by: Jonathan de Marte – December 9th 2018
Intro – Net, Wall, Command
Throwing into a net or wall might not seem like the most exhilarating way to begin building up your arm for the upcoming season, although it can provide more benefit and feedback than you ever imagined. I never thought of these nets or targets as more than a backstop or a net to hit into using a tee. These simple pitch-back nets can provide a form of training that many pitchers neglect. Whether you are aware or unaware of command training, the goal of this write-up is to educate and provide an alternative way of explaining command training to players, coaches, parents, and anyone else who might be interested in hearing about this from a player and the “Students of the Game,” point of view. Below, I will provide information and ways for pitchers to work on command in the early stages of their return-to-throwing program for the upcoming season.
Kinematic Sequence & Throwers Inconsistency
From my understanding of command training through the lens of Driveline baseball, the focus is awareness of the kinematic sequence and how throwers can create a more efficient proprioceptive map (internal organs working together to provide the most efficient arm path and body positions), consistency in throwing delivery, and control of where a ball is thrown . Connections exist between your muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and nerves, and they make up each individual person’s movement patterning, in other words; how their body appears to “move.” Throwing and other athletic movements are developed from years of countless repetitions of throwing a 5-ounce object. This can cause good habits and bad ones; proper and improper movement patterns. The proprioceptive mapping that subconsciously occurs over a person’s physical development explains to me why so many young athletes have a difficult time making an adjustment a coach asks them to do, or throw the ball at the desired target consistently. It explains why they make drastically erratic throws and accuracy can be unpredictable and inconsistent, especially when their bodies are immature from a skeletal and muscular standpoint. These athletes cannot truly feel the difference in their body positioning when throwing a strike versus a ball. Not to worry, there are ways that the proprioceptive map can be developed and made more efficient, such as:
- Improve movement quality and mechanical efficiency
- Begin a strength training program with an intensive focus on movement quality
- If you can’t find this type of person, search the internet, ask your peers, or ask us!
- Seek a strength and movement expert or professional and ask to educate the athlete on why he or she is doing what is asked of them; and strength training.
In short, teach athletes how to move more efficiently, without pain, and how to strength train properly (which will help produce healthier athletes and promote development). This foundation provides the base of an athlete’s make-up, and plays a very important role in the length of their playing career and their ability to develop over-time. Once this is done, we can start training command.
Proprioception is a specialized variation of the sensory modality of touch and encompasses the sensations of joint movement (kinesthesia) and joint position (joint position sense). Conscious proprioception is essential for proper joint function in sports, activities of daily living, and occupational tasks. Unconscious proprioception modulates muscle function and initiates reflex stabilization (Safran et al., 2001). Training proprioception can help develop a throwers command. Improving this unconscious act of feel will decrease endpoint variability, create consistent feel and command of pitches, and a heightened sense of awareness for where the body is in space. In other words, minimize any inefficient movement at release of the baseball that causes it to travel away from the desired path to the target, increasing the consistency of an efficient, repeatable, and controllable motion. Throwing a baseball repeatedly to the same exact target, with the same exact weight, from the same exact direction, is not the optimal method of gaining complete control over the path and release of the ball.
Invest in the Whole Package
From my research of command training, Driveline content, and watching Adam Ottavino train, I have seen command training done with the use of overload and underload throwing and slight 5% differences in the size of some baseballs. I would recommend investing in the Driveline command training kit to anyone who might be interested. One thing we must keep in mind – if you are not working on your movement patterning consistently, do not have the appropriate level of body control, and lack strength levels needed to compete at heightened levels of competition, throwing varied weights might not be the healthiest option for you. One might still see benefits from this style of training, but lacking the baseball competencies just mentioned in the preceding sentence will surely increase your chances at sustaining injury or seeing minimal benefits from command training. My next suggestion is no different from what you have heard me say or preach through the SOTG platform: Invest in yourself; research, consult and/or seek evaluation from a strength and movement specialist, move better, get stronger, begin throwing, blending, and understanding the connection between training and throwing, then train your command.
Command Training Starts Here
To begin, draw targets on a wall, use tape or material tied into the net, and construct color and/or numerically labeled targets. If you are someone who is developing your movement patterning and strength, with the approval of your strength coach, incorporate weighted baseballs.
- At random or in sequence, choose a different target each throw and try to hit it.
- Change eye levels, sides of the plate, and direction from which you are starting your throw.
- Do not alter the mechanics of your throwing to hit the target. Feel free to throw from a standard shuffle, crow-hop, leg-lift, or even a staggered stance, 2-knees, a rocker drill, etc.
- Mix in the weighted and other sized baseballs at random. I recommend using 3-ounce – 7-ounce (If you would like to use heavier or lighter balls, consult your strength coach or someone with knowledge on using weighted balls and determine whether or not this is the right move for you).
- Change up the number of throws trained, “command style” each day. The goal is to be able to hit targets, no matter the size or weight, while keeping the same arm path. The idea is to allow the body to adjust subconsciously, each throw, no matter the variable.
Changing targets and weights will help train proprioceptors, which unconsciously guide a ballplayer’s arm into the most efficient path to hit the desired target.
- To increase difficulty of the drill, have a partner flip you the ball. At some point in your forward movement to release the ball, have your partner shout a number or color corresponding to the location where he or she wants the ball thrown. This will help train the brain and arm to work together in making an ever-so-slight adjustment to hit the desired target or location. Feel free to adjust the distance and weight of each throw.
Unable to properly train strength and movement patterning or seek out a strength/movement coach? Research can always be done to improve these athletic competencies and abilities on your own. There are platforms like SOTG that offer virtual help and training. The internet has an unlimited amount of knowledge where you can learn to master all of these topics on your own with some research and application.
For those of you who lack these skills or do not wish to enhance your movement and strength training, there is a basic method of command training for you.
- Perform the command training outlined above, just without the varied weights of the baseballs.
- Stick with a 5-ounce baseball, throw from varied positions using different drills, and adjust the target, vertically and horizontally on every throw. Drawing or constructing different targets will provide the most benefit because it will force the brain and body to work together in finding the most efficient path for the arm to travel to put the ball off of a target.
- Make it a game, challenge yourself, and when you have mastered your command with a five ounce baseball, invest in a 4-ounce and 6-ounce so you can continue to develop.
Below I have attached various images of “pitchback,” baseball nets, and visual targets that can be used for command training. This was done to give you an idea of different targets. Find some net, attach it to some poles, and construct your own targets if you cannot access targets such as these below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article on command training through the lens of SOTG. I hope you now have a better understanding of the kinematic sequences role in commanding a throw and how training proprioception can improve someone’s feel and command on the mound. If you have any questions or would like to have a throwing program with command training implemented, DM or email us:
Driveline Baseball. (2018). Homepage. [online] Available at: https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2018].
Safran, M., Borsa, P., Lephart, S., Fu, F. and Warner, J. (2001). Shoulder proprioception in baseball pitchers. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 10(5), pp.438-444.
Cover Photo from Braves History Blog