Warm ups are often an overlooked part of practice or games when it comes to improving as a player. Viewed more as a time to loosen up, players can maximize this time to develop good habits and mechanics that will translate to the game.
A pregame or practice throwing routine should be done with focus and intent on solidifying good habits and creating repeatable mechanics that will be used in a game. This is done by approaching every single rep with a purpose and simply not just going through the motions.
Although difficult day in and day out, it’s these habits that separate the great players from the good players. The ability to consistently perform over the course of a season, and minimize errors are qualities of every high-level player.
Creating Repeatable Habits
Before every practice or game, players go through their throwing routine to loosen up their arms. This can be accomplished by making some throws without much thought or focusing on mechanics, and the player will get sufficiently warm. However, this is a big missed opportunity to improve every single practice or game.
While players are required to throw at different arm angles at times, infielders especially, most in-game throws are going to come from the same arm slot and in the same motion as every other throw. So why not practice repeating this same motion over and over again during warm ups?
There are a few areas to focus on to maximize a throwing routine.
- Glove transfer location: Players should determine where they feel most comfortable transferring the baseball from their glove to their throwing hand. This could be around the armpit, center of the chest, or stomach. It can be situation and position specific, but during warm ups, players should work on consistently transferring the baseball in the same spot every time to create that habit. That way the throwing motion is always starting from the same point, and the body knows exactly what to do.
- Arm slot: For infielders, it’s necessary to work on different arm slots, and this should be practiced with intent during warm ups. Outfields, catchers, and pitchers, have more repeatable arm slots, and the focus should be on consistently maintaining the same arm slot every single throw.
- Footwork: Being deliberate and purposeful with footwork is one of the most common areas players lack focus during their warm ups. Focusing on stepping toward the target, properly lining up, and quick footwork can be perfected during warm ups. Players should take the approach that warm ups are not just for getting their arms loose, but rather warming up every part of the throwing motion.
Quality Over Effort
There needs to be a distinction between the effort and quality of a repetition. A max effort rep does not equal quality, and a quality rep doesn’t necessarily mean it’s max effort. The best example of this is the throws made early on in the warm up routine. These throws are not at all close to 100% max effort, but they still need to be quality reps, meaning proper mechanics, footwork, and arm slot are prioritized.
It can be easy to mistake this aspect especially when watching players of really high caliber. Watching MLB players warm up, it often looks like they are being “lazy” or not putting much effort into each rep. This isn’t at all the case, they may look lazy because their mechanics are smooth and effortless, but they are working on their mechanics every single throw and setting themselves up to be successful in the game at game-speed.
Developing Confidence Through Repetition
An underrated aspect of taking this approach to a warm up routine is the confidence it can create. Every baseball player has been in a funk where they struggle to throw the ball accurately, and things just don’t feel right. Good, repeatable mechanics can help minimize or eliminate these instances.
For example, if players develop a really consistent transfer location after every single time they catch a ball, this can create confidence in a way that they know as long as they successfully field a ball, the rest is a repeatable motion they have done thousands of times. Removing the guesswork of where to transfer the ball and which arm slot to use, eliminates a lot of variables and allows for players to be much more consistent.
Setting a Higher Standard
Warm ups set the tone for every practice and game. Starting off the day with an intense focus will translate to other parts of the game or practice. Focusing on every rep, especially during something as simple as playing catch, also creates a good mental habit and approach for other drills.
This mindset pushes players to not be satisfied with low-quality reps no matter what they player is doing. For example, if an infielder is lazy with their reps and out of 10 ground balls in practice makes one bad throw and one fielding error, they now have a fielding percentage of .800 which is very poor. This can easily be shaken off in practice, but these can be crucial mistakes in a game that can change the course of a team’s season.
In summary, setting the tone through warming up can positively translate to all other aspects of the game. We also encourage players to push themselves even during the mundane parts of practice such as getting loose. Don’t be satisfied with 9 out of 10 good throws, but rather 99 out of 100. Set a new standard and raise the bar. This level of consistency is what separates equally talented players from one another.