The Chicken or The Egg - Part I September 25, 2015 08:34
What comes first, the hand next to the head or the dropped elbow?
“Why do kids drop their elbows when they throw? How does that bad habit develop? It doesn’t help them throw better, so then why do they do it?” I get this question all the time, and I think I have a pretty good handle on the origins of this problem, and how this flaw in throwing mechanics has become so prevalent in young baseball and softball players. This is one of the most confounding and frustrating issues for players, parents, and coaches to deal with, because once this bad habit is cemented into motion memory, it can be difficult to remedy. Unless of course, you have the correct tool…
Most youth baseball and softball teams, especially in rec or park ball, are coached by very well meaning, and very selfless parent volunteers. These moms and dads should be recognized for their sacrifice and their efforts, because leagues could not function without them. Unfortunately, these same parents may unknowingly be setting kids up for problems throwing the ball for the rest of their baseball and softball careers. I want you to picture these two scenarios, because they happen every spring from Augusta, Maine to Chula Vista, California.
Scenario One, we’ll use a dad as an example. A dad/coach shows up for the first practice of the season and pairs the team up, sending them ten paces apart from each other. He tells his team to play catch, and to try to hit their partner in the chest. Now Johnny and Tommy are partners, and Johnny reaches back and fires one to Tommy, and the ball sails high and wide. Tommy runs and gets the ball, then it’s his turn. He repeats the errant throw, chucking one right over Johnny’s head. Coach then reminds them, “Remember, hit your partner right in the chest, or right in his glove.” So Johnny squares his shoulders to Tommy, shortens his arm, brings his hand in next to his ear, drops his elbow, and aims or pushes the ball to Tommy, and the ball finds it’s way to Tommy’s glove. What does coach say? “Great job! Way to go!” Tommy hears the praise for Johnny, so he does the same thing. He shortens up, pushes the ball back to Johnny, and he receives the same praise from coach. “That’s it! Great throw!” The coach doesn’t realize it, but he is rewarding the result, and ignoring the process. Now two little boys think the best way to deliver the baseball is to aim it or short arm it to the target, and the longer they are encouraged and allowed to throw like this, the more likely it is to become how they throw the ball. Their foundation for throwing mechanics is now flawed.
Scenario Two has to do with visual learning. Think about teaching your children how to do…oh, almost anything. Tie their shoes, cut their food, fold their clothes…anything. How many times do you stop and say, “Watch me. Watch how I do it”? The fact of the matter is most people are visual learners, so we’ve adapted our teaching to include some form of demonstration. When a child gets a conflicting message, however, they will more often than not defer to what is easiest to comprehend.
Here is where we run into a problem when we teach young girls how to throw a softball or baseball. 99.9% of parents cringe at the thought of hitting their precious young daughter in the face with anything, let alone a softball or baseball(and I don’t care how soft it is). If you’re reading this thinking, “Not me, she’s gonna have to learn the hard way or toughen up!”, congratulations! You’re in that .1 percentile. Now, go seek help.
You see, what we do when we teach girls to throw is say one thing(or many things), and do another. We go into long orations about getting your elbow up, pointing your glove at the target, rotating, and stepping with the correct foot, and blah, blah, blah. That’s essentially what our little girls are hearing, just a bunch of blah! Because after all we say about throwing, we then stand in front of our daughters, shoulders square, we show them the ball, put it right in front of our faces, and gently toss it like a dart with the intention of getting it in or as close to their glove, and as far away from their face as is humanly possible. No judgement here. I get it. I did it with my daughter, until I realized what a mistake I was making. I was telling her one thing, and doing the complete opposite. What did I expect her to do in return? She, like most other girls, mimicked what I did, not what I said. If we have a problem with how girls are taught to throw, and how they end up throwing as they get older, we have nobody to blame but ourselves, because we are showing them all wrong.
This is where the problem starts. But what are the mechanics behind this flaw? More importantly, how can we fix the problem. And most importantly, can we change the way we teach kids to throw so the problem never develops? Ah! There is the question. I will address this in Part II.