The so-called “natural” pitching motion
Anytime there’s a discussion of fastpitch pitching v. baseball pitching, sooner or later the phrase “natural pitching motion” will come up. There is a belief that softball pitchers can pitch every day, all day, because it is natural, whereas a baseball pitching motion is not.
The fact is, there’s nothing really “natural” about fastpitch mechanics. They do tend to work somewhat better with the construction of the shoulder, perhaps, but that’s a long way from natural.
I think it was my friend Coach Rich who pointed out the proof to me. Watch a kid pick up a rock and throw it. He/she throws it overhand. Watch a National Geographic special and see how the indigneous population in non-industrialized countries throw rocks at game they’re trying to get for dinner. They throw overhand. If you’re trying to knock over pyramid of milk bottles at a carnival, you’ll throw overhand. Even fastpitch pitchers will likely throw overhand.
The truth is, it’s a lot more natural to throw overhand than underhand. I’ve spoken to baseball pitching coaches who are just fascinated by the fastpitch pitching motion. These experts on pitching baseballs can’t figure out how anybody can throw a ball with the kind of speed and accuracy fastpitch pitchers do. Especially female ones. They understand the overhand throw, but the underhand motion is completely foreign to them.
There is also a belief that because the fastpitch motion (when properly executed) works better with the shoulder than an overhand pitch that it is stress-free. Or nearly so. That’s not true either. As evidence, I offer these photos (courtesy of Mike Zupec) of my own daughter pitching in a recent game:
Notice the muscles in her upper arm, forearm, hand and shoulders. Hardly looks like her body is not under stress. Actually, we all think it’s kind of gross, but it certainly illustrates the kind of strain the arm and shoulder have to endure when a pitcher is putting forth maximum effort. Understand she is not a “power pitcher” either. She’s small and light, more of a finesse pitcher who needs to hit corners, change speeds, and move the ball in order to succeed. Her speed comes from mechanics and effort, not raw strength like some.
The fastpitch motion is not stress-free, nor is it “natural.” One more reason why conditioning and rest are so critical to a pitcher’s long-term success. And why pitchers should shut down for a little while when their season is over.
Posted on August 9, 2008, in Pitching. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.
Thanks for this great article! We have a 10 year old in our league that has shoulder problems already. The sad part is, nobody seems to care! Her shoulder always hurts, but she keeps pitching 5 games a weekend and two in Little League for us. All in the name of winning tournaments! She is phenomenal as well! At least at age 10. I figure she will be burned out by 13.For both the boys and the girls I am beginning to wonder how much is too much? We are starting to injure bodies before they even reach puberty.
Sounds familiar. I know of a girl in our area who was a phenom at age 10. Just naturally through harder than other kids. When she was pitching you stood a great chance of pitching. So her 10U coach would throw her in most games in a tournament, weekend after weekend. Her parents loved it — she was a star — and the coach loved it because they won a lot of 10U tournaments. This sort of thing continued as she got older. She had shoulder pain (from poor mechanics in my opinion), but no one seemed to care. They were winning, and that’s what counted. By the time she hit high school she lost two years of high school and summer ball due to shoulder and arm surgeries. She pitched a little her senior year, but not much. She also didn’t play a lot in the field either. Was it worth it? I wouldn’t think so. She has a lot of 10U and 12U trophies, but her ability to play now is severely limited. Young bodies that are still developing need rest and recovery. Pitching a 10 or 12 year old 30 or more innings a weekend isn’t smart. It’s on the edge of child abuse.
Wow! That is a strong statement! I must agree though. This particular team finished 2nd in the state and 5th in nationals. She pitched pretty much every game every weekend.When the threw during the week, her velocity was way down and we were able to beat up on her. When she was well rested, she beat us.This is my main issue w/ travel ball. Around here they are already practicing again and they are holding tryouts. I know that playing more than others makes you much better, but I wonder how much it actually makes you better when it counts going into High School.I understand the value of it. My son plays AAU, but it is much different for the boys. They play a double hitter on Sunday and practice once a week. They also play a tournament or two during the year.The girls seem to play tournaments every week, game after game after game. Wouldn’t be so bad I guess if they didn’t have the same pitcher pitch every game.What percentage of players do you see burn out at 13/14 that have exceptional talent?
I had been thinking the same thing when I saw the picture at the following link:http://www.photoreflect.com/pr3/orderpage.aspx?pi=03WU01H6240085&po=85This kid is 13 and is a good pitcher in our area. Unlike the 10U stories above, she does not pitch every game. Her coach, like me, believes in platoon pitching and ICE! With U14 standard of 750 pitches a week, rest should be an elemental component of any pitcher’s workout…natural or not.
I feel like people are playing a game of symantecs when it comes to this topic. I believe the argument behind this is that there is less stress on the shoulder and arm pitching underhand based on the motion – whether you call it natural or not. The motion wears less on the shoulder than the motion of an overhand throw. I do believe this is true. I also believe everything else you said is true – that the pitcher still needs to rest and that she should not be overused. All motions cause some kind of strain, and the faster and more violent motions cause more strain. If the pitchers were throwing at 75% all the time, with decent mechanics, then they wouldn’t strain themselves much. BUT, I haven’t seen a knowledgable coach yet that doesn’t stress throwing 100% all the time. That means stress on the arm, the joints, the shoulder socket, elbow ligaments…. I love the new rules in little league regarding pitch counts – the best thing that league did for youths since being formed. I would love to see a league mandated pitch count for underhand as well, but unfortunately there are too many different sanctioned bodies (ASA, NSA, USFA, USSSA, NAFA……) to get together and agree that A – there is an issue, and B – what the pitch count should be for each age level. The best you can do, if you are a coach, is to make sure you are aware of how much your pitchers are throwing and make sure they aren’t doing too much (to be determined using your own best judgement). You gotta rest and you can’t abuse the arm, however you throw.
Greg, great photo! It’s amazing when you see what is really going on with these athletes. I remember seeing a photo of Michele Smith once, with her arm showing that kind of muscle, and thinking “well, she’s an elite athlete, of course she has that kind of strength.” But when you see it in kids who are not elite athletes you really get a new appreciation for what pitchers do for a team. Mike, you hit it on the head. Done correctly (not always a given even among successful pitchers, by the way) the pitching motion does work better with the shoulder joint. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t stress, or a lot of it. Again, any repetitive motion can cause injury. Typing is hardly strenuous, but there are plenty of injuries and lost work days as a result. It all depends on the individual. It would be difficult to put restrictions on softball across the board, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try. It might save a few young arms and shoulders, and create more opportunities for more pitchers to develop. In rec leagues where they have limits, coaches need to be sure they develop a few competent pitchers by the time playoffs come around. They can’t just ride one arm the whole time. It’s a pretty good equalizer. Of course, in travel it might mean that the rich get richer and more teams are left without pitching entirely.
Time and time again I watch as teams we play win game after game riding one arm. Meanwhile, we don’t worry about winning day to day, we worry about developing and training for the end of the season interleague tournament of champions. Then, we usually end up in the championship beating teams that beat us all year.The fall season our local league enforces even tighter restrictions and forces each team to develop 3 pitchers. That is my biggest problem w/ softball and travel ball in general the way teams ride one pitcher until their arm falls off. Very irresponsible. Used to be the way baseball did it as well, but baseball fixed the problem through education and restrictions. Why not have the same efforts in softball?
When FP people started saying FP pitching underhand was more natural than throwing baseball over hand, they probably were not talking about Females. They were probably comparing male FP pitchers who throw only 3 pitches to speak of. Up, down and change ups, to Baseball pitchers who throw curves, drops, screws, change ups and fastballs. Girls throw curves,screwballs,fastballs,roll over drops, and use a back arm swing…Men don’t use the back arm swing and they don’t throw roll over drops either. Men use a lot less shoulder than both female FP pitchers and baseball pitchers. The Girly back arm swing came from the late 60s and early 70s when men from the ISC brought the rocking chair/horse delivery with the over the head and back arm swing with the crow hop and replant into the ASA game. This was banned after a few years,and after much controversy on the crow hop and how guys were landing outside the circle, that was put around the rubber, in 1967. The back arm swing stuck in the girls game and is still used my more female pitchers, than ones that hide the ball in the glove. Male FP pitchers spin the peel drop with the finger tips and they use the wrist and fingers to get back spin for the rise ball. It all comes down to the people on the TV calling high pitches rise balls, inside pitches and outside pitches curves and screws, when it is just angled drops and high drops, so to speak… I quit.
YOur child isn’t supposed to cross her arm that way or suposed to throw her shoulder, I would know