I think that most pitchers struggle with accuracy at one time or another. I was what my dad referred to as “effectively wild” throughout much of my career (meaning my ball moved so much I would usually not be directly on the spot). Now, after decades of obsessing over the pitching motion and doing tons of research, I have realized that precise accuracy really only comes down to three things, which I will outline for you here:
1. Body Alignment and proprioception: Don’t be afraid of big words here. Proprioception is basically your sense of how your body moves relative to different stimuli. Some people have naturally good proprioception, and others have to train themselves to improve their proprioception. When I am working with students, I often use different objects and obstacles to get them to understand where their bodies are relative to their target or their optimal movement pattern. For accuracy, I am a huge proponent of using ropes, tees and cones. Obviously, if you want to throw to a specific spot, your body has to align with that spot. Many coaches make the mistake of telling their athletes to just slide over on the rubber to line up with the inside or outside target. I train my athletes to always start from the middle so that they don’t ever give away the location of the pitch in how they set up. Starting with your push leg directly in the middle of the rubber also makes it equally easy to hit the inside target OR the outside target. If you always set up far to the right, you will tend to throw inside more easily than outside.
· Make sure your circle is perfectly straight: a circle that is even slightly behind your back or out to the side will make it nearly impossible to hit your spots
· Use tools to help you see your ball’s trajectory: I love using ropes to help my pitchers visualize the line that they should make towards the target. I take a long rope and line it up with the pitcher’s right leg (if she is a righty) and attach the other end to a target. This allows her to see exactly how she needs to move in order to get the ball to the target. For breaking pitches, I am a huge fan of using cones, ropes, or tees to help pitchers understand how we want a ball to begin and then how we want it to end. For example, a curve should start to the inside of a well-placed tee, but finish to the outside of it. A rise should start underneath a rope that is rib-high, but it should finish above it. There are dozens of examples, but you get the idea.
· Use brush contact to help time your release point: This doesn’t mean that you should hit yourself. Your hand should lightly brush the middle of your right thigh if you are a righty, indicating that it is time to release the ball.
2. Focus: Some pitchers do their best in game situations if they don’t think about how they move their bodies at all. These are pitchers who should focus almost exclusively on focal points for accuracy. A focal point is a very small point that the pitcher focuses on to make sure that she is not taking her eyes off of the target. I suggest using a seam on the glove. If the pitcher is staring at the focal point, but misses to the inside of it, she should adjust her next focal point to the outside of her initial focal point. If she misses high, her next focal point should be lower. This is an extremely effective way to learn accuracy very quickly. I just recently learned that this is a technique that sharpshooters use. They “think small, miss small.” If you miss a seam on the glove by 10 inches, you are still probably still throwing a strike. If you are trying to hit a glove and you miss by 10 inches, you are probably throwing a ball.
· Check to make sure you aren’t moving your head: Are you able to maintain your eye contact with the target? We test this by having the catcher flash a number very quickly while the pitcher is delivering the ball. If she can’t see what the catcher flashes, she has taken her eyes off of the target.
· Use a smaller plate: To help with the idea of “thinking small,” it is often helpful to just use a plate that is an inch smaller on both sides. When you transition to the larger plate, it seems easy to hit any location.
3. Confidence: Sometimes pitchers do everything right, but they have had a few bad experiences that make them doubt their efficacy and effectiveness. This happens to many pitchers. It isn’t something to be embarrassed about. I find it often happens after a bad performance or a negative comment from a coach or parent. It can also happen when college recruiting starts putting the pressure on to perform (for more on recruiting, read Empowered Recruiting). I don’t need to tell you that a lack of confidence or fear can literally make the pitcher freeze up. Other times, it can make her talk herself out of what would otherwise be a good performance. This is the very reason that I got into hypnosis and Havening. I find that it works like nothing else. Sometimes people are skeptical of this type of help, though. If that is the case, speak with a sports psychologist or a coach who can help. You don’t want all of that hard work wasted just because you had one bad outing.
In my estimation, accuracy is made more complicated than it needs to be. Though some pitchers might prefer to focus more on confidence, while others will achieve better results focusing on body alignment, I find that at least one of these three methods works for everyone who is willing to put the work in. The important thing is to understand that accuracy is very attainable, but, just like anything else, it requires that you invest your time and your resources.