How to teach "intent" (baseball pitching)?

Intent to throw harder goes a long way in actually throwing harder … but how do you teach it? And can it be really taught?

I’m hoping we can get some solid discussion around this!

When dealing with kids, I try to avoid having them do that with just the arm, as it usually throws off the timing issues and can potentially cause troubles. I’ve had success in asking them to focus on rotating the body hard.

This topic is timely for many reasons. First and foremost is the fact that the preseason for many pitchers will be starting shortly, and second because one’s personal awareness of what “throwing harder” really means, and third how using what one has dictates much of what follows.

I’m gong to start off with something that may seem really mundane, but it’s not - the difference between throwing a baseball and pitching a baseball.

When a fielder throws a baseball, preempting the throw can find any combination of forward movement by the body, or the lack thereof, to include even being off balance at times during the throw. The target objective can be within the confines of a four (4) foot radius or with the intention of getting the ball to a general location - like on the bounce. When a fielder throws hard, that action finds the shoulders and the head staying somewhat centered in proportion the overall posture of the body. Both feet are usually planted firmly, and stay that way, while releasing the ball is done with the body being upright. Hence, much of the body’s proportion in strength and execution is supported by the back leg (in most cases), with the front leg offering balance and stability.

When we pitch,
very little of the fielder’s workmanship follows suit. And since pitching is one of the most unnatural acts for the human body to accomplish, a stringent and definitive pattern of movements dictates how to pitch - but, there is no one size fits all.

I start off by addressing some simple realities that has to do with pitching hard. One’s natural endowments has a lot to do with it, along with how one’s coached, yes coached, on how to use those endowments. Also in contention is a pitcher’s physique - in other words the built. Again, using one’s endowments to their max will produce the kind of velocity that a pitcher is capable of - but not beyond.

Ah, there’s the phase that very few pitchers are willing to address - but not beyond. If a pitcher really wants to understand one’s physical and athletic limits, realizing the ceiling to one’s pitching ability is a subject that I address without reservatoins. In fact, one of the first things that I use to do with every pitcher under my charge was to address this topic after a few weeks of experience. I make sure postitive that a pitcher knows one’s limits if they intend on making serious inroads in baseball.

With respect to a player’s physique, I have found that some players can actually pitch a lot harder than others by simply holding back, or progressing faster, certain phases of their body’s movement. And although to some, this may look strangely different when comparing a teammate pitching right next to them, nevertheless, for that pitcher it works. But again, what works has to fall within the parameters of sound pitching body cycles - patterns that take advantage of each pitchers own signature.

As I remarked above, a pitching coach is the key to one’s maximizing the results from the learning curve. A simple thing like the condition of a pitching surface can influence the training and development big time. And as simple as that may sound, it does take a qualified coach to recognize deficiencies and show you how to correct them.

Now I’m gong to post this last remark, and I don’t mean to fragment some products that are sold here on this site - or anywhere else for that matter. You can purchase books, videos, and even solicit a private pitching coach to help you pitch harder - but, you’ve got to be honest with yourself with what it is exactly that your trying to do. If you lack the facilities to actually put this stuff into practice, or, you lack the health and stamina to address serious training demands, then qualify what “pitching harder” means to you in real terms that are fair and reasonable to you.

Coach B,

Zone in on the glove and bring it is a phrase that should be said a lot.

There is also a mental side to this in that the coach needs to ensure the it is ok for the pitcher to miss his spots - initially - while trying to throw hard. Without that, young pitchers especially will continue to hit their spot and will likely take something off their pitch in doing so.

Excellent posts, all of you.
I’d like to add something here—a point that is all too often overlooked. There are too many pitchers who are overly concerned with pitching harder, when what they should be thinking about is pitching SMARTER. Not everyone is capable of throwing 100+ miles an hour—but everyone is capable of using the noodle, if they will address themselves to it.
I was a snake-jazz pitcher—not much on speed, oh no, I would top out at 76MPH, so I had to go to the breaking stuff right away. I was very fortunate to have a pitching coach—his name was Ed Lopat and he was one of the Yankees’ Big Three rotation of the late 40s to the mid-50s—who saw immediately where I was at; the day he showed me how to throw the slider he watched me as I familiarized myself with the grip and the wrist action, and he made some mental notes. He was forming in his mind a jumping-off point from which he could work with me. He noted that I was quick to catch on and willing to work at what I needed to, and so he had absolutely no hesitation about teaching me a lot of advanced stuff he felt that I should know. He knew that I was not what one would call fast and that I would never be, so he showed me how to make the most of what I had to begin with—a natural sidearm delivery, a very good crossfire to go with it, good control and command—and how to add to these things.
What was especially interesting was how he would focus on the mental and psychological aspects of pitching. In our “curbstone consultations”, as I liked to refer to our frequent discussions, he talked about getting inside the batters’ heads to discombooberate them, throw their timing off and mess up their thinking, and from time to time he would get inside my head to see what I was thinking about while on the mound. At one point something happened and I found myself facing a nightmarish situation, he went right after it and knocked the problem out of commission once and for all and got me back on track!
Yes, those who have the capacity to pitch harder can learn to do it, and those who have everything else but the speed can learn to use what he called the “noodle”. One thing Babe Ruth once said: A good changeup will cause batters more grief than anything else. And he was right; if you can’t overpower the hitters you can make them look very stupid with a good change.
And that’s my 50 cents worth. (Inflation, you know.) :slight_smile:

Using the word “hard” can be an issue. When you say “throw hard” a young kid can interpret that as a violent action, muscles up in the same manner they would do if somebody told them to punch hard.

With the type of world we live in, for some, the word relax doesn’t present a hint of strength or source of power. Everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere and wants everything here and now. No patience.

Some don’t understand that pitching is truly an art. It’s one of the ,if not the, most complex motions of any sport.

Let me use Roy Halladay as an example, I just recently favorited a vid of him on youtube. His delivery is so quiet, smooth and relaxed but yet so powerful. His delivery shows no hints of strength but yet it is.

Body control, timing, relaxation… try to feel the energy travel through your body from the ground up to the ball. Learn how to manipulate the forces that come from the ground to generate your power. If you can master it, you will give the illusion of being effortless.

What I’ve been saying all along—whatever a pitcher’s velocity or lack of it, the key to his or her power is getting the whole body into the action. I learned this from watching the Big Three years ago and picking up on it; they were all doing the same thing—driving off the lower half of the body, using the legs, the hips and the torso in one continuous (and seamless) motion, so it seemed that the arm and the shoulder were just going along for the ride, and in doing so they took a lot of pressure off said arm and shoulder. It looked as effortless as it was, and I quickly found out as I practiced this essential aspect of good mechanics that I was throwing with less effort—in fact, somewhere along the line I picked up what I called a “whoops” pitch, what turned out to be an 81MPH four-seam fast ball with a lot of movement on it! The funny thing was that when juxtaposed with my other stuff that pitch looked to the batters as if it were coming in there at 91-92 miles an hour! Something else with which to set the batters up for old Filthy McNasty (my slider).
Ed Lopat helped me refine this and other pitches, and he told me a lot about deception on the mound. What I learned from him was nothing short of priceless, and for this I will always remember him. :slight_smile: 8)

I sat down and asked my newest coach how would he define and train intent. He described intent as an idea. I asked for clarification and he said that it wasn’t a mechanic and it isn’t a tangible item but an attitude in the way the ball is delivered. I pointed out that he has been aware of intent now for 2 years and hadn’t fully incorperated it into his delivery as of yet. I asked if it was fear of losing accuracy…he said no, I asked if it was fear of injury…he said no…fear had nothing to do with it, that to maintain his mechanic and conciously attempt to add the additional power/drive was no easy task and that it should be developed over time, as with all methods we believe should be adapted…then perhaps adopted. So the long way to this short answer is incremental development via tweak (Both mental and physical) over time.
Man am I gonna have fun with this new coach and theorizing with him. :roadkill: Bustin his nuts :boingboing: and seeing it all over again :greengrin: Ain’t life grand…

The concept of “intent” as it is generally used in law denotes a state of mind crucial in determining a person’s “will to act in a particular way” or determined purpose. Intent implies a thought out action with an expected result. Thus we usually do not think of “intent” when we discuss the actions of an animal as opposed to humans. For instance, the killing of zebra by a pack of hyenas requires no “intent” per se. We think in terms of natural instinct. The bludgeoning of one human being with a four pound sledge hammer by another human being suggests some level of “intent” to see to it that a person is dead.

The way it is used in this forum is perhaps somewhat of a hybrid.

Intent can be inferred from the circumstances and doesn’t have to be admitted or verbalized. A pitcher’s intent could be inferred from his recruitment of all his effort on a pitch resulting in a wild semi-controlled delivery. I was thinking of someone like Bob Gibson or Francisco Rodriquez. But as has been aptly pointed out by tonyjh34, pitchers can still show intent by the results of their delivery yet on the outside display a “smooth relaxed and quiet” delivery like Roy Halladay.

So how does this address the question, “Can “intent” be taught?”

If you accept that “intent” as used in these forums is a kind of hybrid between mental willfulness and animal instinct then a certain assumption has to be taken into the bullpen with you as an instructor. After having spent some time with a pitcher, you ought to be able to determine the level of one’s animal instinct. I once coached a young man who’s animal instinct could have been described as a “hyena”. And you must agree that nature has equipped the hyena with tools matching his disposition. If you have ever watched a hyena hunt and feed you will understand the extreme nature of his instinct. Lack of “Intent” would seem to be an issue that would appear at lesser frequencies in direct proportion to the higher level you go. This is really a result of the “survival of the fittest” theory. High level pitchers become high level pitchers because they have a high degree of instinctual intent and the body to do it with. I am thinking of a guy like Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez here. The hyena is at the level he is because he is equipped to kill and can digest anything and “has the natural instinct to do so.”

I believe that intent can be taught to the extent that one can develop mental and physical exercises that draw out a person’s natural instinct to throw hard and at the same time maximize efficiency. However, that potential is fixed within every person’s DNA chain. This is not to say that a coach should give up on any particular recruit. What makes good coaching is a determination to take a person’s “intent” to get better and channel that toward reaching maximum potential.

And that’s my 2 cents worth. :twocents: Did my taxes last night. :cry:

Man we are too close brother…did mine too. :shock:
Nice post Dino…well everybody…good stuff.

Yes it can be taught.

How? For all intents and purposes (get it…intents?? … :roll:… ok I’ll stop), you need feedback.

Feedback in the form of a radar gun, or simply long tossing and noting the distance you’re throwing.

Now the sticky part becomes (at least IMO) how that intent is interpreted and more specifically WHEN it is applied. In my experience these factors are as varied as the player who uses it.

101mph made an excellent point(s). In that he said…"
Now the sticky part becomes (at least IMO) how that intent is interpreted and more specifically WHEN it is applied.…"

It’s the interpreted part that can have a coach asking the bartender “what time do ya close Mack?”

I had a guy who got shelled twice, right after the other. The next time he was put in, he tossed nothing but fluff. Never got past the high 70’s. Well, a walk to the mound and a short meeting of the minds did nothing, so the second walk got-em to the bench.

I gave all the speeches that I could come up with… “drill the darn thing”, and “come-on man, you’re better stuff than this” !".

All of my encouragement got " Heck coach, every pitch is landing on top of the darn flag pole then down the street!"

The very next day he went in as relief, got two batters out, then third batter clocked his very first pitch but good.

I called time, walked out and said … will all INTENT… " Well, things aren’t looking that bad. At least he didn’t drill ya to the flag pole this time, just a little right of the pop corn machine … then down the street."

He laughed, went two more innings then had to give up the ball. But it was a start. So INTENT is as much mental and private to each one of us.

When we got back home, I got off our bus and waiting for me was a tin of JIFFY POP under one of the windshield wipers of my car.

PITCHERS!!! go figure.

One day, during one of our “curbstone consultations”, I said to Ed Lopat, “I was thinking about this the other day—the way you approach pitching to the hitters. Kind of like judo, isn’t it?” He replied: “You could say that. The principle is the same—using the opponent’s power against him. You make the hitters supply their own power. You don’t give them anything they can hit. You take their power and turn it back against them.” And he cited the case of Walt Dropo, who used to play for Detroit and Boston. Dropo was a power hitter—or at least he thought he was. And here’s how Lopat would deal with someone like that. Dropo would come to the plate drooling and licking his chops, in anticipation of how he was going to murder all that delicious slow stuff. So what did Lopat do? HE TOOK EVEN MORE OFF HIS PITCHES. The end result was invariably either a big fat strikeout or a weak dribbler to the first baseman. And Dropo would return to the dugout foaming at the mouth and, no doubt, uttering an imprecation or two—whereupon Lopat would yell at him, "Dropo, you’re just a lousy hitter."
If ever there was intent, this was it. The intent is to get the batter out, however one does it. :grins:

Mr. Ellis,

I have never spent a single second pitching in an actual baseball game. The only physical analogy I have for pitching is the golf swing (which I spent years trying – and I emphasize trying - to learn). As I have said in other posts, I am just a baseball dad and assistant LL coach trying to learn what I can to help my son and his teammates.

To me, the intricacies of directing the body’s momentum in the highly coordinated way necessary to pitch or hit a golf ball seem largely (but perhaps not completely) beyond the ability of that conscious part of our minds that directs our intent.

Nevertheless, if the pitcher throws enough pitches or the golfer hits enough balls, each will eventually throw faster or hit further without any direct intention of doing either. I think this is because the physical coordination that leads to more power (and hence more speed in pitching or more distance in golf) is built more from repetition of the proper movements than from intentional force (e.g., trying to throw harder or hit farther).

At some point, one who has repeated the proper movements enough to build sufficient coordination can use intent with some benefit, but only up to the point where that intent interferes with coordination. At that point (which is different for each individual and evolves over time as coordination increases), the pitcher who tries to put a little extra on the ball rushes (or commits some other mechanical error) and the golfer who tries to hit the ball a little further slices (or hooks, shanks, tops, etc.).


I believe that intent can be taught to the extent that one can develop mental and physical exercises that draw out a person’s natural instinct to throw hard and at the same time maximize efficiency. However, that potential is fixed within every person’s DNA chain. This is not to say that a coach should give up on any particular recruit. What makes good coaching is a determination to take a person’s “intent” to get better and channel that toward reaching maximum potential.[/quote]

Good point. I think it’s part innate and part practice, too, like you’ve mentioned. But when you can get an athlete that’s got intent coupled with the physical skills – that’s the guy that’s got pro potential.

This is one of my favorite discussions of late on LTP!