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By Chuck Schumacher

The need for proper instruction to develop skill couldn't be more clear than in the first year of kid pitch, nine-year-old baseball. Anyone who has experienced this transitional year for young players would probably have to agree on one thing: it's one walk after another.

A nine-year-old player takes the mound. He goes through his windup delivery which is based on whatever his young , untrained body just naturally does, right or wrong. Partly mimicking a favorite big-leaguer, partly influenced by his overly aggressive mind, his out of control body throws a ball that hopes its destination will be somewhere in the vicinity of home plate. The excitement of taking the mound and fulfilling a dream of his, or maybe his dads, is all he thinks he will need. Everyone seems to think he can 'just do it" because he has shown some natural ability and interest in doing it. The young pitcher throws the first pitch. Strike one! The crowd cheers and he is feeling great. Anxious to get that second strike, he rushes his delivery, his movement looks slightly different than the first time and the result is also different. - Ball one; not close. Not being sure of what just happened, the young hurler is thinking one thing: Gotta get back on track; gotta throw a strike! - Ball two! With no experience or training to rely on, mechanics break down even further now as a new approach is employed. Maybe if I switch to the stretch position he's thinking, that will help. - Ball Three! With a 3-1 count, the crowd now decides to get involved to help out. Throw Strikes!, they yell. - Ball Four! Take your base, the batter is instructed by the umpire, who after the fourth consecutive walk, may be thinking: why doesn't someone teach these kids some basic pitching technique?

Whenever someone is placed in a position to perform with expectations placed upon them that exceed their training, the result is always the same: failure. For kids in youth sports, this happens a lot! In the above scenario, there probably wouldn't be one adult in the crowd that could take the mound and "throw strikes!" Yet, a kid who just turned nine is somehow expected to be able to do it with little or no training. A very familiar scenario in the first year of "kid-pitch" is one walk after another. A very boring game ensues for everyone involved: players, parents, umpires or anyone who's watching kids struggling to meet unrealistic expectations. It's the worst for the kid on the mound: the most pressure filled position on the field.

The solution is quite simple and almost impossible at the same time. Simple, because all that would be required for some modest success for a nine-year-old, would be some instruction as an eight-year-old. Not several hours per week; 1/2 hour per week over a few months can make a big difference. And, the more effort a player puts into it, the more that player can expect to have success. Almost impossible, because that's not what happens due to a lack of understanding on the part of many adults about how skill is developed. Most of the time, instruction happens two weeks before the season starts; too late for any kind of muscle memory or skill to actually develop. Several months before the season starts, if someone with knowledge of correct pitching motion shows a kid how to do it, and the young player puts in some time on pitching mechanics training, (maybe instead of that extra half hour of video game training), some skill will develop. The main thing for a young, beginning pitcher is to master balance and body control along with correct mechanics. Knowing the correct mechanics is only part of the equation, however. Being able to execute them in a game situation, where pressure from parents and coaches is almost guaranteed, is quite another. Many correct repetitions in practice while emphasizing balance, looseness and body control, will result in the ability to throw strikes. Adults yelling "Throw strikes!, never works to help a young pitcher. It only adds pressure. As a player grows older, and more experienced, they learn to tune-out the crowd noise and focus on the task at hand: throwing strikes.

The best thing about preparing in the off-season is that kids will learn this: by putting forth a good effort, this preparation will allow them to have more fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun! This is a statement you hear all the time. It's a true statement. But how can it be fun if a kid is expected to take the mound with no training? Without training, there is very little chance of success and having fun will be impossible to achieve for a nine-year-old kid.


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