People have preconceived notions of what having “it” looks like. People are convinced they can make decisions on an athlete's career just by looking at them, or, at most, after watching them play one game. “He doesn’t throw hard,” “he doesn’t throw strikes,” “he can’t throw a breaking ball,” or as simple as “he’s not a pitcher.” False. All of them are skills and skills can be developed. It may come quicker for some, but anyone can do it if they work to develop it.
Human tissue has no free will. Nikolai Bernstein was one of the founding fathers of motor learning. He said, “The body will organize itself in accordance with the overall goal of the activity.” The body will respond to a stimulus, the key to developing skills is to be in an environment that forces the body to adapt. As an athlete progresses the environment needs to continue to progress to continue to force adaptation.
When Craig Kimbrel was a freshman in college he badly broke his left foot leaving him in a cast for several months. He learned to long toss from his knees, and, initially, he wasn’t able to throw the ball very far. Within a few weeks, he could throw it 100 yards from his knees. He adapted. When he was back to full strength, his velocity had gone from 85 to 95. This offseason Trevor Bauer wanted to learn a slider. His curveball was already his best pitch, but he wanted more. So, with the help of immediate feedback, from a Rapsodo unit and some high-speed cameras he developed a slider.
We use a simple saying often in Healthy Heat, “I throw hard because I throw hard.” David Price was quoted saying something similar in an article I read once and I’ve run with it. It doesn’t have to be rocket surgery - if you want to throw the ball harder, try to throw it harder. As long as an athlete takes care of their body and gradually increases volume over time, they will throw harder. We use the same principle in our power-building circuits. There are specific planes of motion that are involved in pitching: moving side to side, rotating around a vertical axis, and doing it primarily on one leg. As athletes are able to do more reps in 10 seconds in each of these planes they are building power that they can use on the field.
The body has to respond, it doesn’t get to choose. It just takes time. I probably had thirty at bats after my freshman year of high school...I’m a lifer P.O. Last summer, I decided I was going to see what would happen if I hit everyday for a month. I took 100 swings everyday, even when I was out of state coaching, I swung a fungo as hard as I could 100 times...once in my hotel room. At the end of the month, I hopped on the Hit Trax and my exit velocity was 4 mph higher. No coaching, no distractions, just one simple goal - swing harder and my body adapted.
All of this is the driving force behind everything we do at Bardo’s and, even more specifically, in Healthy Heat. We want to create an environment that forces the body to respond. Pick a target, move fast, throw hard, tell us if it hurts. Once an athlete is within our safety parameters mechanically, we add as much variance and energy to the system as possible. Running throws have gotten grief from some gurus in the past since you can’t crow hop off the mound, but it challenges the body. We have seen several guys who thrower slower off a double hop than they do off the mound, because they don’t move well enough to time up a running throw. As their double hop numbers improve, their mound numbers quickly follow.
It breaks my heart when a parent asks me after a few lessons if their kid has a shot as a pitcher. “HE’S 10!” If they like to pitch, let them pitch. If they are willing to work at it, let them work at it. Just because they aren’t the best pitcher on the team in youth baseball doesn’t they never will be. Some people may be further along, but with the right plan and hard work they can one day be a dude on the mound!