Nearly every youth pitcher has the same fear running in the back of their minds. When I bring this topic up to the pitchers I work with, they all look at me like I just pulled back the curtain of their pitching psyche. Some immediately deny the fear then gradually admit it with a big sense of relief. Others light up and say yes! Like they’ve been holding it in for way too long. I would have to guess that if you’ve ever pitched then you’ve had this thought at some point in your pitching career. I know I have.
I can remember playing little league baseball in 4th grade and being told I had one of the best arms on the team. My coach wanted me to try pitching but every time I got the opportunity, my good arm was nowhere to be found – either was the strike zone. It was frustrating to me and frustrating to my coaches, especially when I would go from the mound to the outfield and my good arm would show up again. They gave me a few pitching chances during the season but ultimately I spent the second half of that year in right field, frustrated. The last game of the season rolled around (thank God) and we were getting spanked. I had had just about enough of kicking dandelions in right field. My coach handed me the ball to pitch the last inning. I remember stepping on the mound with all kinds of 4th grade emotions and I made a promise to myself right then and there. I said no matter what happens I’m going to throw this ball as hard as I can this entire inning and if I hit someone with a pitch it’s all on accident and I can say sorry later. Here. We. Go. Wouldn’t you know it, I dominated that inning and I kept that promise for the next 20 years of my pitching career.
The more I examined that moment and talked to other pitchers, the more I realized that I wasn’t the only one with an underlying fear of hitting the batter. It’s not something that pitchers want to admit but it’s important that they know they’re not alone. Sports, are a tough arena to throw around the words scared, afraid and fear. But if you haven’t had any of those emotions prior to or during a sporting event, then you my friend are an anomaly. So how can we help pitchers overcome that fear? First, let’s look at some signs that this may be an underlying concern for a pitcher.
- Has great velocity except while he pitches.
- Consistently walks hitters and looks uncomfortable
- Shakes off the catcher when the catcher calls a pitch inside.
- Only has arm “issues” while pitching.
Once you’re pretty sure that a pitcher may have this fear then simply ask them in an sincere way. Something like, “hey johnny, I’m curious, what goes through your mind when you step on the mound. Are you thinking just throw strikes, are you thinking let’s see what happens, are you thinking don’t hit the batter?” Pay attention to body language on the last question. Now that you’ve said it. Go ahead and ask directly. “Johnny, do you ever have days when you pitch and it seems like all you can think about is don’t hit the batter?” From there just make it more about how normal of a thought that it is for pitchers to have and how you’ll work together to get through it. It will be a great opportunity to build trust as a coach.
So what can pitchers do to overcome this fear? Most of the adjustments that pitchers make will be figuring out how to be comfortable and confident. Draw on good previous experiences and convince yourself that you’re facing hitters that you’ve dominated in the past. It will help you visualize pitches prior to throwing them, to KNOW their destination rather than hoping for the best. If you struggle throwing inside to a right handed hitter, then mentally flip the hitter into the left-handed batters box. Pretend he is a left-handed hitter and you’re throwing an outside fastball. The more you work on it in practice the easier it gets and more confident you become. Last but not least…Pitchers – make a promise to yourself that you will only allow your best effort to represent you and your team.