Using the front knee
Like most other pitching coaches, I have always put a lot of emphasis on having a strong push off the pitching rubber. I encouraged pitchers (and continue to do so) to bend that pivot leg knee, get into the ground, and fire out hard.
But when I videotaped my students and watched them back in slow motion I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Despite their working hard to drive off the rubber with the back leg, it seemed more like they were simply reaching out with their front legs until the back leg pushed them off. In other words, the legs were getting spread pretty far apart, and they really didn’t come off the pitching rubber until the arm was past the 12:00 position. So even though some of them were getting out 6′ to 7′, it still didn’t look like it was as powerful a drive as I was looking for.
There were a few exceptions, though. I notice a few, especially the older girls, were already coming forward off the rubber by the time their arms reached the 12:00 position. Determined to figure out what the difference was, I dutifully sat in front of my computer, running video clips back and forth, until the light bulb came on.
The difference was in the stride leg knee. On the girls who were coming forward before or at 12:00, the stride leg knee was firing out like a front snap kick in karate, with the foot following afterwards. On those who weren’t getting out there, the foot was leading, creating more of a reach than a pull.
Seeing that, I stood up to try it. My family is used to me throwing pitches on the field in my mind so they barely take interest, except my wife who has noticed some banana-shaped marks in the carpeting in the family room and on the new tile floor in the basement. The things we do for fastpitch softball!
In any case, what I found when I worked harder on driving the knee out is that it engaged the muscles in my ample behind and helped pull me off the pitching rubber more quickly and powerfully. The more I drove that front knee, the faster and more powerful the movement became. I had to speed up my arm circle in order to keep up, and that’s usually a good thing.
Since I liked it I started introducing the concept of driving the front knee to my students. While it sometimes actually makes them slower at first because they’re not used to it, once they get the hang of it they show speed improvements — both visibly and against the radar gun. Driving that front knee out there can add 2 mph almost instantly, and probably more as it becomes a habit. It definitely helps engage the entire body more.
This is not anything I’ve seen taught anywhere specifically. About the closest I’ve seen is Michele Smith talking about stepping over a box as you go forward. But I have seen a few pitchers execute that instruction without adding to their power. The nice thing about talking about driving the front knee is that it is something you can demonstrate.
Tell the pitcher she needs to drive her front knee out and then up. Then grab behind her knee and gently but quickly pull it in that direction. They’ll get the idea soon enough, especially when they feel their whole body go forward when it goes out.
The middle joint is the key to many athletic movements. Looks like this is one more.