Growth is Often Painful

By: Jill Wolforth

I ask for your indulgence this week as my blog is rather lengthy but I believe worth the read. 

What’s the purpose of practice?  In a conversation earlier this month, Coach Wolforth said “The purpose of practice is to grow.  And growth frequently requires pain and failure.”

For many of us however, we want to have our athletes “be confident”.  We want them to feel good so we often do things in the practice setting to create success and confidence.  Unfortunately, competition can quickly erode that confidence. 

An example would be a batting practice that’s thrown at a speed, one speed, which the hitter can smash.  We think his/her confidence is being built but it is often very short lived when you meet up with a pitcher that changes speeds and locations.

Here’s a non-baseball analogy, Coach Wolforth is training to be a boxer and I’m his sparring partner.  After several months of training, he’s quite confident, that is until he steps in the ring with Mike Tyson.  This is, in essence, what many of us do with our players.

With that in mind, let me jump to some things I’ve seen as I’ve watched numerous games this Spring, several times being surprised, and most of the time, not in a good way.  I believe they are areas where growth can occur.

Several weeks ago, I witnessed a college team, in the third game of a series, during in and outs, not be able to complete throws to the plate because too many of their outfielder’s arms were sore. 

Similarly, I’ve been taken back by the poor throwing arms of so many outfielders, and especially surprised that many of these same players have other tools that are A+.  I don’t understand why one doesn’t work to improve one’s limitations or constraints.  Yet, when the opportunity presents itself, during pregame, players don’t go past 90 feet when they warm up.  Just a little extra work every day would bring about some improvement.

I guess because I was a former outfielder myself, this rubs me the wrong way and the next comment I’m about to make may be my biggest outfielding pet peeve of all.  Let me set it up for you, during in and outs, the team is performing a cut on the throw from the outfield to home.  The outfielder is supposed to make the throw to the plate and the catcher calls for the cut and to which base the next throw should be made.

The cutoff man should mean NOTHING to the outfielder other than a target to ‘hose’ the ball THROUGH on its way to the plate.  But, that’s not what I see 90% of the time.  Instead, most outfielders are throwing the ball TO the cutoff, and time and time again, I see the ball barely making it to the cutoff.  It’s simply mind boggling to me.  If you’re not one that typically watches in and outs, I encourage you to really watch this at your next game. 

It’s one thing if the athletes aren’t capable.  It’s another just to let it slide.  We always talk about controlling what you can control and this is certainly controllable.

Let’s talk about an area of growth for hitters.  A couple of times this season I’ve watched a weekend college series in which a team threw a very high number of off speed pitches (for strikes).  The number was at least 50% and to a couple of specific hitters, the number was more like 60-70%. In one series, one young man, in 12 ABs saw only 5 fastballs.  I ask the question, “If you know you’re going to get a breaking ball, or some type of off speed once or twice in the at bat, for a strike, wouldn’t you go up looking for it and salivating?”

The answer, “Not if you don’t work on it”.  Not if your BP is primarily hitter friendly fastballs.  And even if off speed is added to the mix, you’ll typically see one of two things, the round is all off speed so it’s not game like or the hitter’s take that pitch rather than having it be the focus of the batting practice.

When I played, it made me laugh when a teammate said, “I only swing at my pitch”.  That’s a fantastic theory until until you face someone that doesn’t throw ‘your’ pitch.   This is not to say that you have to completely go away from what you do best, but you must work to make it the best match up you can and tip the scale in your favor.

There would be some coaches that would agree with me and who would tell their players “We need to adjust and do ______” (take away the outside fastball, for example).  That may be exactly right but again, if you haven’t worked on it, you can’t be surprised or upset when the players don’t execute it.

I would probably agree there’s nothing better than crushing a fastball but Tori Hunter is quoted as saying, “Breaking balls are a gift from God” so one could say it’s a matter of perspective.  I would say it’s a matter of preparation.  Let’s be able to hit either based on the situation.

Yes, sometimes you have to tip your hat to a guy but normally we’re simply not prepared.  We haven’t made practice about growth.  Part of that growth can actually be about adjustment.  How often do you change something up in your practice to force an adjustment, to get out of a comfort zone?  I personally believe this should be done in some way during every practice.

Finally, so you don’t think I’m going to leave pitchers out this week, here are some areas  for growth…

First, I see pitchers being afraid of the barrel so they nibble, nibble, nibble.  Hitters will get themselves out a significant amount of the time.  It’s a good idea to identify the one or two hitters you’re not going to let beat you in critical situations.  Other than that, keep pressure on the hitters.

Next, pitchers bouncing fastballs out in front of the plate.  I’m not saying breaking balls.  If you’re bouncing fastballs in front of the plate, you’re not ready for prime time and you need to go back to work.

The 0-2 waste pitch.  Can we at least make it an 0-2 competitive or purpose pitch, not something that the hitter can completely ignore?  I’ve seen too many 0-2 waste pitches end up as 2-2 counts before you know it and often resulting in walks which doesn’t need to happen.  Is an 0-2 hit really much different than a 3-2 hit?  Yes, I guess, if you consider the pitchers pitch count is elevated by three pitches when he goes 3-2.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you throw the 0-2 down main street.  I’m saying it should have a purpose such as changing the hitter’s vertical or horizontal vision or changing his timing.  Again, it’s a purpose pitch and typically that purpose is to set up the next one.  If it’s a waste pitch, nothing has been achieved other than one more pitch on your pitch count.

Lastly, if your team puts a run on the board, you need to come out and fill the zone with strikes.  I’ve now lost count of how many times this year I’ve seen a pitcher walk the first batter after his team has scored.  And numerous times, it’s happened when an offense has really had to scratch back only to have their momentum lost by a pitcher who doesn’t come out ready to do his job.

Growth occurs from an honest look at our strengths and weaknesses.  However, self-reflection is often difficult and painful when it exposes our flaws.

At The Texas Baseball Ranch®, we are very aware of this and know that we too can fall prey to it.  Coach Wolforth encourages all the staff to constantly ask questions of ourselves to see if there are any blind spots we may be missing and they do show themselves if you’re open to see them. 

In closing, for our Inner Circle newsletter this month, Coach Wolforth wrote about Adapted Athletes vs. Adaptable Athletes.  Throughout this spring, I’ve seen a lot of Adapted Athletes and the negative consequences.  If you’d like to get a copy of this article, please email me and I’ll be happy to send it to you.


Is it possible your routine is actually hurting your performance?  Do you need helping preparing yourself for game challenges and the next level of play?  If so, join us at one of our Elite Pitchers 3-Day Boot Camps or come for an extended stay this summer.  Information is available at and click on the Events tab.

Previous post:

Next post: