Recently, I came across a newsletter written by ASCA (the swimming world’s equivalent of NFCA) Coach John Leonard. He wrote “Three Immutable Rules of Improvement” that apply to both swimming and life in general. Perhaps what Coach Leonard didn’t realize (or maybe he did) is that he offered some sound advice that helps softball pitchers improve as well. The rules seem simple, but when you really take the time to evaluate them, they require work and effort from the athlete – in this case, the pitcher.
Rule #1 – SHOW UP TO IMPROVE!
Sounds simple, but sometimes showing up is the hardest part of our training. Getting out of bed to go to school or work, or waking up for that 6am conditioning session, knowing you’re going to put your body through an intense workout can often be the most challenging part of the day. When we show up as athletes, specifically as pitchers, it’s important that we show up both physically and mentally to make improvement.
SHOW UP PREPARED
Pitchers need to have all of their equipment with them when they arrive to a practice, game or a lesson. It’s more than just showing up with a glove. Pack a bag of spin tools, arm bands for arm care, a notebook to take notes at lessons, and don’t forget the ever essential pony-tail holder. Yes, that’s just as important and is part of being prepared! You wouldn’t expect a carpenter, doctor, or chef to do their job with out the proper tools. Pitchers should always have all the tools they need to be prepared to make progress.
SHOW UP CONSISTENTLY
Additionally, pitchers MUST show up CONSISTENTLY to make improvement! I often say to the students I train that pitching is not a “sometimes” skill. It’s a skill that takes tens of thousands of repetitions and dedication to perfecting. Improvement happens a little at a time, but you must put in several days a week, many months a year to make it happen. This does not just apply to practice, but goes for games as well. Pitchers that consistently show up both physically and mentally when it’s game time, ultimately earn more opportunities on the mound. Pitchers have to be consistent.
SHOW UP WITH A PURPOSE
Progress cannot be made without FOCUS. Yogi Berra said “Ninety percent of the game is mental, the other half is physical.” That doesn’t just apply to games, but to practice as well. “Practice with a purpose” and “Practice makes permanent” are posted on the wall in our training facility. Pitchers who truly THINK about the adjustments they want to make, will improve much quicker than those that simply “pitch” everyday. Practice alone does not make a pitcher better. It’s purposeful practice that really aids improvement. Along with that, when a pitcher practices something incorrectly over and over because they’re not focusing on it, her body will remember those bad habits which can be difficult to break later down the road.
SHOW UP WITH A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Attitude is EVERYTHING! No truer words have ever been spoken. To make improvement, pitchers have to stay positive. Everything about pitching is just plain HARD, and when they’re trying to make adjustments, it’s easy for them to get frustrated or feel defeated. Often, pitchers get worse BEFORE they get BETTER when changing something mechanically. It’s human nature to dislike that feeling and unfortunately, pitchers will sometimes show that with a negative attitude. Negative attitudes derail progress or halt improvement entirely. Often this is when we see a pitcher quit the position. Staying positive can help with transitions in learning new things that will make the greatest impact on a pitcher’s improvement.
Rule #2 – Do THINGS RIGHT TO IMPROVE
In pitching, there is a correct way to do EVERYTHING! Grip matters. Posture matters. Balance matters. Arm circle matters. Even our fingers matter. Knowing how to do these things correctly is only a small part of being able to pitch. Once they know the correct mechanics of pitching, pitchers must execute that knowledge through practice. Leonard states “Knowing the correct way is not enough. Living it is required.” In order to improve, you have to “DO things right.” Practice needs to be frequent and mindful. Without enough practice, it’s hard to get into the habit of doing things right.
DO THINGS RIGHT, SO YOU CAN’T DO THEM WRONG
It takes YEARS and thousands of repetitions to get pitching mechanics right. It’s not enough to practice until you get it right, a pitcher must practice a skill until she can’t get it wrong. Too many pitchers (and their parents/coaches) want to rush this part of the process, and unfortunately it doesn’t bode well for a lengthy pitching career. Patience is a must to learn how to DO THINGS RIGHT. As Coach Leonard mentions, “If you don’t have time to do things correctly now, how will you have time to fix them later?”
DO THINGS RIGHT WHILE TAKING YOUR TIME
There are no shortcuts in pitching. Every new kind of pitch learned is a year or more (often more) in the making. Take at least a year or more to learn the basic foundation. (Note: It takes much longer than a year to master the basics). Only after successfully learning those mechanics, slowly, add one pitch at a time to your pitching arsenal. It’s important to really DO things right for each new pitch. Does the pitch spin the correct way? Does it go to the location it should go almost every time it’s pitched? Look at video footage to see if things are being done right. If not, keep working to master this pitch before learning a new one. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it’s frustrating, but if a pitcher takes the time to do things right, she stands a much better chance of experiencing success.
Rule #3 – HONOR TEAMMATES WITH EFFORT TO IMPROVE
This one is so important! Pitchers are the natural leaders on the team. The position lends itself to a leadership role regardless of who is actually in the circle. To honor teammates with effort, Coach Leonard says, “Commit to the welfare and well-being of everyone in the group.” The pitcher should lead the team BOTH at practice and in games. It’s her job to look out for her teammates and ensure they’re doing their part to help the team succeed. This goes for both mental and physical aspects of the game.
GIVE MAX EFFORT IN PRACTICE
During practice (including weight room and conditioning), pitchers should set the standard of effort given, both mentally and physically. It is important that her teammates see her stay physically and mentally tough when she is tired. Teach pitchers to stay positive when things are hard. Push physical limits to be better. Demonstrate respect for coaches, teammates, and umpires. A pitcher sets the expectation, and her teammates are going to follow her lead. The higher her standard becomes, the better the entire team will become.
GIVE MAX EFFORT IN GAMES
In games, a pitcher’s job is to give her team every opportunity to win the game. Pitchers must give 100% effort to pitch quality pitches that make the defense’s job easier on the field, and allow the offense to score more runs than the opponent. That includes staying tough with things aren’t going the way she’d want them to go. If umpires aren’t calling the zone the way she likes, or teammates are making errors, a pitcher must stay positive and focused for her team. If she pouts or shows frustration, her team will too. But if her teammates see her continuing to fight, for them in the circle, they’ll do the same for her when making plays or in the batter’s box. Bottom line: Honor your teammates with effort, and they’ll do the same in return. In doing so, EVERYONE will IMPROVE!
It’s Simple Right?
The three rules of improvement are simple: Show up, DO Things Right and Honor Your Teammates with Effort. Despite their simplicity, we often lose sight of one or more of them. Take some time to reflect on recent pitching performances, both in practice and on game day. Which of these areas could use a little extra attention right now? Come up with a plan and decide how your pitcher can IMPROVE her game.
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