I think coaches can sometimes forget how difficult it is to learn a new skill. That was certainly true for me! It can be even more difficult to change an ingrained movement pattern. Here are a few other lessons I was reminded of during my quest to be a switch-thrower:
"Lead-in" drills are important
One of my most consistent messages to my players is related to starting their next training session from where they left off at the end of their last session. To help refresh their minds and movement patterns, we have players complete "lead-in" drills at the start of their session to remind them of their best mechanics. Provide your players with enough information to choose these drills on their own and guide them through a process for daily implementation. This should be used for throwing, defence, and hitting.
Different drills work for different players or in different situations.
There is a tendency for coaches to label and classify drills as either “good” or “bad”. Of course there are drills that are simply not effective. But in reality, a specific drill is more likely to be effective for some players and ineffective (or even detrimental) to other players.
If you ask Google if towel drills are effective for teaching pitching mechanics, you will see a myriad of opinions. We don’t typically use towel drills for our pitchers, but those drills were a critical part of my left handed learning process.
Drill selection should likely differ depending on what stage the player is at:
-skill acquisition: learning a new skill
-skill development: improving a learned skill
-skill modification: changing a previously learned skill
Don’t underestimate the power of a mirror
It is my belief that players need to be able to feel a movement pattern before they can change that movement pattern. Seeing yourself perform a skill in a mirror can help a player develop the feel that is necessary for change.
Breaking a skill down vs. maintaining the full movement pattern
There are certainly some advantages to breaking a skill into it's components in order to teach it effectively. However, coaches need to weigh the cost of taking a complex and dynamic skill and removing all fluidity of that motion in order to teach it. Pitching and hitting are highly dependent on rhythm and timing and that can't be developed when the skill is broken into segments. At the very least, consider breaking a skill down only during the off-season and remember to give a player time to "reassemble" the skill with some rhythm prior to putting them into a competative situation.
It is easier to teach when the learner is motivated to learn
When players are young, most coaches realise that they need to explain the "why" for everything because players don't have a deep understanding of the game. They need to learn where each skill fits on the diamond.
Explaining the why is still necessary as a player matures, but it is usually for a different reason. Making a skill or concept relevant to them is crucial. Their investment will be low if they don't think what they are learning is relevant to their immediate performance.
For me, I know my right arm is going to give out on me sometime soon, so no one needs to waste their time convincing me it is important - I am highly motivated.
Coaches...Are you still challenging yourself to acquire new skills? We place demands on our players to constantly be learning, so we need to stay in touch with how difficult that process can be.