“” The Role of Intent in Increasing Pitching Velocity

The Role of Intent in Increasing Pitching Velocity

| Velocity Training
Reading Time: 5 minutes
plyo velo

The intent to throw hard – the phrase was coined by Paul Nyman. Simple on its face, it is routinely rejected by pitching coaches everywhere from the outright dismissal (“just throw strikes”) to the subtle sabotage (“block with a firm front side”). Intending to throw the ball hard means, well, maximum effort. And lest people think that “max effort” is a bad thing, the reality is that no one was more of a max effort thrower than this guy:

Yet countless scouts will point to someone who has “max effort” mechanics and say “Oh, that guy will never hold up as a starter.” Remind me again, was Nolan Ryan not a durable starter?

What scouts think they see when they see someone who is “max effort” is really a guy that has serious recoil issues, can’t repeat his delivery, or is undersized. Great examples include Jake Peavy, Marcus Stroman, or Jimmy Sherfy:

But the point of this blog post isn’t to debunk the myth of “max effort,” it is to discuss intent.

Simply put, the intent to throw the ball hard IS defined as effort, and usually maximum effort if you are trying to throw reasonably hard. What that looks like depends very much on your mechanical patterns (good forward rotation and good deceleration patterns will avoid you becoming a “max effort” guy – also not being 5’6″ helps), but the intent to throw hard is useless without an underlying base of fitness.

That last part is important. Too many people have taken the idea of “intent” to mean that it is something that creates velocity. But that’s not what it is at all – intent simply reveals velocity.

Intent Reveals Underlying Fitness

Of course, intent and underlying fitness are intertwined. Let me give you a story from our training facility that I think illuminates this concept quite well.

We have two pitchers who are graduating in 2015, both of whom started training here in the past year. One of them started in the mid-70’s, the other started in the low-70’s – Garrett and Herbie, respectively. Garrett and Herbie are quite similar in that they were both junkballers who were told by their coaches to throw a lot of off-speed pitches and to pound the strike zone, which to them meant a glove-blocking upper body with a lot of linear pushing (and very little rotation). In other words, their intent levels were very low.

Additionally, neither of their coaches had any idea how to train them to throw harder, or more efficiently. So their underlying fitness levels were low.

In an ideal training model, you design a program that maximizes return on training time over many modalities. In our program, we try to do that with most of our drills, movements, and exercises – the concept of improving intent, mechanical efficiency, and underlying fitness all at the same time to some degree or another.

Both of them thought they were trying to throw hard, but they had no idea what it actually felt like to even try. That’s another reason why we don’t do much “mechanics” work, where that is usually defined by a coach sitting on a chair while the kid throws off a mound into a target, or worse, the coach catches the pitcher’s bullpens and gives advice from 60’6″ away. (No offense if your pitching coach is doing that, but it’s useless. Find someone else.)

You can tell someone anything and sound smart – and even be correct. But we all experience kinesiological actions in our own unique way. What feels like scapular separation to you may feel like glove flyout to me; what feels like pelvic shift to you feels like a too-linear drive to me. Actionable drills, cues, and exercises must let the individual figure it out for himself.

Garrett and Herbie are two totally different physical specimens – Herbie is not very coordinated and is generally what is affectionately called a “motor moron.” He cannot be told what to do; he must be shown how to discover the optimal path through overload/underload training and proper constraint training (amongst other methods). Garrett, on the other hand, is a better natural athlete, but has a smaller frame at 6 feet tall and can’t carry as much mass as Herbie (6’3″, 215 lbs) can. Garrett needs less constraint training and more fast-twitch training to maximize his specific advantages.

So while both of them need to improve both intent and fitness, you can’t just say “try to throw harder” and “go throw these weighted balls” and hope it works out for the best. (We’ve tried this in the past; I promise it’s not useful.) They need individualized, but still general enough since they are starting at such a low point velocity-wise, programming that adapts to their specific needs.

With all that said, I am happy to report that both of them have touched 90 MPH since joining our program when almost no one in the world would think either of them could do it; Garrett was a slight junkballer and Herbie was a slow, unathletic nobody.

Aside from our program, the thing that Herbie and Garrett both share in common that allowed them to see such rapid results is the fact that they are both very hard workers, and do not stop training when they leave my facility. Garrett lifts heavy on his own while Herbie throws weighted balls in his catch net at home. While I have a lot of faith in our program, it is nothing without the desire to outwork everyone.

herbie90 garrett90

And ultimately, to me, that is the intent that is really required to achieve elite velocities – the intent to work harder than anyone you know.

Read more about the other factors, besides intent, that help you throw harder.

Comment section

  1. Mike -

    Quick question… Do you think the same (intent) can be said about long toss. Meaning distance is not really important as long as you show that intent. Cold weather states force guys indoors to throw and obviously you cannot long toss in a facility. You can however produce that intent from how ever long your facility is, thus rendering long toss irrelevant when you go outside. Is this thought process correct? You can simulate long toss in a net by elevating the angle, but that’s not real long toss, your still 30ft or whatever from the net, but you are producing that intent, correct?

  2. Roby Mulier -

    This is a recycled article obviously. What has happened to Garrett and Herbie since? Lastly, the word “intent” means different things to different people. The word “Leadership” similarly has different meanings, descriptions, etc. People aspire to be great leaders and one could say those who choose that path have intent: after all, they are studying, practicing, etc. We can name great leaders much like you use Nolan Ryan as an example of one who had great intent and in arguably so. Intent is much more than you describe. It has an emotional aspect: an aspect not unlike that of fighter pilots. They have an inner inflappable belief that they are the best. There is no self-doubt; no fear, no second guessing. If they do they die. Having that same inner belief and desire is a key component of this thing you call intent. The question to you is can that be taught or is it innate?

    • Driveline Baseball -

      We are addressing “intent” at the most basic framework of the word, in the “purpose to throw the ball hard.” You can add a lot of different layers to it, much like the word “leader,” if you choose. Breaking through to that next level of “inten”-sity is often a topic of desire from prospective parents. Many players might already have this innate trait-to fearlessly use their tools with a purpose-, but this article exemplifies two athletes who developed an intent in/through their training. Our dills and programming can take away this fear you mentioned, to allow the athlete to “cut loose” in simple drills. High intent drill work then gets blended to the mound and ultimately to competition. Herbie has since hit 98 and Garrett is under scholarship at a D-1 program where he posted an ERA just over 1.0 in over 20 appearances last year.

      • Roby Mulier -

        Truly outstanding about Garrett an Herbie. That should be in a follow up article. It is certainly inspirational to those who truly want to aspire and gives life to what might be called authentic intent and what “intent”ional behaviors can do to transform oneself.

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