The Lending Coach

Coaching and teaching - many through the mortgage process and others on the field

Category: Baseball (page 1 of 6)

Pitchers Are Made in the Off-Season

When planning an off-season baseball conditioning workout for pitchers, think about the nature of the work.

A pitcher completes a very explosive movement that lasts about 3 seconds and then rests for 20 seconds. The goals for pitcher conditioning should be to mimic the physical stresses of competition and train the same energy system.

Interestingly, the right kind of physical conditioning during the off-season can be as vital to a baseball pitcher as working on throwing mechanics.

I’m linking to two interesting articles regarding the best plans for pitchers in the off-season.  One by Steven Ellis at BaseballPitchingTips.com, the other by Phil Wallin at Stack.com.  You will notice that both are similar in scope.

Some of the similarities:

The Design of the Program

Overall, a baseball pitcher’s workouts are designed to produce desired training effects that include:

  •  increasing pitching velocity
  •  improving velocity endurance or “late-inning stamina”
  •  reducing the risk of injury

Do sprint work, not distance work

As Phil Wallin says, “pitching a baseball places an explosive, intense demand on your central nervous system. Thus, you need to train in a similar manner. The perfect type of training stimulus for this is sprints—not long distance endurance running, which over time teaches your body to become slow”

Focus on the Core

Per Steven Ellis, “rather, engaging the core for pitching training involves doing anti-rotation exercises in order to strengthen the midsection. Cable anti-rotation presses, medicine ball throws and planks should be used for a pitcher’s core work.”

Do Push-Ups, not Bench Press Work

According to Wallin, “push-Ups are a great closed-chain exercise. To complete the entire movement, your entire body must remain stable. Barbell Bench Presses lock the shoulders in a susceptible position. This is a good enough reason to leave them out of your training program. Push-Ups are a much safer option for working these joints and muscles.”

Other Programs – ZB Velcoity by Jordan Zimmerman

Similarly, one of the best programs available in the greater Phoenix area is Jordan Zimmerman’s ZB Velocity Training – I’ve written extensively on Jordan’s “Velo” program and its benefits…you can find out more about that here.

I’d invite you to dig into the articles and links posted above…as I’m sure it will help you gain strength, stamina, and prevent some injuries!

Baseball Coaching Drills for Youth Teams

I’ve been coaching youth/club baseball with my friends Matt Palmer, Kevin Bacchus, Brian Beltramo, and Bret Prinz for many, many years.  We’ve had a blast together…and we have been given the opportunity to coach some fine players.

Matt and I were talking the other day, looking back at some of the great times and great teams we’ve been fortunate enough to coach.  We reminisced about how our practice plans were extremely simple – and that the skills we were instilling helped our players win more than a few ballgames.

Not to say that the practices were unscripted or easy (they were neither) – but we relied on a handful of drills to help develop proper fundamentals and simulate game situations.

Interestingly enough, in a little under 2 hours a few times a week, we essentially did the same, relatively simple team drills with all of our players. 

We would take the last 45 minutes or so for batting practice and bullpens…so that left us 75 minutes for all of our defensive related drills.

We did these drills EVERY practice.  Here are our 4 favorites:

Bare Handed Ground Balls

We would line the players up in either one or two lines and roll them ground ball after ground ball.  Our focus was to have the players not rely on their gloves, but have soft hands, and field the ball out in front of them in a proper fielding position.

Then they would consciously watch the ball all the way into their hands, then gather the ball with their eyes still on it, and step-and-throw.

Triangle Drill

We would put one third of the kids at shortstop, a third at first, and a third behind the plate.  The coach hits a ground ball to the shortstop, who fields and throws to first, and the first basemen throws to the catcher. 

Each player then follows his throw to the next position (short to first, first to catcher, catcher to short). 

Not only are we working on fielding, throwing, and catching – we are working on team play and endurance.  Don’t underestimate the cardiovascular workout with this one!

4-Corners Drill

We would place players at all 4 bases and throw the ball around the horn – home to first, then to second, next to third, and finally to home for starters. 

We would then switch directions…and the players would switch positions on the field so everyone would have a chance to play all positions.

Sometimes they would be force plays, other times, we would have them catch-and-tag.

Relay Drill

We put the players in 2 or 3 groups (depending on the number of players) – and space them out about 60 feet apart in groups, essentially two or three long lines of players from foul-pole to foul-pole.  The ball would start at one end and be thrown from player to player until it reached the other end.

We worked on game simulated relays in this fashion, focusing on body positioning and feet movement.

At the end, we would hold a competition or “race” to see which team could perform the task the quickest and most effectively.  If a team drops the ball, they pick it up and keep going. 

As you can imagine, the most proficient team with the fewest or no drops would always win, regardless of the speed of the transition from one player to the next.

I can’t stress more strongly the need for these types of drills, especially with younger players.  Our teams were fundamentally strong, for the most part, and they were able to execute team plays quite effectively…even at age 10.

If you’d like to find out more about practice planning for young players, do feel free to reach out, as I’d be happy to share more.

Visualization – A Great Baseball Mental Exercise

I’m linking to a fantastic article from Geoff Miller at The Winning Mind regarding visualization and it’s fantastic capabilities to help baseball athletes prepare.

What is Visualization?

Visualization is the widely used mental technique of “seeing” your performance in your mind.

The technique is generally done by closing your eyes and imagining a play or action.  It can also be used as a primary training device to take the place of actual physical activity when a player is unable to practice.

You can read the entire piece here…and here’s a little bit about Geoff Miller and The Winning Mind:

Geoff is an expert in baseball psychology and manages sport programs at Winning Mind. Since 2005, Geoff has provided mental skills coaching services to the Pittsburgh Pirates (2005-2009), Washington Nationals (2010), and Atlanta Braves (2010-2014.) 

Why Does Visualization Work?

Per Miller’s article, visualization is effective for two primary reasons:

1. “It strengthens neural pathways, the roads that our brain uses to send out messages to our bodies. A strong neural pathway is like an exact route you know to get from your house to the airport, the mall, etc. The more you picture yourself executing your skills, the stronger your neural pathways become until eventually you feel so comfortable playing your game that the movements feel automatic.”

2. “Our brains see real performance and imagined performance the same. We experience this phenomenon often in our dreams.  For example, you might dream that you are falling and wake up bracing yourself or dream that you are in a panic and wake up sweating.  When you’re awake you might experience a real feeling if someone describes that light, tingling you get that resonates from the bat all the way down your arms when you connect with the ball on the barrel or the stinging in your hands when you get jammed on a ball.”

How Do You Do It?

Miller continues: “When practicing visualization, you should describe the sounds and feelings that go along with swinging the bat, fielding the ball, and throwing pitches. In comic books, Batman and Superman would beat up the villains by punching them, but to get added effect, the artist would draw in a big POW and BAM. When a bomb went off, you’d read KABOOM! These words strengthen our pictures and make our visualization exercises more effective.

Pitching words: fastball ZIP, curveball DIP, slider WHOOSH, POP into the glove

Hitting words: CRACK, SLAM, WHAM, CONNECT, LIGHTNING, POW

Fielding words: GLIDE, REACH, STRETCH, SCURRY, LEAP”

In Conclusion

The biggest issue that many players have with using visualization is not that they can’t imagine the details of their performance, but that they can’t see themselves succeeding.

If this is the case, I’d highly recommend that you read the complete piece here.

The goal we are trying to reach in using the mental game is to know what to do without thinking about it. As Miller says, “using visualization helps us practice our skills so we are more familiar with them and we feel like we’ve already “seen” our performance happen when it does.”

Off-Season Baseball Strengthening and Flexibility

I’m linking to a great article from COR (a California based physical therapy firm) that outlines specific, baseball related strengthening and flexibility exercises.   

Baseball is unique in that many typical weight training exercises can be counterproductive, as players really need to stay flexible, but strong at the same time. 

Doing bodybuilding type work can actually be detrimental, as you can’t play baseball effectively if you are muscle bound!

Many of these exercises shown in the COR sequence are similar to what Jordan Zimmerman uses with his ZB Velocity and Strengthening program – and you can find our more on that here…

Here’s their concept:

Let’s explore what makes great exercises for baseball players. You need to know which exercises are blunders so you can pick the best for your performance and your body. Great exercises for baseball players do the following:

  • Train the entire body
  • Improve explosive power
  • Strengthen and protect the shoulder
  • Improve mobility of the thoracic spine
  • Improve ankle, trunk, and shoulder mobility

What exercises should not be are painful. Don’t shy away from soreness, but don’t fall victim to the ridiculous myth – “no pain, no gain.”

Baseball players need to focus on balance, explosive power, agility, and rotational power. Strength-training helps baseball players achieve these results, but only if the exercises are done properly and with the mechanics of the game in mind.

What baseball players need to avoid are exercises that exhaust only certain muscles, such as muscles in the shoulder. Doing so causes significant imbalances and leads to injury instead of success on the field. Baseball is a full-body sport, so the greatest exercises for baseball players must address all the muscles, not just a select few. 

I highly recommend that you go through this link and take a look at the exercises and make them part of your routine. 

A Must for Pitchers – The ZB Velocity Program

I’ve got a really good friend that does some excellent work with pitchers – his name is Jordan Zimmerman – and he runs a program called ZB Velocity that is helping players get stronger, throw harder, and stay healthier!

This program isn’t about using weighted balls and focusing solely on arm strength. Instead, its a holistic approach to strengthening the core along with proper mechanics that brings about a noticeable change in velocity.

Why ZB Velocity?

Many of his players see an increase in 3 to 5 miles-per-hour after an 8 week session with ZB Velo – and more importantly, these pitchers are staying healthy because of it!

I’d invite you to click on the video below to take a look at what Jordan and his group are doing….

I highly recommend reaching out to Jordan to find out more – his contact information is here.

From ZB’s Facebook site:

April 2016 was the launch date of their DVD set and online video series of pitching instruction, velocity training and other baseball related product. ZB Velocity is now offering individual and group pitching instruction to youth, high school and collegiate players.

Below is a list of what is currently offered:

One on one instruction
Group instruction
Video analysis
Speed and conditioning training
Strength training
Arm health
Velocity training
Pitch grips
Mental side of the game
College recruitment

Jordan is a retired MLB pitcher and played 11 years of professional baseball before his official retirement in 2005. Prior to his arrival in professional baseball, Jordan played for the Canadian National Team multiple times.

He was drafted out of high school by the Los Angeles Dodgers but decided that going to college was the smarter choice at that time. While attending Blinn College, Jordan received All State and National awards as a pitcher. In 1995 he was drafted and signed by the Seattle Mariners. In 1999, Jordan got the official phone call and was called up to the Major Leagues with the Mariners.

Today Jordan resides in Surprise, AZ with his wife Jennifer and 4 children. He is the owner of ZB Velocity strength training and the pitching coach for Shadow Ridge High School.

Contact ZB Velocity

You can find out more on Jordan and ZB Velocity here, here and here – and I highly recommend reaching out to him if you, or anyone you know, is a pitcher and is looking for proper mechanics and strengthening!

One of my favorite baseball instructors is Steve Springer, of Quality At-Bats fame. If you haven’t read much or followed Spring, you really should. He’s one of the best in the business when it comes to baseball instruction.

His specialty is the mental game, although his mechanical teaching is fantastic, as well.

The topic of the video that I’m sharing has to do with players that don’t find themselves in the starting lineup regularly. This is a must-see video on how to handle being a bench player and the right mind set that must accompany this position.

Some key quotes:

“Don’t be that guy where it’s all about me”

“Take batting practice like it’s your game…take ground balls like it’s your game…take fly balls like it’s your game and be ready when the coach calls you.”

Take Steve’s advice to heart – there can only be 9 guys in the lineup – and teams carry 25+ players, so do the math. There’s not a starting spot for everyone.

Steve Springer’s baseball hitting lessons incorporate the mental side of hitting along with increasing bat speed drills and coaching improved hitting mechanics.  Players and coaches of all levels – youth little league, high school, college and pros agree – Quality At Bats™ is one of baseball’s best hitting programs.

Daily Mental Practice For Baseball Players

I’ve consistently pointed out that the mental part of baseball is an undervalued and lesser taught piece of this great game.  Sure, mental toughness and “having a good approach” are buzzwords used by coaches every day…but what can you do to teach it?

Well, I’m linking an article by Alan Jaeger regarding some specific advice on “mental practice” every day.

Here’s’ the link to the full article – and I highly recommend that you read the entire thing!

Here are some of the key excerpts…..

Addressing The Mental Game: Prioritizing Your Practice Plan

Practice plans have been passed down for generations, and they of course have plenty of merit. But at what point (and what cost) are we going to continue to center our practice plans around physical preparation when we know that between the lines, the game is at least 90 percent mental? Hitting, throwing and running bases are all indispensable, as is bunt defense, pitchers fielding practice and first and third run downs.

But this is the 21st century – times have changed.

The good news is that society is changing for the better. More than any other generation in the past 50 years, this generation is privy to the reality that Mental Training is not only a credible field, but it’s application to sports and life is a essential. Which begs the question — what are you doing to act on this reality?

Done as a precursor to practice each day, each coach will be given enough information to lead his players through a 10 minute, mental training exercise or session that revolves around breath work.

Ultimately, whether we call “mental practice” relaxation, meditation or mental focusing time, the application of these exercises on a daily basis will have the greatest and most profound effect on your players minds. For without practice how can you expect any skill to be developed and maximized.

Understanding Where We Want To Be: The Zone, Locked In, Unconscious

Having a great mental game is as much about understanding where we want to be, as where we don’t want to be.

When things are going well it seems like the mental game is simple. And when things aren’t going so well the game can be very frustrating and complex. Understanding “how” we go in and out of these states of mind is extremely valuable.

In sports, we actually have many terms for this “optimal” state of mind. It’s been referred to by many names, including “The Zone”, being “Unconscious” and being “Locked In.” The technical term for this state of mind is called a Peak State, and has very specific attributes, including:

  1. The absence of thought
  2. A complete immersion with the action
  3. A sense of being process oriented
  4. A sense of calm or peace
  5. A detachment from the outcome.

By understanding the components of a peak state of mind, we can better understand ways to train the mind in order to put it in alignment with this ideal state.

Breath Work: The Core Ingredient Of Your Mental Practice

Mental Practice is a very broad field that includes breathing exercises, imagery, visualization, affirmations, and so on.  You can also get forms of mental practice from among other things, Yoga, Martial Arts and being in Nature. Anything that brings the mind into a state of “presence”, a state of peace and quiet can be categorized as mental practice.

But the most common element that I’ve found in mental practice revolves around the breath.

There are many reasons why the breath is at the center of mental training exercises universally, including several physiological benefits (relaxation, lower blood pressure, oxygenation), but some of the other profound benefits may be more subtle. For example, the breath is always happening now, which symbolically, can be extremely helpful in teaching the mind how to be present.

The breath is not a thought, thus, the more time you spend with your breath, the more time you are training your mind how to be in a “no-thought” state. Again, the absence of thought and being present are two major characteristics of a Peak State of mind. Thus, the breath alone can be a catalyst in changing the mind from a result oriented default, to a process oriented default.

Other benefits that can often be associated with breath work include calmness of mind, improved concentration, focus, patience, discipline and inner trust. Inner trust, which is similar to the term confidence, is a by product of spending time in a relaxing and comfortable space each day, and getting to know your self and your inner workings. Considering that your breath keeps you alive 24 hours a day, it’s safe to say that a lot can be gained simply by spending time, appreciating and understanding our breath.

Looking where to begin?

Control your breath.  Learn how to take deep breaths, in your your nose, out through your mouth.  Let your belly expand, not your neck.  Try this during your practice sessions and see how you feel.

Want to Learn More About the Mental Game of Baseball?

Here’s the link to Alan’s book that talks about his approach.  It’s called “Getting Focused, Staying Focused: A Far Eastern Approach to Sports and Life.”  

The Mental Side | 4 Keys to Success in the Batter’s Box

Instead of measuring success by how many hits you have (or don’t) in a particular game…how about having achievable, repeatable objectives (call them “attainable goals”)?  This will absolutely help your consistency and keep your emotions in check.

More importantly, you will be a much better teammate and competitor.  The object of the game is a team win, right?

Tying your self-worth as a player to getting hits is a guaranteed ticket to an emotional roller-coaster, and in the end, it’s counter-productive to getting the results you want.

Big shout out to  DOUG BERNIER for much of this content – go here, for the full version….

Attainable Goal #1 – Situational awareness

Being aware of the situation has multiple benefits. In addition to being a mentally stabilizing attainable goal, it also increases the likelihood of having a quality at-bat!

Step 1 – Study the Pitcher

From the dugout you should be watching and studying the pitcher – check for tendencies and track pitches in counts.

Step 2 – Be Situationally Aware

Remember, baseball is actually a team sport. Take a look on the bases and know the outs, is there a situation that needs executing?

Attainable Goal #2 – Aggressive vs Passive Mentality

Once we are ready to hit in the batter’s box, our goal is to find a way to be 100% confident and ready to do damage all the way until the ball is either hit or caught by the catcher. This 3-5 second period should have no doubt, worry, or fear, penetrate its walls.

Step 1 – Identify Who You Are

To make this a truly attainable goal, you need to identify which way your thoughts are leaning.

In between pitches or at-bats take a deep breath and either continue with the aggressive attacking mentality, or realize you are a little passive or defensive and regroup and give yourself assertive and confident self talk.

Step 2 – Make the Adjustment

There is no one way to get your mentality where it needs to be. Find a way that works best for you, to get your mind right when you get into the batters box.

It’s important to remember that nobody can tell themselves to stop thinking something. The thought has to actually be replaced by a new thought.

Attainable Goal #3 – Choose your velocity

By trying to be ready for both fastball (FB) and off-speed (OS) pitches, a hitter will often find his timing isn’t great for either one. The hitter ends up being somewhere in the middle – too slow for the FB and too early for the OS.

Looking hard velocity or softer velocity can simplify an approach that will still allow you to be able to hit the pitches in that group.

With 2 strikes, all bets are off, of course.  Just battle and put the ball in play – and if you see a mistake, crush it!

Attainable goal #4 – Shrink the zone

Home plate is 7 baseballs wide. But if we are looking at the strike zone I would say its closer to 8 baseballs wide and lets say 10 baseballs tall.

If we are looking to hit every strike in that 8 x 10 box we are not going to be very successful.

There are high percentage strikes we should swing at (more likely to get good results) and there are low percentage strikes that if we swing at will usually result in weak contact and/or an out.

We need to shrink up our hitting zone until we get to 2 strikes. I like to think of making my own 3 x 3 box within the strike zone. I place this imaginary zone where I most want to hit the baseball.

In Conclusion

Having a plan isn’t guaranteed to give you the results you are looking for every time. However, taking your best swing on the pitch and location you wanted will result in better at-bats and better overall production.

And you can best help your team win that way!

Trust in the process which will clear our mind and that will allow you to take your “A” swing on more pitches in the zone that you want to hit.

Weighted Baseballs – Velocity Silver Bullet or Front Row Surgical Ticket?

Weighted baseball training has been a widely debated prescription for increasing throwing velocity since the first research on it was published in the 1960s, though it has gained greater attention in the last twenty years.

Why Weighted Baseballs?

These types of training programs utilizing weighted baseballs continue to rise in popularity for pitchers of all levels.  At the same time, scientists are not entire sure about why they may improve velocity, the long-term effects on the body, or the most appropriate program to perform.

From Mike Reinold at Elite Baseball Performance:

There has been a recent increased emphasis on pitch velocity within the amateur and professional levels of baseball.  According to Pitch/FX data, the average fastball velocity in MLB has gone up each year since tracking began in 2008, from 90.9 MPH to 93.2 MPH in 2017.  Previous studies have shown both a correlation between increased pitch velocity and increased elbow stress and elbow injury rates.   Thus, it is not surprising that injury rates continue to increase in a nearly linear fashion with increased average pitch velocity.

One Side

From Brett Pourciau at TopVelociy on a recent study:

Yes, weighted baseball training causes serious injury. It is a hard reality, but anything that tries to force a physical gain in a short period of time, in a sport that already has a pattern of throwing related injury, usually comes with serious consequences. The problem today is, either people are ignorant of this or they don’t care. 

You can read the complete article here….

Brett is a biomechanics specialist and a consultant with Major League Baseball

The Other Side

From Driveline – a big proponent of weighted baseballs:

Research backs up the use of underload and overload training in various forms, and it’s no surprise that it works for baseball pitchers as well. Dr. Coop Derenne is the foremost expert in this field and has published a number of research papers that indicate that weighted baseball training creates a significant increase in velocity for those training with underweighted and overweighted baseballs. His most popular paper is Effects of Under and Overweighted Implement Training on Pitching Velocity, which concludes that training with either underweighted (4 oz) or overweighted (6 oz) baseballs improved pitching velocity when compared to simply throwing normal baseballs.

What’s Next

Well, if you are coaching young players, do your research first.  There seem to be two sides of the coin here, but my take is to be extra conservative with the younger set.  Their bodies are not physically mature and they can injure easily.

Don’t be that coach/dad that pushes your player so hard that they break down prematurely.

Great Christmas Gifts for the Baseball Minded

Paul Petricca’s Hitting With Torque

This is a fantastic read – not only from the physical adjustments that must be made, but to the mental side, as well. Get in your ready hitting position early, players!

Paul is the hitting coach at Wheaton College in Chicago, and I know him pretty well. He works with both softball and baseball players to maximize their power from the ground up.

Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson’s Heads-Up Baseball 2.0

Two of my favorite and “go-to” mental guys in the baseball world are Dr. Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson.  I’ve mentioned them before – and I’d highly recommend that you read their book and take it to heart.

Steve Springer’s Quality At-Bats “Mental Side” CD

Steve Springer is the former mental hitting instructor for the Toronto Blue Jays and one of the best instructors out there.  I’d invite you to visit Quality At-Bats site to find out more about him. His “Mental Side” CDs are fantastic and can really help a player learn how to find the right mental state prior to competition.

Jeff Passan’s The Arm

For three years, Jeff Passan, the lead baseball columnist for Yahoo Sports, has traveled the world to better understand the mechanics of the arm and its place in the sport’s past, present, and future.

Totally worth the read for parents and players

Zepp Baseball Swing Analyzer

The Zepp product helps players by giving information on everything imaginable From hand speed to the amount of time it takes to make an impact, this device provides a wide variety of data. It can even help by pairing to the camera on your phone or tablet to create HD videos that players can use. Hitters can compare their videos to the 3D models that the tracker makes.

This device can create custom training programs to help the hitter figure out what they need to do to improve.

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