Copyright 2003
Coaching Pitchers
By Michael G. Marshall, Ph.D.

     Chapter Thirty-Four:   Motor Development, Learning and Skill Acquisition

         a.   General Motor Skill Characteristics

     Reaction times, limb movement speeds, kinesthesis, sense awareness, balances, mechanical aptitudes and coordination are basic motor skill characteristics.   Reaction times measure how quickly students respond to stimuli.   Limb movement speed measure how quickly students move limbs between assigned locations.   Kinesthesis measures how well students replicate assigned body segments alignments.   Sense awareness measures how well students perceive minimal stimuli changes.   Static and dynamic balance measure how well students stand perfectly still and walk narrow rails.   Mechanical aptitudes measure how well students perform fine hand-eye manipulations.   Coordination measures how well students perform unfamiliar motor skills.

     Coaches do not typically have research equipment required to measure these attributes.   The American Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) has a youth fitness testing program that measures one mile run time, body fat percentage, sit and reach flexibility, bent-knee sit-ups and pull-ups.   While most coaches know that how students perform physical fitness tests does not measure motor skill abilities, some coaches still measure vertical jump to indicate football, basketball and baseball motor abilities.   Vertical jump ability relates to vertical jump muscle leverage and vertical jump muscle contractility.   Vertical jumping does not predict motor skill abilities in any sport.

     In 1960, Franklin Henry, found that students perform motor skills at ability levels equal to practice durations.   Students do not have general motor abilities.   Many undeterminable factors influence how well students perform motor skills.   After physical education teachers evaluated elementary school students’ motor skill abilities, they predicted who would become outstanding middle school athletes.   These motor skill experts correctly predicted only twenty-five percent of outstanding middle school athletes.   Prior to completed biological maturity, motor skill acquisition experts cannot predict future motor skill excellence.

     Physical education teachers and coaches should either choose specific sport skill tests or design sport skill tests.   The AAHPERD has sport skill tests for football, basketball, softball, volleyball and archery.   Other researchers developed sport skill tests for tennis, badminton, bowling, handball, racquetball, soccer, golf, swimming and gymnastics.

     The Testing Research Council for the AAHPERD has eight sport skill design criteria.
1.   Tests measure sport's critical motor skills.
2.   Accuracy reliability exceeds .70.
3.   Wall volley, obstacle course and maximum distance reliabilities exceed .80.
4.   Tests help students practice sport skills.
5.   Tests have objective scoring.
6.   Tests distinguish between superior, above average, average, below average and inferior performances.
7.   Tests function at all school grades and ages.
8.   Test results distribute normally.

     To design sport skill tests, motor skill teachers progress through nine processes.
1.   Define sport skill’s instructional objectives.
2.   Specifically describe sport skill.
3.   Select equipment to measure sport skill.
4.   Pre-test small, representative student sample.
5.   Adjust test appropriately.
6.   Test entire student sample.
7.   Determine test statistical reliability.
8.   Appropriately adjust test.
9.   Develop test’s local statistical norms.

         b.   Instructional Blueprints

     Instructional blueprints are formal, systematic lesson plans that precisely describe students’ motor skill learning environments.   To design pitching instructional blueprints, coaches must biomechanically analyze pitching, create pitching motor skill learning steps and precisely describe pitchers’ daily learning environments.

             1.   Biomechanical Analysis

     Motor skill tests typically measure accuracies, wall volley numbers in prescribed time periods, obstacle course time to traverse and maximum distances.   After students achieve specific high skill levels, these evaluation types may have value, but they do not evaluate motor skill critical aspects, how children perform them.   For example, how fast pitches arrive at home plate, what pitches enroute to home plates and where pitches cross home plates become relevant only after pitchers perfect how they apply force to pitches to releases.   Therefore, biomechanists must thoroughly analyze how students should apply forces in motor skills before researchers develop motor skill learning steps and before teachers test students’ abilities to perform motor skills.

     Professional baseball scouts evaluate only how fast and accurately pitchers throw pitches.   However, these factors become relevant only after pitchers perfect how they apply force to pitches.   Therefore, after pitching coaches thoroughly biomechanically analyze the pitching motor skill, they develop pitching’s learning steps.

     Pitching coaches tell pitchers, 'just throw naturally.' If pitchers threw naturally, then why do they injure pitching arms? Newton’s three motion laws and pitching arm anatomy determine proper pitching motions.   With practice, all pitching motions feel natural.   Therefore, all pitchers should practice Newton’s ideal pitching motor unit contraction and relaxation sequence.   In addition to Newton’s pitching motion, coaches must understand how pitchers learn motor skills.

     Unfortunately, this three step procedure’s weak link is biomechanists’ lack of agreement on how students should apply forces in motor skills.   At present, motor skill teachers frequently avoid criticism by telling students to just do whatever feels natural.   Nevertheless, teachers must evaluate how students perform motor skills, not performance results.   Only perfect practice makes perfect performances.   But, how can students practice perfectly when teachers do not know perfect motor skill techniques?

             2.   Motor Skill Learning Steps

     Simple motor skills do not require learning steps.   When students learn bicycle riding, they practice the whole bicycle riding skill.   However, complex motor skills require learning steps.   Learning steps require youngsters to learn parts separately and, later, combine parts into whole.   Pitching is complex motor skill.

     To design complex motor skills’ learning steps, coaches determine each motor skill’s distinctly separate phases.   Next, they determine each motor skill’s most critical phases.   Then, they design specific instructions and learning environments to teach youngsters how to master each motor skill’s most critical phase.   Lastly, they repeat these processes for remaining phases.

     To design pitching’s learning steps, coaches first determine pitching’s phases.   Next, coaches determine pitching’s most critical phase.   Then, coaches design specific instructions and learning environments to teach pitchers pitching’s critical phase.   After coaches determine, define, design and disseminate pitching’s critical phase, they repeat the processes for remaining phases.

     Pitching has transition, upper arm acceleration, forearm acceleration, deceleration and recovery phases.   Forearm acceleration is pitching’s most critical phase.   Pitching’s remaining descending importance order is transition, upper arm acceleration, deceleration and recovery.   The specific instructions and learning environments for pitching are swing to forearm leverage throws, wrong foot throws, step-through throws, windup throws and set position throws.

             3.   Learning Environments

     Learning environments encompass everything external and internal that influence students’ abilities to learn motor skills.   As much as possible, coaches control learning environments.   Coaches help students to appropriately activate internal learning processes.   Coaches teach biomechanical principles.   Coaches provide outstanding performance examples.   Coaches set realistic short-term and long-term goals.   Quality learning environments equally benefit all students.

         c.   Internal Learning Processes

     Learning pitching skills requires that pitchers activate internal learning processes.   How timely and well pitchers learn pitching relates to when and how well they activate ten internal learning processes.

             1.   Readiness

     Readiness refers to pitchers readiness to learn pitching.   Coaches appropriately train pitchers for pitching’s physical demands.   Coaches convince pitchers that they can learn pitching.   Pitchers adopt appropriate learning dispositions.

             2.   Arousal

     Arousal refers to pitchers’ activation states.   Over-aroused pitchers attend to too many stimuli.   Anxieties increase activation states beyond functional levels.   Conversely, under-aroused pitchers attend to too few stimuli.   Pitcher indifference decreases activation states below functional levels.   Coaches determine appropriate activation states and maintain arousal levels throughout instructional blueprints.

             3.   Perception

     Perception refers to pitchers correctly interpreting coaches' instructions.   Coaches give simple, precise and encouraging instructions.   Pitchers maintain sufficient attention spans and verbal comprehensions to understand instructions.   Within normal intelligence ranges, pitchers’ cognitive abilities do not significantly effect how well they learn pitching.

             4.   Planning

     Planning refers to pitchers’ time commitments, energies and internal learning processes for the why, how, when and where they will learn pitching.   Until pitchers develop personal plans, they just show up.   Pitchers must commit to learn pitching.

             5.   Internalize

     Internalize refers to pitchers translating coaches’ instructions into personal codes.   Learning is personal and private.   Pitchers attach personally meaningful pitching cues.   Pitchers must visualize how to pitch.   Pitchers must feel how to pitch.   Pitchers must create personal pitching languages.

             6.   Memory

     Memories are short-term and long-term.   Short-term memory is the working memory that people use every day to attend to daily learning.   People store long-term memories for future reference.   In 1973, Gene Mauch told me how he had planned to score a cheap run off of Sandy Koufax.   He said that when he had a baserunner on second base with less than two outs, he planned to start the baserunner and have the batter bunt towards first base.   If the first baseman fielded the bunt and threw it to Sandy covering first base, then the baserunner would round third base and race Sandy's throw to home plate.   Gene did not believe that Sandy could throw well when he was not on the mound.   I stored this story in my long-term memory.

             7.   Retrieval

     Retrieval refers to pitchers entering long-term memories to retrieve information.   Pitchers personally categorize information for long-term storage and retrieve those categories when they require information.   If pitchers cannot quickly retrieve information, then that information cannot help performances.   Tied score, top of the twelfth, Dodgers playing the Cubs in Chicago.   I am on second base with one out.   Rick Auerbach hits a swinging bunt towards first base.   Gene Mauch's Sandy Koufax story pops to my consciousness.   I put my head down and sprinted to third base, ignored third base coach Tom Lasorda, rounded third base and raced towards home plate.   Cubs catcher Randy Hundley had followed the batted ball and did not expect me to try to score.   I scored and we won the game.   My long-term memory categories and retrieval worked.

             8.   Anticipation

     Anticipation refers to pitchers correctly assigning responses to relevant stimuli.   Until pitchers determine and practice responses to relevant stimuli, they cannot succeed in competitions.

             9.   Decisive

     Decisive refers to pitchers analyzing relevant stimuli and choosing correct performance responses.   Only after pitchers make decisions and actuate them can they gain experiences that result in quality performances.   When coaches do not permit pitchers to decide, they retard performance developments.   Coaches must never intimidate pitchers.   Pitchers must never fear failure.   Fear of failure insures failure.

             10.   Analysis

     Analysis refers to pitchers correctly evaluating practice and competitive performances.   If pitchers incorrectly analyze themselves, then they cannot improve.   Whether pitchers evaluate performances to be better or worse than actual makes no difference, both incorrect evaluations retard improvement.   Coaches must help pitchers to correctly analyze themselves.

         d.   Classifying Motor Skills

     Motor skills differ in many ways.   Researchers classify motor skills as follows.

             1.   Fine or Gross Motor Skills

     Motor skills are fine or gross depending on muscle fiber numbers per motor nerve in performing motor units.   Because pitching requires pitchers to precisely locate pitches in strike zones, pitching is a fine motor skill.

             2.   Discrete, Serial or Continuous Motor Skills

     Motor skills are discrete, serial or continuous depending on time periods that students control them.   Discrete motor skills have distinct beginnings and distinct endings.   Pitching is a discrete motor skill.   Serial motor skills require that students perform a series of operations.   Ground ball fielding and baseball throwing to correct locations is a serial motor skill.   Continuous motor skills require that students continuously use their sensory feedback to adjust and control them.   Mountain climbing is a continuous motor skill.

             3.   Closed-Loop or Open-Loop Motor Skills

     Motor skills are closed-loop or open-loop depending on whether students receive performance sensory feedback in time to adjust.   Closed-loop motor skills return students’ sensory feedback in time to adjust.   Baseball fielding is a closed-loop motor skill.   Open-loop motor skills do not return performance sensory feedback in time to adjust.   Pitching is an open-loop motor skill.

             4.   Initiator or Responder Motor Skills

     Depending on whether students initiate performances or respond to someone else’s performance, motor skills are either initiator or responder.   With initiator motor skills, students initiate performances.   Pitching is an initiator motor skill.   With responder motor skills, students respond to someone else’s initiated motor skill.   Batting is a responder motor skill.

         e.   Motor Skill Instruction Methods

     Teaching initiator motor skills differs from teaching responder motor skills.   Teaching low-skilled students differs from teaching high-skilled students.

             1.   Guided Learning Instruction

     Guided learning instruction means that teachers completely structure students’ daily motor skill learning environments.   At low-skill levels, teachers guide all motor skill learning.   At high-skill levels, teachers guide only initiator motor skill learning.   Guided learning succeeds where motor skills requires that all students respond the same to simple, precise and encouraging instructions.

             2.   Problem Solving Instruction

     Problem solving instruction means that students solve performance problems.   All responder motor skills require problem solving instruction.   High-skilled students benefit from problem solving instruction.   If students cannot perform motor skills without conscious awareness, then they cannot anticipate opponents' performance varieties.   Responder motor skills require much more practice time to master than initiator motor skills.

         f.   Practice Principles

     Before practices, coaches prepare pitchers for learning environments.   They communicate what they expect pitchers to accomplish, describe appropriate learning attitudes and motivate.

     Motor skills that require students to catch, throw, strike or kick objects have optimal competitive velocities and accuracy’s.   Coaches should start pitchers at low limb movement velocities and, as techniques and specific fitness increase, gradually increase to competitive velocities.   Then, coaches introduce the accuracy with which pitchers pitch.

     Physical fitness is specific to the muscle fibers students use to perform motor skills.   Consequently, low-skilled students cannot be physically fit to perform any motor skills.   Therefore, early in instructional blueprints, teachers must schedule frequent rest periods.   High-skilled students benefit from continuous practices with few rest periods.   Teachers must help students understand that high quality perfect practices result in high quality competitive performances.   After students accomplish high-skilled performances and specific fitness, they must emulate competitive circumstances.   To sustain practice motivation, teachers must vary practice routines.   Teachers must always show enthusiastic positive interest.

     When students correctly imagine competitive circumstances and how to correctly perform, they activate proper performance techniques.   When students cannot physically practice motor skills, they can mentally rehearse motor skills.

     Several factors explain why performances stop improving.   Teachers may demand more than students can handle.   Present abilities may satisfy students.   Students may have lost motivations. Therefore, teachers must continually evaluate students’ practice motivations, methods and energies.   Also, teachers must continually evaluate the goal-directedness, scheduling, the distribution of the motor skills and the order in which they present the motor skills.

     Teachers must carefully control psychological influences that enhance or retard training.   They must carefully evaluate the role of training facilitators (Training facilitators are anything that influences training).

     Some coaches yell at pitchers to work harder.   Other coaches encourage pitchers to work harder.   Some coaches use music, inspirational sayings, prayers, and so on.   However, when pitchers rely on coaches or something else to motivate them, they do not control learning.   Whether negative or positive, extrinsic motivation limits students.

     Negative intrinsic motivation, where pitchers do not believe that they can succeed, also limits learning.   However, when pitchers have positive intrinsic motivation, where they believe that they can succeed, has no limits.   Positive intrinsically motivated pitchers achieve all training programs have to offer.   When positively intrinsic pitchers train in quality programs, they succeed beyond their dreams.

     Coaches should promote positive intrinsic learning.   They should permit pitchers to train alone or with selected training partners.   To insure that pitchers know where training programs are going, coaches should explain whole programs.   Coaches should give pitchers learning responsibility.   When pitchers improve performances, coaches should share the joy.   Coaches should teach pitchers improvement effort leads to winning.   Coaches should make training programs fun, without gimmicks.   Coaches should encourage pitchers to be their personal bests, not team bests.

         g.   Evaluation Principles

     When past experiences and motor skill practices permanently change how students perform motor skills, they have learned those motor skills.   Motor skill learning increases students’ abilities to predictably and repeatedly perform motor skills.   When students effortlessly perform motor skills at expectation levels, they have mastered those motor skills.   After pitchers master how to perfectly apply force to pitches, how fast pitches reach home plates, how quickly pitches change directions en route to home plates and/or where pitches cross home plates are valid pitching evaluations.   However, coaches should permit pitchers sufficient practice time to physically, psychologically and cognitively prepare for pitching evaluations.

FREE BOOK!!!                          Chapter Thirty-Five