Now that the high school season has ended, I’ve spent a couple days over the last two weeks sitting behind a screen and watching the lower-level players intersquad (scrimmage). This is a very unique perspective, as you get to sit directly behind the catcher, right on top of the action. My biggest takeaway:
HITTING IS HARD
Especially at the freshman or junior varsity level, there isn’t a lot to be scared of with hitters. The field is big, there are eight other defenders behind the pitcher, and for the most part, they’re little (small humans). If pitchers would challenge hitters and throw strikes, hitters WILL get themselves out.
This experience was actually very interesting, as I now realize that I hadn’t watched a freshman or JV game in a long time. It was so eye-opening that I made a short montage of video clips taken in no longer than forty-five minutes of game action:
As you can see… the odds are definitely stacked against the hitters. They WILL get themselves out, if you LET THEM! I don’t write this to pick on hitters or hate on them that they all suck. Instead, I write this as a former pitcher and long-time pitching coach to ask why it was that I took myself so seriously?! Just take a deep breath, commit to the pitch, and let it rip.
The behind-home-plate perspective is so powerful that we started calling over some of the younger pitchers to sit with us. Especially those that struggled to throw strikes or were noticeably uncomfortable on the mound. It’s natural to be nervous, especially with six coaches immediately in your line of sight. “You’re not in trouble,” the JV coach said to one of his players. “I just want you to sit here and watch.” He didn’t even say why, just told the kid to sit back and relax for a bit.
I thought it was genius move. The game speaks louder than any words from any coach. After no more than an inning (enough time for 3-6 batters to get themselves out), coach explained his reasons for having the athlete sit with us. “See how hard it is to hit? These guys will get themselves out, if you let them.” He put his arm around them, made sure they weren’t being too tough on themselves, and explained the team rule: On or Out in 3 Pitches.
On-or-Out in Three Pitches
Not sure if this will work, but here’s the Google Books LINK to this rule in my book. In the chapter titled, Coaching the Pitching Mind, this goal is one of three great rules for team play. Encourage your athletes to be aggressive and throw strikes by implementing the following: Batters should either be ON BASE or OUT within three pitches. For the youth ranks, we increase the number of pitches to four. But this isn’t anything a pitcher needs to overthink. It’s a rule, so follow it! On or out in four pitches.
Players need to know the following:
- Coaches really do forget a poor play quickly.
- Coaches really are happy with a line drive hit for an out (helllllooooo Steve Springer and his quality at-bat philosophy).
- Coaches really don’t fault a pitcher for making a good pitch that gets smoked!
- Coaches would way rather watch a pitcher get hit around, as compared to one that struggles to throw strikes.
- Coaches love a pitcher that works quickly
- Coaches love a pitcher that throws strikes.
For pitchers that struggle with confidence at any age, sitting and watching is a great way to explain the game. It provides a unique perspective and communicates to them that coaches really are on the same team as players. Coaches are not looking to yell and scream and make a young player’s day miserable. Instead, they want the athlete to challenge hitters and do their best. Results be darned!
So, whether it’s a team rule such as On-or-Off in Three or the experience of watching from behind home plate… work hard to create an atmosphere of confidence and freedom. Talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk with your own leadership. If an athlete gives you his or her best effort, you WILL be fine with the results. And especially when working with pitchers, preach preach preach that hitting is hard!! Go after hitters understanding that they are fighting an uphill battle to be successful.