The question is, how do we make our pitches better? The answer actually lies within a series of questions coming from you directly. Whenever you are playing catch with either a pitcher or catcher, ask them about your pitches. The answer they give you, whether you like it or not, is great feedback.

This brings back the idea of playing catch with a purpose. Feedback is the best source of real time information you can get your hands on. As soon as you throw, let’s say a 2-seam fastball, your partner can tell you if it was good or not. So you ask how was that 2-seam? Did it tail arm side, cut to glove side, or stay straight? Did it start to sink? Your partner can give you the feedback you’re looking for right away. This let’s you know if you’re on the right track with the movement and feel of your pitches. If you’re throwing a change-up and it drops a lot, great. But if the spin looks like a knuckle ball rather than a fastball, the spin isn’t sharp. I’d say you have a decent knuckle ball but now let’s work on a change-up.

The spin is the next part. Let’s use a slider as an example. If you throw your slider to your partner, your question should be about spin. How was the spin? Tight? Loopy? What do you see, a big circle? A tiny dot? We want to have a tight, tiny dot on our slider. That let’s us know if the spin is good. This means we will usually have a sharper break on our pitch caused by the tighter spin which equals more rotation. If we see a big circle, then the pitch is usually somewhat loopy and doesn’t really fool good hitters. If it’s easy to see, it’s easy to hit.

Having good spin on your pitches is important because that is what the hitter is seeing. We don’t want to have a pitch that moves three feet. We want a pitch that breaks late and sharp. Having good spin allows that to happen. If we’re not getting the spin we want, then we look back to our grip, our release, and our understanding of how a particular pitch should be thrown.

Feedback. We have to ask questions is we want to get better. You can throw 5 shutout innings and you think you don’t need to really work on your pitches, but that would be a bad idea. You can still pitch well, especially if the competition isn’t great, and have terrible off-speed pitches with bad spin. We take the result of the game to help build our confidence on the mound, but the feedback regarding the spin helps build our confidence in each pitch we throw.

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“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the total death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear…I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”

The mind is a beautiful and complex thing. Sometimes we can keep our mind focused and other times it gets away from us. At times we let doubt into our minds and we find it difficult to let it pass through. It stays there, right at the forefront of our mind when we face adversity. You have two options; give into the fear because you are afraid to fail or face it head on and view any failure as a learning opportunity.

Our intelligence increases through the mistakes we make. As a pitcher, we have to learn to accept failure and embrace the lessons that it creates. If we are afraid to fail then our growth as a pitcher dies within us.

Here is an example. You have runners on second and third with two outs. Your team is up by one run in the last inning. You can think two things. One is that you don’t want to feel responsible for losing the game if you give up a hit. The other is that you’re going to challenge the hitter head on. Regardless of your mindset, you may still give up a hit that scores both runners which in turn means you have failed. The next part is important. Do you feel like you suck as a pitcher or do you feel determined to not have that happen again?

Success eliminates fear. That is exactly what confidence is. But we only get to that point by being in the position where we are facing adversity. You have to want to face adversity, that’s the only way to get better. And when you fail, we have to want to understand why we failed rather than fell sorry for ourselves. It is not an easy thing to do. As a pitcher, we feel as if we are carrying the team on our shoulders. If we fail, we feel as if we have failed our teammates, our coaches, our school, our parents, and so on. But everyone knows we don’t want to be unsuccessful on the mound. They realize we are trying our best, but sometimes our best just isn’t quite good enough.

Going back to our scenario in which you lost the game, learn to break it down in order to prevent the feeling of failure as often as possible in the future. If you can be honest with yourself and look back at what you didn’t do well, you will learn how to grow as a pitcher. Most often, we failed because we didn’t locate the pitch exactly where we wanted it. We gave the hitter too good of a pitch to hit. So let’s dive into the idea that we missed our target. The question now is; why did you miss? Trace your steps backwards from when the ball was hit. Did the pitch feel good out of your hand? Did the pitch you throw feel like the right one? Were you thinking too much about holding runners or just the runners in general? Was your mind racing with thoughts that you couldn’t control? Did you do a good job of breathing? Do you feel like you rushed yourself? And lastly, were you afraid of the moment?

Now you may think these are a lot of questions to ask yourself and that’s true. But remember, we’re trying to figure out why you mis-located that pitch. All of those questions are directly related to that pitch and more importantly, your fear of failure. You may sit there and say well I wasn’t afraid to fail and I felt like I was in control. If that’s the case, then you shouldn’t have missed your target. But the truth is there is something we could’ve done better. If we are fully in control our ourselves and we have worked tirelessly on the things the above questions address, there is nothing to be afraid of. You know you have put the time in. If we are in control of our mind, then we are in control of our body. If we are in control of our body, then it appears to others we are in control of the moment. This then puts doubt into the hitter’s mind which is what I like to call “checkmate.”

The fear of failure goes hand in hand with self-confidence. Embrace the fear as it often brings out the best in us, not the worst. Work on all aspects of your game and as you strive to perfect those things, it helps reduce failure which thus helps eliminate doubt and fear. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort with the full acknowledgement you have to continue sharpening your skills in all departments, not just physically pitching. The fear of failure is real and ready to overtake your mind in an instant. You have to be willing to accept that as well as accept your flaws. When those things are addressed, you will begin the process of overcoming your fear through confidence and actually pitching through adversity.

In closing, take a sheet of paper and write down three things you’re afraid of that could happen when you’re on the mound. Break those down in reverse order from the feeling of disappointment to your preparation. From there (if you’re being honest with yourself), you can determine what you need to work on. Embrace the fear of failure, it is the only way for you to achieve true success.

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It is truly amazing to watch some athletes accomplish things no one believed they could. They could be less talented, undersized, and lack overall athleticism, but yet somehow they accomplish goals. Why? Simply because that athlete believes in themselves. They believe that no matter what obstacle gets in their way, they will figure out a solution. That is the biggest difference between those who play at a higher level versus those who do not.

People believe that some people are just born with self-confidence. In other words, you were just built differently than others. In some regards that is very true, it’s just a part of who you are. But for the majority of people, it has to be learned and developed. And the great news is that anyone can learn to build self-confidence. It is a matter of how much time you want to put in and how hard you are willing to work.

Self-confidence is built through repetition and work ethic. For example, when you first learn to throw a breaking ball it’s probably not very good. So what do you do? You practice throwing it. You work on it everyday to develop better spin, sharper break, and eventually throwing it in the bullpen. Then one day you try to throw it in the game. Maybe you can’t throw it for a strike so then, like most pitchers, you just forget about the breaking ball for the rest of the game. Why? Because you are not confident in that pitch due to the lack of self-confidence to throw it which is due to the lack of preparation.

But you don’t give up because you know you have to develop a breaking ball if you want to continue pitching. You work on your grip and just keep throwing it, again putting in the time. Now you start throwing it more often in the bullpen and start to get a feel for it. Then you try it in a game and suddenly something amazing happens; you throw and the hitter swings and misses. You almost get a feeling of relief and excitement all at once. That one pitch, that swing and a miss, suddenly allows you to start building confidence in your breaking ball. Now you can start building off that success and make that breaking ball even better. Eventually you will start throwing more breaking balls during your outing and having success because now you have built the self-confidence in yourself to throw that pitch for a strike.

It comes down to repetition. That is the only way to truly develop self-confidence. You have to make mistakes and learn from that. You learn how not to throw a breaking ball, what grip doesn’t work for you, where you shouldn’t locate the pitch, and so on. But you only learn this through actually throwing the ball and practicing, day in and day out.

Having success as a pitcher is all about sharpening the skill of repetition, as with most anything else. Your pitches, your delivery, your mechanics, and your mindset, all only develop if you work at each of those parts everyday. If you do that, those things become what we call second nature. It just becomes so natural that you don’t even have to think about it anymore. And when you’re not thinking about your mechanics, for example, it is because you have built the confidence within yourself to know that your mechanics are solid and flawless. You have put the work and the time in to perfect your mechanics, now you continue to build on them.

Repetition creates self-confidence. That is the most important thing to understand if you want to get to the next level.

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