This post from our Coaches Series was written by Justin James, Assistant Coach at University of California, San Diego. He took over there in January 2017, having coached the previous two seasons at Point Loma Nazarene University. UCSD is currently 13-3. Under James’ direction, Point Loma posted a 3.15 earned run average in 2016, good for No. 10 nationally and second-best in the PacWest and West Region. The Sea Lions also ranked among the country’s top 10 in three other pitching categories, finishing second in walks allowed per nine innings (2.16), eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.23) and ninth in WHIP (1.20). Point Loma’s ERA dropped in successive years, going from 4.17 in 2014 to 3.83 in 2015.
I was the pitching coach at PLNU and implemented the Driveline program immediately after the ’15 season. After months of research between several programs I believed, understood, and connected best with the Driveline philosophy and training protocols. One of the most influential parts of the programming was, and is, having a plan that includes intensity and hard work with limited-to-no excuses.
Having a data-drive pitching program for monitoring and motivational purposes is what I wanted to run. Being the pitching coach who constantly barked after each pitch in a pen or warm-up and guessed what was happening in training or delivery is what I knew I didn’t want to be. Having clear warm-up and post-throwing protocols based on workload was essential and should be in any pitching program.
One of the most underrated parts to the program is the ability of the Plyo Balls to sufficiently warm up an athlete BEFORE they started playing catch. I’m sure it’s been written several times, but warming up to play catch is better than playing catch to warm up.
The Plyo Ball also became the pitching coach. Overload and constraint training significantly changed what old PC verbiage “tried” to do: in other words, “get your arm up in time,” “land in a straight line,” “load the scaps,” “stay connected at footstrike”…the list goes on and on.
We are in the age of developing players as individuals and not be prescribed cookie cutter advice. This is exactly what this program has done for my staff. Their bodies reorganize themselves through various overload/underload training with intent. This program has also started to teach a certain mentality on the mound as well. When we trained with intent and purpose, the benefits easily spilled over into mound presence, approach and confidence.
Moving Driveline to a New Staff – 30 Days to First Pitch
When approached to take over a new pitching staff at UCSD, it was difficult to leave the training atmosphere, routine, and approach that had been established the past few seasons. However, the new HC was extremely into the process and also believed in this approach to training pitchers, which made the transition easier.
— Justin James (@CoachJames_3) January 5, 2017
I knew my staff had to be a Driveline staff. However, the main issue was a concern about there not being enough time—which is similar to what many HS/college programs hear and say about the program at conventions.
This is common misconception I’ve run across: timing on when to start the program.
Do you wait till summer, Christmas break, fall ball?
In my specific case, I had 30 days until first pitch. When you get a hold of HTKC, the training programs provided are a fantastic tool for everyone and cover almost every unique situation.
What makes the program beyond special is the built-in freedom based on feel and the ability to customize to YOUR specific needs as a coach and player. One of these training programs/phases provided is called “On Ramping.”On Ramping is just like getting on a freeway, you need to start slowly and build up speed before flooring it.Click To Tweet
This is where I started with my new staff.
When asked if I would implement the Driveline training immediately, my answer was 100% yes. The second question asked was how I would do this. My answer was “An On Ramping Blend of a Blend.” This means that it would be an on ramping but with many freedoms and blends to help get ready for the fast-approaching season.
No program is or should be set in stone, and there has to be room for tweaks and personalization. In this case, the whole staff would be closely monitored daily to make sure everything was done correctly. However, before that, it is imperative for today’s pitchers to know the “why” before total buy in can happen.
It’s ok for a pitcher or parent to be skeptical, because it’s their career, not yours. In fact, I welcome it because it presents an opportunity to show how the training is not guess work or a time filler. If a pitcher knows why we do each drill, warm-up, recovery, and their relationship to health and specific movement patterns, the results speak for themselves.
How the Transition Happened
Everyone wants a what-to-do list when starting something new. I am no different, so I’ll walk you through my specific situation during this transition from PLNU to UCSD:
- Make sure your HC is on board for timing purposes before each practice. It doesn’t take long to get ready; it’s actually more efficient when done correctly. If that means adding a base running or individual D segment to practice to allow a proper warm-up, it’s easy to do and the benefits are immeasurable.
- Buy Hacking The Kinetic Chain, read it, then reread it.
- Set up a time to go over the video examples with your staff or find some way of sharing them. Imprint the movements they will be performing, and explain WHY each drill is part of the daily routine.
- Get your pitchers assessed. This will help you make individual tweaks in how to provide optimal programming for your pitchers. program. I was lucky it was done before I got here. You may be surprised to learn that many people do not do this. I was really lucky that someone had done it before I started. It’s great when one of your staff members knows someone to help provide this function for your local team to keep them healthy and fit.
- Buy video equipment. The reality is not everyone has $10,000 cameras like the Driveline team. However, I am a huge fan of video ,and a new iPad or phone have capabilities to get started with—so don’t be discouraged. Some coaches don’t believe in spending so much time with videos because it makes them think about “mechanics” too much. I’m the complete opposite. I provide constant video for my staff. (Velos as well—they waste precious time trying to get it too.) Simply set up a photo-sharing folder for each guy, add new footage every time, or simply look back every few months to see improvements. This is invaluable in my opinion. It’s important because the intent (aka intentions) behind daily drills can improve when watching and fully understanding what the coach is talking about instead of guessing. Very rarely, if not ever, do I ever guess when asked about what they thought I saw. Guessing is a waste of time and often wrong.
- Purchase the daily items needed: foam roller, LAX ball, shoulder tube, wrist weights, bands, Plyo/Weighted Ball set and a mini trampoline. You can do this without spending a lot. Be creative; you don’t need to get ripped off. Search Amazon, Driveline’s site, or Craigslist for these items. I always say split it with someone! This helps not only cheaper but you also instantly have an accountability partner to train with, which is invaluable. When in doubt, ask for it for your birthday or as a Christmas gift.
- Ask questions! Find local PCs or programs in the area that are part of the Driveline family. Of course, the customer service at Driveline is unmatched; the amount of dumb questions I asked them was comical when I first started. On top of that they provide the most free content out there.
Once these items were acquired, it was time to implement. I created a simple chart to help the guys get comfortable with how a week looks. Hacking The Kinetic Chain provides this, but, once again, you can make it your own. Here is an example of what our guys see every day and are provided with:
My Staff On Ramping Freedom – Day 0 – 14
Introduce the routine/expectations, and demo the whys. The staff then experimented with each weight and drill at 60% perceived intensity. I filmed each guy’s bullpen and Plyo work to establish a baseline understanding on how each pitcher moved. I kept the guys on what I called an “On Ramp Freedom” for each throw day. Listening to their arms and giving me feedback daily was the goal. I didn’t force intensities yet; I just focused on helping them get comfortable with the new daily routines/habits.
One suggestion to try is to allow for taxed days to be Plyo only (catch play is not mandatory certain days) or for them to determine the reps when starting so close to season. For catch play, we predominantly stayed in the extension phase and used our pulldowns or compression throws for PFP and team defense to control the initial new stressors.
You must stay on top of their post-throwing recovery too because it is often new to some pitchers and creating that habit is essential for durability and staying healthy. Personally, I would rather have a kid leave a drill early and get his post-throwing protocols in than stay in a drill for only a few reps and rush off to class and do nothing to start the recovery process.
— Justin James (@CoachJames_3) February 9, 2017
On Ramping Blend to Season Freedom – Day 15 – 30
Now the staff is familiar with the routine and timing of each day’s events. They all have videos of their delivery off a mound and during Plyo work. I started slowly on their higher-output Plyo days (typically a Bullpen Day) to get velo baselines on each drill and each ball (see the sheet provided in Hacking The Kinetic Chain).
Once that was done, I put into the plan the intensities at which I wanted each day to be. Often, they don’t know exactly what the percentage of intensity means, so having the radar gun to show them helps. This is no different from lifting and having a percentage chart to go off of. Once again though, I will always allow freedom in this. I have had to push some guys from being too careful, which is completely natural and part of the learning curve. When they have more understanding of the drills and purpose, I start to tweak drills based on their individual needs.
Some guys need more Walking Windups and some need more Pivot Picks as an example. This is where having video plays a huge roll. Show your pitcher his footage off the mound. Target the specific part of the movement you want to concentrate on. When they see it, they get it; when they only hear it, they don’t always grasp it.
Then, some simple guidance can come in. You can mention during a specific drill that you want them to feel this for the first 5 reps or so. The second set of 5 is all theirs, so they can do what they want and let their bodies reorganize themselves. This has been more effective than trying to bring up the issues and guesses during a bullpen.
This is a great way to not guess; rather, it is a great way to coach and use the warm-up process as the teaching time, which lets you leave the bullpen to PITCHING. Finally, during this time period, I have left catch play almost 100% up to them. With bullpens, in season game work, practice reps, lifting, and added Plyo work, I don’t need to be as concerned with how much they long toss—even though I do stress how much of a fan I am of it.
I call my program the “No Seat Belts Plan.” If they’re feeling great, let them eat. If they’re feeling taxed, tell them to listen to their arms. I do monitor catch play, but I also make sure a pitcher isn’t consistently under working, and then talk it out with him.