Is it really supported by science?

On its surface, this question isn't all that hard to answer. The typical internal translation is often, "Is there a published research paper that supports this?" While that's a very common thought, there are a few problems with it.

Problem #1: Confirmation bias.

So there's a paper with an affirmative conclusion. Is it the only paper on that subject? Are there papers with a negative conclusion?

Confirmation bias and cherry-picking can allow someone to paint a fairly abstract illustration of what research really has to say on a subject. Confirmation bias seeks out only affirmative research, while cherry-picking is intentional disregard of research that doesn't affirm your assertion. Both methods of research review fail to appropriately consider the entire body of research.

This does not mean that every single research paper on a subject must be read in order for a reader to have an opinion on the subject. In many cases, this is actually quite an onerous task. In my opinion, it is generally sufficient to include discussion of both affirmative and negative research.

Problem #2: You may be reading a lie.

Some people are not smart enough to understand what they've read. Some people don't even read the research papers that they cite. Some people are so disingenuous with their manipulation of the research that it is equivalent to a bald-faced lie.

A once prominent pitching voice* frequently claims that his hypothesis is supported by science; however, the paper he cites in his defense actually contains conclusions that neither support nor refute his hypothesis. The comment to which he often refers is actually just a hunch offered by the paper's primary author. Even the primary author mentions that the research does not support it!

The only way to parse through claims like this one is to read the research for yourself, especially when investigating a potential coach.

* This is vague on purpose. I am not trying to start a flame war here.

Problem #3: Non-specific conclusions, poorly worded abstracts.

I recently read a 21-year-old research paper for the first time. What caught my attention was the conclusion in the abstract that explicitly stated, "This finding suggests that the muscles on the medial side of the elbow do not supplant the role of the medial collateral ligament during the fastball pitch."

After digging into the paper, it's clear that this conclusion is not generally applicable as its language would suggest. The full text of the study states that every member of the test (injured) group had pain when they threw.

In other words, there were no asymptomatic injured pitchers, and since pain inhibits performance it is impossible to know which element was to blame for the measured differences: the structurally compromised UCL or the pain.

Everything about the study was fine except for the wording in the abstract. Because the abstract completely skips over the fact that the entire injured group actively felt pain, it's impossible to know without reading the full text that the abstract's conclusion was specific rather than general.

It would have been 100% accurate with only 4 extra words, "This finding suggests that the muscles on the medial side of the elbow do not supplant the role of the medial collateral ligament during the fastball pitch in injured, symptomatic pitchers." Those 4 words pack a lot of meaning into the conclusion.

Wrap-up

One of the tougher issues that I think a lot of people have with research papers is understanding exactly what they're reading. Frequently, people only have access to a paper's abstract, and as described above, that can be pretty misleading.

Maybe it's just delusions of grandeur on my part, but I'm planning a research review series that will aim to dig into the guts of some published research on pitching, throwing, and arm health. Features will include study design, discussion topics (some papers have extremely interesting discussion sections), and conclusion analyses. Look for it in the coming weeks.

To athletes seeking "exposure"

One of the most commonly cited reasons for spending big money on youth travel baseball is "exposure". In most cases, this is an empty promise from the team unless you've been blessed with the ability to play for a team with truly elite talent that competes on a national level at a tournament like Perfect Game's East Cobb Invitational where MLB scouts and college scouts will actually be.

Even if the promise of exposure is actually kept, you have to ask yourself: how much is that exposure actually worth?

If the athlete hasn't reached high school yet, is there any value at all? After all, if you aren't any good at 16, it doesn't matter how good you were when you were 12, and if you are good at 16, it still doesn't matter how good you were when you were 12.

Are tools present that will impress a scout? Kids without a single standout tool are frequently convinced that all they need is exposure because they are good youth baseball players. Without standout power, speed, or throwing velocity, you will simply blend into the game. Scouts are after guys that will perform at the next level, not guys who perform at their current level.

The types of player that are helped by "exposure" are late bloomers, elite athletes that changed sports in high school, position players transitioning to the mound, and a very narrow subset of fringe players that scouts haven't made their minds up about. More athletes think they are in that last group than reasonably should.

If you have the talent to be noticed, scouts will find you wherever you are. It's their job, and the internet is making it easier than ever for them. Your tools are all the exposure you need.

None of this is an argument against paying big money to play travel ball. Just don't do it for "exposure".

Discovering the Intent to Throw Hard

Intent is vital to every kind of training. It is the difference between reaching for goals and going through the motions. Applied to physical training, specifically for sport, intent can take many forms: trying to set a PR in the weight room, trying to beat your last 60 yard dash time, or trying to throw the ball harder than you ever have before.

The most common use of "intent" in modern pitching training refers to the intent to throw hard, a phrase coined by Paul Nyman, which is most succinctly summarized as "If you want to throw hard, try to throw hard." -- a thought you will see echoed across blogs and Twitter timelines.

The tricky thing about the intent to throw hard is that young athletes often have trouble accurately assessing their own maximum intent level. Back in 2013, Kyle Boddy wrote a blog post that touches on it:

[They] thought they were trying to throw hard, but they had no idea what it actually felt like to even try.
— https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2013/10/role-intent-pitching/

Any pitching coach that has had more than a few clients has run into a pitcher that can look you square in the eye and tell you that he is operating at 100% intent... in between throws that look like they were performed underwater. The catch is that he's not intentionally lying to you; he's just clueless.

Using a variety of implements (wrist weights, heavy balls, light balls) and techniques (constraint drills, running throws) can go a long way to helping athletes discover intent they didn't know they had.

I've always felt that intensity is something you know when you see it, so in addition to training variety, I make judicious use of Tweets and Vines that demonstrate clear and undeniable intent.

Show a kid this video of Driveline Baseball's Matt Daniels performing a pivot pickoff, and ask him if he still thinks his pivot pickoffs are at 100%.

Or you can show him video of recent Pittsburgh Pirates draft pick John Pomeroy performing a walking windup.

Or you can show him video of pulldowns performed by Trey McNutt, Peter Bayer, Eric Jagers, and Spencer Mahoney.

Seeing is believing. Don't be surprised if, after watching videos of true intent, that "underwater" kid suddenly looks a lot more athletic.

Getting a kid to discover for himself what the intent to throw hard really feels like is a major developmental milestone.

Season Preparation: On-ramping

It's still December, but in Texas, it's already time to start thinking about your spring season on-ramping. With high school and college teams beginning practices in January and many youth leagues not far behind, the training window is already turning into the preparation window.

Sufficient preparation is essential for both performance and health. Whether you spent the off-season training your butt off or resting and recovering from a year-round schedule, you don't want to show up to that first practice -- especially if it's a tryout -- and not be ready to go.

If you've been training, on-ramping for the season will mean transitioning to focused flat-ground work and eventually throwing from a mound. The goal is to translate off-season gains into baseball-ready performance.

Professional players are still 8-10 weeks from reporting, and at Driveline Baseball near Seattle, the pros have just started high-intensity throwing:

If you've been resting, however, on-ramping for the season will mean gradually returning to throwing. Most youth pitchers will fall into this category, and nearly all year-round pitchers should fall into this category. (Some pitchers don't even give themselves time to rest, playing in fall leagues and showcases well into December!)

Traditional prehab-style on-ramping focuses on constrained throwing (wrist flicks, elbow extensions, etc.) with limited intensity and restricted distances. As part of the ramp-up, throwing constraints are removed, intensity is increased, and distances are extended.

Coming off a period of rest is a great time to introduce a plyo ball program. The low-intensity, constrained throws at the beginning of such a program will not only physically prime the body for more intense throwing, it also gives the pitcher time to learn the new movements.

Starting out with heavier implements, such as Driveline's green and black PlyoCare balls, a plyo ball program tests the brain's neurological map for throwing, challenging it to become more efficient. As lighter implements are introduced and constraints are removed, the body continues to move toward readiness while a more efficient throwing pattern begins to take hold.

On the other hand, a traditional on-ramp program that uses only a standard 5oz baseball, while it will help prepare the pitcher for the upcoming season, will generally not provide enough of a training stimulus to challenge movement efficiency.

The clock is ticking on this off-season. Make sure you're ready for 2017.

Dynamic Pitching Development Program

The details have been finalized, and I will be starting up an advanced, long-term development program for serious athletes.

The development program is designed to be a long-term program that will help recovery after the season, training-and-gaining in the off-season, and maintenance during the season -- with a focus on long-term, individualized development rather than short-term, cookie-cutter results.

This program builds on the lessons from the introduction program, and sessions will feature extended warm-up and cool-down routines, more advanced training tools, access to instant training feedback via radar and video, as well as focused attention on strength and mobility that simply can't be fit into the introduction program's 1-hour sessions.

The development program's 2-hour sessions are designed with an open-session concept. Athletes will have full access to the facility and our materials for the entire two hours, but there is no strict schedule in place. If you have a light day planned, you can probably be in and out in less than 1 hour, while a heavy throwing day with some corrective exercises or weight lifting might require the full two hours.

All sessions will run in partnership with Defy Gravity Speed and Agility Training at My Batter's Box in Prosper, TX on Monday and Thursday evenings from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM. Three options will be available: Monday only, Thursday only, or Monday and Thursday. The first 5-week block starts on Monday, January 4, 2016!

For registration details or other questions, please feel free to reach out to me through my contact form.

The Dynamic Pitching Introduction program will continue to run 1-hour sessions at 5:00 PM and 6:00 PM on Monday and Thursday evenings.