So many times baseball is about boys and their fathers. Many good players credit their dads with helping them develop their skills.
But for every helpful dad, there seems to be 10 fathers who do more harm than good. They are thinking that what worked for them, should work for their sons.
The other day I watched as a well-meaning dad, who just happened to be the boy's coach, tried to teach his pitcher/son to throw more 'over the top,' as he explained it. Unfortunately, the dad was unaware of the problems that he was causing his son by trying to change his son's natural arm angle during delivery.
The coach's son stood on the mound trying to throw strikes but was having difficulty finding the plate. Meanwhile, his father kept telling him from the dugout to "get on top of the ball." It became clear from watching the dad that what he meant was to throw the ball from a directly overhand position.
It's Only Natural
Had this been the boy's natural arm slot it might have been marginally helpful. However, it was clear that it was not his natural throwing slot. It was obvious, as the boy's head continued to tilt to the left as he tried to force his arm 'over the top'. You could see him rubbing his shoulder after every pitch - the result of the impingement created by trying to force an unnaturally high arm position.
But, trying to please his father, he tried to continually raise his arm position and things got progressively worse causing his father to tell him to 'throw strikes'. The boy gave his father a look that could only be interpreted as "you throw strikes if it is that easy" as he began to cry in frustration.
The pitcher had considerable talent but couldn't possibly pitch successfully from that position. Throwing from an unnatural position can only lead to frustration or injury. Unfortunately, neither dad nor son understood the no-win path that they were on.
The Right Angle
To say it kindly, there is far too much misinformation about the best arm angle from which to pitch a baseball. Well-intentioned dads and coaches have not been trained to recognize a pitcher's natural arm angle and therefore, often teach as they were taught. "Get on top of the ball"; "get to the goal-post position"; "create more of a downward angle at release" are all too often the refrain from too many dugouts.
Simply put, the pitcher's arm angle belongs to the pitcher. Trying to have all pitchers throw from the same arm angle is a recipe for disaster. It's not that much different than forcing a left-handed person, to do everything right-handed.
Randy Johnson throws sidearm. Mike Mussina throws more over the top. Orlando Hernandez throws from more arm positions than I can count in one sitting. The point being, that there are many different slots for different kinds of pitchers. In most cases, arm angle at delivery is a 'non-teach' unless the pitcher has been put in an unnatural position.
When the issue is addressed, the first step must be to help the pitcher find his natural position. To do this, begin by addressing the pitcher's balance, posture, and head position during the delivery.
When you find the position where the pitcher can deliver the ball while maintaining balance and posture, as well as ensuring the head moves only toward the plate, you'll know you're on the right path.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Over the top works for some pitchers, but not for all. It's not even safe to say that it works for most pitchers. Our job as coaches must be to help our pitcher's discover their natural talent. Changing what a pitcher does with his throwing arm usually does more harm than good and should not be attempted without the best of professional advice.
I left the field that day hoping that dad would get some help before his son got hurt, lost his confidence, or worse yet, lost his love for the game of baseball.