At the most basic level in baseball, a coach will look at a thrown or batted ball and see a result that was not good. But was the primary cause of the poor result a sport skill deficiency or was it an athleticism deficiency in the player’s body, i.e., mobility, flexibility, stability, strength, power, speed or agility?
Can you look at a player and see the athlete? Specifically, can you look at a pitcher and see that the first step to improving their performance might not be correcting a pitching mechanic, but might be a lack of stability in the ankles, knees and hips or an inability to load the back hip or a lack of core mobility in the torso and thoracic spine? Can you look at a hitter and see that the first step in correcting a habit of popping up might be such things as the correction of poor hip mobility and instability in the ankles, knees and hips or simply poor plyometric skills so that efficient weight transfer cannot occur?
One of the most common omissions in the development of youth and high school players is the lack of an athleticism training component in practice plans specifically and programs in general. Young players need to learn first to move and use their bodies effectively and efficiently before they can perform the skills of their sport well. As I mentioned above, players cannot throw (or hit) a ball well if they cannot properly load their back hip. Dynamic movement and plyometric routines which teach athletes how to properly crawl, walk, march, skip, run, backpedal, bound, sprint, jump, hop and shuffle while doing complex movements in all planes of motion are critical components of practice and training plans. They should be required by all youth leagues at every team practice and should be emphasized as essential parts for all high school strength and conditioning programs year around. In my experience, for example, a baseball pitcher with good mechanics who can bound in a smooth and powerful manner is a strike-throwing machine. When coaches understand why this is true and can teach it to their players, they will improve their ability to develop their players exponentially.
Specifically, I recommend doing these two things to begin analyzing your players first as athletes before “correcting” them as players:
- Consider the biomechanical sequencing process that led to the result not just the result itself; (Use frame-by-frame video analysis often to assist you when doing this.)
- Train your eyes to always look first at the feet and lower half of your player’s body before looking at their upper body and hands. Almost all mechanical faults and fixes begin from the ground up, i.e., with posture, balance, footwork, angles, rhythm and timing. For example, coaches must be able to do a “bottom-up” analysis of a player’s throw and start quickly determining how effectively and efficiently they use and move their feet, then their legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arm, wrist and fingers in that order and not just the flight of the ball after the throw is made.
When coaches can see and train their players first as athletes, the long-term development of their players and leagues will benefit greatly and they will more consistently achieve their goal of winning games and championships. When coaches mentor their team members in this order; Person-Athlete-Player, they will achieve their most important goal of Coaching Champions for Life.