Category Archives: Throwing
If there is one universal truth in fastpitch softball it has to be this: basic overhand throwing is the most under-taught part of the game.
It doesn’t matter if you’re watching a local high school or middle school game, a travel ball tournament, or even a college game on TV. You can almost guarantee that many of the throwing motions will be questionable, and some will be downright abysmal.
I see this all the time when I give individual lessons or conduct clinics with a group of players. The mechanics that are used to get a softball from player A to player B – which constitutes a good part of the game when a strikeout doesn’t occur – are often just awful.
So why, exactly, is that? I mean, throwing is certainly a part of every practice. It’s often one of the first things players do at practice or before a game, occurs throughout, and then is often one of the last things that happens at the end.
The only conclusion I can come to is that it’s not being taught. Throwing may be part of warm-ups, but it apparently isn’t a skill anyone thinks about working on. It’s more of a prelude to the “important stuff,” like fielding or hitting or running the bases.
That’s a huge oversight, especially when you consider the often-quoted figure that 80% of all errors are throwing errors. Which means teams could cut out 80% of their errors by learning to throw better.
Where else can you get so much payoff for paying attention to one specific area? Certainly not hitting. It’s highly unlikely you will improve your hitting by 80% no matter how much you practice. Yet teams and individuals will spend hour upon hour working on their hitting mechanics.
Throwing? Nah. Just get loosened up throwing however you feel like it and then we’ll get down to the serious work.
Just imagine, though, if teams would say hey, wait a minute. Let’s take a half hour today and try to learn to throw better. Not only would they be likely to throw harder and improve accuracy; they might also cut down on the arm injuries plaguing so many players these days.
While there is obviously more to it than I can get into right now, here are a few basics of what you should see players doing when they throw – even (especially) in warm-ups.
- Stand sideways to the target with glove arms in front, hands together in front of you.
- Begin your stride, stepping the front foot so it will land at a 45 degree angle and separate the hands by pulling the elbows apart, with more emphasis in the beginning on the glove-hand elbow. The motion should be like stretching a rubber band.
- As the throwing hand goes back, turn the hand palm-down and start to make a circle. How big of a circle depends on the position and distance you will have to throw. Small circle for catchers and infielders, larger circle for outfielders.
- Land the front foot, which should be about when the glove-side elbow gets as far as it can. Then start pulling the elbow back like you’re trying to elbow someone behind you in the gut. (Be careful not to just swing it around like you’re elbowing someone in the head.)
- As the glove-side elbow begins to pulls back, rotate the hips the hips, which will help pull the shoulders in. You should feel a stretch around the stomach area if the hips are leading the shoulders properly. By now the arm should have completed the circle and be in a position to come forward.
- Continue pulling with the body, bringing the arm forward with the elbow leading, at or slightly above shoulder height.
- Drive through, allow the wrist to snap (don’t “snap” it on purpose, just keep it relaxed and allow it to happen), allow the back leg to drag up naturally, and finish with the throwing-side shoulder facing the target. That shoulder should now be lower than the glove-side shoulder.
There’s a bit more to it than that, but those seven steps should give you a pretty good start. There’s lots of good information out on the Internet that can give you more details too, although it’s important to remember to keep it simple for your players.
Teaching it purposefully
Here comes the tough part. You need to make time to work on these mechanics during practice, and they’re probably going to take a lot more time than you realize. You also need to make sure your players understand how important it is, because in our “instant-everything’ age, with its seven second attention span, it will be easy for players to complain about being bored long before they’re executing anything that looks even close to what I’ve described above. But you have to keep after them.
Once your players have achieved at least a minimal level of confidence, it’s time to bring out the stopwatch. Tell them you want them to throw and catch from 40 feet or 60 feet (depending on their age) with no throw-aways and no drops for one minute. Then start the stopwatch, and call out the elapsed time or the time to go in 15 second increments.
Sounds easy, right? There’s no minimum number of throws and catches required, no time pressure. Just a limit on how long they have to do it.
Allow about a half hour minimum, especially if your team’s mechanics aren’t so hot at first. Just the fact that there is no room for error will create some problems. But any flaws in the throwing motion will be amplified under pressure, and pretty soon even your best players may be throwing balls that hit the dirt or go sailing over their partners’ head.
Calling out the time puts even more pressure on them – again, even though there are no minimums to hit. Knowing that only 15 seconds has gone by gets in their heads. So does knowing there are 30 or 15 seconds left, because they start thinking “don’t make a mistake” instead of focusing on their mechanics.
It can be frustrating. It can be maddening. But it will be worth it when you don’t have to hold your breath every time one of your players winds up to make a quick throw. With good mechanics the ball will go where it’s supposed to. When that happens on a regular basis, you make things easier on the defense, pitcher, and even the offense, and you’ll win a lot more games as a result.
Don’t be one of those coaches who skips over teaching throwing. Put emphasis on it, demand excellence, and it will pay off for you big time.
Once a pitcher’s mechanics are strong, one of the most effective ways to improve speed is through long toss. The pitcher starts at her normal pitching distance, then moves back 5-8 feet and throws another pitch.
She keeps doing that until she can’t make it to the plate anymore, at which point she starts working her way back in. The goal, of course, is to get as far out as you can – eventually to the outfield grass. You need to be strong, with a quick, aggressive motion, to get there.
Of course, to perform long toss effectively you need to have the distance to throw it. Easy enough on the field, but not so easy when you’re in a 50′ batting cage or a gym with other players – as many of us in the Northern part of the world are right now.
That’s where having a set of properly weighted balls can come in very handy. With weighted balls, and a quality training program, you can work on both arm strength and arm speed where space is limited.
The key is having balls of the proper weight. In particular, you want to be sure the weighted ball isn’t too heavy – no more than 1.5 ounces more than a normal ball, which is roughly 6.5 ounces. Anything heavier and you risk putting undue stress on the shoulder.
That’s why I’ve come to like Decker Weighted Softballs from Decker Sports. The overload/underload variance is relatively small: 7.8 oz. for the heavy ball, 5.2 oz. for the light ball, plus a “normal” 6.5 oz. ball. Each ball is very clearly marked, with large numbers and color coding, so there is no risk of using the wrong ball for the particular purpose.
Another thing I like about the balls is they come with a line around the circumference going across the four seams, so you can easily see the spin on the ball. That will give you an idea of whether you’re maintaining good mechanics as you work with them.
I also like the feel of the balls. They have good “tack” on them with good seams. The previous set of weighted balls I had never had very good tack, and by now are positively shiny. It was definitely time to retire them. The Decker Sports balls feel more natural to the pitchers, helping them focus on what they’re doing rather than wondering whether the balls will slip out of their hands.
Decker Sports does more than sell you a product, however. The balls come with an off-season and in-season training program. You can see a preview here. There are also other training programs out there, so you can find one that fits your needs and time constraints.
That’s another good point to make. Working with weighted balls can take some time. In lessons, where we only have a half hour once a week, I will often expose players (and parents) to weighted balls but won’t continue to use them on a regular basis.
That’s the sort of thing that’s best done on your own. I feel the time spent with me can best be spent on other aspects – you don’t need a coach for that.
Studies have shown that using a good weighted ball protocol can help increase speed. If you’re looking to help your pitch pick up some velocity (and who isn’t), give these weighted balls a try. You may even want to carry on with them once you go back outside.
Ok, I’ll admit it. The headline was my opportunity to offer a tribute to one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult albums. But it does have relevance for fastpitch catchers as well as coaches when it comes to making throws to various bases.
There is certainly a perception in some circles that to be a high-level catcher you have to be able to throw from your knees. Of course, like many of these so-called “absolutes” that is simply not true.
Throwing out runners on a steal is basically a math problem. Since it’s summer let’s make the math easy to start.
Let’s say the runner can go from first to second in 3.0 seconds and the pitcher is throwing 60 mph, which means it takes 0.4 seconds from the time leaves her hand until it reaches the plate. Simple subtraction says 3.0 – 0.4 = 2.6.
That’s the amount of time the catcher has from the moment the ball hits her glove to the moment it must be at second base to catch that runner: 2.6 seconds, aka her “pop” time. Notice that nowhere in that simple mathematical formula does it say anything about how the ball is thrown, because it doesn’t matter. It just has to get there on time.
So if the catcher can throw hard enough to get the ball to the base in 1.5 seconds, that means she has 1.1 second to receive the ball, get into position, transfer the ball to her throwing hand and get it on her way.
If it takes less time to throw the ball, she has more time for the other stuff. If it takes her more time to throw, the transfer and positioning time goes down.
Of course, when you’re talking about high-level catching, such as at the D1 college level, 2.6 seconds is a terrible pop time. You won’t be catching if that’s what it takes. They’re looking for sub-2.0 times, the faster the better.
So using our simple math again, if the runner has 2.6 speed and the pitch is still taking 0.4 seconds to reach the plate, the pop time is 2.2 seconds. Allow for a little variance and you’re looking at, say, 1.8 seconds.
Now the throw must get there much faster, but it still doesn’t matter how it gets there as long as it gets there on time. There are no style points in softball. It either works or it doesn’t.
As I’ve been watching the D1 Regionals and Super Regionals I’ve seen both. Some catchers have thrown from their knees, while others popped up. Why the difference?
Sometimes it’s dictated by where the pitch comes in. A high pitch, whether it’s intentional with a rise ball or some other pitch that got away from the pitcher will lead to a throw from your feet. It would be silly to throw from your knees in that situation.
On low pitches it’s a little different. For some catchers, going to their knees feels right. For others, especially those who lack speed or mobility, it may be too difficult to get to their feet in time to make the throw. They simply don’t have the agility so they must go to their knees. Those who are quicker and more agile, on the other hand, can get up, get into position, and make the throw with time to spare.
Ultimately it comes down to 1) what it takes to get the job done and 2) personal preference. As long as the ball beats the runner to the bag in time to make the tag and get the out, how it got there doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.
I’ll take a catcher who throws from her feet and gets people out over one who throws from knees and doesn’t, or gets very few, any day of the week, and for a double header on Sunday. I’m sure any college coach would agree, because only a fool would think otherwise.
This is the time of year when hope springs eternal. The long, hot summer is behind us (more or less), and with it the urgency of performance in games.
Yes, there are games going on right now, but for the most part they’re either college showcases, scrimmages, round robins, or friendlies. So with that in mind, coaches have a chance for a fresh start with their teams, to do what needs to be done to prepare for next summer.
There is always plenty to work on – hitting, pitching, fielding, baserunning and so forth. As a result, it’s easy to rush through throwing warmups to get to the “more important stuff.”
If you do that, however, it’s an opportunity lost. Because few things will make more of a difference to your team next summer than improving the way your players throw.
Why is that? Simple. There is evidence that 80% of all errors in a game are throwing errors. Whether it’s because of poor technique, or being rushed (especially after bobbling a ball) or some other reason, it’s the throwing errors more than fielding errors that will hurt your team’s chances of winning when it counts.
Think about it. If a fielder doesn’t field a ball cleanly on a ground ball, the batter/runner gets first base. But if she throws the ball away, the same batter runner could end up on second base. She will definitely end up there if the ball goes out of play. So that poor throw after a bobble turns one error into two, and one base into two as well.
On the other hand, if you can eliminate throwing errors that means you’ll eliminate 80 percent of all the errors your team will make. Making that many fewer errors than your opponents should put you in a much better position to win.
That’s great in theory. But how do you go about it?
Start by planning to spend quality team teaching your players how to throw. Even older players often need this instruction. Give them strong mechanics, and make sure they’re repeatable. This could end up taking up a half hour to an hour, by the way.
After going through the basics, challenge them. One of my favorite drills is one I call the One Minute Drill. Here’s how it works.
Line your players up across from each other (partner position). Hold a stopwatch and tell your team that all you want them to do is throw and catch without a throw away or a drop for one minute. There is no requirement for how many, they just must keep throwing and catching. Then tell them you will keep time on the stopwatch, and call out the time remaining.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Actually it’s not. It’s almost a certainty that there will be a drop or throw away in the first round, probably within the first 20-30 seconds. When it happens, call a stop and when everyone is ready have them start again.
Keep them going, and be sure to call out the time loudly. I usually go in 15 second increments. The pressure of having to perform perfectly for a minute will generally affect their nerves, which leads to mistakes that re-start the clock.
If they continue to struggle after several attempts, call the team together and ask them why something so seemingly simple is so difficult to execute. They’ll usually come to the realization it’s pressure and focus. Tell them to relax and work on throwing well. Eventually they will get it. Then let them know how long it took to get just one minute’s worth of perfect throws and catches.
If you do this every practice, eventually your team will be able to complete the exercise in one or two attempts. When that happens, you’ll no doubt find your team’s throwing in games has improved as well. Because you’ve spent a lot of time on throwing, but in a way that is challenging rather than boring.
Give the One Minute Drill a try. It definitely works.
The other day as I was getting ready to start teaching a catching clinic I was watching the participants as they warmed up to throw. It was clear that they had been taught the old rhyme, “Thumb to the thigh, raise it to the sky, wave bye bye.”
That’s fine as an early teaching tool, or for outfielders who need a big arm circle to throw far. But for many positions that same motion is a time waster.
Once players get their basic throwing motions down, it is important to start making adjustments based on position. As a rule of thumb, the closer a player starts to home, the shorter the arm circle should be.
Clearly, catchers will have (and need) the shortest arm circles. The most they have to throw is 84 feet, 10.25 inches (home to second), and when they do it they usually have about 2 seconds or less to make that throw. Dropping the thumb to the thigh takes up way too much of those 2 seconds.
Instead, they should bring the almost (but not quite) straight back, making a very small arm circle that dips down and then comes up quickly before throwing – all in one continuous motion. That last part is very important, as any hesitation at all gives the runner more time to get to the base.
Infielders will likely have a little larger circle, although part of that depends on whether they are moving toward or away from the base they’re throwing to. A shortstop going into the hole, for example, will need a larger arm circle to make the long throw. The same shortstop moving in and to her left will make a quick release.
Third or first basement fielding a bunt will also have a minimal arm circle, trading that extra power for a faster release. Generally they’re a little stronger and can put some zip on the ball without too much circle.
But it can’t be a straight pullback either – what I call a Katniss Everdeen throw because it looks like you’re firing a bow and arrow. A small arm circle will provide the action/reaction needed to get the ball there quickly.
Once you understand this, it’s important to have players practice these throws. Which means they may need to consciously work on different types of throws during warmups if they play different positions. For example, a catcher who also plays outfield may want to start with a full motion to loosen up, switch to a catcher throw around 60 feet, then go back to a longer motion if you’re extending it further.
The more they understand the different types of throws, the better they’ll be able to execute them in the games – and the better chance you’ll have of getting more outs. Especially on close plays.
Do you have your players work on different types of throws by position? If so, has it helped? Anything you wish your players did differently?
Last week I was handed an article by Larry Ellett, the father of Molly Ellett, one of my students, that is sure to make some people unhappy. He saw it in the Chicago Tribune, but it was originally from the Washington Post. The story was about how boys and girls throw differently — naturally.
We’ve all heard the phrase “You throw like a girl.” It’s never said as a compliment. What’s usually meant is that the person in question drops his/her elbow and pushes the ball out, resulting in an anemic throw that doesn’t go too fast or too far.
Apparently there’s more to this than gender bias. According to the article, in societies all over the world, there are marked differences in the way boys and girls throw when left to their own devices. There’s actually a graphic that shows the differences in the two throwing methods. It also quotes Harvard softball coach Jenny Allard, who agrees that girls don’t come by a proper throwing motion naturally and must be taught.
One of the theories in the article is that in our hunter/gatherer days, males had to learn to throw if the tribe or family was going to eat, and women didn’t. The one exception was the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. There, boys and girls both hunt using throwing methods — and that’s where the gap is least pronounced. (This also backs up my theory that to a boy, rock+duck=throwing practice, whereas that doesn’t occur to a girl.)
There’s lots of data in the article to back up the claims, so give it a read. This is not a case of gender bias or men trying to keep women down. In fact, the study was performed by a female, and females like Allard are quoted saying “Yes, it’s true.”
What does all of this mean to a softball coach? It means no matter what age group you coach, you’d better plan to spend time working on throwing mechanics. Lots of time, because this is a very under-taught part of the game.
Allard says (and I’ve seen other college coaches say as well) that one of the biggest issues for players entering college is they don’t have good throwing mechanics. They may have been good enough athletes to get by with bad mechanics, and as long as the team was winning none of their previous coaches worried about it. But in college, they want them to throw properly, which means the ball goes farther and gets there faster.
Here’s a quick experiment. Set your players an appropriate distance apart (60 feet for 14U and up, perhaps closer for younger players). Then pull out a stopwatch and tell them you want them to make all successful throws and catches for one minute. While they’re working at it, call out the time remaining. You may assume this drill will take a minute to complete. Don’t be surprised if you’re still
at it 20 minutes later. It’s not as easy as it sounds. But it will give you an idea of where your team’s throwing mechanics really are.
Fall is a good time to get a throwing mechanics program started. Winter is even better, especially if you’re going to be indoors for much of that time. But even if you’re continuing to play a full schedule through December make the effort to teach your girls how to throw.
When I’m working with players on throwing I always tell them that poor throwing is an easy way for them to get cut at a tryout. By the same token, if you throw well — especially if your mechanics are better than everyone else’s — you look like a player. It’s your choice how you want to show up in a tryout.
Again, give the article a look. And then make sure you carve out some practice time to teach throwing mechanics and practice them. It’s worth the extra effort.
This is more of an observation than anything else. But teaching as many pitching lessons as I do, I’ve had occasion to watch a lot of girls play catch with their fathers. And it’s amazing how closely the throwing mechanics of the daughter reflect those of her father.
If Dad stands face-forward and pushes the ball, so does his daughter. If Dad wraps his arm around his head when he throws, so does his daughter.
I don’t seem to recall that so much with boys. Not sure why — maybe boys receive more training at an early age, or perhaps they just spend more time throwing on their own. It’s my firm belief that to a boy, duck+rock=throwing practice. A girl would never draw the same conclusion.
In any case, whatever the reason, step back and watch sometime. You’ll see I’m right.
For those of you who are fathers, definitely keep that in mind. However you throw is how your daughter is likely to throw. So if you want your daughter to succeed, work on your own throw first. It could help shortcut her path to being the player she wants and needs to be.
Well, it’s snowing like crazy here in Illinois, so teams won’t be moving outside anytime soon. That can be a drag for players. There’s a lot you can do in a gym, but it’s not quite the same. And coaches often run out of ideas after awhile, so they do the same things week after week, leading to even more player boredom.
I know. I’ve been that guy running that practice. Which is why I came up with the drill I’m about to describe. It’s good for working on multiple skills at once, including fielding ground balls, backhand tosses, forehand tosses, regular throws and catches.
Here’s the setup. You need three fielders across in a line, plus a coach and someone to catch – preferably another player.
Fielder 1 Fielder 2 Fielder 3
The coach hits a ground ball to Fielder 2. She does a backhand toss to Fielder 1, who then throws the ball home to the Catcher. The Coach hits another ground ball to Fielder 2, who fields it and does a forehand toss to Fielder 3, including following the throw. Fielder 3 throws to the Catcher, and follows the throw home, becoming the Catcher. The Catcher catches the ball, hands it off and goes to Fielder 1’s position. Fielder 1 moves to Fielder 2.
In addition to working on a variety of techniques, if you do the drill quickly it also provides some good conditioning and practice performing under pressure. For more advanced players add a second ball so you can hit one ball as soon as the other is tossed to Fielder 1 or 3. To really step up the pressure and get the competitive juices flowing, do it against a stopwatch with a prize for the foursome who goes all the way around quickest.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about this, but once again as I work with girls on various skills I am struck by how little time seems to be spent on the basic skills of throwing and catching.
I don’t know why that is. I suspect that coaches are in a hurry to get into drills, hitting, trick plays and the like. But throwing and catching are such an important part of our game it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t want to have your players’ throwing and catching skills be highly developed before moving into other aspects.
Among the things I see, either out of pitchers I work with or kids I see practicing a cage or two over, are:
- Throwing arm wrapping around their head
- No turning of the body; they throw with their shoulders squared up to the target the whole time
- Elbow dropping to the rib cage (typically called “throwing like a girl” although I’ve seen boys do it too)
- Striding off-line
- Glove arm hanging down at the side like it’s broken
- Glove arm swinging out to the side (swimming)
- No use of the legs — all arm throw
- Arm weakly making a throwing motion causing the ball to float or arc
- Catching with one hand while the throwing hand hangs down limp
- Throwing hand plastered to the webbing of the glove as if the glove is too hard to close with one hand
That’s just a sampling. There are more, too, but space prohibits me listing everything.
All of the above are likely to create errors — errors that can cost you runs, and even games. There’s no need for that to happen.
Instead of letting your players warm up by chucking balls to a partner any which way while they talk to each other (and you talk to the parents or other coaches), make that time about quality catch. Spend hours if you have to in order to make the point, but give your players instruction and teach them the proper way to throw and catch. Based on what I’ve seen recently, it will be a huge advantage for your team, and one that doesn’t require any special talent to accomplish.
Remember, the fewer runs you allow, the fewer runs you have to score to win. It all starts with quality throwing and catching skills.