In my soul, I always knew something was missing throughout my playing career. I felt this feeling often, on good days and bad. As much as I loved and still love softball, the gut feeling inside of me kept screaming, “keep going, keep searching.” I never truly quite understood this feeling until recently when I decided to be vulnerable. Vulnerable to the athletes I was coaching, my colleagues, and myself. Throughout my playing career I asked few questions, did what I was told, worked hard, and was the “coachable” kid. I had success at a young age and even in college, but I felt trapped. I was told in college that this was as good as I was going to get, as much as I didn’t want to believe it – it was true. It was true because I tried the different pitching styles, I committed to workout programs without seeing concrete evidence of success, I did the extra but was still stuck. Again, my inner voice was fighting me to keep searching.
Fast forward to the end of my playing career and time to look for a job, thrown straight into the real world. Thinking about sitting at a desk made me want to rip out every hair on my head so I went with the inner voice telling me to keep searching, not for myself but for the younger generation of athletes and pitchers. I’ve never been in a more humbling situation than being a graduate assistant, the same age as some of my players, and having very little success as a pitching staff. There were many times that I let what I thought was failure squash the inner voice and had many near quitting experiences. Then it hit me, in the form of blunt honesty from someone I looked up to, “you can’t coach your players the way you were coached.” Ouch. What else was there? The same way I was coached growing up was the same way I was coached in college which was the same way pitchers across the nation were being coached. I saw what the top pitching coaches posted on social media: K drills, snaps, spinners, power lines, toe boxes, all the things I was doing. To this day, I am forever grateful for that advice because though it was short and sweet it sure did pack a punch. It was time to explore pitching in a way I hadn’t had the opportunity as an athlete. Now five years post college, I have found a home in S2 Breakthrough. A home for athletes and coaches alike, that value player development and continuing education for athletes, parents and coaches. Without S2 Breakthrough I would still be the mediocre pitcher turned mediocre pitching coach.
“You can’t coach your players the way you were coached.”
For a little over a year with the S2 Breakthrough team, I have learned many items but will share my top three takeaways. These takeaways can be implemented right away for any other coaches that are feeling a bit lost in this crazy pitcher puzzle.
First, every pitcher has their own story built upon a base of mobility, movement capacity, power capacity and health history (physical and mental). Equally as important, age, maturation, height and weight play a role into how the body will complete the task asked of it. As pitching coaches, we often take the elite pitcher mechanics we see in the Monica Abbotts of the world and try to fit our own pitchers in this box without realizing that our pitchers are not Monica Abbott. The compensations we see in the pitching motion differ among pitchers due to how their own body organizes and reorganizes throughout the pitching motion. How their body does this, is based on their ability to move, which is assessed at S2 Breakthrough. It is what truly makes each pitcher as special as it is frustrating. The development process is a huge puzzle and not one answer fits every pitcher and their story. A perfect introduction for the second take away. We cannot solve this pitcher puzzle alone.
We have the pitcher’s story, (mobility, movement capacity, power numbers and health history) now what? Cue the toe boxes, static “K” drills, one thousand kneeling arm circles, med ball throws post pitch and pitching sprints. We feel the need to fix these compensations to maximize the output onto the ball, create strong pitchers, and train them for five games in a weekend. Wrong. Pitching should look like pitching, and that is why a partnership with strength coaches is necessary. Pitchers are rotational athletes and need to be trained as such. When pitching coaches become “strength coaches”, we often coach these rotational elements out of them doing more harm than good. The pitching motion is too complex to attack with thirty-minute skill sessions with no foundation of stability. The pitching motion is already too complex and we often make it more difficult by sticking our athletes on a balance beam, stability ball, or ask them to sprint between pitches. Making the athlete more unstable. Pelvic and trunk stability is essential for pitchers and we get that through sport specific lifting programs, not through “pitching conditioning”. Development is a team effort, from the pitching coach, strength coach, and athlete. Each party is accountable for their own piece of the puzzle, and that is why the third lesson learned is arguably one of the most important.
Track and measure EVERYTHING. This has been one of the most eye-opening parts of my journey at S2 Breakthrough. Seeing pitches for what they do rather than trusting our eye to tell an athlete that their rise ball is good. What does that mean and how can we show our athletes whether this is true or not? Seeing the objective data holds everyone accountable. There is no guessing if the drills and workouts are working. Let the data speak for itself. Tracking everything also includes reevaluating mobility, movement capacity, and power capacity – reassessing. Reassessing will tell us if the athlete is making the proper gains on the strength floor, and what changes need to be made to their strength and pitching programs. The athlete’s progress or even sometimes regressions should not be a secret. It speaks volumes to the athlete to see their story and have ownership of their journey. Each program is tailored to their body specifically and changes can be made when we see a red flag in our data (i.e. extreme drop in velo). The athlete’s at S2 Breakthrough do not have ceilings or are put into a box. The athlete has autonomy of their own journey and there is no cap on ability when we treat each pitcher as their own. These three take aways merely scratch the surface of the puzzle of pitching, but it is a great start to make small changes to the way we approach developing pitchers.
S2 Breakthrough is a home for athletes and coaches – where there is tech, data, and science to back up how to develop pitchers, and hold all parties accountable. There is more to developing the women who play softball and I wouldn’t have found that if it wasn’t for being a mediocre pitcher, and reaching my ceiling that was pre-set by my surroundings.