Inside Pitch Magazine, September/October 2022

Ground Rules: The First Step...

by Adam Sarancik, owner of Elevate Sports Academy (OR)

Coach helping position a youth player that is holding a bat at home plateCoaches must see things no one else sees. One of the best ways to learn to do this is to watch other coaches at work; not just in your sport, but in all sports. Watch how the game is played, not who plays the game.  Watch the process of what happens, not the result of what happened.  Watch what happens “off the ball,” not who has the ball. Ask why the coach chose to have his team do what they did regardless of whether the result was good or bad for the score.  

Coaches preach to their players to control the process and the execution and the result will take care of itself. Equally true to the development and success of the baseball player is whether the coach can see the player do what they do without seeing the bat, ball or glove in their hand.  

If a coach can visually extract the bat, glove and ball from the player, they can evaluate how a player uses and moves their body. Does the player use their feet quickly, yet efficiently? Does the player load and apply force properly with their back foot and hip when throwing and hitting? Does the player’s body move smoothly and in sync with the upper and lower body working together?

One of the best ways for a coach and player to learn to do this is literally to take the bat, glove and ball out of the player’s hands. The teaching process for all sports begins with dry mechanic work without any implements involved. Learning begins with a ground up analysis of posture, balance, footwork, angles (both in set up and in movement), rhythm and timing.  

Even after the process is learned, a great way to reinforce the process and the execution is to have the player do what they do by just moving their body, i.e., literally just going through the motions—throwing, pitching, fielding and throwing, and hitting. It is a very instructive exercise to have a pitcher go through his pre-pitch mental process and then execute a pitch without actually throwing a ball. Do this for an imaginary three batters before every bullpen session and you will be amazed at how a coach can see and how the pitcher can feel flaws in the process and execution of the delivery.  

Position players can benefit from the same exercise. For example, have an infielder take their prep steps and then react at game speed to an instruction by a coach to charge, move left, right or angle back in either direction, and pretend to field and throw a ball to a base. A coach will be amazed at how easy it will be to see things they never noticed before in the way the player moves and how they execute their mechanics.  

After the player gets comfortable doing it with their eyes open, it is a fantastic kinesthetic progression to have pitchers and position players do their routine with their eyes closed. Of course, coaches and players who are visual learners will also find frequent frame-by-frame video analysis very useful.

The same can be done for hitters. Ask a hitter at front foot strike and ask them to freeze, take the bat out of their hands and look to see whether the player has maintained their posture and balance and whether their hands, arms, and bat are in the proper positions after their stride is complete. 

Optimum player development requires coaches to see the athlete in their player visually and, at times, literally taking the bat, glove and ball out of the player’s hands.

Adam Sarancik is the owner of Elevate Sports Academy which trains youth in sport skills, athleticism, nutrition, and career and college counseling. He is the author of Coaching Champions for Life – The Process of Mentoring the Person, Athlete and Player and its companion book, Takeaway Quotes for Coaching Champions for Life.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.