Category Archives: Throwing

A quick rundown on why you should regularly practice rundowns

Practicing rundowns can pay off on both sides of the ball

A few years ago, when I was still coaching teams, I heard through the grapevine that one of the parents was griping about how much we practiced rundowns. He was a “baseball guy,” and as such was of the belief that rundowns didn’t happen very often. He couldn’t figure out why we would spend so much time on them.

Forget about the fact that if he’s opened his eyes a little more he would’ve seen that in fastpitch softball, rundowns tend to happen a little more often. It’s a faster game than baseball, with shorter distances between bases (60 feet v 90 feet for those who don’t know) and a smaller field overall.

As a result, baserunning tends to be somewhat more aggressive, and runners (as well as coaches) are more likely to take chances. Especially if they’re not sure they’re going to have many opportunities to score.

But even if that wasn’t the case, there are a lot of other things your team can gain from practicing rundowns other than the specific skill of handling rundowns. Here are a few.

Precision

Rundowns occur over shorter distances overall, and they tend to squeeze in more as they go on. That means there isn’t a lot of room for error. Throwers learn to throw to a specific spot instead of a general direction, and receivers learn to focus intensely – especially when the throw may be coming from an odd angle because the thrower didn’t maintain a good line of sight.

Grace under pressure

This goes along with precision. Things happen quickly in a rundown, and they can go wrong very quickly. If you panic, you’re likely to pull the glove down early and miss a throw, or make a throw you don’t need to make, or hold the ball too long. Rundowns help players learn to handle pressure and stay focused on the task instead of the outcome. By the way, that goes for the person running too. Their job is to stay alive until the defense makes a mistake. Can’t do that if you’re in panic mode.

Communication and teamwork

The ideal rundown has zero throws: the ball gets ahead of the runner, and the fielder chases her down until she makes the tag. But that doesn’t happen too often, so fielders need to be able to communicate effectively to coordinate their efforts. I’m not a believer in the receiver calling “ball” and the thrower holding the ball until they hear that, but if one side isn’t doing their job the other side needs to be able to tell them. Or if the thrower is running with the runner between her and the receiver, blocking the line of site, one of them needs to tell the other to move over so she can see. Or think about a first-and-third situation, with a runner caught between first and second. The team needs to know how to communicate effectively if the runner on third starts heading for home, so the team can break off the rundown on the trail runner and get the lead runner. So much going on!

Conditioning and agility

Yeah, you could have your team line up on the baseline and run a bunch of sprints to build up their speed and recovery time. But why not have them practice rundowns instead? They can get the same level of conditioning – especially if you limit the number of runners who can sub in – and you don’t have to listen to all the complaining. Create a little competition with a prize at the end and they’ll practically kill themselves trying to win. They’ll also learn how to change directions quicker – a valuable skill in several aspects of the game.

It’s fun

When I was a kid, we used to call it “running bases.” Others call it “pickle,” and I’m sure there are other names. But the basic rundown was something we used to do for fun when there weren’t enough kids around or we didn’t have enough time to play a regular game. All you need is a couple of gloves, a ball, something to use for bases, and some space. Instead of treating it like a drill, treat it like a reward – something fun to do at the end of practice.

The beautiful thing is if your team gets really, really good at executing rundowns, they can generate more outs in the field. They’ll look for opportunities, and will be more confident in going after the lead runner in tag situations. On the offensive side, they’ll be more comfortable if they do wind up in one, helping you avoid some outs on the basepaths.

Don’t take rundowns for granted. Make them a regular part of your practice routine and watch the difference they make.

Now it’s your turn. How often do you practice rundowns? How good is your team at executing them? And if you played running bases/pickle as a kid, what did you call it?

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Fastpitch catchers: On your feet or on your knees

Throwing from your feet or your knees doesn't matter, as long as you get the job done

University of Minnesota vs. Oklahoma State University Women’s softball.

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.

Make throwing priority one in the fall

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. Teaching proper throwing mechanics is critical for success

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.

Good throwing is key to success in fastpitch softballOn 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.

Different throws for different positions

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.” Throwing

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?

There really is such a thing as throwing like a girl

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.

Girls throw like their fathers

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.

A drill to work on tosses

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







                                     Coach   Catcher

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.

Put the emphasis on basic throwing and catching

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.

Throwing seems to be a lost art

I was watching some collegiate softball on TV over the weekend, and was struck by the throwing mechanics I saw at key points during the game. Maybe I just wasn’t seeing it right, but it seemed like there were some terrible mechanics going on. I probably should’ve gone back and run it a couple of times to be sure of what I was seeing since I was watching it on DVR. But from what I think I saw it didn’t seem like anyone was setting their feet, turning sideways, or using a circular motion. Instead, it looked like the players were picking up the ball straight on to their targets and throwing that way.

Perhaps at that level they don’t need the proper mechanics. Maybe the players are big enough, strong enough, or just plain talented enough that they can get away with what essentially amounts to arm throws. But it sure seems like taking that extra little bit of time to get in a stronger position would help get the ball there faster — and more on-target.

I’ll be watching some other games so I’ll give it a closer look in the future. But if what I think I saw is actually the case I certainly will find it interesting. Anyone else notice this?

Using the front elbow to throw

My partner in crime Rich and I have been running a little experiment the past few weeks. When we attended the National Fastpitch Coaches College, the coaches there were advocating a throwing technique where you point the front elbow (instead of the glove), then pull it back hard, like you’re trying to elbow someone behind you.

That’s a different technique than we’ve taught in the past. But, being open-minded coaches we decided to give it a try. We’ve been teaching it both to our own players and to some girls in a clinic we work in on Saturday mornings.

After doing it for about three months, I have to say I’m sold. Every girl we’ve done it with has learned to throw harder, straighter and with better overall technique than they were before. And they’ve done it faster than with the point the glove technique.

If you haven’t tried it, it’s definitely worth looking into.

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