How A Halo Became THE HEADCOACH: 2 March 14, 2015 14:51
Through t-ball and machine pitch, I tried everything I could to break Luca of his odd arm action, of the awful, folded angle he had developed, but it seemed as if his brief affair with the pitchback had created a muscle memory that became his throwing mechanics. He understood the problem, he wanted to correct it, but he could not make the physical change when it came time to actually throw the baseball. At such a young age, he was able to get by on his athleticism, but by the age of 7 he was playing up with older kids, simply because he could hit and field and run with the best of them.
His first season of kid pitch, “real baseball”, his coach asked if anyone could play catcher, and Luca raised his hand. This shocked me because he had never put on catcher’s gear in his life, but if he was game, I figured why not give it a shot. They put him behind the plate opening day, and mid-way through the first inning, the coach asked me, in all seriousness, if I had sent him to Mike Sciocia’s catching camp, Luca looked that comfortable playing catcher. It wasn’t until a runner reached first base that Luca was exposed. The first chance he got, the runner stole second. Luca picked up the ball, turned, and as much as I’d like to say he “fired” the ball to second, what he really did was heave the thing in his awful pushing motion in the direction of the pitchers mound. The coach looked at me, bemused, and said, “What’s with the arm?” Unfortunately, I didn’t have an answer.
Through the rest of that season, his coach tried to mend Luca’s throwing. No such luck. From there we progressed to club baseball, and the coaches, all who had some level of collegiate or professional baseball experience, either playing or coaching, were also stumped by this extremely athletic kid who could not for the life of him figure out how to correctly throw a baseball. These guys had seen this problem before, at all levels of the game, and they were concerned about the limitations Luca would face if he couldn’t get his throwing figured out.
More than anything however, they were concerned about his health. Most players who threw this way were susceptible to serious injuries, which could altered or even ended a their career. We videotaped Luca so he could see what we all saw, and he got it. To his credit, he got it, and he was willing to do the work to get better. His coach put Luca on a strict throwing routine, starting with a regimented warm-up program designed to fix his mechanics. They tried all the old tricks: standing him next to a wall when he threw, having him grab a fence behind him while trying to complete the throwing motion, the towel drill, the “put your right thumb in your left pocket” drill, the “drag your knuckles on the ground, don’t hit the door frame” business … but when it came time to throw in a game situation, muscle memory took over, and he reverted back to his flawed mechanics. You see, you can tell a kid something a thousand times, and they can understand it, comprehend it, visualize it, but unless they feel it, it is extremely hard to change muscle memory. These coaches were stumped as well. “Maybe he’ll grow out of it,” they said. Maybe he won’t.
I had the good fortune of meeting a man named Tyrone Powell at a clinic run by our little league when Luca turned 9. Tyrone is the brilliant, no-nonsense, head baseball coach at Windward High School in Los Angles, and at the time, he was president of Santa Monica Little League. Tyrone saw something special in Luca. After seeing him hit and field, he turned to me and said, “Kid’s good. What’s with the arm? Can’t throw worth a ding-dong.” I started to tell him the story of the pitchback and the hours spent trying to correct his mechanics, the drills, the exercises, the throwing regimen, and nothing worked. I begged him for help, begged him for the magic bullet that would fix my boys messed up arm. He looked at me…and laughed, laughed right in my face. Then he said, “You’re just gonna have to figure out something that’s gonna stop him from throwing like that. Good luck.” More laughter.
That started me thinking, and what finally hit me was that Luca’s arm, and his torso and legs for that matter, had a mind of their own. No matter what anyone told him, no matter what words we said to explain the problem, when he started to throw, if his elbow could fold, and his hand could come in, and his arm could drop, it would. His muscle memory was controlling his throwing mechanics, and there were no words that I or anyone else could say that could change it. So my job was, as Tyrone put, to figure out a way to stop him from throwing like that. So I went to work, and what I came up with changed my boys’ baseball lives.
It just hit me one day, out of nowhere. If I could figure out a way to put an impediment in the path of Luca’s arm as he threw, make him get his hand out of it’s usual path, without restricting him or inhibiting his natural arm motion, maybe I could retrain his muscle memory into the proper throwing angle. I had an idea to fashion an bar extending directly up and out over Luca’s right ear, coming right off his baseball cap. Luca is right handed, so my thought was if he folder his arm and dropped his elbow, and his hand came in too close to his head, he would hit the extension and his hat would either twist or be knocked off all together. I made a crude ring that fit around his baseball cap, and I made an extension, or arm, that shot out about 8 inches at a 40° angle.
I first tried it on Leo, who had the same issue as Luca, just not as extreme. He grabbed the gizmo and held it over his head and said, “Look, I’m an angel, and this is my halo.” So that’s what we first called it. The Halo. Leo put it on and gave it a go. He immediately understood the purpose of the tool. “So I’m here at release, but you want to be here,” he said, holding his hand up to the tip of the bar. “Right. Try not to hit the end.” Magic. Leo threw with velocity, on a line, right to my glove. “Wow.” Yeah, wow. Let’s get Luca.
With some reluctance, Luca agreed to put the thing on, and I told him to just throw me the ball, like he always did. Sure enough, his hand hit the extension, the hat popped off, and the ball went straight into the ground. “It doesn’t work. I can’t throw with it on.” I corrected him. I said, “Buddy, you can throw with it on, you just can’t throw the way you throw now with it on. Let’s keep working.” Leo encouraged him to try again. After a few more attempts, repeatedly hitting the bar, I said to Luca, “You need to get outside of that thing sticking off the hat. Hold your arm up and make sure your hand is outside and above that extension.” He did as I asked, and this guided his arm his arm to just a shade over a 90-degree angle, and he cleared the extension by a good 3 inches. “Look at it, “ I said. “That is where your arm needs to be, and to get there you need to keep your elbow from bending in, keep your hand higher, and rotate your shoulders more. You can do it. Just look right at me, and concentrate on not hitting that bar.” Luca wound up, put it all together, let it rip. For the first time since he was 5 years old, my gloved exploded with such a startling “POP!” that we were all speechless. “Do it again.” And he did. Over and over. He didn’t hit the target every time, partly because his release point needed adjustment, and partly because he had such a huge smile on his face it was tough to concentrate, but he felt it. He could actually feel the difference. He didn’t need to intellectualize it or visualize it, because it clicked, and he knew he could do it. Every time he reverted to his old throwing motion, he hit the extension and got instant feedback to remind him where his arm needed to be. Right then and there, we agreed that from now on, anytime Luca threw a baseball, he would wear this thing on his head.
Luca and I would go out to have a catch and I would say, “Grab the halo.” After a week, his throwing did a complete about face. He figured out his release point, and with the help of the halo, got his arm angle and his mechanics completely cleaned up. Leo, who is a primarily a pitcher, benefitted immensely from working with the halo. He got his arm angle figured out and his velocity shot up. It was noticeable right away, and it was incredible. That’s when it dawned on me. Think about shooting a rubber band. If you only pull it back half way, you won’t get the maximum velocity when you release it. It was the same thing with Leo and Luca bending at the elbow and dropping their hands. They weren’t maximizing their potential because they were only using a small portion of their arms. At the same time, they were putting excess stress on their shoulders and elbows by throwing with such dangerous mechanics.
The improvement in both boys was inspiring. Before the halo, Luca never really pitched because he didn’t throw hard enough to consistently get batters out, and aside from that, he had no way of controlling his pitches with his flawed throwing motion. His ball tended to sail on him because his hand was so low, and if he over-compensated, his pitches went straight into the ground. In truth, his lack of consistent accuracy made it hard for Luca to ever throw strike. But after using the halo, Luca had the confidence and the consistency to get on the mound and throw strikes, hard strikes.
As a family, we love to watch the show “Shark Tank”, where entrepreneurs and inventors go in front of a panel of investors, looking for that certain someone who shares their vision, believes in their idea, and more importantly believes in them, and is willing to partner up and invest time, resources and financial backing to help make a dream into a reality. Leo and Luca thought “Shark Tank” was the perfect place to turn our gizmo into the next great baseball training tool, but I was wary of exposing my idea to the world for the purpose of entertainment. By chance, I was telling the story of my invention to my good friend Greg Craig, a hugely successful businessman, who has watched Leo and Luca develop as ballplayers over the past few years. I recounted every detail, from the crude inception to the boys pushing me to swim with the Sharks. Greg looked at me and said, “Big Daddy, you don’t need some t.v. show to make this thing work, I love this idea and I think it’s a winner. If you want, I’ll be your shark!” And that’s how our partnership began and our little project got started.
We put together a strategy for designing a working model, developing a prototype, and making our dream into a reality; to make a revolutionary baseball throwing aide, something desperately needed, that will help improve the quality and the safety of throwing for players worldwide. Greg came up with a brilliant name that encompasses everything this product is and sets out to do: THE HEADCOACH. Worn around a player’s head in any game or practice situation, it is always there for you when you need it. It gives immediate feedback when your arm angle is wrong and needs a little adjustment. It corrects you in a way that doesn’t hinder or restrict your natural ability, allowing everyone to reach his or her true potential. Most importantly, it reduces the risk of serious injury by preventing you from throwing with a dangerous flaw in your mechanics. We have added a compression sleeve with a revolutionary angle-indicating stripe for enhanced visual feedback to complete THE HEADCOACH Throw Training System. We encourage you to try our simple, revolutionary training aid today. Wear it. Throw Better. Win. THE HEADCOACH, changing the game one arm at a time.