You are what you practice

There is a warm-up drill I’ve seen many teams use that I just don’t get. Basically, two lines of players stand facing each other, their feet firmly planted in the ground. They then throw the ball back and forth between partners, rotating their trunks and shoulders. Generally speaking, they also chit-chat with one another as they perform this drill.

Now, I get what the drill is supposed to accomplish. It’s supposed to stretch the trunk muscles and get the shoulders involved in throwing. What it is actually doing, though, is teaching players to throw face-on and flat-footed — often times with their weight on their heels. Then coaches wonder why, at a critical moment in the game, their players try to make a quick throw flat-footed from their heels.

Think about it. What do we coaches always stress in working with our players? Muscle memory. It’s how we justify making them do boring reptitions of the same skills. “You have to build muscle memory” we say as they hit their 100th ball off a tee or throw their 100th pitch in a practice session. With enough proper repetitions, they no longer have to think about the skill. They just execute it automatically.

Well, muscle memory doesn’t know a good drill from a bad drill. So if players stand flat-footed facing each other  and throw by only moving their trunks and shoulders, what are they building? That’s right — muscle memory. And that’s what they’ll call on when they need to make a throw.

It makes a lot more sense to practice a skill the way you want it executed in a game. Especially if you’re warming up to play one. For throwing, that means shuffling your feet to put your body into a sideways position so you know how to find it when you need it. Players should be practicing quick footwork during warmups, not no footwork, so they have the skills they need. Doing anything else, especially before a game, just doesn’t make sense.

This is not to say this drill has no value at all. It’s a good beginner drill to teach young players to rotate their upper bodies — although I prefer they do it from their knees to separate the drill from the standard throwing motion. But once they understand how to use their shoulders you’re a lot better off having them start sideways and throw through with a proper motion.

The other reason teams sometimes use this drill is for a dynamic warmup of the upper body. But that’s something you can also accomplish with standard stretching. When it’s time to throw, then throw — the way you expect it to be done in a game. You will be what you practice. Practice for success.

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