The Chicken or The Egg - Part II September 25, 2015 08:50

I want you to look at the picture of these players saluting. All three have their elbow at or slightly above shoulder height. This is the optimal height for throwing the ball, and very few people with knowledge of good throwing mechanics would argue this. Now, picture placing a baseball in the hand giving the salute, and imagine trying to make that ball go straight. The fingers would be  pointing across the ball, making it nearly impossible to throw with any accuracy at all. How could you correct this awkward hand position to bring the fingers from pointing sideways to pointing up towards the sky? Well, you could bring your hand out away from your head so your elbow is past 90 degrees. This would certainly fix that problem. Unfortunately, this is not what young players do. They feel they have more control with the ball by keeping it close to their head, so instead, they drop their elbows. It is the compensation for the hand position on the ball that is at the root of this flaw. 

When a player aims the ball, they are forcing their hand in next to their ear, but the unnatural hand position needs to be corrected in order to get the ball to go straight. Hence, the dropped elbow. So what if you didn’t allow the hand to stay in next to the head? What if there was an impediment that prevented you from throwing with a hand path next to the ear? It would eliminate the need to drop the elbow. Dropping the elbow is detrimental to throwing because it greatly diminishes velocity. It is really hard to generate torque with a dropped elbow, because rotating the hips, torso and shoulders becomes very difficult when the arm is working like a catapult.

Players who drop their elbow tend to open up their shoulders much sooner, almost squaring to their target to throw the ball, which eliminates the “whip” needed to generate velocity. Accuracy also suffers greatly as a result of the dropped elbow, because the hand is now underneath the ball, which will either cause it to sail high of the target, or if over corrected, throws tend to bounce well short of their intended target.

Ripken Baseball has a great drill that helps address this problem. In the video, Billy Ripken and coach John Habian demonstrate how to use a hitting tee as a simple visual reminder, an impediment, to help prevent and remind players to keep their elbow up. The tee works through cognitive awareness, and if the player drops too low, instant tactile feedback, meaning they will hit the tee with their elbow. 

This is exactly how The HeadCoach works for players who force their hand in next to their head. Our VIAs work just like that tee. The VIA is a visual reminder of where the hand should pass on the way to delivery. Players know it is there, so they have a cognitive awareness to make sure they get outside the VIA. It also provides instant feedback if they fail to make the proper adjustment. When a player hits the tip of the VIA, they know right away that they need to make a change in their mechanics.

Here is where it gets interesting. What if players never learn to throw with the flaw of forcing their hand in next to their head in the first place? Would that eliminate the need to ever drop the elbow? Is it a chicken/egg debate? Certainly an interesting discussion, but I firmly believe the answer is yes. If kids were trained to throw using The HeadCoach from an early age, they would learn proper rotation, proper hand placement on the ball, full extension, and optimal release point. Aiming with the hand in next to the head and the elbow dropped would never be an option. Something to think about.

If you have a player who struggles with this problem, I think the best way to address this flaw is to use The HeadCoach while doing the Ripken One Knee Tee Drill. This way, you are attacking the problem from both sides. If you are just starting to teach a young boy or girl to throw, make sure that you do as you say. Be consistent with your message and your demonstration. Learn to throw softly to your children, but in a way that shows them proper mechanics. They want your approval. They want to do it right. Be sure to teach them the right way. This is one situation where “Do as I say, not as I do” gets thrown (with proper mechanics) right out the window. 

Get out there and play catch with your kids!