Category Archives: Pitching
One of the most common flaws with fastpitch pitchers is a tendency to reach out aggressively with their front leg instead of getting both legs involved. Essentially, the front leg is active and ends up pulling the rest of the body along.
The problem, however, isn’t just in the legs. It’s really that the center of the body – the center of gravity if you will – never gets driven off the pitcher’s plate, so when the pitcher lands her front leg (left leg on a right-handed pitcher) there isn’t a whole lot of momentum to stop.
In fact, you’ll see many of these pitchers wasting a lot of energy trying to drag that back leg forward instead of having it glide effortlessly. That lack of power from the right side often results in bad (forward posture), a tendency to want to over-use the throwing shoulder (the power has to come from somewhere) and a host of other problems.
You can tell players to keep their legs under them, and have them work together. But I find that’s more difficult for some than others. So I came up with a little drill for the former group, to help them learn to use their legs together instead of one at a time.
All you need is one of those workout rubber bands like the one in this photo that you can find at pretty much any sporting goods store. Or at your house in the pile of exercise equipment you bought with all good intentions of using but is now just gathering dust in a corner of the rec room or bedroom.
Of course, it will be way too big to be of much use, so double it up and then have the pitcher slide it up until it is about midway up her thighs. Then have her pitch.
What she’ll find, as Paige here did the first time she tried it, is if don’t use your “push” leg it gets yanked forward by the effort of your front leg anyway. (She’s better at it now.)
The goal is for the pitcher to be able to drive out with full force and energy while feeling like she’s gliding on her back leg, with her knee pretty close to being underneath her hip. When she lands, she should have a lot more energy going into her firm front side. Maybe so much she can’t quite contain it all at first.
But she should feel how much less effort it takes to get into a good, strong, upright position. And how easy it is for the pitching arm to whip through the zone because the whole body is working more as a unit instead of a collection of independent pieces.
Of course, the real test comes when she takes off the rubber band and tries it without the tactile aid. It may require a bit of rinse and repeat at first. But I’ve found it’s pretty effective helping those who tend to run away from the back leg to keep the legs working together.
So if you have a pitcher with this issue, give it a try and see if it helps. Either way, be sure to leave a comment down below!
Last night, as I often do, I was doing a pitching lesson. The pitcher in question was also doing what many pitcher do – reaching out with her stride leg instead of driving her whole body forward.
That’s a very easy habit for pitcher to fall into. We tell them to get off the pitching rubber, so they throw their stride leg forward to pull them off. The problem is, that often leaves the other leg stuck right where it started – at least until the pitcher makes a conscious, labored effort to pull it into the back leg.
That’s one of the things the Queen of the Hill is designed to correct. But you may not always have one of those handy, and even if you do you’re probably not going to allow a pitcher to take it home with her unless she’s your daughter. So last night I came up with a different explanation.
I told the pitcher it’s like she wants to take a trip, and her pivot or push-off leg is her suitcase. If she was going to go far away for a few days, would she leave her suitcase behind?
Of course not. So rather than reaching with the stride leg and then extending the other leg until it straightens out and THEN trying to bring it forward, she should be sure she takes her suitcase with her when she leaves on the trip – i.e., as her center of gravity moves forward.
That seemed to resonate with her, and actually with the new student who came afterwards. More specifically, I told her to try to keep her pivot/push leg knee under her hip as she goes forward.
Why even worry about it? Well, for one thing if the other leg is being left behind it’s acting like an anchor, preventing the full momentum from going forward and slamming into the stride leg. Which would throw your body forward faster – hitting a tree in a car at 20 mph or 60 mph? (Kids, don’t try this at home.)
Leaving the leg behind also tends to put the pitcher into a forward-leaning position, which not only hurts speed and accuracy but can also put stress on the pitcher’s back.
Finally, it wastes a lot of energy that should be going into the pitch. When pitchers make this correction they feel ever so much lighter during the stride phase of the pitch. That’s because they don’t have the friction of a heavy back foot working against them.
If you’re working with a pitcher who is having that issue, give the trip/suitcase idea a try. And if you do, let me know in the comments if it works for you.
Leg drive for fastpitch pitchers often falls into that category of “I know it when I see it.” But explaining how to get it if it doesn’t come naturally to a pitcher is a whole other challenge.
That’s where a new product called the Queen of the Hill (QotH) from Ground Force Sports can be – shall I say it? – a game changer. Instead of explaining to pitchers that they need to push off harder from the pitching rubber, the QotH lets them experience whether they are doing it or not – not just with their sense of feel, but with sound.
The product itself is pretty simple on the surface. It consists of a base plate, plus a spring-loaded top plate that has pitching rubber attached to it. The front of the pitching rubber has a 45 degree angle to it, which right away encourages pitchers to get into a better drive position before they ever throw a pitch. (Leaving your foot flat on the ground is no way to achieve a powerful leg drive.)
To use it you can lay the QotH on the flat ground, or place it in front of the pitching rubber on an indoor mat or field. Then, using the included Allen wrench that is held on the back of the rubber, you set the tension level on the QotH.
NOTE: The Allen wrench is designed to be held very securely after you insert it into the hole in the back of the rubber. That’s a good thing for transport, so you don’t lose it, but not so good if you’re in the middle of a pitching session and you want to make a quick change of tension. After my first time using it in lessons I discovered the best approach is to stick it in your pocket after the first use, then return it to the holder when you’re completely done with it.
The tension spring has a handy scale from 0 to 8 so you can set the proper level at the beginning, and then increase the tension to keep it challenging as the pitcher gets better. It only takes a few seconds to increase the tension. If your pitcher gets so powerful that even the highest tension level is too easy, there’s a second heavier-duty spring that you can use to keep it challenging. These guys have thought of everything!
Once the QotH is set up the fun begins. Make sure the pitcher places the sole of her foot against the angled surface on the front of the pitching rubber. She then goes through her normal windup and throws a pitch.
If she uses her legs to explode with a powerful push-off, you’ll hear a “click-click” as the top plate slides back then comes forward again. If she just throws her stride leg forward without getting a good push, you’ll hear nothing.
And that’s the beauty of the QotH. The pitcher doesn’t just feel the movement of the top plate – she can hear whether she was successful.
That audible cue tells her (and everyone else) right away if she got into her legs or not. If not, she knows she needs to work harder, helping her build the good habits that will result in better drive mechanics.
Of course, you also must be sure to set the level properly. Asking a 70-lb. 10 year old to make the QotH click at Level 8 is unrealistic, no matter how hard she tries.
What I have found works is to set the level light in the beginning, in the 2-4 range depending on the age and size of the pitcher, then work your way up from there. The tension should be set so the pitcher can get the “click-click” with strong effort, but not with anything less than that. When she is getting a “click-click” every time, it’s time to increase the tension level. I usually move it up by one number, so say from 5 to 6.
The product itself appears to be very solid and well-built, so it should last a long time. It’s very heavy – I believe it weighs about 25 lbs. – which is good, because that means a strong pitcher won’t be pushing it backward as she drives out. But it can be a shock if someone tries to pick it up without realizing how much effort it takes.
My only quibble with the design is with the carrying handle. The inside part has very square edges that make it a bit painful to carry, especially over a longer distance. I’m sure a little duct tape would take care of it, but it would be nice if those edges were rounded out a bit more.
So far, the reaction from the pitchers I’ve tried it with has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the first, a high school pitcher named Allison, smiled and said “I want one!” after just a few pitches. She could feel the extra launch she was getting right away – almost as if the spring was pushing her out (which it wasn’t).
Other pitching students who have tried it, whether they are 10 or 18, both said they liked it and that they could feel the difference. I also know a couple of dads who have either purchased it or are in the process of considering it.
I haven’t seen any quick speed jumps just yet, but I know others have reported gains of 1 to 3 mph after just a few sessions. I think those gains will come as the pitchers get used to the timing, and get used to getting into their legs more.
So how much does all this wonderfulness cost? It’s not cheap. The Ground Force Sports website has it listed at $329, although if you type in the coupon code Coach James (a friend of mine who is the one who originally told me about it) you can save $25.
But look at it this way. How much do you spend on a bat that may last a season, or two if you’re lucky? The benefits from the QotH will last throughout a pitcher’s career – and may even help prolong that career by helping her continue to play in college.
One last story about it. A couple of weeks ago I brought it to a pitching clinic where I was working with a few 10U pitchers. I used it to help them get the feel of driving instead of stepping.
When I was done, one of the young male instructors from the facility approached me and said he’d been using the baseball version (King of the Hill) with his pitchers and that it had done a lot to reveal to them just how little they were using their legs.
We chatted about it for a few minutes. Then it occurred to me: Using the QotH kind of puts you in an exclusive, “in-the-know” club. So on top of everything else there’s that benefit if you’re interested.
Overall, I’m not much of a gadget guy. I see a lot of stuff out there that just makes me shake my head and ask “why?”
But if you want to help fastpitch softball pitchers learn to use their legs powerfully and efficiently, the Queen of the Hill is definitely worth the investment. Can’t wait ’til that first pitcher needs the other spring!
When someone says “it’s time to practice” what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For most of us involved in fastpitch softball the answer is probably grabbing some equipment, running out to a field or facility, and then spending the next 30, 60, or more minutes hard at work (as Paige is doing in the photo above).
While that approach is generally a good thing, it also has a downside (doesn’t everything?). When we’re in that mindset, we tend to think if we can’t do those things (get to a field or facility, spend 30-60 minutes) then we are unable to practice. In fact, “practice” kind of becomes an activity unto itself that requires special effort.
That’s unfortunate because for some players it could mean going a week or more without making any progress to get better. For others, especially those who are trying to learn new skills, it could even mean they get worse, or regress all the way back to step one.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Practice doesn’t have to involve going somewhere or making a special effort. And it certainly doesn’t have to be tied to a set amount of time.
Working on fastpitch softball skills anytime, anywhere, for any length of time can help players get better (or at least maintain their gains) versus doing nothing at all. The key is for players to know what they need to focus on and work those movements.
Take pitching, for example. Perhaps a player is having a tough time learning to relax the arm in the circle so she can whip the hand through at the end. In a full practice session with a catcher, she may be too focused on throwing strikes – double if the catcher is her dad. in that case she may continue to lock out the elbow and “guide” the ball to the plate.
But at home in her bedroom, or standing outside waiting for the bus, or marching through the house she can make arm circles and focus on staying relaxed throughout. No ball, field, facility, or catcher required. Learning to make the proper arm movement will help her know what it feels like when she’s actually pitching so she can carry the improvement forward there.
She doesn’t need to spend a half hour doing it either. If she takes 5 or 10 minutes it will help. Do that three random times during the day and she’ll have put in 15-30 minutes without even realizing it.
The same goes for hitters. Maybe the hitter is having trouble learning to lead with her hips, or is having a problem with barring out her front arm during the swing. She can practice the correct movements wherever she happens to be standing, whenever she has the chance.
The more she makes those movements the more natural they will become – and the easier they will be to execute when she’s actually up to bat.
Practicing in small increments may even have some benefits over longer sessions, especially if the longer sessions are focused on one thing. It’s similar to block practice v randomized practice.
In block practice you focus on one thing for a long time. With randomized practice you don’t linger on a single skill for any length of time. You essentially go from skill to skill. Studies have shown that the skills transfer better in game situations when practice is more randomized, at least in part because you get too used to doing the same thing over and over – an opportunity you don’t have in a game.
The other benefit to the shorter sessions in random locations is it lets players concentrate on the specific movements they need to improve on rather than the outcomes of those movements. And as we all know, in the end if you do the right things in the right way the outcomes will take care of themselves.
This isn’t to say longer, more formal practice sessions aren’t necessary. They absolutely are. But they’re not the only way to practice.
Taking advantage of whatever time and space is available is a great way to ensure players continue to improve. And it definitely beats using “I don’t have the time/I can’t get to the field or gym” as an excuse to do nothing.
A few months ago I put up a post that showed a way to help fastpitch softball pitchers who were struggling with hitting their inside and outside spots by exaggerating the locations. The idea is that by making the adjustments larger you can help them get a feel for what it takes to move the ball from side-to-side.
Here’s another way to do it, using kind of the polar opposite approach. This is more for fine-tuning, when the pitcher is already pretty good at going inside/outside but you want to make it more precise and reliable.
All it takes is some scrap wood and a couple of pool noodles. What you want to do is create two narrow barriers, then have the pitcher attempt to throw the ball between them. Here’s how it looks from the back side:
What you’re trying to do is create a visual that helps the pitcher home in on exactly where the ball needs to go. Sometimes, when they’re looking at a catcher against a background, it’s hard to focus on that small spot. This setup helps narrow the field so to speak.
The holders for the pool noodles were a couple of scraps of 1×6 pine board with a hole drilled partially through them. The holes should be just slightly larger than the diameter of the dowel rod.
Once you cut the dowel rod to size, glue it in place and then drive a screw in from the underside. That should hold it securely.
As you can see in the photo and the video, I didn’t use a very long dowel rod, which means the pool noodles aren’t very straight. I could have gone longer, but if the pitcher hits the noodle (as she is likely to do) and it is rigid the deflection could hurt whoever is catching if they’re not wearing equipment.
Besides, when they’re hanging over like this you can create some interesting holes to throw through, such as having the tops touch to work on keeping the ball low as well as on the corner.
You can do it from a 45 degree angle, like Juliana is doing here (due to a sore knee) or from a full pitch position. You may want to start with the former just to get the feel down before moving on to the latter, which will be more challenging.
Once the pitcher is becoming more consistent you can even make a game out of it, challenging her to make 7 out of 10 to win a prize or suffer a consequence – whichever fits your coaching style. That will add a little more game pressure too.
Or, if you have two or more pitchers there have them compete for who can do the most.
The overall idea is to aim small and miss small. So if you have a pitcher who needs to gain more precision in hitting her spots, give this drill a try.
The once-funny and now just more generally creepy comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen has been quoted as saying “80% of success is just showing up” or something to that effect.
While most times ol’ Woody isn’t the person you want to take advice from in anything having to do with kids, in this statement he is most definitely correct. Especially when it comes to the early stages of learning fastpitch softball skills.
Let’s take hitting for example. Hitting even a decently fast pitch in fastpitch softball requires a series of movements that must be performed correctly individually, sequenced correctly, and timed correctly. Some of those movements and sequences aren’t necessarily intuitive.
Since the object of the skill is to hit the ball with the bat, it’s easy for young hitters to assume that they should focus on taking the bat to the ball first. If their body turns afterward, so much the better.
But that’s actually the opposite of what they should be doing. The proper sequence is hips-shoulders-bat. A good instructor will teach that sequence, which not only maximizes power but the time the hitter has to see the ball before committing to the swing and the ability to hit the ball in the proper zone.
If that young hitter who’s still learning only comes to lessons once every few weeks, however, there’s a very good chance she will forget all about the proper sequence and spend her time practicing a bat-first swing. Then her distraught parents will wonder why they’re paying all this money for lessons and not getting better.
It becomes even more important with windmill pitching because in my opinion there is so much that can go wrong – and failure is more obvious. If you have a bad swing but still manage to make contact with the bat you can get on base.
But if you’re not throwing strikes, or you’re throwing easy-to-hit strikes, you’re going to have a tough day. As I tell my students, the circle looks bright and shiny from the outside, but it can be a cold, dark place on the inside.
Again, with windmill pitching some of the movements aren’t necessarily intuitive. If they were, you’d see more rec league pitchers using good form.
But instead, most untrained pitchers tend to stay facing forward, take a short step off the pitching rubber, and proceed to push/guide the ball toward the plate. THAT is what feels natural and intuitive. But it’s not what great pitchers do.
If a newbie pitcher only goes to lessons now and then and then gets put into a game before she’s ready, she will likely find herself like Luke Skywalker in the cave on Dagobah.
To really get the maximum value out of lessons in the early stages, it’s important to receive consistent training. That’s because you’re setting the foundation for all that is to come.
My recommendation is once per week – no more, no less – although you can do it going every other week if necessary. It will just likely take a bit longer to get where you want to go.
That regularity – and the short time between reviews by the instructor – helps keep players from veering too far off the path to success. It’s easier to do a reset when the training is consistent.
Going sporadically, however, gives the illusion of training without the benefits. Too much can go wrong in the meantime, and we all know it’s a lot easier to develop bad habits than to break them.
Instruction always works better when you apply it properly. In the early stages especially, that requires consistency. Make the commitment, even when it’s challenging, and you’ll see the rewards a whole lot faster.
Being a coach sometimes can feel like you’re stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. You offer a correction, the player makes it for a repetition or two, then goes back to what she was doing before. So you offer the correction again and the cycle repeats.
This pattern particularly shows up with younger players, but it can happen to anyone anytime. Obviously, two good repetitions followed by a few incorrect ones isn’t going to get anyone anywhere.
So how do you provide a little extra incentive to focus on doing it right every time? This is where taking advantage of the competitive nature of fastpitch softball players can come in handy.
Fastpitch softball is a tough sport full of difficulties and disappointments, so players really have to have some competitive fire to keep going with it. They also have to love a challenge. As soon as you press the “compete” button you almost always have their full and undivided attention.
One way I’ve done this is to borrow from the playground basketball game of HORSE. You know the one. You take a shot, then the player after you has to take the same shot. If he/she doesn’t make it, he/she gets a letter. You keep going until only one player hasn’t spelled out HORSE.
For Katie, the girl in the photo at the top of the post, the challenge was getting her to bring her back leg into her front leg to finish the pitch. She had the very common tendency of throwing the front leg out without using the back leg. As a result, the back leg was more of an anchor dragging behind her and cutting back on her speed and accuracy.
So I challenged her to a game of HORSE. The rules were simple. If her back leg finished by closing into her front leg (more or less) no letter was assigned. If, however, she finished with her legs spread apart (which usually caused her to bend forward as well) she received a letter.
Once we established those simple rules, it was game on! Suddenly, instead of the Groundhog Day loop of me telling her to finish, she was more on top of it. She still ended up getting an H-O, as I recall, but that was all in the 10 minutes we spent on it.
That was pretty good improvement, because it meant in all the pitches she threw she only failed twice. More importantly, rather than me telling her to fix the issue she was now dedicated to fixing it herself – because she didn’t want to lose the game!
I knew it really got through to her, though, when at her next lesson she asked if we could play HORSE again. I think she wanted to play because she knew she could win; she’d worked on it between lessons to gain the advantage.
But that’s ok with me – I want her to win, because then she’s improving her mechanics and using her body more effectively. By the way, there was no prize for winning or avoiding getting HORSE, although there certainly could’ve been. The game simply appealed to her competitive nature and got her attention.
In reality, this is a game/technique you can use to drive improvement for all kinds of techniques. Have a hitter who is dropping her hands or swinging bat-first? Play HORSE.
Have a fielder who isn’t getting her glove down on ground balls, or a catcher who isn’t keeping her glove on the ground while blocking? Play HORSE.
(I’m not just saying this to you, by the way. I am also making this as notes to myself, as I am definitely under-utilizing this idea.)
The one thing I would caution is focus the game on the process/skills, not the results. So use it to help a first baseman learn to scoop a ball in the dirt properly, but not to keep track of whether she actually got it or not. Or use it to help a hitter learn to swing hips-first rather than giving her a letter if she swings and misses.
If she learns the skill, the results will take care of themselves. But if you focus on the outcomes, you won’t drive the skills. Instead, you’ll probably reinforce bad habits as the player tries to avoid the error/failure instead of learning and internalizing the technique.
In any case, if you find yourself in a Groundhog Day-like loop, give HORSE a try. And if you do, or you’ve done the same thing yourself, let me know how it works for you in the comments below.
This came up recently when the mom of one of my students asked me for a little help in learning how to call pitches for her daughter. Makayla worked very hard through the off-season, pre-season, and then the season itself to learn to throw a good, reliable fastball, a strong change, and the beginnings of a drop ball.
The thing is, knowing how to throw those pitches isn’t enough. You also need to know when. Sarah wanted to use the pitches strategically but wasn’t sure how.
Now, you can search for fastpitch pitch calling guides on the Internet, but most of them assume a much older, more experienced pitcher with a variety of pitches at their disposal. Yes, it’s great to say “throw a curve followed by a rise” to this type of hitter. But what if you don’t have either?
To help her out, I put together the guide below. You can either copy and print it out, from this post or you can download the attachment which contains the same information.
The guide essentially speaks to how to use “just” a fastball and a change to get ahead of hitters and keep them off-balance so they either strike out or make weak contact. It goes through what to throw different types of hitters as well as some core strategies.
This information has been vetted, too. I checked in with Sarah after Makayla’s last tournament and she said it worked great. So if you’re just getting into the whole cat-and-mouse game between pitchers and hitters, this guide should give you a good start.
Basic Pitch Calling Guide
This guide assumes the pitcher has a fastball and changeup, and can locate her fastball reasonably well. Keep in mind that you also have to pay attention to what the pitcher has that day. If she can’t throw to the outside corner this day, you won’t want to do that as often and so on.
Good hitter (1-5 in lineup most likely)
- Start low and out. Most hitters don’t like that pitch and will let it go by for a free strike. “When in doubt, throw low and out.”
- When ahead in the count (0-2 or 1-2), don’t throw strikes trying to go for the “quick kill.” Try throwing a high pitch, or well outside.
- Mix it up. If you threw two outside pitches in a row, come back inside. But don’t do it every time. Having a set pattern will come back to haunt you.
- If the changeup is working, try starting a strong hitter with a change. They’re usually looking to rock a fastball so a change will throw them off – maybe for the entire at bat.
- Keep the ball low. You want ground balls, not fly balls.
- Again, try starting with a changeup.
- If the first change worked, don’t be afraid to throw another one right away. Hitters rarely expect back-to-back changeups.
- Depending on the situation, a walk may not be a bad option. Better to give up one base than four. Especially with runners on base.
- With an 0-1 count, try coming inside. Let her crush a pitch foul down the left field line (right handed batter). It’s just a long strike, but it provides an overblown sense of self-confidence. Then go back outside, or throw a change.
- If you can blow the ball by them, do it. Don’t try to get too fancy until they prove they can catch up to the fastball. A changeup may be the only pitch they can hit.
- Don’t worry as much about inside/outside either. If you’re overpowering them, just rear back and rock it in there.
- If they look nervous at the plate, come inside for a strike. One inside pitch ought to be enough to freeze their bats.
Slappers (if you see any)
- Watch how they run toward the front of the box
- If they go directly at the pitcher, throw inside to try and jam them; throwing low and out just helps them by putting the ball where they want it
- If they try to run to first base right away, throw outside
- Throw changeups to take away the advantage of a running start
- Throw high to try to get them to pop up
Good times to throw a changeup
- First pitch to a good hitter (but not all the time).
- Right after pulling the ball far down the line foul. She’s ahead of the fastball. She’ll REALLY be ahead of the change.
- When she fouls a pitch straight back.
- Right after she missed a changeup.
- When she’s been fouling off several pitches. She has the timing down, just hasn’t quite gotten the bat on the ball. Throw the change, even if it’s for a ball. The change in speed will upset her timing.
Hitter location at the plate
- Standing close to the plate – throw inside (but be careful – some hitters like inside and not inside; I teach hitters like that to crowd the plate on purpose to turn outside pitches into middle pitches and to try to draw inside pitches)
- Standing away from the plate – throw outside; they won’t be able to reach the pitch, and are probably scared of being hit
It’s no great revelation to say that working the corners by being able to hit your spots inside and outside is a critical skill for fastpitch softball pitchers. The easiest pitches to hit are the ones down the middle, so once you can do that reliably the next step is learning to never throw there again (except maybe on a 3-0 count).
Of course, it’s easy to say “you have to hit your spots.” It’s another thing for fastpitch pitchers, especially younger ones, to be able to do it.
There are a lot of moving parts involved in fastpitch pitching, and going inside and outside reliably requires being able to make fine motor adjustments. Not every pitcher is able to do that on-command.
So with that in mind, here’s a quick video blog that shows a drill to help pitchers get the concept of making adjustments by starting broader and working their way back in. The drill will work no matter what technique you use to throw inside/outside.
It’s being demonstrated with an outside curve ball, by the way, but it will work for any pitch.