With his 11-year-old son playing Cal Ripken League baseball in Bermuda, James Santiago thought he could offer some help to the coaches of his son's team.
As a 25-year veteran of the police force, 17 years as an officer safety instructor, Santiago has a unique perspective on how to train young baseball players. He uses his police background as a guide to shape kids on the diamond.“A big part of opening and refresher police officer safety training is the theoretical concept,” Santiago said. “No matter what the skill or technique, it’s important to establish what we call the ‘5-W-H’ (who, what, where, when, why, and how) and EDIP (Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, and Practice). When we move from classroom theory to the gym, we must start slow and basic. Importance is given to technique before any emphasis on speed or power is introduced.”
Santiago said because two types of skills are taught – gross motor and fine motor skills – it’s important to stress the mechanics of each technique. This is a fundamental part of learning, which can be applied to baseball.
“What solidifies the students’ mastery of the technique is repetition, repetition, repetition,” Santiago stressed. “Yet, even repetition should take place under an instructor’s eye to ensure solid technique every time.”
Santiago added that what follows technique mastery is confidence.
“Appropriate confidence, well-placed and proven assurance of your ability, is that firm mental platform where gradually introducing speed and/or power can result in explosive development,” Santiago said. “Even a student can be surprised at their own development when confidence grows.”
One area where Santiago uses his background as an officer and instructor is in teaching young pitchers the correct mechanics and body movement to throw to home plate.
For players at the Cal Ripken League age, Santiago is only concerned about the pitchers’ ability to get the ball over the plate and throw strikes. He and his fellow coaches teach basic grips of two- and four-seam fastballs.
“The main thing I personally stress is comfort and balance,” Santiago said. “This is because different kids have different body builds and therefore each kid moves differently.”
Santiago uses a seven-step process in breaking down the mechanics of pitching; he will keep the description as simple as possible. This is where EDIP plays a role in Santiago’s teaching.
- 1. At set up, Santiago wants a pitcher standing tall with their back straight, but in a relaxed stance facing the catcher.
- 2. With the back foot planted – if the player is on the mound, the foot on the rubber – simply step forward with the lead foot and the toe pointing toward the catcher.
- 3. As the pitcher starts the throwing motion, the elbow should move over the head during the throw and come almost in a “chop down” stroke. Santiago said that teaches the player to get their arms up and over.
- 4. As the elbow comes down, the wrists should follow the same arc as the elbow and extend toward the catcher.
- 5. As the ball is released, Santiago wants his players to give their wrist a slight snap, which gets the ball out of the hand.
- 6. The entire arcing motion should line up directly with the plate and the catcher’s mitt as much as possible.
- 7. Sometimes, Santiago tells a player to look down the “throwing arc” with one eye open to ensure the arc lines up with the target. Santiago stressed a pitcher should keep their eyes involved in the pitch.
“Be reminded, this student audience is a young beginner with possibly some baseball experience,” Santiago said. “So at this point, I’m not concerned if the ball goes too high or bounces off the ground too low. My only concern is that the pitch is on the same line as the catcher. If the ‘embryonic’ pitcher has to come a little closer to the catcher initially, by all means, do it. With time and consistent effort, the pitch line and length will improve to give them a chance to grow.”
Santiago noted that as pitchers develop further, other points such as arm extension and hip rotation can be added in teaching.
“A youngster will need to develop an appreciation for their own body mechanics and balance when hip rotation is introduced, because rotating the hips leads to balance and weight shift,” Santiago said. “This is primarily why the basics must be covered before power aspects can be introduced.”
From GameChanger and Greg Bates