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Getting the Most Out of Pitching Lessons

Every day, thousands of pitchers across the country will spend time and money working with a coach or pitching instructor to help them improve performance on the mound. At the same time, thousands of pitching instructors will be working hard to make sure they are giving their students the information, expertise, and toolkit their players need in order to become the best they can be.

However, sometimes it just doesn't feel like progress is being made. Have you ever left a lesson feeling like you didn't get much accomplished, or like you could have gotten more for the time and money you spent? As players and coaches, we've all had our share of lessons that have been better experiences than others. But with time often being limited, and with money being a concern for so many of us, doesn't it make sense to make sure that the time we spend together as coaches and players is as efficient as possible? The following ideas and suggestions are meant to help you get the most out of your time and money when working with your pitching instructor.

Open up the line of communication.

The next time your pitching instructor asks how you did in your last outing, try responding with a more detailed answer than 'Fine' or 'Good'. Your coach will be able to optimize your time together if he has a better understanding of how things are going for you during competition and away from his guidance. Provide your coach with a pitch count, a ball to strike ratio, the number of innings thrown, and include a walk to strikeout ratio or number of hits allowed from your last game pitched. Try using a basic chart to illustrate the location and result of every pitch thrown during competition. If you did not have good command of your pitches, were you missing up, down, in, or away? It's not a good thing to dwell or worry about past performances because you can't go back and change them, but you can learn from them in order to improve future performances. Communicating a detailed record of your outing will help to determine the priorities and game plan for your next workout with your pitching coach.

If your team coach had anything positive or negative to say to you about your last performance, it's always a good idea to let your pitching instructor in on the conversation so he can provide feedback, support, and guidance. It is critical that you let your pitching coach know exactly what your team coach wants you to work on and improve on because it is ultimately your team coach who decides whether or not you have the ability to pitch for the team.

Opening up the line of communication also serves another critical purpose during a lesson. Only you as the player know how you feel during a workout. A coach cannot feel what you feel; he can only see what is going on. It is the coach's responsibility to explain what he sees during the motion, it is the player's responsibility to tell the coach what he feels during the motion, and it is the responsibility of both the coach and player to come to an agreement between seeing and feeling in order to improve or perfect the delivery. If the player does not communicate what he feels, the coach will not have the ability to help him as well as he possibly could.

Get specific and come in with a game plan.

During your next workout, tell your pitching coach something specific you would like to work on other than 'mechanics'. What about your mechanics would you like to work on? Leg lift? Stride Length? Release Point? Momentum? Glove stability? Direction of energy? Understand that it's just as difficult on a coach as it is on you as a player to try and work on too many things at one time. The brain can only focus on so many things at one time. A coach can help best if he focuses on watching one particular part of the delivery or one aspect of pitching at a time. A player will pitch best if he only focuses on one thing at a time. Start out specific and get broader as the lesson progresses. Maybe you want to work on locating the fastball or getting a better break on your curve ball? Maybe working specifically on 0-2 pitches or first pitch strikes? Having a specific part of the delivery or a specific goal to work on when you come to throw with your coach will keep you on track and help you leave with a sense of accomplishment.

There's more to pitching than mechanics.

A pitcher must have proper mechanics if he has the desire to pitch well at any level, especially doing so safely and pain free. However, for a pitcher to be successful during competition, he must be solid in other areas besides mechanics. When was the last time you worked on your quickness during pitchouts, or your pick off moves to all bases, or on the mental side of pitching? Probably a long time ago if at all... Most pitching coaches are passionate about all aspects of pitching and most enjoy teaching the complete picture just as much as they do teaching mechanics. However, most young players choose not to work on this part of the game or even ask their pitching coach for help in these areas because they don't realize the importance of it. Don't be afraid to work on other aspects of pitching. It may not be as intense as working on mechanics, but it's just as important to becoming a complete pitcher; one who gives the team a great shot of winning every time he takes the mound!

Practicing pickoffs, pitchouts, strategies, mindsets, and other mental sides of the game will help to provide more fun during a lesson while separating yourself from your competition. I'm sure you agree that keeping runners close to bases is important, as is being quick to home plate or giving your catcher a good feed on a pitchout. But really, when was the last time you actually worked on those important aspects of the game? Take advantage of all the knowledge your pitching instructor has to offer by learning other parts of pitching besides mechanics! MLB Spring Training serves as a perfect example; thirty straight days of practicing pitching field practice, covering bunts, pickoffs, and pitchouts. Most of the work done by the best pitchers in the game does not take place in the bullpen!

There is nothing wrong with asking questions of your pitching instructor.

If as a player you don't 'get it' or don't understand it, ask questions! You have to remember that the lesson is for you. Your coach may get it, your mom or dad may understand, but it is you who must have a full understanding of the concepts and ideas your pitching coach is trying to instill in you. You have to be prepared to compete because you are alone when on the mound during a game. You must have the ability to completely understand your motion so you can make the necessary adjustments during competition.

Asking questions of pitching coach does several other things, two of especially high importance. Number one, asking questions will illustrate how much your coach really knows about pitching. 'Why are we doing this?' If he says, 'because I said so' or 'because that pitcher does it', maybe you'd be better off with a more knowledgeable instructor who can actually support the methods he teaches. If he can answer questions with evidence and detail, you are probably in a good situation. Number two, asking questions of your coach also shows him that you care about improving and that you are interested in what the coach has to offer. It may not be correct but it is often true - coaches generally give more effort and energy to players who show a passion and a will to improve than to those who don't show they really care.

Additional ideas to improve your time with a pitching instructor:

• Bring video footage of your last outing for comments and feedback. Mechanics often change from a practice to game setting. Showing video will demonstrate not what you think you did in a game, but what you really did during competition.

• Keep a journal or diary to record performance, tendencies, and patterns.

• Use email to send video and photos of your delivery for your coach to watch and provide feedback on. Maybe you cannot meet or see your coach immediately after a performance, but you can send images almost immediately after a performance for your coach to make comments on.

• Bring in your catcher to improve pitcher/catcher cohesiveness and to help your battery partner learn how to help you better during practice and game settings.

• Ask your coach to meet you in the gym one day instead of on the field. You may understand that being strong and flexible is important to being a good pitcher, but do you know how to get stronger and more flexible? A good pitching coach should have the ability to show you proper exercises and technique in the weight room.

If you have any suggestions not mentioned that have worked well for you in your quest to become one of the best, we'd love to hear about it!