You’ve probably seen the same Facebook posts I see: Internet pitching experts (I suppose taking a break from their other career of Internet virology or economics experts) complaining about coaches and parents posting when their pitcher daughter hits a new high speed.
They go into a whole rant about how pitching speed isn’t important, it’s more important to locate the pitch and spin it, blah blah blah. It reminds me of this clip from the Jim Carrey movie Liar, Liar:
I get their point to a point, though. Often times coaches become obsessed with raw speed to the point where they ignore other factors.
While it’s true that a pitcher who can overpower hitters with speed can rack up more Ks, that’s not the only way to get hitters out. I personally love a pitcher who can consistently close out an inning in 6-10 pitches – especially on a super hot, muggy day.
Let’s get the team off the hot plate infield as quickly as possible and into where the pop-up tents and sports drinks are.
So then why get so excited about new pitch speeds? It’s simple – it’s a way of measuring how well the pitcher is progressing toward locking down her mechanics.
The key is that these measurements should not be used to rank one pitcher over another. The value, at least the way I use them, is in ranking the pitcher relative to herself.
I have a Pocket Radar set up with a SmartDisplay at every lesson. The pitcher can see the speed results of every pitch. So can her catcher if he/she turns to look.
I call it my accountability meter. If the pitcher is slacking off from where her speed usually is I can see it right away and can “suggest” she put more effort in.
At the same time, it also clues me in to the fact that this pitcher just may not have it today.
Perhaps she just came from a two-hour basketball practice full of conditioning drills. Her legs are dead and she’s just not capable of generating max speed. So maybe we work on spins, or focus on her release point, or do other things that don’t rely on her legs.
Or maybe she’s starting to get sick, or nursing an injury. Whatever the issue is, the radar provides a quick clue that something isn’t quite optimal.
The important point is that we are measuring that pitcher relative to herself, not her teammates or some other random pitcher on the Internet. And I post the speeds to celebrate the individual’s achievement, whatever that may be.
If it was purely about speed, or promoting the pitching coach, those coaches would only post the new highs of their kids throwing 60+. I’ve certainly seen that.
But for me, I’m just as excited for the high school pitcher who came to me throwing 43 and is now throwing 48 as I am for the 60+ girls. Maybe even moreso.
You see, it takes a certain combination of factors (including genetics) to throw at higher velocities. Those who are athletically gifted can reach that level much more easily than those who are not.
But for some pitchers, especially those who are smaller and lighter, increasing their speed at all may take a lot more work than it does for the athletically gifted. So while in the pantheon of pitching prowess 48 may not sound like much, for that particular pitch it’s a huge deal, the culmination of a whole lot of effort and practice.
Achievements like that deserve to be celebrated.
Having a way of measuring progress, and celebrating it through social media, also provides some great incentive to those pitchers. Especially after they’ve been through it a couple of times.
They see the radar there. They want their picture taken and posted, and they want to be able to say they throw X, which is faster than they have before.
So I don’t have to do much to motivate them to work. They go for it themselves. And once they’ve hit it they work even harder to make it their baseline so they can move on to the next speed goal.
All of which helps them grow into the pitchers they’re meant to be.
Does that mean we focus on speed exclusively? Of course not!
Spot and spin are still incredibly important, as is the ability to throw a changeup that looks like it will be that fast while taking 12-15 mph off of the result. That’s pitching instead of just throwing.
But the name of the game is FASTpitch softball. Which to me means every pitcher should be doing all she can to wring every ounce of speed she can out of her body, because all those elements work better if you start from a higher baseline.
I tell my students we have four words to live by: faster is always better. That doesn’t just mean the speed of the pitch but also the approach taken to delivering it.
If you move faster your body will create and transfer more energy. That’s science (force=mass x acceleration). It will also disguise your changeup better.
So let the naysayers complain. In my mind, measuring the speed of every pitch helps keep pitchers focused and on upward trajectory.
Not so their parents or coaches can get bragging rights. But so they become the pitchers they’re meant to be.
One of the fun but challenging aspects of working with very young fastpitch softball players (under about 10 years old) is getting them to focus for any length of time. There are usually lots of things going on in their heads at any given time, and the slightest activity anywhere else can distract them in a major way.
That can be a problem at any position. But it gets even more noticeable with pitchers. As a fastpitch pitcher you have to be able to dial in to the strike zone. Visualizing the pitch location before you throw it is helpful for improving accuracy. That’s tough to do, however, when the three ring circus is playing in your head.
This is where playing to the player’s competitive nature can be a real asset. Giving her something specific to do, with a prize attached, can help drive that focus level right up.
I actually stole this idea from Cindy Bristow at Softball Excellence. It came in one of her newsletters, which are a great source for drills and games.
Set up a tee on the plate, and place a ball on top of it. Then challenge the pitcher to knock the ball off the tee with a pitch. You’ll be amazed at how quickly she gets dialed in.
That’s what we did here with Kaitlyn, the girl in the accompanying video. She was having a bit of trouble focusing on this day, so I set up the tee and put a 14 inch ball on top of it. It probably would’ve been more fair to use a basketball or soccer ball, but I decided to challenge her.
In the beginning, I offered her a sucker if she knocked it off. Her mom immediately upped the ante and offered her a milkshake on the way home if she succeeded. We then spent the last 10 minutes of that lesson with her pitching balls at the tee. The rule was she had to hit it directly – no fair bouncing the ball into the tee so it falls off. Also she had to use good mechanics, not just aim the ball at the target any old way.
That first night she came close a bunch of times but didn’t quite get it. The following week her mom told me Kaitlyn was in a foul mood on the way home. She really wanted that milkshake.
The video is from that next lesson. We gave her 15 minutes this time. Kaitlyn ratcheted up the focus, and was right around it for much of that time. Thinking she needed a little extra help to succeed, I had her little sister stand directly behind the tee on the other side of the net. A few more throws and Bingo! Success!
Of course as Han Solo says, good against a remote is one thing. Good against the living is something else.
Today I heard Kaitlyn earned a game ball for her pitching. Two scoreless innings with a couple of strikeouts.
I wouldn’t say it was all in the drill. She put in a lot of hard work throughout the off-season. But I will say it helped.
If you have a pitcher who could use a little help zoning in during practice give this drill a try.