My largely unsuccessful childhood sports career started when I was 6 or 7 on the baseball diamond. I was a year too late for tee ball, and at that age, we pitched to our own team. Typically in baseball, the opposing pitcher is trying to get the ball past the batter so they don’t get a hit. However, a first grader, with tiny hands that really don’t even fit around the ball, can’t strike out a batter. Instead, the challenge is throw consistent, accurate balls that your team can hit.
As any of my former baseball coaches would tell you, I am a terrible batter. I played an entire season without getting a single hit. Later on, I would become a pretty good fielder, but in that very first season, my gift was as a pitcher. We pitched underhand at the time, and I was the best on my team at getting the ball into the strike zone.
Which probably still wasn’t that good. Maybe I was just the best at not hitting my own teammates with pitches.
Regardless, that and the years of baseball afterwards cemented one of my better hidden talents of throwing roughly baseball-sized objects. Tennis balls, rolled up socks, crumpled up printer paper, granola bars, and decks of cards all feel quite natural to throw up to a solid distance with reasonable accuracy. It is a surprisingly useful skill.
I quit baseball in middle school and haven’t swung a bat since then. However, Julie and I have been going out to throw a baseball semi-regularly. Julie didn’t grow up playing baseball, and given my adequate amateur ability, I felt well-qualified to teach her.
The saying goes, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Well, that turned out to be even more true than I expected because in my experience, those who can can’t teach.
I tried to break down the mechanics of throwing and to remember the drills that my coaches put me through, but I couldn’t put it into words. We tried focusing on just the wrist motion to isolate that, but that didn’t fit into the motion. I tried to provide lots of pointers, but there were just too many tweaks to keep in mind. My diagnosis and explanation kept arriving at the same place of, “Well, it should feel smooth when you do it right,” which is no help in teaching at all.
That being said, Julie was persistent and kept working at it over time. I kept trying different techniques to explain throwing better and correct any issues that I noticed. She got better and better.
And then I noticed that I was getting worse.
Since Julie was learning and improving, I figured that I should also continue to work on my technique, so I started tweaking around with my mechanics and followed some of the advice from YouTube videos. I wanted to throw harder and faster, especially over long distances. At first, I threw a few into the ground, and I figured that was good learning. Then when I wasn’t trying, I started throwing more in the ground. And then every throw felt a little strange. I was throwing high, arcing balls just to get it to Julie at all, and it wasn’t coming off my fingers properly.
More than 20 years later, I lost a skill I thought I had for life.
In baseball, they call it the yips. It’s presumably much more dramatic for professional players, but I was experiencing a sudden loss in my skill that I couldn’t explain. And I couldn’t fix it, either. I worked hard on fixing my mechanics, but thinking about throwing only seemed to make it work. I would make progress on five throws in a row, then I would throw another in the dirt and have to start all over again.
It took a few weeks and Julie chasing far too many balls, but I eventually worked my way back out of it. Now, we warm up every session with very short distance throws just to focus on the wrist movement, then back up to longer distances. I can’t say exactly what fixed it, but at some point, it just felt right again. Towards the end, I don’t think my motion changed tremendously, but it just felt natural enough that I could repeat the motion again.
So we’re back to our usual throwing again. I’m not pushing myself to much to avoid forgetting again, and Julie can slowly work up to longer distances at her own pace. We’re not improving much, but maybe it’s not that important. We can go out, enjoy the weather, do some light fitness, and have a fun time. Sometimes when a ball gets past me, I’ll pick it up where it landed and throw a longer distance back to Julie just to see if I can do it. No big deal if I’m off target and she can’t catch it. It’s good enough that I can still throw.