November 2018 - Tip of the Month
"Skill Thought v. Skill Action”
Technology has been an wonderful tool in the world of sports. It’s benefits are endless, but the level to which it holds athletes and coaches accountable may be its greatest perk.
The more we have used video in our program, the more it has provoked conversation and debate on the finer points of the position. And, in more than one case, it has lead to a complete shift in ideology.
Through the years we have had the pleasure of working with some incredibly talented individuals. Many college level athletes, many professional, but one thing has remained constant. The greater awareness an athlete has of how their body works and where it is in space, the easier it is for them to make considerable strides in their own development, and in relatively quick fashion.
It has always been fascinating to me that when high-level athletes are asked to explain their own processes, more often than not the answer usually has something to do with what they are thinking about before and as they execute a particular skill.
This is extremely common in all sports, but the greatest parallel I can draw is to the world of golf. Now, those of you who have ever been on a golf course with me know that I am not a great golfer. I can shoot low every now and then, but it’s by complete accident. One thing, though, that I have always heard from successful golfers I know is that maintaining a consistent "swing thought” allows you to maintain intent through the swing. Sometimes a certain mental queue can give your brain the ability to relay the signals to your body to accomplish a certain task in a certain way. If the physical response (not necessarily the result) is a positive one, your “swing thought” has merit and is helpful to you. This is only the case if the physical response is identical each time. If your movement patterns change from swing to swing, your “swing thought” isn’t really accomplishing much, and may actually be detrimental to your development.
This is no different with catchers. In fact, in many of the conversations I have had with high-level athletes, the first thing I do is ask them what their approach is to a particular skill. Just about all of them will respond with their “skill thought” and not the actual processes and patterns created through the execution of the skill. “Staying in our legs and stay low through the throw”, “Stay short and bring the ball to my ear”, “Line my nose up with the ball and fire my body to it”. These are just a few of the responses I have gotten. You want to know the funny thing about the catchers who gave these answers? None of them did any of this. Not one. Not even close.
All of these were explanations of what these particular catchers were thinking before and as they completed the skill. However, the "skill thought" didn’t describe the actual actions the body made while going through the skill. The question we must ask ourselves is this - Despite the fact that our “skill thought” leads us to repeatable and highly efficient athletic movement patterns, is it possible that those “skill thoughts” won’t work on a universal basis since they do not accurately describe what our own body actually does during a particular skill?
It’s important for us as coaches, and you guys as catchers, to make sure that what you’re being taught is not the “skill thought” that elicited a positive athletic movement pattern in our own experience, but the process by which each athlete in front of us will be efficient.
Everyone’s body is different and what one athlete is capable of another may not be,. However, there is a most efficient approach to every skill, and making sure we don’t deviate too far from that while we are building the skills in the offseason is important. Getting familiar with how your body works most efficiently is what will allow you to make impromptu adjustments in the middle of a pitch and still be successful. Without that understanding, we often see athletes looking lost on the field when something goes wrong, incapable of finding their way back to their normal.
So, what "skill thoughts" do you have and, how are they different from what you actually do? If you don’t know the answer to that question remember that technology can be our best friend, and most of you have a phone capable of recording HD video. Feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading this month’s Tip of the Month!