Wanted: A Better Strategy for Developing Young Pitchers

The other day I was talking with Rick Pauly of Pauly Girl Fastpitch about the challenges of developing young fastpitch pitchers – especially those in the the 8-10 year old range.

Rick said it’s something that has been on his mind for a while, but really came home after completing another of his successful pitching clinics, this time in Fairmont, Minnesota.

The Beginner session included several very young pitchers who worked very hard at the drills and techniques being taught. But clearly they were going to take a while before they were ready to go out and dominate.

The problem is most of them, even the rec league players, often don’t have “a while” before they have to be game ready. It can easily take several months to a year or more for young players to throw strikes on a regular basis.

Most have limited proprioception (body awareness), which means that they can’t feel where various body parts are in space. They may be trying to mimic the movements they’ve been taught or the instructions they’re receiving, but can’t quite feel whether they are successful or not in that moment.

Don’t even get me started on attention span for most of them.

If they continue to work at it they will eventually get it and no doubt become very good at their craft. They’ll be the pitchers who are mowing down the competition left and right, whether it’s racking up tons of Ks or regularly getting out of innings after throwing only 10 or 12 pitches.

The problem is that future competence is not what their youth teams need right now. They need pitchers who can get the ball over the plate.

So what happens? The most valuable pitchers on those young teams are the ones who can throw strikes, no matter how they throw them.

As a result, those girls tend to get the bulk of the innings while those who are taking lessons and practicing all the time get very little circle time. Which means some who might be quite good one day get discouraged and quit pitching while parents who are taking time out of their schedules and paying for lessons begin to wonder whether that investment is worth it.

Look, I get it. While pitching to a large extent may be an individual effort, it’s still performed in the context of a team sport. It’s no fun for everyone if pitchers on both sides are throwing walkfests, and the other eight players on the field (not to mention the team that’s batting) don’t learn much if none of the hitters have an opportunity to hit the ball.

You want there to be some sort of activity on the field that resembles actual softball.

But at the same time, the future of the game isn’t with the lobbers. It’s with those few who are trying to learn how to pitch the right way.

There has to be some sort of solution. I’m sure some of you are thinking “We let the pitchers pitch until they load the bases, then a coach steps in after three balls to pitch.”

That’s ok in theory, but the reality is the coach who’s pitching isn’t helping the hitters much at all. They’re probably not throwing with a realistic motion, and since most want to win the game (because nothing is more important in the world than a $30 plastic trophy) they’re more throwing where the hitter is swinging than teaching hitters to take the bat to wherever the ball is.

It just seems there has to be a better way. I don’t know what it is, but maybe we can all put on our collective thinking caps and figure out how we can enable young pitchers to develop while still making the game fun for everyone else.

One idea is to put restrictions on when pitchers can be pulled. Give them a chance to find their way in a game rather than getting yanked after two or three walks.

Perhaps the pitcher is required to pitch to the full lineup, or half of it until she can be taken out. That might remove some of the pressure she may feel and give her a chance to find her groove, even if momentarily.

Or perhaps we formally loosen up the strike zone to the tops of the shoulders to the tops of the ankles. (I don’t think widening it will help because, well, short bats and short arms.) A bigger zone will also give hitters encouragement to swing more rather than just waiting for the walk, or for the coach to come in and pitch targeted meatballs.

Another idea is to cut the number of outs a team is given at the plate if their opponents are using pitchers who are seeing a recognized pitching coach. In other words, if I am pitching a girl who is taking lessons but struggling, we only have to get two outs to flip the inning. That one might be a little tough to enforce but if the goal is to develop pitchers for the long term hopefully it won’t be abused.

Those are just a few thoughts on our part. Not saying they’re the right way, or the best way, but they might provide a solution.

How about you? Especially those of you who are closer to that age level.

What ideas do you have to encourage young pitchers to keep learning to pitch the right way while not penalizing everyone else on the field? I know we have smart readers here, so leave your comments below and let’s start developing that next generation of pitchers to realize their full potential.

About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on January 14, 2022, in Pitching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. One thing that has worked very well is starting batters with a 1-1 count. The batters are much more likely to swing at the first decent pitch. Plus if it is a walk fest at least there are fewer pitches.

    I do advocate taking a pitcher out if she walks (or hits) 4 batters in an inning (or maybe 4 consecutive batters). For one thing the fielders can relax a bit while the change is made and not have to be in the ready position waiting for something to happen. So if the 1st pitcher walks 4 and her replacement walks 4 that is usually 5 runs (that per inning limit is a really good idea). If those are the only 2 pitchers on the team, do it again in the next inning.

    As a pitching coach who specializes in teaching beginners I find that it is pretty easy to keep the girls focused on a longer term goal while learning proper technique. It’s keeping the parents in line that is often more difficult.

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  2. How about a beginner pitcher isn’t put into a game situation until she can throw say 50% strikes? This gives them a goal to work towards and they are rewarded for reaching their goal. Parents AND coaches should understand that pitching is HARD and takes a LONG time to develop. The more time their pitchers put in mastering their fundamentals, the faster they will see results. My best student, pitched on the sidelines for 2 years before she was put into a game-like situation. It was a batting practice for a 10u rec team. She was 8 and struck most of them out. She started playing travel the following season and hasn’t looked back. Will play D1 next year. My point is, patience, determination and hard work make the player great. Massaging the rules will not. Sure it will give them more circle time, but at everyone else’s expense. If they aren’t ready, they aren’t ready. They need to put in the work until they are. Encourage them to keep grinding. Someone important will notice in the long run.

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  3. A bigger strike zone would help. My daughter 10u started last night and the zone was so small she was getting balls for being an inch or two high or low. They called every inside pitch a ball if the batter jumped back. Very frustrating for a kid.

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  4. Subject: Getting beginners on the mound fast. Very fast! I used to tell my parents to please wait at least a year before you try to actually pitch in a game. I still believe in that philosophy. However, no one ever listened, lol. Opposing pitching coaches used it against me and well, how many modern kids will go that long without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.
    Gradually. Over a ten year span, I developed tactics that began to turn out pitchers who could get thru games with few walks, in two to six months, of once a week 30 minutes lessons and even sub par practice levels. Some rarely practice between my lessons, which makes me very grumpy at times
    The process toward more productivity, actually led me to become less regimented and much more intuitive. My current methods are as much a result of accidental discovery as anything else . I simply kept experimenting until a formula arose. Problem is, the formula is different for nearly every student because the students are so varied.. (I take almost all comers if a family want lessons , I’ll give them a year to see what comes of it.) Anyhow. My lessons are as much impromptu as planned , because I react to the apparent needs of the moment. Here is a brief on the areas I feel I got better at, with time.
    1.positive. Positive. Positive. 2. give them a few reps at a time , before you chime in. 3. parents and bystanders remain silent. Also no emotionally charged body language . 4. Lots of dry runs. 5 lots of slo mo. 6 lots of balance drilling. 7. Throwing to nets and close targets with very light balls. 8. Constant reminders of how to do things. 9. I stopped visually demonstrating to them all the time! I stressed that hey needed to learn to listen well and explain and or demonstrate the info I just gave them I’ll demonstrate or show video, If they don’t get it after a couple of verbal inputs on my part. Any new or relatively new concept, I explain and demonstrate several times as they try to mimick. 10. I use props lots more. Noodles, posts, side nets, front nets, chocks. Small buckets , cushions. Anything to help them form a correct movement and to grow spacial awareness ( some never do, it seems, while others assimilate new movement patterns extremely fast).
    11. We take short meditating breaks. This seems to allow them to assimilate recent tasks into muscle memory . 12 . I don’t brag so blatantly during a lesson – that screws em up, very fast. A simple good. Not bad, like it , or whatever, sprinkled in strategically, seems to work ok . 13. This is huge: I increased how much I stressed each of the following: A. Elbow lead, with ball loaded out. B. Earlier bend in the arm is ok. Bent some, going overhead is fine.
    C. I really emphasized internal rotation. D. I took away all attempts to mechanically/ forcefully snap wrist or fingers. We simply pitch loose, and the bump and brush through of internal rotation will snap finger base and then wrist. E. Finally I doubled down on producing a long relaxed finish that left the arm pointed in the direction of the target. ( Interestingly , my 60 mph 14 yr olds have practiced so much and so well that they just let the arm sling and shake out, usually across their body some. I love it).
    In essence, I got a lot better at doing the stuff I felt was correct . Realizing more and more about how the body firms up to launch and throughout, while the forearm and wrist firm up at release only…. This really helped. Elbow lead ball loaded out is essential . ( I know y’all know all this).
    I a have 40 years of experience. It took at least the first 10 to realize that I must always search for the next piece in the puzzle. I know I am not as good as many many instructors. However, maybe this piece of info will help someone out there, even if it is just a little help . Oh and please contact me with suggestions. I am always searching. Thanks
    Bill at Falcon Fastpitch. billfowler076@gmail.com

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