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
One of the concepts that can be tough for a young athlete (not to mention many adults) to understand is that stronger is not always better.
What I mean by that is that in their desire to throw harder, hit harder, run faster, etc. fastpitch softball players will often equate muscling up or tightening up with improved performance. They tend to take a brute force approach to their movements, assuming that if they work harder or produce more energy then they will ipso facto see better results.
Yet that isn’t always the case. In fact, sometimes the attempt at creating more energy through brute force works in the opposite manner by locking up joints or slowing down movements which reduces the amount of that energy that can be transferred into the activity.
In other words, despite the increase in energy the overall usage of energy becomes less efficient.
The reality is there are two key elements to maximizing athletic performance in ballistic movements such as pitching, throwing, hitting, and running.
First you have to create energy. Then you have to transfer that energy.
The brute force approach may work with part one. But it often gets in the way of part two, which means much of the energy the player worked so hard to create is wasted.
Makes sense, right? But how do you explain that to a player without making it sound like a science class lecture – at which point your voice starts to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher?
The light bulb moment for me came when I was thinking about a light bulb I needed to replace during a lesson. Perhaps this will help you too.
Think about two types of light bulbs: the standard, traditional incandescent bulbs most of us grew up with (and that are now difficult to find) and LED bulbs.
If turn an old-school incandescent bulb on and leave it on for a few minutes, what happens to its surface? It gets hot. Very hot. As in don’t touch it or you will get burned.
That’s because while an incandescent bulb may be labeled 60 watts, not all of that wattage is going into creating light. In fact, much of it is being wasted in the form of heat.
Now think about an LED bulb. You can leave a 60 watt LED bulb on for an hour, then go over and put your hand on it without feeling much of anything. (DISCLAIMER: Don’t actually do that, just in case.)
The reason is that 60 watt LED bulb isn’t actually drawing 60 watts. That’s just a label the manufacturers use to help consumers know which bulb will give them the light level they’re used to.
In fact, that 60 watt equivalent bulb may be drawing as little as 8 actual watts to deliver the same amount of light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Since its purpose is to create light, not heat, the LED bulb is almost eight times as efficient as the incandescent bulb.
Now that’s apply that to softball. A pitcher who is nearly eight times as efficient in her mechanics as the next player will throw much harder with the same level of effort.
Conversely, she can perform at the same level as the other pitcher with almost no apparent effort at all. She is just much better at harnessing whatever level of energy she is creating and delivering it into the ball.
The same is true for hitters. Most of the time when you see a home run hit it doesn’t look like the hitter was trying to go yard. She just looks smooth as the ball “jumps” off her bat.
This is not to say strength isn’t important. It is.
Remember part one of the formula: you have to generate energy. Great training in mechanics along with intelligent sport-specific or even activity-specific training is critical to achieving higher levels of success.
But it’s not enough.
Understanding how the body moves naturally, and using those movements to take full advantage of the energy being created, will help players deliver higher levels of performance that enable them to achieve their goals and play to their greatest potential.
Hope this has been a light bulb moment for you. Have a great holiday, and take some time to relax. You’ve earned it.
One of the most common issues among young, developing pitchers (and even a few older ones) is waiting too long to get their momentum moving forward. When they do that, their timing gets all messed up and they are unable to transfer as much energy as they could from their bodies into the ball.
For example, what you will often see in a pitcher with a backswing is that she will stand on her back foot as her arm swings back and wait for it to reach its farthest point. Then she will start her body moving forward as her arm begins to swing forward.
The problem here is that the arm can move forward a lot faster and more easily than the body, so it gets ahead.
A key checkpoint in the pitch is that the drive foot should begin detaching from the pitching rubber when the arms reach the 3 o’clock position, i.e., straight out in front. That’s not going to happen, however, if the arm is racing ahead of the body.
Instead, the arm will either have to slow down so the body can catch up or it will continue on ahead with the result the ball is thrown before energy transfer fully commences. No matter which way it happens, the result is a loss of speed.
The challenge here, of course, is explaining it to a pitcher in a way that makes sense. One way I do that is to tell her that the train (her body) doesn’t wait for the passenger (her arm or the ball), so she needs to get the train moving as her arm swings back and the passenger then has to make sure it jumps on the moving train. Like this:
What about a pitcher who doesn’t use a backswing? The concept still works.
If she comes out of the glove on her side, she’ll need to get her body moving forward before her hands start moving. If she drops out of the glove she’ll again need to do it after she’s started moving forward.
No matter which method she uses the key is to get her drive and momentum developing – her center of gravity moving forward, out ahead of the pitching rubber – before she starts into the arm circle. That way the whole body is moving together, in harmony, giving her the ability to deliver the pitch with maximum force.
If you have a pitcher who is struggling with the timing of her arm relative to her body, give this explanation a try. Train whistle sounds optional.