The Pros AND Cons of 2 Training Methods
Pete Wilkinson Pete Wilkinson is a former international Olympic program baseball and softball consultant, a former collegiate baseball player at the University of Southern California, and a former high school baseball coach in California and Washington with teams ranked in the top ten in each state. Pete currently heads up his own training academy and rep team from a facility north of Seattle. He is one of the most interesting instructors WebBall has encountered over the years. No one we know gets more pure pleasure from being around the game. His intent is to teach life skills through sports. Pete has also written an entertaining book with some unique perspectives on the game and coaching. Most of all, despite his apparently easy-going approach, Pete has produced winners. Of 173 current senior students, 156 have been recruited to play college baseball. He has had 44 players drafted by Major League Baseball, 32 who have played pro ball, and has 14 players currently in the pros. (Click to close.)
- Pete Wilkinson, Wilkinson Academy
The science and the real-world experience profiles are quite clear about the potential value to pitchers of training with over-weighted and under-weighted balls, and there is also little doubt about the great potential value of flat-ground training.
Over-weighted ball throwing is a reasonable form of resistance training in real range of motion. Under-weighted ball throwing is effective in training the nervous system (okay, the neuro-muscular pathways) to allow the arm to go faster. Flat-ground training offers the opportunity for higher numbers of repetitions at relatively greater safety.
There is no question that these methods have been shown to be effective - when used in the right ways. This article is not so much about whether they are effective devices, but rather whether we coaches can make them effective and what our reasonable choices are.
Weighted Ball Possibilities
Addressing the weighted ball issue first, let's look at the possibilities. First, the over- and under-weighting of balls should be at nearly normal weights. It should only be attempted by someone who has the ability to mix and match competently: that means someone who is able to diagnose little and big mechanical flaws correctly and help the pitcher make appropriate adjustments.
To be personal, this doesn't mean that, because you learned a little about how to teach a particular system that you are a good diagnostician. It does mean that, if you are not a good diagnostician as well as a good and knowledgeable coach, you can provide the impetus for a young pitcher to hurt or seriously injure his arm.
The kicker here is that relatively few of us coaches really know how to supervise this type of activity compared to those of us who think they know how. There are safe alternatives to weighting and under-weighting balls, so the decisions can be made conservatively without losing a performance advantage.
The bottom line for me is that we can do a lot of harm while we are trying to do a lot of good. We need to take care not to overstep our limitations in the knowledge and application areas. We need to assess what it is we're really capable of and get our egos out of the way. And, if we're any good at all, this part is no easy task. If we're good, then we're undoubtedly "doers," and doers sometimes get out of their depth. In pitching, the consequences can be serious.
On this second issue, one thing is clear: throwing on flat ground is the safest way to throw. So it's a good place to start. Add to that the fact that most pitchers pitch too much and throw too little. Fundamentals are relatively easy to learn on flat ground compared to the mound. Having said this, though, my own belief is that a certain amount of mound training is important for young pitchers who will pitch from mounds in games because they need to learn to handle the slope and develop a comfort zone for it.
But, flat-ground bullpens and form work create the opportunity for significantly more safe repetitions than the mound does. Therefore, every coach ought to employ a lot of flat ground work in his pitcher training and pitching practice. Things a pitcher can learn first on flat ground include basic balance throughout the pitching motion, from first movement to landing; stable posture and head from first movement through release; torque; equal and opposite elbow action; front-side blocking; stacking the torso longer for later rotation and better use of torque; and appropriate rhythm and tempo to match the individual pitcher's natural athletic tendencies. Then he can take those actions to the mound and ease into them and learn to compete with them at higher intensity. The fact is that you can't be on the mound every day and continually get better. But you can work on flat ground at varying distances from 45' to 200' nearly every day and realistically expect to get better.
My summary analysis is that both of these training and practice concepts have great value. But the potential danger from the improper or under-supervised use of weighted and under-weighted balls has consequence for effective coaching, performance, and health and should be studied with care before attempting to incorporate into a practice plan. This is especially true in situations in which the coach does not have daily or, at the very least, very regular direct contact with the pitching staff.
The payoff, on the other hand, from regular flat-ground work - even unsupervised work - is greater and comes without the higher risk. Even if the weighted ball work is done, the flat-ground work should be an integral part of the training and practice regime because it builds in a margin of safety by promoting healthy, durable arms.
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