I am going to admit right up-front that I have always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with radar guns/units for pitchers.
At first it wasn’t too bad. I bought a Glove Radar and attached it to my catcher’s glove to check my own daughter’s speed. It was fine for that purpose, especially since we weren’t really caught up in the absolute number but rather just looking to see whether she was making progress.
Once I started teaching pitching lessons and was no longer catching, I purchased a series of other units, including an early Bushnell (which I ultimately gave away) a Jugs Gun (an earlier model than the one in the link, which I still own) and then all the iterations of the Pocket Radar.
I tended not to use the radar units much, however, because of one simple phenomenon. Whenever I would pull out the unit, no matter which one it was, the pitcher would tighten up and start throwing visibly slower than she had before.
Inevitably the readings were disappointing and what had started out as an energetic lesson would kind of fall into a sort of funk. Consequently, while I had all this technology at my disposal I didn’t really take advantage of it.
That changed after I took the High Performance Pitching certification courses from Paulygirl Fastpitch and had a chance to observe how Rick Pauly was doing it. He had a radar unit permanently set up in the cage he uses for lessons, with a big readout the pitcher could see after every pitch.
As you would watch him teach lessons in the course, the speed was always there in the background. As a result, it no longer became a “thing” to be trotted out. It was just part of the background, like the net or the posters he has hung up.
That brought me to my epiphany. If every pitch is measured, the pitcher just might learn to get over her fear of being measured.
Of course, one of the differences between my situation and Rick’s is that all his students come to him at a single location, sometimes from hundreds of miles away, while I work out of at least three different facilities on a regular basis, plus some other locations when I am working with several pitchers on a team. I am a softball gypsy.
So I started thinking how I could duplicate that experience when it hit me. I have a Pocket Radar Smart Coach unit. I could mount it to a tripod, place it behind the catcher, and pull up the readings on my iPhone.
Good idea in theory, except it became a problem when I wanted to video a student to point out something to work on. Luckily technology again came to the rescue and in a better way.
I still set up the Smart Coach on the tripod in Continuous mode. But then I connect it via Bluetooth to my iPad, which sits on the floor, off to the side, in front of the pitcher. Every pitch gets registered in big numbers that we both can see, and my phone remains free for video.
From a logistic standpoint, this setup has worked out well. I also quickly discovered that an evening’s worth of lessons will drain the batteries pretty quickly. But luckily the Smart Coach has a port that lets you connect a power block to it.
The power block I have lasts for several hours. When I get home I recharge it and it’s ready for the next evening’s lessons.
The big question, of course, would be the effect it had on the students. Would they tense up and freak out over having every pitch measured?
Not at all. In fact, the opposite has happened. I find that the big, red numbers inspire them to work harder to increase their speed.
There’s no slacking off in a lesson, because it becomes obvious. The numbers don’t lie. And they all want to do a little better than they did before, so they keep working at it.
But rather than tensing up they kind of find their own way to relaxing and throwing better.
Since I’ve started using it, I think every pitcher who has done it has achieved at least one person best if not more. By personal best I mean her highest reading on my set-up.
It also gives me a way to push them that’s fun for them. If a girl throws 51, I’ll ask her to throw 52. It’s just one mph more, but stack up enough of those and you get a nice speed increase.
The setup I use isn’t perfect. Pocket Radar says the unit works best when it’s a few feet away and directly behind the catcher/in line with the pitch. The cages I use don’t allow for that type of setup; I usually have to put it a foot or two to the side of the catcher, sometimes right behind him or her.
No matter, however. The objective isn’t to get an absolute speed measurement. It’s to track (and encourage) progress.
Having a pitcher improve speed during a drill, or work to get to a new high speed from the pitching plate, gets us where we want to go. We can always get the more accurate measurement when we can set it up properly.
So if your experience has been like mine, where bringing out the radar unit becomes a momentum killer, try making it “part of the furniture” instead. You will probably like what you discover.
We tend to take pitch speed measurement for granted today. It’s a common sight at MLB games, and TV coverage of women’s college softball and even Little League softball often displays the speed of every pitch – sometimes accurately, sometimes not so much.
At the local level, speed measurement with radar guns used to be pretty much limited to pitching coaches who could afford a Jugs or Stalker gun. But the introduction of several new quality products over the past few years, such as the Glove Radar and Pocket Radar/Ball Coach, has put it into the hands of the average bucket dad or mom. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen.
But it wasn’t always that way, as this article from the Scoutee blog points out. (Scoutee is another new radar-based speed measurement product that in this case works with a smartphone. What will they think of next?)
Back in the day they tried all kinds of crazy set-ups and devices to measure pitch speed, including having a pitcher throw as a motorcycle raced by at 86 mph. The article provides a pretty comprehensive description of the search to accurately measure speed.
Be glad you live in the times you do. It’s far easier to annoy your daughter or players with speed measurements than it used to be!