ABCA Clinic Recaps - Butch Thompson


Liam Carroll

When I was at university I took a Coaching Basketball class taught by legendary coach Howie Landa.  I don't remember much of the theory but one lesson that has stuck with me is that your job as a coach is to "teach, create and motivate."  Coach Landa preached that if you can consistently do those things then you've got a great chance to be successful.   Butch Thompson quite clearly does those things with his pitchers at Mississippi State and also did so with the 4,500 coaches at the convention.  He spoke of much more than I write about here, so if you want to learn more from him or any of the other speakers, DVD's are available on the ABCA website to add to your coaching library.    

Focus on the Elephant in the Room When Coaching Pitchers
Butch Thompson – Associate Head Coach, Mississippi State University

Clinic Topics

1. Warm Up
2. Daily Throwing Routine
3. Bullpen
4. Batting Practice
5. Take your medicine
6. Squad Games
7. Fielding & Picks

Coach Thompson was one of the most exciting and creative speakers at the convention, evidenced by his reception on Twitter and the number of coaches scribbling notes.  He went far beyond technique, noting that his approach to coaching pitchers is “to work on your game, not your mechanics.”

Thompson introduced some of his favourite drills, emphasising that while certain components of his programme (such as band work, Flat Ground and Bullpens) are done by all pitchers, there are specific drills that pitchers do based on their individual needs.  For example, Thompson has drills ready to prescribe for pitchers with alignment or arm action issues.  Thompson aims to create an environment in which players have both the drills and the information to be able to run their own show with ownership and accountability.  Recognising that a cookie-cutter approach to coaching pitchers can be dangerous, Thompson has gone so far as to offer a Drop Down camp for pitchers who throw from lower arm slots.

While using a range of drills to help players to find their own style, Coach Thompson preached that all pitchers should be sinkerball pitchers and should learn to perform in the bottom of the strike zone.  He’s a proponent of setting a string up at the bottom of the zone during Bullpens, and believes that a winning pitcher will start below the string and work up, while a losing or uncommitted pitcher will settle for starting up and working down.  Being able to pitch to the string moves the barrel and causes bad swings and swings and misses.  We all know how frustrating it is when a pitcher consistently misses up - what would you bet that this pitcher misses up during practice?

Activities that involve more than pitching the baseball are important to Thompson.  Bullpens involve the mind and strategy, with pitchers throwing sequences, generally working “the L” created by the bottom and inside of the strike zone.  Drills that include fielding as well as pitching, picks and intrasquads all help Thompson develop well-rounded players rather than pitchers with nothing more than sound mechanics.

With such engaging activities Thompson creates buy-in from his players.  An example of how he can measure this is by how invested pitchers are when they’re not in the game.  He wants them to be thinking along with every sequence (at bat).  If his pitchers are leaning against the dugout rail it’s a great indication that they’re locked-in.

My Most Important Thing

Coach Thompson said that when he “changes pitchers, I want to change pitchers” – i.e. that the next guy will bring a different look.  He aims to help players find their own unique pitching identity, highlighting that while every pitcher shares common outcomes such as moving bats, there is room for all sorts of players on a pitching staff.

Last Up: Matt Senk

On Deck: Keith Vorhoff


tagged under: baseball, coaching, softball, pitching

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About Liam Carroll

Liam Carroll

Liam was a Regional Coach and then Development Coordinator for BaseballSoftballUK until May 2014. He returned to his hometown of London to work for BSUK in 2010 after stops in Somerset, Bristol, Cornwall, California and Nevada. Growing up playing in Britain, Liam made the move to America to study and play university baseball. After figuring out that his future would be brighter as a coach rather than player, he moved to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to finish his degree and coach college baseball. Since then he’s coached youth and adult teams on both sides of the atlantic and with the Great Britain Baseball National Teams.

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