Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Finishing Strong

Mid-Season Medicine Ball Routine

During the first half of the season, our team’s pitching staff was very successful. Not only did they pick up many victories, but also they were able to throw deep into games. Often, our starting pitchers were able to throw complete games. When our team reached the season’s midpoint, our pitchers seemed to fatigue easier and not have the same “stuff”. From the dugout, it seemed our pitchers were actually throwing with less velocity.

At the end of June, our team took a week vacation from baseball. The players returned with three weeks remaining in the season’s schedule. Our pitchers, who previously trained through running and throwing, started a new, mid-season workout. This workout lasted approximately 10-12 minutes per day. After incorporating this workout into our routine, we ended our second half pitching at the highest level of the year. To complete all the exercises, our pitchers used an 8-pound medicine ball, a stretch cord, and four orange marking disks.

1. Fence Touches: Standing with their back to the fence and holding the medicine ball in front of their chest, players will rotate their torso 180 degrees and touch the medicine ball against the fence. Players cannot rotate their hips during this drill; they must keep their lower body stationary while twisting back and forth. Players will perform this drill for 1 minute trying to maximize repetitions. Pitchers should target 60 touches during the 1-minute session.

2. Overhead Throw Downs: With a medicine ball over their head, pitchers will take a shuffle step and pull down on the ball. Pitchers should try and bounce the ball with maximum force on the ground. Players will perform this drill for 1 minute trying to maximize repetitions. Pitchers should target 35 bounces per 1-minute session.

3. Hip Toss: Holding a medicine ball at their hip, pitchers will take a shuffle step toward their target. With momentum from the shuffle, pitchers will throw the medicine ball as high as possible. Pitchers should focus on the dramatic turn of their shoulders and hips. Pitchers should target 15 throws per 1-minute session.

4. Sit Up Throws: Lying on their back, pitchers will start with their arms overhead. Holding the medicine ball, pitchers will extend their torso up bring the medicine ball off the ground. The movement resembles a sit up. Before reaching the top, pitchers will throw the medicine ball to their partner, who should be facing them. After receiving the ball, the pitcher’s partner will hand it back, allowing the pitcher to contract their abdominal muscle during the negative downward movement. A special note, the pitcher’s partner may have to stand on their feet while they move torso up during the sit up. Pitchers should target 20 throws per 1-minute session.

5. Over Shoulder Throws: Standing backwards to their target, pitchers will start with the medicine ball at chest level. Pitchers, with maximum force, will toss the ball over their shoulder. Players should focus on getting extreme contraction in the upper and lower abdominals during the throw. Pitchers should target 20 throws per 1-minute session.

6. External Scapular Pulls: With a stretch cord tied to the fence, pitchers will stand parallel to the fence. With adequate tension, pitchers will pull the cord across their body to full extension. When starting the exercise, pitchers should feel the scapular bone move and the muscle stretch. When pulling the tight cord across the body, pitchers should feel the scapular bone pull closer to the spine. Pitchers should target 35 pulls per 1-minute session.

7. Bicep Pull Downs: With a stretch cord tied to the fence, pitchers will face forward. With adequate tension, pitchers will pull the stretch cord straight back, with an underhanded swing. When this movement is completed, players should feel a stretch in the bottom of their bicep. This is an area that pitchers experience a lot of soreness in after pitching. Using these pull downs allow players to build up the strength in that area of the upper bicep. Pitchers should target 35 pulls per 1-minute session.

8. Square Running: With four orange markers, players will set up a 4ft by 4ft square. Pitchers will start out with sprints around the markers, trying to use tight cuts while changing directions. Then, pitchers will mix in different exercises every 4 feet. For instance, a sequence of square running may include lunges, standing jumps, shuffles, sprints, and high knees.

9. Pro Agility: With three orange markers spaced 6-8 feet apart in a straight line, pitchers will start at the middle marker. Pitchers will run left, touching the outer marker. Then changing directions, pitchers will sprint to the farthest marker, change directions again, and stop in the middle, where they began the drill.

10. Fastballs/Curveballs/Change Ups: Pitchers get on the mound and throw 2 different sequences of pitches. First, at 45 feet, pitchers throw 3 fastballs out, 3 fastballs in, 3 curveballs, and three change ups. Then, at 60 ft, pitchers will throw the same pitch sequence. Pitchers should take their medicine ball “explosion” to the mound. Again, pitchers should focus on abdominal contraction, shoulder turn, and hip rotation.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Perfecting the Rundown
How many times have you seen a rundown cost your team in a key situation? I asked myself this question a lot last off-season. In the past, our players failed to execute in rundowns and this inefficiency cost us some victories. With this in mind, I wanted our team to improve in this area; so potential defensive outs could be recorded. One of our biggest problems in rundowns was the athleticism of our infielder verses the baserunner. It seemed the opponent’s baserunner could outmaneuver our infielder into making a throwing or glove transfer mistake. Secondly, it seemed that our infielders would get very nervous in rundown situations. This nervousness was illustrated through tense body language. Players looked stiff and uncomfortable when a baserunner was caught up in between the bases. Furthermore, our player’s confidence seemed low in rundown spots, which led to poor oral communication between players calling for the ball.
From our weaknesses, I had to come up with a plan that allowed players to use their intelligence to overcome some physical limitations in rundown situations. Last winter, our varsity coach attended the 2006 ABCA convention in Chicago, Illinois. He came back armed with a DVD that illustrated a new rundown plan. On the DVD, Larry Giangrosso, Head Coach University of Alabama-Birmingham, showed his team’s rundown system and how it could be implemented into your daily practice routine. In his rundown plan, no one ever followed their own throw. Instead, players without the ball charged the runner until they were within tagging distance. As they entered close proximity with the runner, the ball was delivered to them and a tag occurred. This not only extinguished a lot of defensive movement, but helped the defender improve accuracy with their throws. This improvement occurred when defenders remained stopped whiling delivering the ball, instead of chasing the baserunner. After reviewing the DVD, our team tried to carry out Coach Giangrosso’s system.
At first, our team really struggled at implementing the charging aspect of the rundown play. When our team started, many players remained stationed after their throw, not reacting correctly. They had problems getting past the fact that only two players were involved in the rundown. Before, an infielder would make just one throw and follow behind the receiver, having another player take their place in the rundown. With this new system, only two people were responsible in the rundown and our infielders could not “pass” their responsibilities off with an early throw. In the early stages, players were uncomfortable and resistant to the system. But as execution began to improve, players started to get better at the system.
One problem our players had to overcome was overrunning the baserunner. Often, the baserunner would be stopped staring at the receiver with the ball. The charger would sprint and receive the ball too late as the runner returned to the base. Our defenders had a hard time judging the baserunner’s distance and speed. To help players adapt, we decided that defenders would call for the ball when they entered the “tag zone”. The “tag zone” was the area 7-8 feet from the runner. When the defenders entered that zone, they screamed “ball, ball!!” Since the defender is at a full sprint, they are able to cover 7-8 feet very quickly. Before, players were calling for the ball 2-3 feet from the runner. By the time the ball was received, the baserunner had retreated safely back to the base. This small adjustment, getting our defenders the ball on the run against a stopped opponent, helped our defense perfect Coach Giangrosso’s rundown system.
When the technical side of the teaching was completed, our team had to start incorporating rundowns into our daily routine. Our team started running a pregame drill, stolen from Coach Giangrosso’s video, where outfielders split into two groups. One group would start at 3rd base, while the other group started at 1st base. With the infield playing in, a groundball would be hit. The runner from 3rd base would immediately try to score. Upon fielding the grounder, the infielder would fire home. If the throw was early, our baserunners are instructed to stop and participate in a rundown. The runner at 1st, who goes to 2nd on the grounder, tries to move up to 3rd base. The infielders are trying to record 2 outs on the play. Our players had a lot of fun with this drill, which was performed daily for 3-5 minutes.
It not only physically improved our rundown defense, but mentality it helped our players become comfortable with the situation. Since our outfielders practiced as baserunners so much, they really improved their level of play when they found themselves in a rundown on offense. Even with our team’s limited athleticism, our players managed to work themselves out of numerous baserunning spots. Since our team prepared for rundowns daily, their comfort level rose dramatically. You could tell in their improved body language and vocal communication. Not only did our rundown defense improve, but also opponent runner’s were beaten with just one throw. In fact, the final out of an important victory was recorded with a one-throw rundown out.
From this experience, I drew two conclusions. First, that Coach Giangrosso’s system is a great way to improve your rundown defense. It eliminates throws and movement from added defenders in the play. Also, by incorporating rundowns so often players naturally get better at the play and more comfortable with the situation. This elevated comfort level increases player’s chances for success.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Final Stage

Stage Eight:
Elbow Extension

As the pitcher breaks through “The Wall of Resistance”, release is about to occur.  In order to throw a strike, the pitcher must extend their elbow and place their forearm in a straight line toward home plate.  Often, pitchers may have to slightly tilt their head to the glove side.  This small tilt creates space for the pitcher’s arm to stay in a straight line with the target.  By allowing the elbow to extend in a straight line, the pitcher applies force to the back of the baseball toward home plate.  In fact, if the pitcher has proper elbow flexion in their mechanics, they will be able to apply force longer toward the target.  The extended force application time increases a pitcher’s throwing velocity.  

In the picture above, the pitcher has just released his pitch toward home plate.  His elbow has become completely extended during release and his head is slightly tilted toward the glove side.  In the picture, the ball has just been released from the pitcher’s fingers.  Notice how far out in front the pitcher is able to release the ball.  Just by practicing proper elbow flexion, pitchers can slash the distance to the plate by 10% or greater.  This distance reduction not only produces faster pitches, but helps pitchers maintain healthy arms.                 

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