Category Archives: Throwing

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.

A common throwing problem — dipping the front shoulder

Maybe I’m just more acutely aware of it now because I’ve been working with a couple of players on this problem. But more and more I’m seeing an oddity in the throwing motion of some female softball players: they dip their front shoulders to initiate the throw.

They start out ok, i.e. they turn their bodies and take the ball back properly. But when it’s time to start moving forward, their first movement is to lower the glove-side shoulder instead of leaving it in place and driving the throwing shoulder through. When that happens, they tend to look like they’re throwing a hand grenade in a WWII movie instead of a softball. The back shoulder gets stuck right about the time they get to square, and the throw is mostly arm.

They may get the ball there, but it’s not very efficient. And it won’t be as hard as they can throw. If you see this, you need to get the player to keep her glove side shoulder to stay in place, then drive the throwing side shoulder through. I refer to it as replacing the front shoulder with the back one. When they’re finished, the throwing shoulder should be lower than the glove side. At minimum, they should be the same height.

Don’t be fooled by looking at videos of MLB pitchers, either. They are throwing off a high mound, and what looks like the front shoulder dropping down is really the whole body going down because of the hill. If they were on flat ground the glove shoulder would remain in place. That’s the way field players throw.

If your player can’t get the hang of leaving the shoulder up, trying having her raise her glove straight up over her head, and leave it there while she throws. You will see an immediate improvement. Then slowly have her lower it until she can make the proper movement with a full throwing motion.

It takes some time and practice to overcome this habit. But in the end it’s worth it.

For throwing problems, check the thumb

Sometimes the solution to a big problem is something small. Take throwing problems for example. If the ball is tailing off, or is not going hard enough, it could be due to the position of the thumb.

Girls have a tendency to lay their thumbs on the side of the ball rather than opposite the middle finger where it belongs. This is often driven by the size of their hands v. the size of the ball.

It’s funny when you think about it, really. Boys, who tend to have larger hands, play with a baseball that is nine inches in circumference. (Yes I know boys also play fastpitch, but it’s not predominant). Girls, whose hands are generally smaller than those of boys, play with a ball that has a circumference of 11 or 12 inches. It just doesn’t seem to match up.

The problem this creates is putting the thumb in the proper position opposite the middle finger can be somewhat uncomfortable for girls. The younger the girl, the more uncomfortable it can be. But laying the thumb out to the side is not a strong position, which means the throws won’t be as good as they could be.

As your players throw, it’s definitely worthwhile to check their grips and make the correction if needed. They may not like it at first, but you’ll be doing them a favor.

Using the glove arm when throwing

I’m not sure when this started happening, but from my observations it seems like a lot of girls are learning to throw without using the glove arms effectively. Most of the time when that happens, they either let the glove hang down limply at their sides or they sort of sweep it down and then behind them.

Neither of these methods is very effective. At least with the second, there is some effort to use the glove side. With the first, where the glove hangs limply, there are a couple of problems.

One of the biggest is a lack of balance when throwing. The body likes to be in balance when making athletic movements. When the throwing arm is moving back then forward, balance can be affected — especially if there is nothing to offset the movement. If the glove arm just hangs down, it is not being used to balance the body. Therefore either some other body part is going to have to provide the balance — often the head — or the throw will be made off-balance.

Another problem is a loss of power in the throw. Some girls who do this have strong arms, so they believe they’re throwing as hard as they can. But they’re not. Pulling with the glove arm adds some attack to the throw, helping make it sharper. No matter how hard you throw, you will throw harder by using the glove arm.

The way to think of it is to picture a tug of war. You are manning the rope. The glove arm should pull back as though you are pulling on a rope. It pulls at the same time the throwing arm moves forward.

If you are throwing without the glove side pulling, or have players who are doing it, it’s time to make the change. It may throw them off a little at first, but the end result will be a better overall throw.

The importance of throwing

One of the core skills of fastpitch softball is throwing. The ability to throw well is often the difference between winning and losing games. Yet it also seems to be one of those aspects a lot of coaches gloss over.

I make this statement after watching the technique I see used as I travel from place to place. Everyone will warm up throwing, but it doesn’t seem like much emphasis is given to what’s being done. Many players will stand flat-footed, stride toward their partners without ever turning their bodies, and just sort of chuck the ball in their general direction. There’s no power, and no precision.

I think the reason a lot of this happens is that coaches are in a hurry to get to other skills. Yes, all the skills are important. But the statistic I continuously hear quoted is that 80% of all errors are throwing errors. If you could spend an extra 15 to 20 minutes of practice time to cut out 80% of your errors, don’t you think that would be time well spent?

To do it, coaches have to put strong emphasis on it. They have to provide a little “tough love” on it for their players. The players have to know the coach is serious not only about getting the ball there but how it’s being done.

A few years ago my team was having problems making basic throws. So I challenged them to throw and catch for one minute — just one minute — without throwing a ball away or dropping it. That little exercise took about 30 minutes to complete. But by the time we were done, the girls knew I was serious about it.

These days we still spend a lot of time on it. We will run a four corners drill of some sort every practice. Sometimes it’s what half the team does while the other half is hitting. With four corners you put players at each base and have them throw in different patterns. Sometimes we use throw-down bases with shorter distances, and other times we use a full 60 feet.

Sometimes we do a combination of throwing and running. We put an even number of players at each base. The ball starts at home. Each player throws to the base to her left then runs to the base to her right. When we got really good at it last year, we used only one player per base and had a competition to see which group could complete it the fastest. It was fun, it was great conditioning (you really have to sprint to get to the base before the ball does) and it emphasized the importance of making good throws.

One final note. When our girls are warming up, we don’t just let them throw randomly. We walk through and correct their form. It’s the little things that eventually wind up costing you games. We try to make sure those little things are taken care of. It doesn’t mean we win every game. But it does put us in a better position.

Turning the ball backwards

Sorry about the lack of recent posts. I’ve been traveling a lot for business the last few weeks, which sounds like fun but really isn’t. Fortunately, both time in the last two weeks that I was stuck on the tarmac for a couple of hours there was no one in the seat beside me so I could relax and invade that space without feeling bad about it.

Traveling has also cost me a fair amount of lesson time. I haven’t seen most of my Tuesday students since November, which I feel very bad about. But as long as my day job pays most of the bills there’s not a lot I can do about it. Sort of the real world version of a bad umpire.

Mixed into all of that was a couple of days at the National Sports Clinics watching presentations by several high-level coaches. One of them was Deb Hartwig, a former top catcher and D1 coach who now has her own instructional business. Nobody makes her take non-softball business trips, that’s for sure!

In any case, she brought up something very interesting about throwing. The conventional way of teaching throwing is to have the player bring the ball back behind the body, turn it to face backwards (ball to the wall), and then bring it forward. I know I’ve taught that for years. But she said if you watch video you’ll see nobody really throws that way. According to Coach Hartwig, what really happens is the ball faces down when the arm goes back, then comes up and forward as the throw occurs.

It certainly makes sense. If you think about making a quick throw, you’re going to want the wrist to stay loose. As the arm comes back a loose wrist will tend to make the ball face down. You’d have to use some tension to actually pull it up to face the “wall.” The ball facing down would actually seem more efficient.

Of course, I hate to take anything on face value, so I’m going to work on finding some video of baseball and softball players throwing, slow it down, and see what they actually do. Although I’ve taught “ball to the wall” for years, if there’s a better way I’m all for it! Especially if it helps create a few more outs.

Conditioning without conditioning

As I watch and hear about various practices, it’s amazing to me how much practice time gets wasted on pure conditioning. For example, coaches will have their players line up on a foul line, then have them run endless rounds of 60′ sprints. In the meantime, the clock is ticking and you’re not solving any of your other softball-related concerns, such as throwing and catching.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t see the value of conditioning. I do. I wouldn’t be checking out the Softball Performance web site all the time if I didn’t. But when you’re in-season, or even preparing for the season, running to run is just wasting time. Don’t even get me started on distance running!

Last night we ran a drill that on the surface is aimed at improving our ability to throw and catch on the run. It’s a variation of the four corners drill, where you set a player on each base and throw the ball around. Normally when this drill is run you stack two or three players at each base and alternate. Sometimes you throw to the left and run to the right, or throw right and run left to the next base to get a little movement in. But with two or three players waiting at the next base there’s no sense of urgency to get there, and the running is more of a job.

So we took it down to its bare essentials. One player on each base, throw left and run right. Now it’s a sprint, because that ball can get thrown around the bases a lot faster than anyone can jog. Depending on where you are, you barely have enough time to get there.

We ran the drill three times with each group. Do the math. Four sprints, three times each, equals 12 sprints. To make sure they were full sprints, we timed each set with a stopwatch, and on the third go-’round we offered a prize (a page of coupons to Dick’s Sporting Goods that I’d gotten for free) to each participant on the winning team. Later we used different people for baserunners in a fielding drill, which increased the amount of running considerably. But never, at any time, did we say “now it’s time for conditioning.” Everything was done within a softball context.

Imagine trying to motivate your team to run 20, 25, 30 sprints just for the sake of conditioning. You could find yourself mightily challenged. But put it into the right context and you won’t have to motivate them. They will motivate themselves and each other. And you’ll improve the conditioning of your athletes.

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