It’s an awful feeling to not be able to throw strikes and you, as a dad or coach, may be wondering what to say when you have to take that walk out to the mound.
You’ll need to identify why the pitcher is struggling. Assuming it’s not fatigue, and your player is quite capable of throwing strikes, it’s likely mental. Your pitcher just needs a push in the positive direction.
Approach your pitcher in any other state than calm and collected
If you cannot approach your pitcher without showing frustration, anger or impatience then send another coach (dad, we’re talking to you). You’ll just be adding fuel to the fire if your pitcher senses your negativity.
Let the first words or focus of the conversation be what the pitcher is doing wrong
“You’re not (fill in the blank)” will make your pitcher either turn a deaf ear to you or just make him/her more upset.
Tell a joke
Seriously! If you can get a laugh or smile in a time of stress you’ll help your pitcher calm down and you’ll distract him/her from the chaos he/she is feeling.
Have a calm, confident demeanor
Make this stressful situation seem under control.
Touch the player
Put a hand on the shoulder or around the back of your pitcher. This can provide a sense of calmness for your pitcher. Usually when a youth pitcher struggles the game will seem to be moving really fast for your pitcher, so help slow it down.
Recall an earlier point in the game when your pitcher was finding success
This can be a tactic to turn the mental state from negative to positive. The body follows the mind so if you can breathe confidence in your pitcher he/she will have a strong chance of getting through the mess.
Talk about what to do going forward
Living in the past in baseball is a death sentence to performance. Talk about what needs to be done going forward: "Trust yourself in this situation and let's stick with what has worked all game - you're only one pitch away from getting out of this."
Add a visualization cue
Can you recall a hitter your pitcher struck out or can you recall the quality pre-game bullpen session your pitcher executed? Remind him/her of this. Visualization is such a powerful tactic for athletes so if you can get a kid to visualize something he/she did good, confidence should follow.
Use phrases that prompt confidence
“You got this”, “I believe in you”, “The team has your back” are things that will let your pitcher know you and the team believe in him/her.
Talk to your catchers about making confident hand gestures for your pitcher when he/she needs it
The “let’s go” fist gesture is an example. A catcher that knows how to lead and work with pitchers is a pot of gold and can save you a lot of mound visits and your pitchers a lot of pitches.
Lastly, it’s best to touch on any mechanical adjustments that need to be made between innings when your pitcher is in the dugout, not on the mound (unless its fairly simple). Make sure whatever you’re trying to help your pitcher with is manageable. If you know your particular pitcher takes time to make adjustments or you see several things to change then it’s best to leave mechanical adjustments for bullpen sessions between games.
"Part of knowing what to say to your pitcher has so much to do with knowing each individual player, so take time to build relationships with your players. Each kid is different." -James Parr, Pro4mer Founder, former MLB pitcher