by Darin Souza, Vice President, CYBSA
Proper arm care and usage is one of the most misunderstood topics in all of sports. We see arm fatigue, soreness or injury and immediately say “Over-use!” We see kids with not-so-strong arms and tend to accept that they simply aren’t as talented as the fireballers on the team.
The reality is we’re doing far too little to build stronger throwing arms with better mechanics. Teaching and demonstrating proper mechanics is impossible without developing muscle memory and basic conditioning.
Too many coaches speed their kids through warming up to make time for the dissertation on “Fundamentals”, situations, and the like. So focused on getting into practice or pregame routine, they simply say “Okay go throw and warm up!”
Instead, let’s take the first 15 minutes to build up the arms!
Don’t Forget to Train When You Coach
Unfortunately, for such an important fundamental skill, we neglect throwing too often.
When we do try to develop proper throwing, we often rely too much on verbal cues, mechanical tips, and demonstration.
But proper technique in any sport comes not from verbal instruction but muscle memory. Muscle memory in throwing comes not from easy, lazy throwing but from challenging our routine a little. In the case of throwing, this means we need to throw the ball longer distances on a regular basis.
The Magic of Long Toss
“Long Toss” is something that does far more good for mechanical training than any tips or cues you can give your player. That is because in long toss, the thrower is focused on a challenging, EXTERNAL goal such as hitting a far away target accurately.
This is as opposed to verbalizing concepts like “get your elbow high” or “don’t turn your front foot so soon”. (Note: Bryan Dunkelberger, here in the first blog post, says all you need to know about how kids digest that kind of instruction.)
From a throwing standpoint, the more challenging and stringent the task, the more efficient the biomechanics. Imagine bending over to pick up a dollar bill. Here the body allows us just about any type of “mechanics”.
But when we lift something heavy like a 50 lb. dumbbell, the body suggests that the proper way to do this is to lift with the legs and maintain a strong posture. If you lift the dumbbell as you would a dollar bill, your body will warn you of trouble!
Throwing a football, javelin, or a shot put is also more stringent than throwing a baseball. You can’t throw a shot put like you are skipping a rock.
Distance works the same way as weight because it is also a form of resistance. It’s hard to throw well from the outfield with bad mechanics. Johnny Damon was the rare exception!
Back to the coaching cues: Poor arm action, weak throws, and even soreness are less due to a lack of verbal instruction than bad habit and lack of conditioning.
Standing 30 feet away and arm slinging the ball in a careless manner, as a way to “get warm”, does more to hurt throwing arms than anything else in the youth game.
Why Not Treat All of Your Players Like They Have Cannons And Build Real Confidence
With respect to stronger arms and better mechanics, CONFIDENCE in one’s throwing ability makes the game more fun. It allows him to play more positions, for the field to not feel so big.
A child cannot learn the finer points of the game when she dreads making a throw. The same logic applies to hitting, naturally: confidence and results = more fun!
Let’s convince every kid that there is a CANNON inside each and every arm, and all it takes is to air it out on a consistent basis.
Alan Yaeger, one of the country’s leading arm conditioning experts, likes to say “Feed it!” regarding the arm. Feed it by throwing with intent, and regularly!!
So instead of telling your players to grab a ball and a throwing partner and “go out and get warm”, why not structure the 15 minutes of warm up as a meaningful long term building blocks?
Part Two Preview: Sample Long Toss
In Part Two I will provide more specific guidance and visuals for a pre-practice/pre-game routine based on age level. For now, I’ll use 10 year olds as an example.
At the core of long toss is short, medium, and long distance throwing. Here is a ~15 min basic sequence, using a 30–60–90 foot configuration for 10 year olds. Yes, 10 year olds can try to throw 90 feet!
- Example brief warm up: 2–3 minutes. knee high jogging, butt kick jogging, sprints and arm circles.
- 30 Feet: 2–3 minutes. Easy toss, but making sure you “aim” with the front hips and shoulders, and simply follow through. (This article leaves mechanics aside…proper long toss will do a lot of “fix” mechanics as you go).
- 60 Feet: 2 minutes. This is the length of the baselines. Same shoulder and hip aim, with a light crow hop and soft arc to the throw. Nice and easy effort with follow through. Focus on hitting your target in the chest!
- 90 Feet, give or take. 2–3 minutes. Take any variety of crow hop you’d like. That could be a shuffle step, a more aggressive crow hop, or even a little running start is great. Keep a healthy arc on the ball and get out to whatever maximum distance feels right. It could be 70 feet, it could be 100.
- 60 Feet: 2–3 minutes. Bringing it closer again, take the arc off the ball and work on throwing the ball on a line. Think of a throw that the cutoff man can receive at eye level. You will have to keep the same aggressive, athletic throwing hop used in the longer toss. This is simply engaging the lower half of the body!
- 30 Feet, give or take: 1–2 minutes: Back to where you started, keep the legs hopping, shuffling into the throw. Work on a quick catch, transfer and throw by keeping the feet moving, keeping the shoulders/hips pointed at the target, and zipping your remaining throws to your partner.
Note: Even just 60 feet may very well be a challenge for half of the team. That is all the more reason to commit to long toss! Each player should have a goal of throwing farther and harder by the week. If you play and practice a total of 4 times a week, that is plenty. You will see progress if you commit to throwing.
Again, I’ll provide more details on this topic in Part Two, closer to Opening Day, including competitions to spice things up. In the meantime, let’s rethink that “warm up” part of practice to make it a cornerstone developing more great ballplayers.