Pursuit of an “A” in pitching may get you an “F” as a pitcher.

A recent lesson with one of my eleven year old pitchers revealed the negative impact the pursuit of an “A” can have on a pitcher’s performance.

It had been several weeks since Madison had been in for a lesson so before the lesson started I asked how she was doing. Madison’s mom said Madison’s coach, who kept very good stats, said Madison had the highest percentage of strikes of all the pitchers on her team, but she also gave up the most hits and the most runs.

After checking Madison’s technique I noticed Madison was guiding the ball and this was producing three negative impacts on her performance.

  1. It was reducing pitch speed
  2. It was reducing pitch movement
  3. In addition Madison was throwing to the middle of the plate.

Once I identified these issues I gave Madison adjustments that would correct them. But as the lesson progressed, no matter what direction I gave Madison, she was not making the adjustments that were needed. This meant she was mentally locked on a goal that was conflicting with the adjustments.

So I stopped the lesson to have a meeting with Madison and her mom.

I asked Madison if she was a good student. She responded “Yes!”

I asked her if she got “A’s” and “B’s”. Madison’s eyes lit up as she said, “Yes! – I get straight “A’s”.

“Then you know what an “A” and an “F” is, right?” Again Madison responded with a “Yes!”

I asked Madison when she was pitching what she thought an “A” was and what she thought an “F” was? Without hesitating she responded, “An ‘A’ is a strike and an ‘F’ is a ball.”

“Wrong!” I said. “Getting the hitter our is an “A”.”

When Madison first started pitching she was nine years old and in coach pitch. Most of the hitters in coach pitch are afraid to hit against the opposing pitcher. They hope for a walk so their coach can come in and give them a fat easy pitch to hit.

So in this situation, for Madison, any strike was an “A” because most of the hitters were just standing there hoping to walk. This is why Madison was such a successful pitcher in 10 & Under Coach Pitch — she had figured out what an “A” was and since she was able to throw strikes, she was very successful.

But now that Madison had moved up to 12 & Under things had changed. The opposing hitters knew the coach could not come in and pitch so they were actually using the metal stick in their hands. They were swinging and getting hits.

This had completely changed the game for Madison, but Madison had not changed with the game. No longer was a strike always an “A” as it had been in coach pitch. In fact in Madison’s case many of these strikes were being hit to the fence. Hardly an “A” by any standard.

What had been an “A” was now in many cases an “F”. Likewise, what Madison thought to be an “A” was often an “F”.

I told Madison that a strike was not an “A” but getting the pitch past the hitter’s bat was an “A”. Or at least getting the hitter to miss hit the ball into an easy grounder or fly ball was an “A”.

So Madison was going to have to stop aiming the ball and start pitching so she could get more speed and movement on her pitches. In addition she needed to get the ball out of the middle of the plate so she would have to aim for the corners of the strike zone rather than the middle of the plate.

After I said this to Madison the look of terror on her face was amazing. Then she said, “But if I throw faster I may throw a ball.” This statement was a clear indication why Madison was not able to respond to the adjustments I was giving her. If she did what I wanted her to do she might throw a ball and in her mind, a ball was an “F”. Madison was doing everything she could to not get an “F” and this was producing hits for the opposing team.

What Madison needed to understand is it is better to throw some balls and get the hitter out than it is to throw all strikes and allow the hitters to get hits and even hit some of these to the fence.

When I told Madison that I actually taught my high school pitchers, when they are ahead in the count, to throw a pitch off the plate to see if the hitter will chase the pitch, and to set up the next pitch, again Madison had a look of terror in her eyes and said, “They throw a ball on purpose?” In Madison’s world of “A’s” and “F’s” this made no sense whatsoever.

It was at this point that Madison got tears in her eyes. She was overwhelmed.

It was clear that Madison’s idea of what an “A”, in pitching, was having a negative impact on her performance. To advance to the next level as a pitcher, Madison needed to adjust her concept of what an “A” was when she was pitching.

After about a five minutes of discussion, some tears, and an agreement that Madison would make whatever adjustment I instructed her to make, we started the lesson again and Madison started to make adjustments. With this new parameter in mind Madison not only started to throw faster but she also started to hit the corners of the plate.

A few days later I received a text message from Madison’s mom.
“Coach – Madison wants you to know she just had 8 strike outs and won the game 4 to 0. No hits to the fence!”

All pitchers have a little Madison in them. All pitchers, in different aspects of there pitching have the wrong idea of what an “A” is in pitching. And this miss-directed “A” always has a negative impact on their performance.

It is not just an over focus on throwing strikes that is affected by a miss-directed “A”. I have seen miss-directed “A’s” in every type of skill, technique and even in a pitcher’s strategies. A pitcher’s idea of what an “A” is, may prevent them from executing the skill that will get them to the next level as a pitcher.

So if you are a pitcher ask your self “when I pitch, what is an “A” for me?”

The correct answer is, an “A” is to get the hitter out:

  • Not just to throw strikes.
  • Not just to throw outside.
  • Not just to throw my drop ball.
  • Not just to throw my rise ball.
  • Not to start every hitter with a fastball.
  • Not to throw harder when you get behind.
  • Not to go to my favorite pitch….

The list goes on and on.

To move from a miss-directed “A” to the correct “A”, you will have to do things, and throw pitches, that are often not comfortable for you. But this is the only way you will be able to improve and move to the next level.

After all, as I tell my players, “Sooner or later all great achievements pass through the uncomfortable.”

 

© 2010 – 2012, Greg Loveless. All rights reserved.

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