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Having graduated with a Human Development degree from Boston College, I sometimes try to find better ways I can get across to my players when teaching movement patterns. I recently thought about how I can incorporate The Stages of Learning in my instruction to shed light on the process it takes in learning a new task or skill. The task, in this case, is creating the most efficient throwing mechanics into a pitching delivery. With this article, I hope to open your mind to the process of learning and how I use it to teach a new client proper throwing mechanics.
“I don’t know what I don’t know”
In this stage of unconscious incompetence, the client does not know what we teach or the process that it involves. For some of my younger clients, this is a good thing because I am getting a blank slate. Through the evaluation process, I get a feel for the player’s movement patterns and habits by playing catch and finding out about their daily throwing routine. I then get video of throwing form whether he or she is a position player or pitcher. During the evaluation, I also ask questions see if I can information on past instructors, injury history if any, things that hey would like to achieve by coming here and general information about the clients. We go through the video analysis and focus on things they do well and what we can improve on. This is an important stage because it enlightens the client and family on things they were unaware of and a starting point to move forward in the learning process.
“I now know about it but I am not very good at it”
In stage 2, we focus on teaching the proper throwing movements through concepts of body positions and drills to help us get there. We focus on the upper body first and move into lower half blending when ready. Everyone is different in the way our bodies are built, and in this stage, learning can be harder to get because the movements being taught are a little uncomfortable, especially if the client has been playing for a few years. You are conscious of the mistakes you are making and feel hesitant to let your body move into the positions correctly. Don’t worry this happens to everyone at some point when beginning to learn a new task. Once the player allows themselves to complete the movements smoothly, it’s time to graduate to the next stage.
“I know how, but I need to think about and concentrate on what I have to do”
Stage 3 is learning how to concentrate on the movements and drills you have been working on and translating them into practice throws. I always talk about the importance a simple game of playing catch. Players of all ages, but especially younger players, can quickly develop bad habits by not controlling their thought process during warm-up throws. We try to enforce a purpose while playing catch. Having the ability to make adjustments and limit mistakes by slowing down and having a routine (or thought process) is key in this stage. Again concentrating on what the player knows and feels during the drills then applying it to warm up and practice throws will make the difference going into the next stage. We need to push through this stage by having a repeatable consistent mental and physical approach to the throwing mechanics.
“I know and can do it effortlessly”
The jump from Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competence is probably the greatest jump out of all the stages to sustain on a consistent basis. Stage 4 is where I feel most MLB players get with their mental/physical preparation routines and in-game performance. The movements that have been worked on from stage one are now unconsciously automatic and repeatable. The unconscious mind can take over the thought process and body movements of the throwing mechanics. This unconscious mind allows the conscious mind to focus on something else, like pitch selection or a batter’s weaknesses. This is why it is so important in stage 3 to work on slowing the delivery and routine down and add game situations as a focus to practice. This may involve holding runners as a pitcher or turning double plays in the middle infield. Throwing to the bases with a batter in the box as a catcher. I try to incorporate exercises such as having to make a pitch during certain counts, changing holds and legs lifts out of the stretch, and even live at-bats to promote competition. Getting to this stage is an amazing accomplishment in itself but is surprisingly not the final stage of learning.
“Somewhat impossible to put into words”
Think about the terms “flow” and “mastery” and think about someone you consider for those words. It is a very rare thing to reach this stage of learning in any sense, let alone the game of baseball. You may have experienced this state for a brief period, maybe an inning, but most likely never over a sustained period of time. In fact, I can only think of a few who fit this Flow/Mastery category in today’s day in age in pitching. Clayton Kershaw comes to mind immediately. In the clip below is Clayton Kershaw two hours before his start in game 5 of the 2017 World Series, working on his delivery and fake throws…without a ball! This may sound like something someone in stage 4 would do but the biggest difference between someone in stage 4 (being great) and someone in stage 5 (being a master) is their dedication to continuing to work on their craft, with unwavering focus, every single chance they get. Every movement and every through is done with 100% focus in stages 1-4. This level of focus allows you the chance to experience Flow and become a Master of your craft. If a person gets to this stage of learning with anything in their life, they will be successful.
It is always a choice to hang up the towel after the first time you fail. Trying something new for the first time can be frustrating if you don’t accomplish what you originally set out to do. Before you get mad at the situation or yourself, think about all the people who have failed at something and never gave up. Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb on his first try, a quote he said “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”. Babe Ruth even said, “Don’t let the fear of striking out get in your way”. My point is that learning something new is hard and it takes a significant amount concentration and dedication along with many mistakes and failures to master the skill or task at hand. I hope you can use this article to understand the Stages of Learning and apply to whatever you are trying to accomplish!