Category Archives: Pitching

To Improve Pitching Mechanics Try Closing Your Eyes

One of the most important contributors to being successful in fastpitch softball pitching (and many other skills for that matter) is the ability to feel what your body is doing while it’s doing it.

The fancy word for that is “proprioception” – your ability to feel your body and the movement of your limbs in space. If you want to impress someone call it that. Otherwise you can just say body awareness.

Yet while it’s easy to say you should have body awareness, achieving it can be difficult for many pitchers, especially (but not limited to) younger ones. Keep in mind that it wasn’t all that long ago they were learning to walk, and many are still struggling to improve their fine motor skills.

They end up looking like that.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to achieving body awareness, however, is our eyes. How often do we tell pitchers to focus on the target, or yell at catchers to “give her a bigger target” when a pitcher is struggling.

According to research, 90% of what our brains process is visual information. That leaves very little processing power for our other senses.

It makes sense from a survival point of view. We can see threats long before we can hear them, or smell them, or taste them.

Or they get close enough to taste us.

But if your goal is oriented toward athletic performance instead of survival, all that visual information can get in the way of feeling what your body is doing.

The solution is as simple as it is obvious: if you can’t feel your body when you’re practicing, close your eyes. (I do not recommend the same during a game since there is a person with a $500 bat at the other end of the pitch waiting to drill you with a comebacker.)

With your eyes closed, you no longer have the distraction(s) of what your eyes see. You HAVE to become more aware of what your body is doing, and where its various parts are going, if you’re going to have any chance of getting it even near the plate.

I have done this with many pitchers over the years, and it has invariably helped to different degrees. Some start to feel whether their arms are stiffening up or they’re pushing the ball through release where they couldn’t before.

Some feel their bodies going off line, or gyrating in all kinds of crazy directions instead of just moving forward and stabilizing at release.

In some cases, girls who were struggling with control actually start throwing more strikes with their eyes closed than they did with their eyes open. Again, because they’re starting to FEEL the things we were talking about.

One thing I like to emphasize with eyes-closed pitching is for the pitcher to visualize where the catcher is before she starts the pitch. See it in her mind’s eye the way she would see it if her eyes were open.

Then, once she has it visualized, go ahead and throw the pitch.

Even if she struggles at first she will usually start to feel what her body is doing at a much deeper level, putting her in a position to start correcting it. Then, by the time she opens her eyes again she will be better prepared to deliver the type of results you’re hoping for.

If you have a pitcher who is struggling to feel what she’s doing, give this a try. It can be an eye-opening experience for pitchers – and their parents.

Want to Get Better? Try Doing Nothing!

Ok yes, today’s title was purposely click baity. Because I don’t mean literally to sit around all day on the couch staring at a screen or eating Cheetohs (or doing both; I’m not here to judge).

Sorry all you players who hoped to use my blog to justify telling your parents to chill, or whatever you say nowadays.

What I’m actually talking about is learning to use your body the way it’s meant to be used rather than trying to do too much and getting in the way of your best performance.

A great example, and one I’ve talked about many times here, is using “hello elbow” (HE) mechanics for pitching.

With HE, you push the ball down the back side of the circle and try to get your hand behind the ball early going into the release zone. You then pull your arm through the release zone with your bicep while (supposedly) snapping your wrist hard as you let go of the ball, finishing with your elbow pointing at your catcher.

While this may seem like a way to add energy into the ball in theory, in practice the opposite is true. It actually slows down your arm, because your using the small bicep muscle instead of the larger back muscles to bring the arm down, and gets in the way of your arm’s natural movements as it passes your hip.

Even biceps like these.

It’s also an unnatural movement pattern. To prove it, stand up, let your arms hang at your sides, and see which way your hand is facing. Unless you have something very odd going on your palm is in toward your thigh, not turned face-forward.

Your arm wants to turn in that way when you’re pitching too. In order for that to happen, all you have to do is NOTHING – don’t force it out, don’t force a follow through, really don’t do anything. The ball will come out as your hand turns and you will transfer way more energy into the ball than you would have if your tried to do something.

It’s very Seinfeldian.

This, incidentally, is something I often use to help pitchers whose arms are naturally trying to do internal rotation (IR) but are also using an HE finish because that’s what has been drilled into them for the last three years gain a quick speed boost. They start out using their HE mechanics from the K position and we look at the speed reading.

I then have them lose the forced finish and just let the arm naturally pronate at it reaches the bottom of the circle. They can usually add 2-3 mph immediately just by doing nothing.

Or let’s look at hitting. Many young and inexperienced hitters will try to over-use their arms and shoulders when bringing the bat to the ball.

It makes sense on some level because the bat is in your hands and you want to hit the ball hard.

Yet that is the one of the worst things you can do. When you pull the bat with your arms and shoulders you have to start your swing before you know where the ball is going to be (never a good idea).

You will also lose your ability to adjust your swing to where the ball is going because you’ve built up so much momentum in whatever direction your started. Not to mention that muscles get smaller and weaker as you move away from your core so you’re not generating nearly as much energy as your body is capable of producing.

Again, the better choice is to do nothing with your arms early in the swing, and instead let your lower body and core muscles generate energy and start moving the bat toward the ball (while the bat is still near your shoulder). Then, once you’re well into your turn and you see where the ball is headed you can let the bat head launch, resulting in a much better hit, and a more reliable process.

Does doing nothing work for overhand throwing as well?

You betcha.

How many times have you seen players lined up across from each other, throwing arm elbow in their glove and wrists snapping furiously while their forearms don’t move? Probably more times than you can count.

This is a completely pointless drill because no one, and I mean NO ONE, purposely snaps their wrists when they throw overhand. Instead, they relax their wrists and allow the whipping action to snap their wrists for them – which is far more powerful.

To prove it, close your fingers up and try to fan yourself by snapping your wrist. Not much air there, right?

Something to keep in mind at hot tournaments.

Now relax your wrist and move your forearm back and forth quickly. Ahh, that’s the stuff. That breeze you now feel is more energy being generated, which moves more air into your face.

So if that’s the case, why would you ever try to do something when you’re releasing the ball rather than doing nothing and letting biomechanics produce better results for you?

There are countless other examples but you get the picture. The point is, forcing unnatural movements onto your body, while they might make you “feel” like you’re working harder, are actually very inefficient.

If you want to maximize your performance, make sure the energy you’re producing is delivering the results you’re going for. Just doing nothing and watch your numbers climb.

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

The Case for Posting New High Pitch Speeds

You’ve probably seen the same Facebook posts I see: Internet pitching experts (I suppose taking a break from their other career of Internet virology or economics experts) complaining about coaches and parents posting when their pitcher daughter hits a new high speed.

They go into a whole rant about how pitching speed isn’t important, it’s more important to locate the pitch and spin it, blah blah blah. It reminds me of this clip from the Jim Carrey movie Liar, Liar:

I get their point to a point, though. Often times coaches become obsessed with raw speed to the point where they ignore other factors.

While it’s true that a pitcher who can overpower hitters with speed can rack up more Ks, that’s not the only way to get hitters out. I personally love a pitcher who can consistently close out an inning in 6-10 pitches – especially on a super hot, muggy day.

Let’s get the team off the hot plate infield as quickly as possible and into where the pop-up tents and sports drinks are.

So then why get so excited about new pitch speeds? It’s simple – it’s a way of measuring how well the pitcher is progressing toward locking down her mechanics.

The key is that these measurements should not be used to rank one pitcher over another. The value, at least the way I use them, is in ranking the pitcher relative to herself.

I have a Pocket Radar set up with a SmartDisplay at every lesson. The pitcher can see the speed results of every pitch. So can her catcher if he/she turns to look.

I call it my accountability meter. If the pitcher is slacking off from where her speed usually is I can see it right away and can “suggest” she put more effort in.

At the same time, it also clues me in to the fact that this pitcher just may not have it today.

Perhaps she just came from a two-hour basketball practice full of conditioning drills. Her legs are dead and she’s just not capable of generating max speed. So maybe we work on spins, or focus on her release point, or do other things that don’t rely on her legs.

Or maybe she’s starting to get sick, or nursing an injury. Whatever the issue is, the radar provides a quick clue that something isn’t quite optimal.

The important point is that we are measuring that pitcher relative to herself, not her teammates or some other random pitcher on the Internet. And I post the speeds to celebrate the individual’s achievement, whatever that may be.

If it was purely about speed, or promoting the pitching coach, those coaches would only post the new highs of their kids throwing 60+. I’ve certainly seen that.

But for me, I’m just as excited for the high school pitcher who came to me throwing 43 and is now throwing 48 as I am for the 60+ girls. Maybe even moreso.

You see, it takes a certain combination of factors (including genetics) to throw at higher velocities. Those who are athletically gifted can reach that level much more easily than those who are not.

But for some pitchers, especially those who are smaller and lighter, increasing their speed at all may take a lot more work than it does for the athletically gifted. So while in the pantheon of pitching prowess 48 may not sound like much, for that particular pitch it’s a huge deal, the culmination of a whole lot of effort and practice.

Achievements like that deserve to be celebrated.

Hooray!

Having a way of measuring progress, and celebrating it through social media, also provides some great incentive to those pitchers. Especially after they’ve been through it a couple of times.

They see the radar there. They want their picture taken and posted, and they want to be able to say they throw X, which is faster than they have before.

So I don’t have to do much to motivate them to work. They go for it themselves. And once they’ve hit it they work even harder to make it their baseline so they can move on to the next speed goal.

All of which helps them grow into the pitchers they’re meant to be.

Does that mean we focus on speed exclusively? Of course not!

Spot and spin are still incredibly important, as is the ability to throw a changeup that looks like it will be that fast while taking 12-15 mph off of the result. That’s pitching instead of just throwing.

But the name of the game is FASTpitch softball. Which to me means every pitcher should be doing all she can to wring every ounce of speed she can out of her body, because all those elements work better if you start from a higher baseline.

I tell my students we have four words to live by: faster is always better. That doesn’t just mean the speed of the pitch but also the approach taken to delivering it.

If you move faster your body will create and transfer more energy. That’s science (force=mass x acceleration). It will also disguise your changeup better.

So let the naysayers complain. In my mind, measuring the speed of every pitch helps keep pitchers focused and on upward trajectory.

Not so their parents or coaches can get bragging rights. But so they become the pitchers they’re meant to be.

Applying Deep Practice to Overcome Stumbling Blocks

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Anyone who has read the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle has heard of the concept of “deep practice.” You may have blown right by it but you’ve heard of it.

Part of the key to deep practice is repeating movements over and over in ultra-slow motion. As I recall Coyle says movements should be so slow that someone passing by casually can’t tell what you’re trying to do.

This week I had a chance to test this idea out on several pitching students to see how much it would help. The short version (and spoiler alert): quite a bit.

Each of these students, whose ages varied from 10 to 16, was having trouble throwing her changeup. Specifically they were all having trouble getting their hand into the proper position at the right time to make it work.

When it happened the first time I remembered The Talent Code and told the pitcher to work through how to get her hand turned the right way at the right time going ultra-slowly. After about a dozen reps at that speed I told her to go back to the pitching rubber and throw it.

The pitch was spot-on. Not just once but every time she threw it.

Pretty much how we reacted.

Hmmm, I thought, that worked pretty well. But of course “one” is not a valid sample.

So, the next student who had trouble with her change was advised to do the same. And we got the same results!

As I recall I did this with half a dozen students and it worked every time. Not just a little bit but to the point where if the pitcher threw that pitch in a game it most likely would have resulted in either a swing and miss or a hitter frozen mid-swing.

Of course, six isn’t really a valid sample either so I plan to continue the experiment with students who are having trouble with the mechanics of any pitch. I fully expect I will get similar results regardless of the pitch.

I hesitate to say it’s a magic bullet. But so far, it’s about as close as I’ve found.

This has nothing to do with the story but I found it amusing.

The good news is this technique isn’t just for pitchers. It can be applied to any skill where an athlete knows what to do at some level but isn’t quite able to do it.

Have a hitter who is having trouble keeping the bat head up until she turns the corner and then turning the bat over? Have her do it properly, very, very slowly, over and over.

Have a fielder who keeps dropping her elbow instead of getting into a good throwing position? Have her work on the proper technique, very, very slowly, over and over.

Have a catcher who is sitting back on her heels when she blocks instead of getting her shoulders out in front of her knees? Have shortstop who is having trouble transferring the ball for a double play? You get the idea.

Just one caution. I’m fairly certain the benefits we achieved so far were temporary. That’s why I’ve told the girls who did it to keep practicing that way, 20-50 times per day.

The beauty is they don’t need a field, or a ball, or a tee, or a catcher, or anything else. Just enough space to work on the proper movement patterns until they’re locked in – however long it takes.

If you have a player who is struggling to do something, especially something she’s shown she can do before, give the ultra-slow movement approach a try. And if you do, let us all know how it works out in the comments below!

How Many Lessons Until My Kid Is Awesome?

Today’s blog post was suggested by my friend and fellow pitching coach Shaun Walker of Next Level Softball. Shaun is an incredible pitching coach and an innovative thinker who has opened me up to a whole new world around human movement and how it affects athletic performance at a core level.

Don’t let the West Virginia accent fool you either. He may talk funny (as he says) but you better pay attention when he’s doing it or you will miss something great. (If you’re in the Man, W. Va. area and are interested in quality instruction definitely look him up.)

In any case, Shaun told me about getting contacted by the parent of a prospective student who asked him the question I’m sure is on the minds of many parents: how many lessons will it take? The implied part, of course, is until my daughter is a star.

Wow, talk about a loaded question. As Shaun says, that’s like asking how many licks until you get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. There is no easy answer.

NOTE: While we will be talking about pitching specifically in this post, the principles apply to all skills, all positions, and all sports and activities.

One obvious reason is that different players have different builds, athletic abilities, work ethics, time available to them, levels of experience, practice spaces, levels of mental toughness, and other factors. They are also different ages which factors into it more than many of us might want to admit.

For example, an 8 year old will generally have a very different ability to focus for long periods of time than a 14 year old. That’s just biology.

Sure, there are plenty of distracted 14 years old, and the occasional hyper-focused 8 year old. But for the overall population this is true.

With the result that the 8 year old will be able to pay attention for part of the lesson until the circus in her head takes over whereas the 14 year old should be able to focus for the entire lesson. Particularly if she is personally motivated to learn.

What the typical young player sees about 10 minutes into a lesson.

Athletic build is a pretty obvious factor. A big, strong player will likely experience more success early than a scrawny little peanut who is in danger of being blown away by the next strong breeze.

That doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever, though. The peanut will grow and mature, and eventually gain the muscle mass needed – particularly if she works at it – to catch up to her larger peers. With the added benefit her mechanics may be cleaner because they had to be.

But it’s going to take her longer to achieve the same level of success. Again, that darned biology.

This brings us to work ethic, which I’m sure Shaun (and many others) would agree is the greatest X factor of them all.

Take two girls of similar native ability. The only time the first one picks up a ball is when she has a lesson. Or maybe an hour before she has that lesson.

The second one practices diligently. Not just putting in time, but actually working on the things that were assigned to her in her last lesson (whether that was with a live pitching coach, a team coach, a parent, or an online session).

Which one is more likely to advance faster? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

But there is no way the coach being asked “How long will it take” will know these players well enough to make that evaluation before ever working with them.

And even then, the lack of natural athletic ability or comfort with body movement may hold the harder worker back longer — for a while. Eventually, though, that work ethic will overcome just about any obstacle.

Another factor that can contribute is how long it takes to overcome previous bad teaching.

I’ve talked a lot, especially recently, about the benefits of internal rotation (IR) over hello elbow (HE) pitching, especially when it comes to using the body the way it’s designed to work. One of the biggest issues HE generates is teaching pitchers to turn the ball back toward second base, make the arm as straight as possible, and push the ball down the back side of the circle.

When you do that you lose any ability to accelerate (whip) the ball through the release zone, affecting both speed and accuracy. That’s why many pitchers who are taught HE, and do the HE drills, still manage to find their way to some form of IR when they actually pitch.

Still, those ingrained habits can be difficult to break. So a pitcher who has taken lessons for five years from an HE coach may find it takes her longer to unlearn those mechanics and get on the right path than one who has never had instruction before or maybe even who has never pitched.

So again, how long it takes to achieve the results you’re looking for is difficult to predict. It all depends on how long it takes to learn to face the ball forward, maintain a bend in the arm, and accelerate the ball into release by leading the little finger rather than pushing it from behind.

Last but definitely not least is the mental toughness factor. Many of the skills in softball are incredibly difficult to learn, and pitching is certainly no exception.

It can be frustrating, even soul-sucking at times. There will be days when nothing seems to work right, or weeks when it feels like zero progress is being made because the speed on the radar gun isn’t changing or the strike percentages aren’t going up significantly or the spin direction on the ball isn’t what it should be.

Pitchers need to have the mental toughness to accept it and keep working anyway. If they’re learning the right techniques, and practicing diligently, it will happen. As my favorite quote from Remember the Titans says, “It’s like Novocain. Give it time, it always works.”

A little Ryan Gosling dancing to make your day.

Those who can hang in there when the going gets tough will see the rewards. Those who can’t will find it difficult to achieve their dreams.

Just like in life.

So how long will it take? As long as it takes.

There are things you can do to shorten the process, but it’s only shortening your process, because we’re all different.

Keep an eye on the prize, understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and all those other sports clichés. If you keep at it you will eventually reach the chewy center.

Oh, and if you have a topic you’d like me to address, feel free to suggest it in the comments below. I’m always looking for new ideas that will resonate with your interests and concerns.

Accuracy Without Speed = Batting Practice

One of the age-old controversies in fastpitch pitching is whether it’s more important to develop speed or accuracy first.

Of course my answer to that question is always “yes.” Because I don’t believe they are, or have to be, mutually exclusive.

But there are definitely those, including one of America’s most famous and beloved pitching coaches, who will tell you to learn to throw strikes first and then you can worry about speed later. Here’s my problem with that.

Take a look at Internet forums or Facebook groups and what is one of the most common pleas from pitcher parents? It goes something like this:

“My daughter has been pitching for X years and has always been great at throwing strikes. She led her rec league team to a championship when she was 10, and she is still the most accurate pitcher on her team. But her speed is below the other pitchers we see. I’d like to see her get faster. Please help.”

Then the parent posts a video of a kid pushing the ball toward the plate or otherwise forcing it to go where she wants it to go.

I’m sorry, but the best advice I could give that parent is to invent a time machine so he/she can have his/her daughter start learning to throw hard right from the beginning.

Maybe this guy can help.

A lot of developing speed is about learning to move your body quickly – and having the intent to do so. In other words, you need to have athletic, ballistic movements in order to impart energy into the ball so it will go fast.

But if your focus is on learning to throw strikes, especially at young ages, you’re not going to learn to move ballistically because it’s harder to achieve the goal of throwing strikes. Fast-moving body parts are more difficult to control, which means fewer strikes. It’s much easier to “get the ball over the plate” if you slow down and find an effective way to lob it there.

The problem is that’s what you’re training your body to do – throw slow strikes. In the meantime, another girl who is learning to throw hard is going through all of the growing pains throwing hard requires while learning to move her body quickly.

Her body may be out of control for a little while, until she develops greater body awareness (proprioception for those of you who like the big words) and learns the proper mechanics as well as how to apply them.

As she continues, though, those fast-paced movements become easier to replicate. She then learns how to control them, and becomes not only fast but accurate.

In the meantime, Suzy Slow Strike Machine suddenly finds out that throwing the ball over the plate without speed is like volunteering to throw front toss without a screen as hitters mature.

And she starts to feel something like this.

So naturally she (and her parents) want her to learn to throw faster.

Unfortunately, now she has to go through the same growing pains that the hard throwers did three years ago. Which means she not only lacks speed but also her famous accuracy.

And who wants a slow, wild pitcher?

Or think of it this way: When players are running the bases do we teach them to run slowly first so they don’t overrun the base and tell them they can then add speed later? Of course not.

We tell them to run full out and teach them to stop or slide on time.

Actual coach demonstrating sliding with style.

The same is true for pitchers. Putting an emphasis on accuracy at the expense of speed is a poor strategy.

It reminds me of the saying, “The race doesn’t always go the swiftest nor the contest to the strongest. But that’s the way to bet.”

As I said earlier, the reality is you don’t have to sacrifice speed development for accuracy – IF, and that’s a big IF, the pitcher is learning proper pitching mechanics. If you learn how to do things the right way, and practice enough to make those movements precisely repeatable, the ball will go where it should.

In my mind accuracy is not a goal. It is a result, just as speed is a result.

If you wait to develop speed you just may find you’ve painted yourself into a corner with no way out.

Yes, I get that throwing strikes is important. But it’s hardly a mystery.

By focusing on developing mechanically sound pitchers who throw with effort and intent rather than fear of failure, you can achieve both speed and accuracy pretty much simultaneously. Which is the key to a long, successful pitching career.

Softball Pitching: How You Start Learning Matters

One of the hot topics in the fastpitch softball world is the debate over pitching mechanics. If you haven’t been following any of the dozens of Facebook pages devoted to softball, it essentially breaks down into two camps: internal rotation (IR) and hello elbow (HE). (Full disclosure: I am firmly in the IR camp.)

I’m not going to go into great detail in this post about the differences between the two approaches, as I have done that before. As have other excellent instructors.

Instead I will just briefly summarize that IR is characterized by a bent elbow on the back side of the circle that allows the humerus (upper arm) and elbow to lead down the circle until it is “trapped” by the ribcage, which enables the lower arm to whip past the upper arm and the forearm to pronate into release as it brushes against the hip with a low, natural follow-through. Whereas HE relies on a straight arm and a pushing movement down the back side of the circle with no contact against other body parts until finally the wrist is snapped up purposefully and the hand is pulled up forcefully, usually resulting the hand touching the shoulder (or coming close) and the elbow pointing at the catcher (hence the name).

What’s interesting in this debate is it seems like many defending the HE approach are actually conceding that IR is a better mechanic and that it’s what 99.999% of elite level pitchers use. But they say that HE is a good way to start pitchers, and then they can find their way to IR mechanics when they are older and more mature.

As long-time pitching instructor I can tell you that’s not true. And here’s why.

We are all creatures of our habits. Whatever behavior is ingrained into us early is often difficult to break, even if the old approach is forced and the new approach works more naturally with the body.

A good example is handwriting. Back in less enlightened days, left handers were often forced in school to write with their right hands, either with the intention of helping them fit into the world better or to enforce conformity.

Wait, you don’t HAVE to be right-handed?

In their later years, as they discovered their left-handedness, they might try to write with that hand but many found it difficult. Moving back to the left hand often took a tremendous amount of work, essentially sending them back to starting from scratch.

In my experience, pitching is the same way. Not always – pitchers who were resistant to the whole HE approach, or who didn’t do it for very long, have been able to make the switch fairly quickly.

But for plenty of others it was incredibly different. Not with the finish where they pull their hands up – that part is so forced that it’s relatively easy to stop, or they will do it well after the ball is gone as a sort of separate movement.

The real culprit is the instruction to turn the ball backwards toward second base, lock out the elbow, and push the ball down the back side of the circle into release. THAT habit has proved incredibly difficult for some to break, especially if whoever taught them originally was adamant about it.

Unfortunately, locking out the elbow and pushing the ball down removes any possibility of whipping the lower arm through the release zone or achieving brush contact. Which means there is no multiplication of energy at release, which limits speed.

Pitchers who are smaller, slimmer, not blessed with a ton of fast twitch muscles or lack other compensating factors really struggle to increase their speed past a certain basic level – no matter how hard they work at it. Until they learn to accelerate the ball by achieving a whipping motion they will not achieve their potential.

And that’s why saying “It’s ok to start them with HE” is a bad idea. Well-meaning coaches or parents will set an artificial cap on speed (as well as their ability to throw movement pitches) that will be difficult to overcome.

Think of it this way: if you want your child to be a kind, well-mannered person, it’s not a good idea to let them start their lives by being rude and disrespectful.

I want to throw a screwball

You want to ingrain the desired behaviors early in their lives, setting a good foundation for their eventual entry into society.

The same is true of pitching mechanics. If you want to ensure a pitcher reaches her full potential (and don’t we all?), don’t just start them with any old approach. Teach them right from the start and they’ll achieve more throughout their careers.

Why Focusing on Energy Transfer Is Critical

Whether the goal is hitting farther, throwing harder, pitching faster or executing some other movement at a higher level, the first place many of us go is energy generation. Let’s take pitching, for example.

Pitchers will be encouraged to spend a lot of time on improving their drive mechanics. They’ll be told to do endless box jumps, lunges, dead lifts and other exercises to build more explosiveness into their legs. They’ll be put on devices such as the Queen of the Hill to help them learn to drive out even harder.

Yet improving the amount of drive is only half the battle. What often gets ignored in all this heavy lifting is the importance of being able to transfer the energy they’re generating into the ball efficiently, i.e., with as little energy loss as possible.

Here’s why that’s important. Imagine you need to move 20 gallons of water from point A to point B, but all you have available is a one gallon bucket. It’s going to take a lot of little trips to move all that water.

Not very efficient.

Now imagine you have a 10 gallon bucket instead. You’ll be able to take a lot more water in each trip while minimizing the number of trips you need to make to accomplish the same task.

Whatever your ultimate goal may be.

The same is true for fastpitch softball skills. No matter how much energy you generate on the front end, that energy is only as useful as your ability to transfer/apply it to the skill you’re performing.

Of course in softball it’s not just about how much energy you can transfer but how quickly you can do it. A sudden transfer will delivery more of the energy into the ball versus a slow one. That’s just physics.

In hitting that means a quick swing that rapidly accelerates the bat to meet the ball at the optimum contact point. In throwing and pitching, that means a rapid series of accelerations and decelerations into the release point.

This, by the way, is one of several reasons why “hello elbow” pitching prevents pitchers from reaching their maximum levels of velocity.

Hello elbow finishes, where you try to muscle the ball through release by straightening out the arm as it goes around the circle, deliberately snap the wrist and then yank up on the arm (mostly after the ball is already gone), are slow, forced movements.

There is no sudden acceleration and deceleration sequence that enables the upper and lower arms, as well as the wrist, to move at different speeds at different times. It’s all one big forced movement, which prevents energy from being transferred – as opposed to internal rotation which accelerates and decelerates the upper and lower arm in sequence and allows the wrist to react to what the arm is doing, amplifying the energy instead of limiting it.

Physics, baby!

The point is spending all your time on learning how to generate maximum energy isn’t enough. You need to spend an equal amount of time, or maybe even more, on learning how to transfer that energy you’re generating efficiently. Otherwise it’s a lot of wasted effort.

Build yourself a bigger energy “bucket” and you’ll maximize your results with whatever your bring to the table today – and tomorrow.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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.

Drill to Help Fastpitch Pitchers Feel the Elbow Lead

I know my last two posts have been incredibly long so going to try to keep this one short and sweet today.

One of the biggest challenges pitchers who are early in their journey, or pitchers who were taught to turn the ball toward second at the top of the circle, have is learning to get and maintain a bend in the arm coming down the back side of the circle. Getting that bent elbow is essential for enabling the body, and especially the arm, to decelerate a piece at a time instead of all at once to generate maximum arm whip (and thus maximum speed).

Usually what happens is the pitcher is very hand/ball-centric through the circle. That makes sense on the surface because what are they going to do? They’re going to throw the ball with their hand.

Yet taking that approach means that when the pitcher comes over the top of her head the momentum she has generated on the front side will naturally carry the hand backward. When that happens not only does the arm straighten out but the ball is actually moving in the opposite direction of the body.

In other words, as the body is driving forward, hopefully at great velocity, all the energy in the lower arm and hand is being directed backward, as if the pitcher is trying to throw to second base. As a result, a lot of the energy that was generated early will be lost, and more of it will be wasted trying to get the ball to start coming forward again. Not exactly the recipe for maximizing speed.

To avoid this issue the arm must start bending before it goes over the top, enabling the elbow to lead through 12:00 and then down the back side of the circle. This can be easier said than done, however, because it’s often difficult for pitchers to feel exactly what IS happening with their arms at that point.

So to address that issue I developed this little drill.

Have the pitcher stand at 45 degrees to the wall behind her, with her back heel touching or nearly touching. She then raises her arm and brings her hand overhead in the circle to touch the wall behind her.

The advantage of this drill is that it is very targeted and tactile. I always say “if you can feel it, you can fix it.”

By having her try to touch the wall with her elbow instead of her hand, the elbow naturally has to bend. She will know instantly if she got arm/elbow bend at this critical moment because the point of her elbow will contact the wall. It the back of her hand touches the wall, the arm is too straight.

If, on the other hand, the ball touches the wall, the arm is too straight AND she turned the ball backward as she came over the top.

I recommend doing this drill 50-100 times a day every day until the arm starts getting into this position naturally. The nice thing is you don’t need a facility or a warm, sunny day to do it. Any convenient vertical surface and an arm’s length of space will suffice.

If you have a pitcher who is struggling to get arm bend/lag in order to whip, give this drill a try. And be sure to let me know how it works for you.

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