By Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja)
Pitching Mental Game: “Hey do you have ID?”
One thing I’ve found very helpful in working with High School pitchers and building a pitching staff is determining what their individual and group Pitching Identity is.
To me, “Identity” helps in many ways:
1. It allows the pitcher to take pride in his role on the staff and know the value he brings.
2. The pitcher can work on weaknesses in his mindset, while also accentuating his strengths.
3. As a coach, I know what situations are the prime situations for each pitcher to excel. You know when you can optimally call on each pitcher.
4. Your pitcher will always have something to fall back on in times of stress. He knows he’s being put in a situation that is made for him, and has something he can depend on as far as “self-talk.”
5. It helps establish a pitching staff identity, pushing each pitcher to improve throughout the year and establishing a pack mentality in which your pitchers can thrive and dominate.
Identity takes many forms. Honestly, as a coach, I really don’t care much what the identity of each pitcher is, as long as it’s a real/truthful assessment of the pitcher’s strength and weakness and optimal role.
Derek Johnson, while at Vanderbilt, used to say there were three types of pitchers: A marshmallow, a rock, and a jellybean. A marshmallow melts under any heat. A jelly bean withstands heat for a while and then melts. A rock never gives into heat. His main point with those characterizations was: You need to know what you’re dealing with so you match the situation with the pitcher (while also continually improving mindsets). Those are all identities.
“Identity” could consist of things like:
Master of movement
Soft thrower/Disrupt timing
Front runner (Good with a lead/not good under pressure).
Composed under pressure
Big Game Performer
Whatever you want. There are no rules. It just has to fit the pitcher.
To come up with identities, what I like to do is talk to my pitchers. Not a formal discussion, but really to figure out what drives them, what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable. It’s important to be relatable, don’t be a dictator. Let them know that they don’t have to say what you want to hear—don’t force an identity on someone! Then also watch how they actually perform. Give them ideas of what you see their strengths and weaknesses being, such as: “Hey, I love bringing you in with a big hitter up, after a hard thrower, because you really throw off timing.” After this, you can jointly discuss identities—there has to be 100% “buy-in” or it’s just a fake ID.
The more the pitcher owns his ID, the better. It helps insure you have the right piece to the puzzle in a game situation, and you’ll know that the pitcher is mentally going to perform at his best in the given role at that time. Have each pitcher take pride in his ID!
Next, taking all of these individual Pitcher IDs, have the pitchers and you jointly come up with an identity for the staff as a whole. I like this because it gives a sense of team to all of the pitchers. Each pitcher is a piece to the bigger Pitching Staff Identity puzzle, and it helps to know what this puzzle looks like when it’s finished. It could be funny, serious, whatever…just establish a sense of the pitchers being one unit. For example, last year my pitching staff was the Regulators (Warren G/NateDogg style). We regulated the scoring of runs against the team. Again, the name or attitude isn’t important. It needs to not be forced, it’s simply what you see when you put together all of the pieces.
The ultimate result, hopefully, is a pitching staff who knows who they are, knows their role and responsibility, acts as one unit as well as individually, and feels comfortable performing and competing both internally and externally, pushing each other to another level. Make your pitching staff feel unique and special, even if it’s separate from the rest of the team.
To give an MLB example of the result of a staff with a successful identity, Noah Syndergaard described the Mets staff as follows:
“We all compete amongst ourselves in that we want to push each other to be a little bit better to become a better pitcher each and every day. At the same time, we all get along great, there is a sense of unity and brotherhood among all of us.’’
So while developing pitchers, remember to bring your ID…because a Pitching Identity can go a long way to establishing individual and staff Pitching success.