As we ring in the new year, there is talk of new year’s resolutions and changing mindsets, but I want to talk about the importance of setting goals, specifically pitching goals. See, to me resolutions and goals are a bit different. Resolutions are things that often seem solitary, they’re set once and never changed. They typically don’t evolve throughout the year, and they may be forgotten or given up on, but they are a reminder of what you’d like to become or what you’d like to focus on. Don’t get me wrong resolutions are great, but I think goals are better, and here’s why.
Goals are ever-changing, once you reach one, you set another, and you continue to grow with and through your achievements. As a pitcher, you should always be evolving, always searching for ways to improve, all while acknowledging that you’ve hit your goals along the way. Through my lessons, I’ve had pitchers come in one day and state, “I’m going to hit 43 today!”, and then they do it. There’s something special about setting your mind to an act or a goal, it tells your mind and your body, “Hey, let’s do this!” I’ve also had other pitchers who typically come in quietly, put their work in, and leave the facility. They, often, are a bit less focused than the pitchers who I mentioned above. Sure, they get better, but it usually is at a slower pace than those who openly stated their goal for that day.
Every pitcher is different, I acknowledge that. Just because a pitcher is quiet doesn’t mean she doesn’t have that special fire inside her. When I don’t hear her state a goal, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have one, but I think it’s far more powerful when we voice our goals. Then, once she’s allowed herself to say it out loud, I believe she is more likely to hold herself accountable. The goal is no longer just a thought in her head, something she might like to accomplish. Instead, it’s something tangible, that her support system (mom, dad, coaches, teammates and friends) can help her accomplish.
So, I hope that those few paragraphs encouraged you to create some goals, or maybe encouraged you to speak to your pitcher or pitchers about goal setting. Now is the perfect time to do so, as most players are typically in the middle of their off-season. Maybe you took some much deserved time off during the holidays and it’s time to get back on track with your practice schedule. As you set goals, it’s important to set both short-term goals and long-term goals. This gives you some boxes to check along your journey so that you know you’re trending in the right direction.
Each of your short term goals should help you reach that long-term goal. These benchmarks will help keep you motivated week to week or even day-to-day. Below are a few examples of short-term goals for pitchers.
We all have those big numbers in mind that we’d like to show up on the radar. Maybe it’s 60 mph, or maybe it’s 45. Those numbers are great, but often your average velocity is more important. This is the velocity that you can rely on showing up consistently, not a number you hit once in a blue moon. To track your average velocity, write down the velocity of every full pitch you throw during that bullpen, or you track your last 20 pitches of the day and divide the total number by the number of pitches thrown.
If you plan to succeed in the circle, you need to throw strikes. You can do that in a variety of ways, through swings and misses, through called strikes, or through foul balls, but you are going to need to throw through the strike zone to have successful outings. This is easier to track in games, but you can at least track called strikes in practice settings. Start out by tracking your strike percentage in your next bullpen, then aim to increase it steadily throughout the week. Will you improve or succeed in every single bullpen? No, but you should see a steady increase in your strike percentage as you go. Use the rough days as learning lessons, and go back over your numbers to see how you can improve during your next practice.
This might not seem like a big deal to some, but to me, this is HUGE! Having a consistent pitch-to-pitch routine is a game-changer, so spending time on this during practice is a must. Anything you do during practice will show up in a game, so why not practice your routine? This might be one of the best short-term goals you can set. Everyone’s routine will look a little different, so make it your goal to find one that works for you. Aim to get better and better at incorporating and trusting your routine every day.
For ideas on how to improve your pre-pitch routine, check out this article.
Practicing often is essential, but if you’re consistently putting in un-focused practice you’re missing out on valuable time. Goal-setting is a great start when it comes to building a focused practice, but it is the pitch-to-pitch focus that will really set your best practices apart from others that are lack-luster. Tracking the first two short-term goals above will help you stay in the moment, as well as developing your routine. My other advice for staying focused during long bullpens - allow yourself time in between pitches to zone-out. A full hour or more of complete focus might seem exhausting at first. The few seconds before throwing the pitch and the execution of your pitch should be your focused time. During the time in between, allow yourself to breathe and reset.
Need help tracking your average velocity and strike percentage? Click on the red softball above for a printable bullpen chart.
I would argue that your short-term goals are the most important, as they will contribute to your long-term success. That being said, it’s important to set some BIG goals as well. These goals should naturally take a bit longer to obtain, so make sure to acknowledge your small victories along the way. If you see continued progress towards your long-term goals, even a little, you’re on the right track.
Above I mentioned that your average velocity is the most important, and it is, but we want to reach for the stars (sorry for the corny metaphor). Ultimately, once we hit that big number, you should then aim to make that your average, or at least close the gap. Maybe you want to gain 5 mph this year, or maybe you want to gain more. Depending on your age and your current speed, you may be able to gain 5 or more mph in a year. Set a reasonable but exciting goal, and plan out how you’re going to achieve it.
I am a huge proponent of commanding a fastball and a change-up, but once you’ve mastered those, it’s time to add another pitch. Whether you’re learning a dropball or a riseball, spend time in the developmental stages. There is a reason I made this a long-term goal. New pitches generally take a long time to perfect, so don’t give up on a pitch just because it doesn’t come to you right away. Rather than learning another new pitch right away, stay focused on one and perfect it. The better you can make 3 or 4 pitches, the more effective you will become. Working on too many pitches at once can make it more difficult to develop true movement.
Elite pitchers create swings and misses. Yes, they also pitch to contact, but we do want to create swings and misses as often as possible, so why not make that one of your goals? You can do so by continuing to develop movement and changing speeds. An elite change-up or off-speed is a huge component of creating swings and misses, so I would start there. Next, continue developing your movement pitches by improving your spin direction and increasing your spin rate. Finally, create deception. The more you can disguise your pitches, the harder it will be for a hitter to decide what to swing at. Below, are a few articles and videos on developing a change-up and creating deception.
This is a fun one, as it is individualized to each person depending on your age group, development, and ambition. Everyone should have one HUMUNGOUS goal, whether it’s fulfilled way down the road or in the near future. Maybe you’re in high school and you’ve decided you want to play in college, maybe you want to win a state championship, or maybe you want to make your middle school or high school team. Whatever big goal you have, voice it, write it down, and make it happen. The only thing holding you back is you.
Setting goals is great, but we set goals in order to achieve them, so it’s important to make a road map or a checklist for obtaining your goals. If you can paint a clear picture of what you need to do to reach each individual goal, it will be far easier to achieve them.
Big dreams and goals are never accomplished in one day but instead little by little with great investment and attention to detail.