpen or in flat ground work in practice. We drill mechanics all the time, we just don't talk about them a whole lot, and we definitely don't talk about them when the kid is on the rubber trying to strike somebody out. You need to separate "mechanics work" with "competing". Physical work and conditioning has it's place and it's vital. Mental confidence and competing has it's place, and it's equally as important.
If we as coaches muddle the two and don't provide a place where each can happen unpolluted, then both will become less concentrated. I truly believe that a kid on the mound should hear 10 mental cues like the ones above to every 1 physical cue.
I think this happens in practice just as much, or more, as the games by the way. A pitcher on the mound in practice, with a coach sitting next to him giving mechanics advice after every pitch. Almost always the coach is simply watching the result of the pitch and then remarking on what he thinks the pitcher did "wrong". That's a bad way to coach on an entirely different level than this article is responsible for, but let's just say that mechanical advice belongs in mechanical drills.
Like a hitter who is on a tee. Give him cues to help his swing mechanics, help him build and learn his swing. The tee is a perfect place to do that. Then he moves to short toss, where the coach should be reiterating some of those mechanical cues, but mainly talking about timing mechanisms that will make him a better hitter.
Then when he moves to full batting practice, let's just talk about competing. The other two stations are where he learned to swing, when he digs into the box against a pitcher he should be trying to beat the pitcher and that's it. If there are issues with his mechanics, take him back to the tee when he's done and work on them.
This is the same as for a pitcher. The rubber and the mound are sacred and shouldn't be devalued and confused by over coaching.
Let's work at creating pitchers who get all there mechanics work done in practice and then have the eye of the tiger on game day. If they go out and have some issues with their legs, tell them to pound the zone anyway. Then work on their legs the next day at practice. Be positive, coach confidence, and get them to attack the hitter.