Category Archives: Pitching
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The other day I came across a great post on the Key Fundamentals blog titled Softball Pitching Myths Pt. 2 – Hello Elbow by Keeley Byrnes.
Keeley is a former pitcher and now a pitching coach in the Orlando, Florida area, and her blog has a lot of tremendous content on it. I highly recommend you check it out and bookmark or follow it as she has a lot of great information to share.
This particular post is a good example. It seems that “hello elbow” mechanics – turning the ball toward second at the top of the circle, pulling it down the back side and then forcing a palm-up finish at the end – is very commonly taught around the U.S. and maybe around the world.
Yet if you look at what elite pitchers do, you won’t find those mechanics being used by ANY of them. In fact, just the opposite, which makes it like learning to ride a bike by facing the back wheel instead of the front one.
Keeley’s well-researched post goes into great detail discussing not only what elite pitchers do by why they do it, and why it makes sense that they do it.
For example, she quotes this article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine which says:
“It has been shown that internal (medial) rotation around the long axis of the humerus is the largest contributor to projectile velocity. This rotation, which occurs in a few milliseconds and can exceed 9,000°/sec , is the fastest motion the human body produces.“
So if an internal rotation motion is the largest contributor to projectile (ball) velocity, why wouldn’t you want to use it? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Yet people still resist.
One of the interesting things about Keeley, along with Gina Furrey who I have mentioned in the past, is that both were taught “hello elbow” mechanics as players, and both now feel that not only did it limit their success, it also contributed to injuries that still plague them to this day.
When they first started out teaching they taught what they’d been taught. But then they did the research and discovered what they were teaching was actually sub-optimal, and they had the guts to change, which isn’t always easy.
Keeley goes as far as to show still photos of famous pitchers who appear to be pulling the hand up in a “hello elbow” manner, but then goes on to show what one of them actually does in a video. I’ve seen the others pitch and can tell you you’ll get similar results if you look at their full pitching motions.
Of course there is more to “hello elbow” than where the hand or elbow wind up. It’s actually a whole series of odd movements that rely on twisting the body, attempting to snap the wrist up at release and some other things that make it difficult to pitch efficiently – or effectively.
If that is what you, your daughter, or your team’s pitchers are being taught, I highly recommend checking out the Key Fundamentals blog where you’ll find a treasure trove of information that busts these myths, taken from the perspective of a former pitcher and practitioner. It’ll certainly open your eyes, and could save you a lifetime of regret.
Spin. Spot. Speed. Everyone involved in fastpitch pitching, whether as a player, parent, coach, instructor, or just interested observer loves to talk about those three attributes.
One of the most common statements you’ll see in Facebook fastpitch group discussions is something to the effect of, “Speed is good. But it’s really your ability to hit your spots and spin the ball that matters.”
In other words, don’t worry about whether you have speed. As long as you can throw movement pitches to the spots coaches call you’ll be fine.
The people who say these kinds of things remind me of this little burst of honesty from the movie “Liar, Liar:”
To me, it’s often the same with the speed discussion. “Speed isn’t that important” is usually something parents of kids who don’t have it say.
The reality is, speed is not only important on its own. It’s a door-opener to opportunities someone who doesn’t have it is less likely to get.
Take the idea of playing in college.
A college coach goes to watch a travel or high school game. The pitcher on one side is hitting her spots but doesn’t throw very hard, roughly in the mid-50s. She is getting people out primarily with weak hits, and maybe 3-4 Ks.
The pitcher on the other side is throwing gas, perhaps in the low to mid- 60s, but clearly has control trouble. Still, despite walking 6 hitters she also strikes out 10-12. Which one is the college coach going to talk to after the game?
If you guessed the girl throwing heat you’re right. The college coach will figure he/she can teach that girl to hit her spots a lot more easily than he/she can teach the other one to throw 65 mph.
The same is true at travel ball, high school, or even rec league tryouts. Coaches are generally going to pick the girl who throws the fastest with less accuracy over the one who is spot-on but has mediocre speed at best.
We really saw that at the 2021 Womens College World Series. In closeup after closeup, the camera showed “rise balls,” “drop balls,” “curve balls,” “screwballs” and whatever other variations there were being thrown with bullet/gyro spin.
That’s a ball that isn’t likely to actually move much at all horizontally or vertically, unless there is some seam-shifted wake action going on.
But those pitches, when thrown at 70 mph, were more than effective because, well, it’s just darned hard to hit a pitch going that fast no matter how much of a direct line it takes from the pitcher’s hand to wherever it ends up by the plate. Even if it’s well out of the strike zone by that time.
Here’s another reality. Take two pitchers who are struggling to get hitters out. One is hitting her spots, but the team’s opponents are crushing her in game after game.
The other is more random, but gets more Ks, swings and misses, or weaker hits because she just flat-out throws harder than the opposing hitters are used to seeing. Which one do you think the head coach is going to give more leeway to, or give more chances to prove herself?
Of course, this is about the time that people say, “But Cat Osterman…” Or baseball fanatics say “But Greg Maddux…”
Yup, I will grant you that, although neither were exactly slow. Cat in her heyday threw in the low 60s, which especially at that time was only a few mph under the top speedsters. And Maddux threw around 93 early in his career, which is hardly slow.
So here’s what I’ll on that. IF your pitcher can move the ball like Cat (or Greg), she can probably be pretty successful with just spot and spin. But that’s a pretty big IF.
If not, it will probably be in her best interest to work on adding as much speed as she can, which will make everything else she does more effective.
I’m not saying she has to be Monica Abbott or Yukiko Ueno or Rachel Garcia or any of the other members of the 70 mph club. Those are rare birds.
She may never even hit 60 mph. That’s still kind of a magic number in womens fastpitch softball for a good reason – not everyone can do it, whether due to genetics, training or the desire to work at it.
What I am saying is don’t go thinking if your favorite pitcher is hitting her spots and getting some spin on the ball that the speed of her pitches doesn’t matter. It does.
Keep working at it. Put in the time in mechanics, strength, speed and agility and whatever other training you can find to help her elevate her pitch speeds to the highest level of which she’s capable.
It’s well worth the investment.
As you may have possibly heard as a fastpitch softball fanatic, our sport is back in the Olympics for the first time since 2008! This is a rare moment to watch the best players in the world compete on a huge stage with presentation budget of a major network production.
It’s also the last time for the next eight years as the sport is not included in the 2024 Paris Olympics. It is expected to return in 2028 and 2032 when the games flip to the U.S. and Australia. Who knows what will happen after that?
So since this is such an unusual opportunity you’ll want to make the most of it. Not just to sit back and enjoy the games (although that’s great) but also to learn all you can while you have the opportunity.
So to help with that, here are a few pointers on some things to pay closer attention to. The Speed of Play.
The Speed of Play
I’m not talking about pitch speeds, although they are incredible too. I’m talking about what happens when a ball is put in play.
Look at what happens on a ground ball. It is scooped up and on its way to first in a “blink and you’ll miss it” fashion. There is no double-clutching, no calmly standing up and then casually firing it over. It’s there and gone.
Or look at the baserunners. Even the ones you would think are more powerful than fleet are incredibly fast. If a ball is hit between two fielders in the outfield there’s a good chance the runner on first is going to third. Bobble it at all and she’s heading for home.
Everything is amazingly fast. If you want to know what to work on in your/your daughter’s/you players’ games, work on that.
For example, don’t just hit them ground balls. Run a stopwatch and challenge them to make the play in less than three seconds. I find blowing an air horn when the stopwatch hits three seconds provides a pretty good indicator of whether they were successful enough.
Work on just pure running too. I know most people get into softball because they don’t like all the running in other sports, but it’s something that does need to be addressed.
While you can’t make everyone fast you can help them get faster. The faster your team is the more pressure it puts on the defense and the more runs you can score when you need them.
Here you can start by making sure your players are running on their toes instead of heels or flat feet. Then do a lot of short, quick sprints.
Run down a hill. Have two or more players run against each other, perhaps letting one player start in front of the other. Have them play tag around the basepaths. Anything to get the feet and arms moving faster.
Watch the Pitching Mechanics
The coverage I have seen so far has been amazing at showing pitching mechanics. We are getting great closeup shots of what is happening at release on great pitchers such as Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, and Yukiko Ueno.
Notice how close they are to their bodies at release, to the point where their forearms brush against their hips. Note how on a curve ball the hand kind of wraps around the back hip instead of being out and away.
Watch how they release the ball with a smooth, whipping motion. Note that they are vertical or leaning slightly back instead of being bent forward.
Also watch how they seem to glide on their back leg, like they’re riding a skateboard, until the front foot lands. Then they go into whip and release.
While you’re watching that, also note that they don’t drag their back legs behind them like zombies. The leg stays under them, which is what allows that skateboard-like movement.
It’s really a Master Class on pitching, happening pitch after pitch.
Listen to the Communication
With no crowd noise to speak of you can hear what’s going on down on the field more clearly. While at first you may list to the description of the play, maybe watch a second time and listen to what’s happening on the field.
They’re not down there keeping to themselves. Those players are communicating.
They’re talking before the play to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities. They’re talking during the play to help direct throws and avoid confusion. And they’re talking afterward to clean up any issues and pick up their teammates if something went wrong.
The more you communicate the better you’ll play as a team. Learn from the best.
What Happens Away from the Ball
The initial camera work is going to follow the ball. That makes sense because that’s where the main action is.
But during replays from other angles, look at what other players are doing. Who is backing up at a base? What is the right fielder doing on a throw from center to third?
If there is a steal or a bunt, who is fielding it and what are the other players doing?
For example, with a runner on first, if the third baseman fields the ball who goes to cover third in her place when the ball is bunted? Is it the shortstop, leaving second uncovered?
Unlikely since they may want to go for the lead runner. So is it the catcher? Pitcher? Left fielder?
The more you see how Olympic teams operate in particular situations the better idea you’ll have of what your team/daughter should be doing. Or at least learning.
How Tough Hitting Is Against Great Pitching
So far there hasn’t been a ton of offense in most of the games. That’s to be expected with such great pitchers.
Maybe it will change as the tournament goes on and the hitters get used to the high level of pitching they’re seeing. But right now it does demonstrate how challenging hitting can be – even for the best players in the world.
That’s something to keep in mind when your daughter goes 0 for 8 on a Saturday, or your team hits a collective .225. No matter how hard you work, a lot of good things have to happen to succeed at hitting.
That said, practicing properly (and often) gives you your best chance to succeed. Each of the players you’re watching works incredibly hard to do what she does.
Imagine where those hitters would be without all that hard work.
Softball is a game built on failure. It’s those who can push past it who will ultimately succeed.
They Make Mistakes Too
I think this is an important lesson for parents (and some coaches) to learn. These are the very best players in the world, presumably. But at some key moments, usually when their team can afford it the least, you will see a player here or there make an error.
It happens. It’s unfortunate but it does, even to the best. Especially in a pressure situation.
What parents (and some coaches) need to take away from that is these things are going to happen occasionally so you can’t freak out or get down on your daughter/player or scream at her in a way that makes her feel bad about herself.
This applies not to just physical errors but mental errors. If you’re a coach, make the correction in a non-judgmental way and move on. Believe me, she didn’t do it just to make you look bad or ruin your day.
If you’re a parent, be supportive. She’s probably already feeling horrible about it. Instead of making it worse help her learn from the experience so she doesn’t repeat it.
Realizing even the best players in the world make mistakes now and then will help you enjoy your daughter’s/players’ playing more and avoid turning one bad play into a bad inning – or a bad game.
Anyway, those are a few of the things I think you should be watching for as you enjoy softball in the Olympics. Any other thoughts? Leave them in the comments below,
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com
As I write this we are in the middle of summer vacation time here in the U.S. Families all over America are packing themselves up from wherever they live and traveling to a different area, state, time zone, etc. in search of a little R&R.
Even softball families are in that process. Some have already finished their seasons, while others are fitting in a little vacation time before or after tournaments.
For me, when I think of vacations I am reminded of taking my family to a lake for some serious downtime. Originally that meant the North Woods of Wisconsin, where we and various members of my wife’s family would rent cabins.
As part of the rental, we would get motorized row boats that we could use to go fishing. I’ve never been much of a fisherman, and didn’t grow up rowing boats so I found that a bit of a challenge at first, but when in Rome…
Now years later I’ve come to realize that those motorized row boats are the perfect analogy for the role of the back leg in pitching and hitting. Because it can either be a propeller or an anchor when you’re trying to be explosive.
A propeller will help you get where you’re going faster. Being fairly incompetent at rowing a boat, at least at first, I found the propeller to be a much easier way to get from point A to point B, even if those two points weren’t that far apart.
As long as you can fire up the motor (not always easy in a free rental), you can open the throttle and steer your way there while relaxing. That’s a lot easier than using oars to move through the water, especially if you’re using one oar more than the other, in which case you tend to make more of a circle than a straight line.
An anchor, on the other hand, is designed to hold you in place once you get to where you’re going. If you leave the anchor down, even with a motor, it will be much hard to get to your destination.
So it is in softball. In pitching, you want the “drive” leg to propel your center forward, enabling you to glide lightly along the ground until your front leg lands. Do it quick and powerfully enough and the sudden stop will help sling/whip your arm through the release zone.
But if you don’t engage your drive leg, and instead just run past it with your stride leg, the drive leg will turn into an anchor, lifelessly dragging behind you and slowing you down. When that happens, the drive leg doesn’t drive at all, but instead gets pulled along in the classic zombie walk. This is why it’s often called “zombie leg.”
Clearly one is better and more effective than the other in creating speed and enabling stability at release. Hopefully I don’t have to tell you which one that is.
While not quite as obvious or debilitating, the same effect occurs in overhand throwing. If the throwing side isn’t engaged actively as a propeller it becomes an anchor, which affects both speed and accuracy.
What about hitting? The same is true, although in a different way.
In hitting, you want the lower body to create the power. While that is really more of the core than the legs themselves, the rear leg contributes by having its knee start pulling toward the front knee, unweighting the leg so the hips can fire forward at maximum velocity.
If the hitter doesn’t get off the back foot the hips are unable to rotate rapidly or fully, and you wind up with more of an upper body swing that pulls the contact point further back. You’re then not hitting in the green zone.
The bottom line (no pun intended) is the back leg can either be an aid or a hindrance in making athletic movements in softball. Which it is depends entirely on the player.
Get it actively engaged, doing what it should do, and it becomes a propeller that helps drive better performance. Leave it behind and it will be an anchor, slowing the player down and creating a huge drag on performance.
Photo by Mount Polley on Pexels.com