Here’s an article that falls under the category of “studies you should know about”. In the past, I’ve written a bunch of these and in essence, is the foundation of this website. Check out a couple of them like this one about how long distance running inhibits power or this one about 3 mechanical factors that positively influence velocity.
For a lot of you out this one might also fall under the category of “I Already Knew That”.
If you’re one of these coaches then here’s some scientific proof to back you up. If you didn’t, then keep reading about this study.
Although this study did not use baseball players I still think that this information is very relevant. Plus, some of the best information we can get come from other sports, check out this article I wrote about what we can learn from track & field sport of shot putt. In this case, the sport that this study focused on was handball which obviously isn’t very popular in North America but if you check out the video clip below I think that you will gain some appreciation for the sport. And if you’re a college coach or a scout it might make for a good excuse to go oversea’s for a recruiting trip to Europe. Ironically I am writing this article while in Europe but I haven’t seen any handball yet, only soccer. Lots and lots of soccer.
Ironically I am writing this article while in Europe but I haven’t seen any handball yet, only soccer. Lots and lots of soccer.
The Design of the Study
Both groups of subjects performed 2 sets of 10 throws at max effort two times a week for 6 weeks in addition to their normal handball training. The only difference was that one group got feedback in the form of velocity for each throw while the other group did not get any feedback at all.
So why is feedback so important in throwing?
Feedback lets you know how you did and when we throw its hard to get accurate and objective feedback in regards to velocity. If you shoot a basketball, too steal an example from Lantz Wheeler, you get feedback on every shot and therefore you quickly learn if what you’re doing is getting you closer to your goal. We get this kind of feedback when we throw with respect to accuracy but not velocity. Of course, we get some subjective feedback from our throwing partner but that’s not very accurate and as a result, we can’t make any positive adjustments.
Here are a couple of quotes from this study that explains why we can’t get the type of feedback we need when we throw:
Due to its ballistic nature, an overarm throw is performed in a short space of time and is controlled based on an open-loop system, which is a feed forward process and has no feedback (Magill, 2011).
Due to a time limitation, the motor program controlling the involved effectors (muscles) containing all the information needed to carry out the throw is generated in the brain prior to the throw; there is no time to continually register, evaluate and implement the information to control the movement while it is in the process.
Every time we throw we do get what’s called “task-intrinsic” feedback from our sensory and perceptual systems. An example of this would be those throws that felt effortless and the ball just jumped out of your hand. But if we don’t know for sure that this throw was any faster or slower than other throws how are we supposed to make positive changes?
This is where augmented feedback comes in. This is information that we can’t perceive on our own and in our case, and the case of this study, that’s knowing the velocity of each throw. The radar gun gives us augmented and extrinsic feedback, compared to the intrinsic, that’s both quantitative and subjective. This type of knowledge has been shown to outperform qualitative feedback for learning. (Bennett and Simmons, 1984; Magill and Wood, 1986; Reeve et al., 1990; Salmoni et al., 1983).
Does it work?
In this study, each group increased their throwing velocity but the group who were told the velocity of each throw improved to a greater extent. This study cited another study using tennis players who increased their serving velocity when they were given augmented feedback as well. So, yes it does work!!
Here are some other points from the study that are worth talking about.
In this study, every single throw in the 2 sets of 10 throws was measured, for the feedback group. Would the results have been as good if they were only told the velocity of every second throw?
That’s tough to say and it might be worth doing a research project to find the optimal amount of frequency feedback.
There has been some research in this area done by Wulf et al. (1998) who studied the influence of the KR (knowledge of results (aka feedback)) frequency on learning the complex skill of skiing slalom. They observed that the group with 100% of KR achieved higher performance than the group provided with 50% KR.
This could carry over to baseball since it too is a complex movement. To steal another idea from Lantz Wheeler, every throw is different. He uses the example of how it’s impossible to sign your name the exact same way every time so how can we expect to repeat our mechanics on each throw?
The point I am trying to bring up is that the frequency of feedback is important. If you were only told every tenth throw how hard you threw it would be difficult for you to put the pieces together because by the time you threw another ten baseballs you might be doing things differently.
Just to be clear, I don’t think that we have to have a radar gun with us every time we play catch. But on the days that you’re trying to improve your velocity, it might be a good idea to have some type of accurate feedback.
Timing of Feedback
If you don’t get feedback right away it’s really hard for you to figure out what you did right or wrong.
Let’s say that you came out of a game and found out that you were throwing harder than ever. That’s great news but its really hard to think back to what exactly you were doing (or not doing) that enabled you to light up the radar gun.
So if you are going to use feedback from a radar gun you should find out the results after each throw.
Bonus Info: Weighted Ball Information!!!!
One of the pre & post test’s that were performed in this study was a velocity test using a heavy handball. A normal handball is 375 grams (about 13 oz) and the heavy ball that they used during the testing was 800 grams (about 28 oz). The sizes, diameter wise, were the same.
The results were interesting in that both groups improved their heavy ball velocity despite the fact that they did not use them during the training process.
However, the group that got feedback improved to a greater extent. The improvements were lower compared to the normal handball due to specificity but it does prove that there is some carry over from using balls that weigh more.
And no, there was no mention of any of the subjects needing Tommy John surgery after throwing a heavy ball.
This is interesting, to me anyway, because of the huge difference in weights. The heavy ball, in this case, is more than double and I’m sure if they analyzed the mechanics of the two they would see a big difference. But at the end of the day, they are similar enough to one another to show some positive carry over between the two.
To explain how this might work the authors offered up this great quote that I will end the article with:
Perhaps this finding can support the generalized motor programme theory of motor learning, which states that a pattern of movement rather than specific movement is programmed and can, therefore, be flexible to meet some altered environmental demands (Schmidt and Wrisberg, 2008).