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Overbearing Dads and Kids Who Throw Cheddar

Written on March 14, 2010 at 5:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I run into a TON of Fathers who want their son to gain throwing velocity.  What are your keys to gaining velocity?

A: To be blunt, Step 1 is getting away from your crazy overbearing father and realizing that if you’re going to throw the baseball harder, it’s because YOU want to do it, and are willing to put in the hard work.  There are millions of American fathers who want their sons to throw 95+mph, but only about eight guys in the big leagues who consistently throw that hard.

Taking it a step further, the average fastball velocity is actually higher in A-ball than it is in professional baseball, so while throwing hard is important, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.  I’d love to hear more fathers talking about learning to command the fastball and master a change-up.  And, most importantly, I’d like to see more fathers who are interested first and foremost in keeping their kids healthy so that they can have the continuity necessary to realize their potential.

Next, you have to consider what kind of velocity we’re actually discussing.  Is it what the radar gun reads: actual velocity?  That’s really just one of three kinds of velocity.

You also have perceived velocity – which is higher in a pitcher who gets down the mound further than his counterparts and therefore gives the hitter less time to react. Chris Young (at 6-11) gets the benefit of perceived velocity in spite of the fact that his average fastball velocity doesn’t even approach 90mph.

young

Perceived velocity also explains the success of many pitchers with deceptive deliveries where the ball seems to just jump up on hitters.  Often, these pitchers stay closed and throw across their bodies.  While it may not be healthy, correcting it could take away their effectiveness.

Lastly, back in 2008, Perry Husband introduced me to the concept of effective velocity, which is a bit more complex.  The effective velocity a hitter appreciates is actually impacted by:

1.     pitch location (high and inside are faster, and low and away are slower)

2.     previous pitch location, type, and velocity (coming up and in with a fastball makes it seem harder if it follows a low and away change-up)

3.     the count (when behind in the count, the hitter must cover a larger strikezone, and therefore a larger effective velocity range)

If you need any proof of the value of effective velocity, just watch Jamie Moyer or Tom Glavine.  They nibble away over and over again, and then they come back inside on a guy and he looks blown away by the velocity even though it may only be low-80s.

jamie-moyer-getty2

That said, getting down to the nuts and bolts of throwing the ball hard (actual velocity) mandates that you understand that there are tons of factors that contribute to velocity, but they aren’t the same for everyone.  Very simply, there isn’t just one mechanical model that allows one to throw harder than others.

Some guys have congenital laxity that allows them to contort their bodies all over the place.  Others “muscle up” and shotput the ball to the plate.  Most pitchers are somewhere in the middle and rely on a balance of elastic energy and mobility to make things happy.  With that in mind, having mechanical efficiency and thousands of perfect throwing reps in this efficient model is what every pitcher should strive to achieve – just as a golfer would practice his swing or an Olympic lifter would practice the clean and jerk or snatch.

snatch

Second, it’s imperative to prepare young pitchers’ bodies for the rigors of throwing a baseball.  I’ve written extensively about the overwhelming extremes the throwing arm faces, and while it’s important to improve arm strength, flexibility, and soft tissue quality, the rest of the body cannot be ignored.  Improving function of the scapular stabilizers, core musculature, and lower half is essential for taking stress of the throwing arm.  We encourage kids to get started with foam rolling, targeted flexibility work, and resistance training as soon as their attention span allows.  As I have written previously, the “stunting growth” argument doesn’t hold water.

Third (and this piggybacks on my last point about resistance training), it’s important to understand how to manage a young pitcher throughout the year. Contrary to popular belief, playing year-round is not a good idea.  In fact, it isn’t even good enough to qualify as a “bad” idea; it is an atrocious idea.

If you want my ideal competitive season for a youth baseball player, it’s to pick up a ball and start tossing around Thanksgiving, progressing to bullpen wok in early January after long-tossing distance has been progressed.  Then, the athlete throws up through his competitive high school season (late March- early June) and summer ball (through early August).  That’s about 8-8.5 months of throwing throughout the course of the year – and it’s plenty.

You’ll see that this competitive year fits quite nicely with participation in a fall sport – whether it’s football, soccer, or something else.  And, athletes can still “get away” with playing winter sports as long as they’re willing to commit to a throwing program, even if they have to start playing a bit late.  If I had to give my ideal scenario, I’d say play football or soccer, and then play pick-up/intramural basketball in the winter alongside a throwing and lifting program.

pop-warner

Within this year, you have several crucial blocks during which to increase resistance training volume.  One, there is the entire winter break, obviously.  Two, there is generally a decent break between spring and summer baseball (late May-early June), and another during the month of August.  Three, kids can (and should) still train in-season, regardless of the sport.

This, of course, speaks to the high school athletes who have practice/games just about every day.  Managing a 10-year-old is a lot easier.  His sport practice may only be 2-3 days per week – meaning that he can participate in different activities throughout the week.  However, he can’t do that if Dad thinks that playing on four different AAU teams at once is the secret to getting him to the big leagues.  He has to play multiple sports at a young age.

little-league

So, if I had to give the synopsis of my thoughts on how to get a kid to throw hard, it would go something like this:

1. Appreciate that throwing hard is just one piece of the “being a successful pitcher” puzzle – and that there are different types of velocity (actual, perceived, and effective).

2. Clearly outline his competitive season and stick to that outline.  Don’t add showcases, camps, and additional teams.

3. Let him play for two teams: one spring (school) and one summer (AAU, Legion, etc.).

4. Find a skilled pitching instructor to work with him to optimize mechanical efficiency.  Before you start working with this instructor, have him explain his approach to managing your son both during a typical lesson and throughout the competitive season.  Then, go and observe him as he works with other pitchers.  Do they just “show and go,” or do they warm-up before even picking up a ball?  Does he ask kids how they feel prior to each session, and does he pace them throughout the session?  Or, does he just grunt and spit dip juice all over the place.

5. Get him involved in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program that incorporates resistance training, medicine ball work, flexibility training, and movement training that all take into account the unique demands of baseball.  The strength and conditioning coach should provide a thorough evaluation that screens for all the mobility deficits and stability issues we commonly see in throwers.

6. Make sure that the pitching coach and strength and conditioning specialist communicate and collaborate. The CP staff is fortunate to have this kind of productive collaboration with Matt Blake all the time:

 

Kidding aside, very rarely will a pitching coach know about strength and conditioning, and very rarely will a strength and conditioning coach know about pitching.  It’s unfortunate, but true.

7. Have him play multiple sports.  The younger the pitcher, the more sports he should play.  Specialization shouldn’t come until age 17 at the earliest.

8. Make sure he continues to take care of his resistance training and mobility work in-season.

I could go on and on about all the subtle details of what we do with pitchers on a daily basis, but the truth is that I envision this blog as something that will be most popular with the Dads in the crowd who really just want to help their kids realize their potential and remain injury-free.  So, I’m keeping it more general – and referring you to the Baseball Content page for the more “geeky” stuff.

I do have one more closing thought, though.  We deal with a lot of very talented young pitchers who throw the ball very hard.  One anecdotal observation has been that their fathers are the ones who “get it.”  These are the guys who are concerned about the important things: staying healthy, enjoying baseball, finding the right college, etc.  They don’t boast about how many guys their sons struck out in little league. They are genuinely humble and respect the game – and this carries over to their kids, who work hard and carry themselves the right way.

Conversely, the kids who are always told that they’re the best and get raved about by their fathers are the ones who invariably struggle to succeed long-term.  It may be because they’re overworked, over-pressured, or just overrated in the first place.  It may be because coaches get frustrated with having to deal with an overbearing father, and the kid gets punished for it.  It may be that the kid doesn’t think he needs to work as hard because he’s already the best – because Dad told him so. Or, maybe he misses out on crucial development because he spends all his time playing in baseball games when he should be practicing, training, or participating in other sports – or just having fun and being a normal kid. Worst of all, a kid may just flat-out start to dislike the game because all the fun has been taken out of it because of Dad’s hype and excessive pressure.

Is velocity important? Sure.  Can it sometimes be the trees that prevent us from seeing the forest?  Absolutely.

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  • Bert

    Eric,

    You said that “Specialization shouldn’t come until age 17 at the earliest.” Is this specifically related to baseball? I ask this because in a sport like hockey, guys who play Junior A in Canada are often specializing before that simply because the nature of it doesn’t allow much time to be involved in other sports throughout the year.

    Also, are there any special considerations for someone who chooses football in the Fall as a “break” from baseball but ends up as the quarterback?

  • Ben Brewster

    #4 is probably one of the most important things on this list, and also the hardest to do. The chance that there is a “good” pitching instructor who understands how the body generates velocity (none of the balance point, circle up arm action, etc crap that guys like Wolforth and Nyman have been working hard to change in the baseball community) not to mention warming up and the other things you mentioned, is almost nonexistant. I had gone through about 5 instructors like this before I decided it would be easier just to begin reading all that I could find, get in touch electronically with numerous guys that do GET IT and do the best I could on my own with video and over email. I wish I had been able to achieve #4, maybe I still can, but it’s much much easier said than done.

    Great blog post, keep em coming!

    Ben

  • http://www.strengthcoach.com Michael Boyle

    Bert- if you look at your Canada example that might explain why they are down to less than 50% of the NHL players. Europeans are taking jobs in droves coming from systems with far less games.

    Ps- Ithink 3 sports until 12, 2 from 12-15 and specialize slightly earlier, maybe 15-16.

  • Joe DiStefano

    Really great post Eric.

    I just printed it and posted it in my waiting area…

    JD

  • http://adamrees.blogspot.com Rees

    Really good stuff. I was happily anticipating you tearing some new assholes, but you took the higher road, and it worked. Nice job man. Reading stuff like this makes it interesting to look back.

  • Eric

    Not a baseball fan; never have been, never will! But, I am fan of sports performance training and of Eric Cressey haha!

    This latest article details an approach and philosophies hat are very much applicable to any sport or activity, and can help anyone dealing with athletes of all ages, weekend warriors and even patients appreciate the complexities of even a seemingly as simple an act as throwing a ball…

    Nice work Cressey! Especially the video :-)

  • RT

    If one does follow this advice, do they have to be as concerned about all the clinical stuff before the athlete reaches 15-17?

  • http://performancestreet.wordpress.com/ Brandon LaRue

    Why specialize at all? Why not play as many sports as the kid wants to as long as he can? If a kid wants to play 3 sports, the more well-rounded his athletic development will be. Right?

  • Peter

    Great stuff Eric. Your closing thoughts are right on. I hear parents and their kids brag about their performace when it should be about enjoying the game. I am proud to have one of those kids who is has been building his foundation and having fun along the way. Your training now will help him get to the next level…a good college program and education. Thanks.

  • Eugene Sedita

    Firstly, let me say, Eric that you surely have a lot of folks out here who appreciate your hard work and educating the average Joe, to not just training methods and tips, but also philosophy, starting from the beginning, having a plan, devotion, motivation, talking straight and generously. Thanks for that. It’s much appreciated. Know that.
    Secondly, as one of the other guys said, these lessons whether about strength, conditioning, or baseball. These lessons apply to all of endeavors that I can think of.
    Playing the piano for example. I’ve got two sons and in spite of bringing them to a highly accredited university for music instruction, in fact, rated at Conservatory level the teachers were far from being “good teachers”.
    I had figured, this is where we’ll get teachers that know what they’re doing and know how to teach what they know.
    A really good pianist doesn’t necessarily know how to teach. In any case to make a long story short, I was wrong, which took me a long time to realize and to challenge the approach that they were taking.
    In the first case one teacher was favored for the teaching position because he was one of the stars of the performance program, what he knew about teaching you could fit in a tea cup. So this teaching position was a political post so to speak to supply income to a “star pianist” not to teach the kids how and what they need.
    The second teacher was the head of pedagogy at the university and came with a very heavy price tag besides. He also had his own agenda rather than seeing what the student needs he teaches out of a book so to speak. When I finally had the temerity to question him about teaching the basics and finding out what my son actually needed to proceed in an architecturally sound manner (like strength training or any sport) He actually said to me, ” well, if he needs teaching on that level he should take a pedagogy course”.
    Duh, I thought that was why I was paying you the big bucks, to find out what the student needs and teach him at whatever level he happens to be at. He auditioned for you, you accepted him as a student, therefore you accepted the responsibility to do whatever the job required. Not, to have the nerve to tell me “that he doesn’t teach those things, the student is expected to know those things already.”
    There’s some very faulty logic there that I think is apparent to any thoughtful person, and this from the “Head of Pedagogy” at a major university. He was just going through the movements without paying attention to each particular student.
    Finding a good teacher in any field who cares and stresses the basics which guarantees success, who teaches from success to success at any and every level, which is the food of encouragement, motivation, and success not boredom and discouragement for lack of doing his job.

  • http://www.hocevarperformance.com Luka Hocevar

    Eric,
    great post and I hope that as many dads as possible get to read it. You touched on everything and more on what needed to be said about “specialization”.

    The post can definitely carry over to any sport minus the baseball specifics.

    Luka

  • John Costello

    Eric,
    Thanks for the referal to the training between starts 1-2. Since I started reading you and MR, I have become more of an advocate of intervals and mobility drills as a conditioning regimen over runnig. This was tough for me since I was a middle distancee runner for a lot of years.
    Second topic this same 16 year old now has a diagnosis of a tricep tendonitis from his ortho. It has been going on now for 7 weeks and he has not pitched at all during this time. It is starting to play with his head a bit. He gave up being a good footbal quarterback last year to focus on pitching. I have read everything on your baseball list and I am still scratching my bald head. I am going to talk with him about rotator health and send him my copy of inside out to get him moving and stretching the shoulder and improving scapula stability. He does regular resistance training but I have not reviewed everything he is doing yet and I will.
    What am I missing here? I saw the elbow flex stretch in one of the articles. We need to get this kid off of third base, he is a good hitter, and back on the mound. What do you suggest?
    Thanks
    JRC

  • Clay Southard

    Late getting to this artical & one of the best articals I have read in a long time. Number eight is money. Realizing potiential and remaining injury free over a long period of time is right on. It is difficult listening to dads brag about their kids success at an early age. The ball parks are full of these guys, even in high school.
    We need to remember everything is in God’s time. Some “get there” quicker than others. The important part of this is to not let the athlete get down and out when it take a little longer to reach higher levels of performance than the guy the coach over uses. Just keep them in the game as long as possible until his time comes. Then have the backbone to tell the coach he is not going to over use your kid.

  • http://Noneatthepresenttime. Don Ervin

    Hey Eric,
    I really enjoy your excellent info. especially on proper physical fitness and pitching.
    As you must be aware of there is an astronomical unnecessary number of chronic sore arms and various types of surgeries throughout virtually every level of baseball from the majors, their farm systems on down into the college,high school and even into our youth players as young as 10-12-13-14 yrs old, my main concern here is that along with several reasons such as poor practice, no practice, over use and most importantly the lack of experienced, knowledgeable and competent”PITCHING COACHES” who understands and can “TEACH” how the body works within it’s sequenced chain reaction,hip shoulder separation executed in the proper sequence at the proper time which basically allows for the body to do the physical work during each sequence of pitches during each throwing movement so the arm is not doing most of the physical work. Cliff Lee is a great example of this, He first establishes/acquires great balance by keeping his head centered between his shoulders, hips and his feet, he applies great solid drive foot plant against the rubber and down into the surface, his first movement forward is executed first with his hips leading the way in a closed body position followed by the drive foot leading the front leg into a triple extended drive stride foot and leg of at least matching one’s body height to front foot touch down then the beautiful part of his hip shoulder separation initiates their sequenced chain reaction which brings his shoulder, elbow and arm with ball in hand together into action following the arms external extended lay back position on forward into and through the proper release point and follow through/finishing position,letting the ball in hand come to a temporary resting position at the glove side leg instead of violently recoiling back up which allows for the tremendous energy created during the throwing movement to dissipate within the larger muscles of the lower body instead of the smaller muscles of the upper body which also alleviates the tremendous tension, strain and abuse created on the arm and all other body parts involved during the throwing movement and also allows for these body parts to become more ready for their following pitching sequences.
    The bottom line is that proper pitching movements from the ground up consist of a closed body position initiated by good solid balance at the rubber, good solid soft knee foot/leg drive with hips first leading the way from the rubber followed by front stride foot leading the leg into it’s stride length of at least matching one’s body height at this point the body is still in a sideways closed position, no rotation then comes the sequenced chain reaction/hips first rotation shoulder closed separation then shoulders rotation immediately/simultaneously following nearly at the seam time as hip rotation.
    As mentioned above the sequenced chain reactive body movements must be executed at the proper time in the proper sequence in order to alleviate/reduce the enormous unnecessary numbers of chronic sore arms and various arm and shoulder surgeries throughout all levels of baseball.
    kom_ervin@yahoo.com

  • Freddie Morales

    Hello Eric,

    Im a student at NYCC and I really enjoy following your blog. However, I must disagree with you somewhat on this article. I completely agree with the idea of not specializing in a sport until 17+ but I have zero problem with someone playing baseball year round. I think it is completely up to the knowledge of a coach. I played high school and college baseball year round while also playing basketball and running cross country during high school. You are solely taking the stance that everyone of these pitchers is throwing year round. I do not think that is the case with all teams. A lot of coaches use the fall league to give the guys who have been pitching a break and some time on the field. The other guys who dont pitch during the “more important” summer league ball, are usually getting more time on the mound, at least in my experience in playing and coaching. I say fall ball is absolutely fantastic to work on hitting and defense and to give the nonpitchers and chance to pitch. Sometimes they turn out really well and become that new top pitcher on the team.

    I think one of the most overlooked areas to pitching injuries are the number of times a pitcher is ready to come into a game to pitch. Once you are warmed up and ready to come and pitch in relief, I feel this needs to be taken into account on your appearences and innings pitched. I see this oversight by coaches from high school to the majors. Just because I dont throw two innings in the game doesnt mean I didnt warm up 2-3 times in a game for multiple innings. You can keep as strict a pitch and innings count as you want, but if you dont take into account the amount thrown in the bullpen, you are really setting pitchers up for Tommy John surgery.

  • Bob Carlile

    Eric,

    Very well said, I have been managing my sons arm since he was really young. I have always told him to fall in love with his change-up. It is a great idea during warm-ups to play change-up catch. Thanks for the great article.

    Bob

  • Leo

    Great read Eric, As a former college baseball player and current HS baseball varsity coach-I’m troubled by kids getting away from playing multiple sports. I always want a kid who is competitive and playing other sports helps breed that.

    Also getting away from loony tunes parents is always a good idea. I was fortunate in that I didn’t really start even pitching until my sophomore year of HS. I had been a catcher/3B and had a decent arm and had a GREAT HS coach. 2 years later I was pitching for one of the best college coaches in the Northeast and was happy I didn’t have a million of miles on my arm from being thrown twice a weekend in countless AAU games.

    You do great work and I enjoy reading it.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Well said, Leo! Thanks for your kind words and perspective.

  • Fernando

    Great read!!!, I have two sons that they been doing Pitching since they were 9 and 10 years old(both are in Highschool now)and my number one goal is and always has been is about staying healthy,with proper mechanics,speed will come, and one more time Thank You for these great Article.By the way my sons stop baseball in July and we start again in mid november,we satart with med-balls and ligth throwing and a lot pitching mechanics,January we start throwing bull pen and location,location.

  • Ben Taylor

    Great read but I catch myself feeling like the over-bearing dad you like to mention. I do have experience in high level sports and was a competitive power lifter as well. I don’t cut corners and don’t take for granted the small details it take for my five year old to be successful. I injured my elbow in little league, presumably from throwing curve balls. It happened because someone whom didn’t know the game was teaching me stuff he shouldn’t have been. That said, I believe it was sheer velocity that did it and not the curve ball. I said all of that to say this. My son played tee-ball a year early this year and was quite good. I would go as far as to say he was the most polished kid in the league. His coach was terrible and she didn’t know the game. I decided to help her coach and teach kids the correct way. I didn’t want this lady to screw not just my kid up, but all of the kids.
    I now have him playing tennis…his idea not mine. He loves it but I don’t know anything about it. I hired a professional to teach him. I don’t say a word to her and she goes on about her job with me listening to every word so that I can reinforce her teaching if my son and I play. There is a difference in wanting what’s best for your child and being involved in contrast to being a jerk about your kid and such. If I am an expert at something than I will teach him. If not, I pay someone who is and I learn too. Where am I going wrong here? Maybe I’m blinded by my involvement. That said, I really enjoy your articles and plan on keeping up with you.
    Regards,
    Ben

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Ben,

    I don’t think you’re overbearing! If you have expertise, make it available! Then, just know when it’s time to step aside and let someone else do his/her job.

  • Greg

    Not sure how I got here but great article. I am reading it as a swim coach with 25 years of full time experience and get a lot of parents overly concerned only about results to the detriment of training all the strokes, participating in other sports and not allowing the kids to slow down with proper technique before going faster.
    But reading Ben’s comments I had to share a story. About 10 years ago, I was talking to the coach I replaced and he mentioned he was leaving as he didn’t think he would be able to effectively coach his own child who was very close to making the Olympic team (ended up 2nd at trials.) I laughe d to myself and knew I would have a better relationship with my kid.
    Flash forward to now and I have a 14 yr old daughter who is a wonderful kid, loves to swim and I can’t imagine coaching her on a regular basis and still maintaining a father daughter relationship. Maybe a better man than I could be objective and coach their own child but it would be tough.


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