Key Points:

  • Instruction Builds Skill
  • Skill is Made Permanent by Practice
  • Competition Increases Confidence in Skill

Winning teams only have two resources: the selection of players with superior skills, and the ability to instruct players to perform at a higher skill level. At Pinkman Academy we focus on teaching. We require of ourselves a continual commitment to improve our own personal knowledge and teaching skill.

Our goal as teachers/coaches is to provide instruction (which is basically information) in such a way that students will retain the information after they leave the lesson. During the lesson we teach the student and the parent why we are providing the information and then how to use it, so they can repeat the instruction at home or on the field. Players must own the information.

I’d like to review an important teaching skill.  Remember, successful teaching is a two-way street. Teaching is successful when the student learns and becomes successful.

In the mid 1990’s my friend and legendary pitching coach, Rick Peterson, and I attended many of the American Sports Medical Institute’s Injuries in Baseball Conferences. During one of those conferences we discovered that – unknown to each other – we were both using a teaching method called “sensory awareness”; simply put, motion with your eyes closed.

Recently I was re-reading the book the “Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. (A must-read for all coaches.) I was reminded of the effectiveness of a technique called “Deep Practice”. It is easy, dramatically simple, and produces extraordinary results in a short period of time. You can do it indoors, without equipment. I’m going to discuss a combination of both “sensory awareness” and “deep practice”.  Patience and commitment are the only requirements.

Surprisingly, your eyes can be deceiving. Prioritizing the end result of a motion may give you a false impression of correct motion. “Hey, I hit the target – I must be doing something right.” Wrong. We aim for consistency (pun intended). Whether throwing at a catcher’s glove or making contact with a bat on a pitched ball, players initiate a process that begins with their eyes. This is known as sports vision. In the case of the thrower, the process simultaneously ends at the target; for the batter, the process ends with the bat on the ball.  In both cases, this is accomplished in one unconscious thought process. They actually disregard motions of their body in the process. This is an important goal to achieve in competition. Players cannot think and act at the same time, especially in competition.

In deep practice we must, however, train players to think before and during the action. In order for players to control body motion they have to understand each specific and individual component of a kinetic motion sequence. We can’t start with unconscious and quick motion. We have to end up there.

Actually, your body compensates for mistakes in motion by an equal and opposite weight transfer as it tries to minimize the effect of falling off balance. In some cases it doesn’t work, and you grossly fall off balance, become aware of the possibility of falling, or — fall. However, there’s no indication at that moment, no learning, no understanding why you fell off balance.

 Sensory Awareness

When you close your eyes your senses are heightened. You are exposed to a sudden new reality of motion, sensory awareness. Immediately you will notice an increased sensitivity to a lack of balance. Insecure and uncomfortable, your tendency will be to limit movement. Don’t. Your senses are actually overcompensating for minor losses of balance. When your eyes are open your brain has a reflexive activity to keep your body perpendicular to the earth’s surface. With occasional rarity, you’ll never notice the requirement to maintain balance when you are walking or casually running. Not so when we engage in explosive motions. Baseball/softball is an extraordinarily difficult skill because you have to engage in extreme explosive action while maintaining extreme accuracy of the action. Other sports are much more forgiving!

“He who learns fast, learns slow. He who learns slow, learns fast.”

Let’s use an example of teaching the skill of throwing. The more slowly you move, the easier it is for your brain to retain the sequence, the motion, and the feeling. This is a major discussion in the “Talent Code”. It is the theory of how to build myelin at the cellular level of neuro-pathway responses (a topic for another day).

Moving slowly is difficult, but the process confronts you with small changes in balance that immediately must be self-corrected. “He who learns fast, learns slow. He who learns slow, learns fast” is an ancient Asian saying. I have used that quote for decades.  It reminds the student to learn the total process of the skill and study failure. Further, you must take the necessary time to learn the motion before increasing the speed of motion. Moving fast, accurately fast, is only achieved when you are confident in what you are doing.

Deep Practice

Start at a set position as shown in the picture. If you know the term, start in a Flex – T or launch position with legs bent. Slowly, very slowly, perform the drill. We use a very specific step-by-step sequence.

  • Weight forward
  • Rotate back foot
  • Fully turn hips –without moving shoulders & arms
  • Rotate glove and elbow to keep glove in front of face
  • Throw
  • Follow through so your chest is flat on the forward foot’s thigh
  • Your back is flat – chest on thigh
  • Return to set position in reverse sequence
  • Repeat

This is a technique also used by therapists working with traumatic brain injury patients.

Ready for advancement?

Buy an 8 foot, 6” x 6” beam board. Hop on. Don’t wear spikes! Close your eyes and you’ll likely feel as if you were several feet above the ground. Your mind can play tricks on you. In a throwing drill start in a Flex – T or launch position with legs bent. Make sure your feet are spread wide apart, for better balance. A hitting drill actually begins in the same position. Instead of using a glove and ball just hold a bat. Hitting and throwing are the same biomechanical function.

Go Deeper

For throwing put a 3- or 5-pound dumbbell in each hand. For hitting, use a weighted bat. Whether throwing or hitting, keep in mind that you are attempting to duplicate the exact same motion learned in the preceding instruction or last lesson in slow motion. The increased insecurity will turn into internal competition and driveChallenge yourself! Remember all parts of your body move at extra slow motion with your eyes closed. Balance is the key to a good throw or a good swing.

A pitcher’s primary goal is to get the batter off balance.

A hitter’s goal is to stay on balance.

If you are off balance at the beginning of a motion, the end of the motion will not likely be pretty or successful!

If you are outside while performing this drill, set up a catch net and throw, or hit off a tee.  Repeat that drill with your eyes closed for several minutes; slowly in full motion from beginning to the end and then varying it occasionally backwards in reverse. Then repeat the same drill with your eyes open. More likely than not, you will find a more stable balanced foundation, you will pay more attention to your entire body motion from beginning to the end, and you will experience a more accurate result.

I’ve never asked a student to do something that I had not or would not experience myself. This goes for moms and dads as well as coaches. Experience the vulnerability; hop in yourself. I’m absolutely confident that this learning technique will work for you. How quickly – depends on your commitment to excellence.