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.
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.