Throwing a baseball is the single most commonly performed action by a player on the field, yet arguably the most under-coached. We leave players in the crapshoot and see if their movements clean up by the time they’re trying to make a high school, college, or professional team. After watching numerous players come through our facility doing our throwing program, it is obvious that training efficient movements into throwers is as vital as the priority we place upon efficient hitters.
Teaching a young player to move efficiently in their throwing motion becomes a catch 22. I betray my fundamental belief in teaching players to move through certain positions in whatever they’re doing, instead of “positional coaching”, as in balance point, hand-break, and foot-strike positions. Countless times as players we see and hear coaching in the manner of, “you need to be here when this happens.” I betray this belief by working from a position I call arm whip. Arm whip is in reference to the time when our hips and torso have cleared and our arm is gaining velocity and falls into the area behind our head before whipping around our body and towards the target. I have noticed that most players are athletic enough to allow their hips and torsos to open to the target, yet their arms do not fall into the arm whip position, taking away velocity from the arm, and, in turn, the ball. Another added downfall of missing this position for the thrower is the added torque on the elbow and shoulder increasing the chance for the dreaded arm injury, also known as a UCL or labrum tear. The arm should not be left to fend for itself out away from our body forcing it to find velocity in unhealthy and efficient ways outside of the kinetic chain.
I get a lot of questions like, “How should I throw from the outfield, or from behind the plate.” The thing about throwing, and any intentful movement for that matter, is that there is one most efficient way to do the desired movement. Somehow, car metaphors always seem to pop up in my mind. Similar to baseball players, there are many different types of cars that are made to do different jobs. Powerful cars made to pull cargo, smaller cars made to go fast, and reliable cars that just get us from point A to point B. With all these variations of cars in the world, their engines and transmissions all run on the gear system, starting with the lowest gear and moving to higher gears as the car speeds up. The same is true of baseball players, the differences in throwing mechanics comes from how you get to the “gears” of the motion based on the timing of the plays that you experience at any certain position, but the gears remain the same. At the end of the day, efficient movement is efficient movement, and all elite throwers move as efficiently as possible.
Here is some views of different throwers side by side in the similar sequence of their movement:
There’s 6 different athletes throwing the ball here and they all play different positions, two of which in different sports, one not even throwing a ball. Yet they all get to this position of arm-whip where the ball (or javelin) falls behind their body as their chest and hips are open to the target.
At the end of the day, an elite thrower needs to be able to adjust to different situations and different requirements that the game presents to them, but a strong foundation of throwing mechanics are an integral part of being able to do so. Teaching someone to throw or hit or run all require the basic teachings of efficient movement for the player to have a better chance of increasing their arm strength/power/speed and to avoid injury while doing so. As a coach, understanding the movement abilities of a player and working to increase their efficiency is the first stepping stone in improving a player’s mechanics and ability to stay healthy.
On a final note, as coaches it is our responsibility to prioritize the wellbeing of the players and keep an open mind about what they’re being taught. Drop the ego, understand that other coaches will also have something positive to offer them, and concentrate on making them better by allowing them to coach themselves with new information that we can offer them.
Here’s a picture of Yogi Berra with great throwing mechanics very late in his career…