Ok, I know I’m a little late on this for Hanukkah but who knew it would be so early this year? I guess just bookmark it and have it ready for next year.
For those with holidays still coming up, however, here are a few ideas for gifts that I think will not only be good for immediate satisfaction but could potentially have an impact on your favorite player’s entire career. I am not including gloves or bats since you probably have already thought of those. I wanted to go a little outside the box.
And in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not being compensated by any of the companies mentioned or linked to for including them (or anything else for that matter). These are just products or services I’ve found to be valuable and think you will do.
Enough preamble. Let’s go shopping.
High-quality batting tee
This is an essential piece of equipment for any player. Even non-hitting pitchers can use it to practice locations as I showed in this post.
The typical use, of course, is for hitting. Tee hitting is for working on mechanics without the challenges of timing a moving ball. If you’re trying to get the proper sequence (hips-shoulders-bat), fix your bat path, learn to tilt properly or solve any other mechanics issues a tee is your best friend.
That said, there are a lot of choices for tees out there. I prefer one that doesn’t have a base that looks like home plate, because when it does look like home plate hitters tend to line up on the tee in a way that is not conducive to great hitting.
Tanner Tees were the original to develop the particular design I favor, although for durability (and resistance to getting easily knocked over) I really like the Jugs T. For younger players, or older players who have trouble with low pitches, the Jugs Short T is also a great choice. You can read more about the Short T in my product review here.
Jugs is also apparently coming out with a combo package that includes both heights. Doesn’t look like it will be available until next year, though, so maybe save it for a birthday or graduation gift.
Large, easy-to-set-up net
If you are getting a tee you’ll probably want to get a net to hit into. That way you can hit in the back yard, basement, garage, or other space without damaging your home or having to chase after the balls.
Bownet is probably the best-known brand at this point. You see their distinctive orange nets at pretty much every game and tournament (although they have a variety of colors available now). But Tanner, Jugs and others also have nets that will do just fine.
Of course, it’s not just hitters who can use a net like this. Pitchers can use one to practice their mechanics from a short distance. Field players and catchers can use them to develop their overhand throw velocity. And so on.
A net like this will pay for itself many times over. And when you’re done with it, if you’ve bought a good quality one you’ll be able to sell it and recoup part of your investment in cash. Pretty good deal overall.
There’s something about working with nice, bright, shiny new softballs that helps players feel better about their practice time. After all, it’s a lot easier to take pride in your practice time if you’re not using crappy old, beat-up, dirty softballs.
That said, there are all kinds of softballs from many different manufacturers, from the really cheap to the really nice. It’s hard to know which ones to purchase.
My ball of choice right now is the Mark One NFHS 12″ softball. They are real leather balls with a .47 COR and raised seams, among other features.
What I like about them is they are comparable in quality to Worth Dream Seams but generally cost less. I use them for hours a day, nearly every day (including having hitters beat them into metal backstops on a regular basis) and they hold up well. They also have great grip so pitchers like to use them.
But check around the Internet and you can find several high-quality softballs to make your favorite player happy.
Video analysis app
I recently did an extensive product review on a video analysis app called OnForm. It has a lot of great features, including an auto-detect function that would allow a player to set up a device on a tripod and then have it record pitches, swings, throws, etc. when it sees motion.
But there are others out there as well. Kinovea is one that comes to mind, although you can only use it with a computer, not a phone or tablet.
With this type of software a player can record herself and scrub through it to see if what she’s doing is what she thinks she’s doing. Or she can send the video to a coach who can help her with it.
The value of being able to see yourself in slow or stop motion cannot be overestimated. In fact, high speed video analysis has been crucial to busting many myths and mis-teachings that grew up over the years.
If you can’t find a free version, find something you can afford. It’s worth it.
These are the pliable balls with different weights that you can use for a variety of different types of arm training. They’re great for pitchers, catchers and field players to help develop safe throwing mechanics and improve overall arm and shoulder strength.
Polyballs have grown in popularity over the last couple of years so there are a variety of sources from which you can obtain them. I personally use the balls from Velolab Softball, which comes with a free training program. Austin Wasserman’s High Level Throwing is another source, where they are called Lightning Balls.
One of the great things about them is you can throw them into concrete walls, or plywood, or pretty much any solid wall without damaging the wall or the balls. They make an audible “slam” sound too, so the harder you throw the more satisfying the sound. The lighter ones might even be able to be thrown into drywall, although I would test that theory in an out-of-the-way place first before tossing one in the living room.
In my opinion, having some way to measure speed is critical to the development of pitchers, extremely helpful for overhand throwing, and even has some benefits for hitters. I like to call the radar the “pitcher’s accountability meter” because if she takes a pitch or two off, or goes the other way and tries to over-throw/over-muscle the ball, the radar calls her out immediately.
I am personally a huge fan of PocketRadar devices. The Ball Coach is good, but the Smart Coach is worth the extra money if you can swing it because it will not only capture the speed but enable you to embed it in a video capture at the same time. You can read my review of the Smart Coach here.
(If you use your PocketRadar often you’ll also probably make up for the cost difference pretty quickly with the money you’ll save using power blocks instead of alkaline batteries.)
Whatever brand you decide to get, however, my suggestion is to do it often rather than just bringing the radar out now and then.
If you only use it occasionally it becomes a big deal and the pitcher tends to tense up. If it’s part of a regular routine she will not be as intimidated and you’ll ultimately get better readings. I learned that lesson the hard way!
There are a few good reasons to give your pitcher a good quality pitching mat for the holidays. One of which is saving wear-and-tear on your floors, especially if your pitcher has a heavy drag.
But beyond that, a pitching mat with a built-in pitchers plate can help pitchers learn to use the plate as part of their launch. A center white stripe can help them feel whether they’re going straight or striding out to the side.
If you do decide to get a mat one thing to check into is the type of backing it has. Some are better than others for different types of surfaces.
For example, a rubber backing will be great on a gym floor or other wood floor but may tend slip on turf. There are mats specifically designed for turf surfaces (although not all turf will hold the mat equally well), but they don’t translate too well to a fieldhouse or gym floor.
They have varying lengths as well. Some will extend roughly eight feel in front, pretty much covering the whole stride, while others are just designed to hold the pitcher’s plate itself. A little Internet research will turn up many options and sellers at various price points.
And for outdoors or long turf, the Portolite Mat with the spike backing will hold in conditions where other won’t. You can read my review of this product here.
Pitcher launch aids
One of the greatest challenges many pitchers face is getting a strong launch/leg drive. While some come by it naturally, most have to have it trained into them at some level.
The key is to get pitchers to get their hips moving out in front of the pitching rubber as they go into launch rather than sitting down on it. Three devices I’ve used to help them feel it are the Power Pod, the Softball Power Drive, and the Queen of the Hill.
Each of these goes about it in different ways. The Power Pod from Softball Excellence adds a little springiness to the initial move to go out, helping get away from “dead leg syndrome.” As a bonus, I also find it pretty handy for helping pitchers learn how to spin the curve and rise (although it wasn’t designed for that) and for teaching hitters to stride straight instead of away from the plate.
The Softball Power Drive, which is endorsed by Amanda Scarborough, helps pitchers feel the sprinter’s lean and forward angle of the body rather than sitting straight down on the pitching rubber. If they’re dragging the drive leg like an anchor they’ll feel it pretty quickly.
Then there’s the Queen of the Hill, which I’ve reviewed previously. Its sliding plate is great for teaching pitchers to drive their drive foot back instead of just running past it. If you push into it you’ll hear a “click-click” which tells you you did it right. If you don’t, no click.
You can also use these devices in combination. For example, put the Queen of the Hill behind the stride foot to encourage that foot to engage the ground before moving forward, and then the Softball Power Drive or Power Pod on the drive foot to encourage more drive as you come through.
Generating forward energy is critical to maximizing pitch speed. These devices can help.
PaulyGirl Fastpitch/High Performance Pitching online program
So, this is probably more of a secondary gift. I’d guess 99% of pitchers wouldn’t be interested in doing the training themselves, but if a parent or coach did the worked through the High Performance Pitching training program he/she could convey the information to the pitcher – at which point she would benefit greatly in my opinion.
Renowned pitching coach Rick Pauly has put together an extensive, detailed program broken into Beginner, Intermediate, Elite, and Professional levels. It’s all video-based and self-paced, which means you can go as slowly or as quickly as your time budget allow.
You can also pick and choose what you want. So if you just want help with the curveball you can take that module without having to go through the entire Elite level course.
If you’re interested in more information you can read this blog post which goes into much greater detail.
That’s a wrap
So there you have it – fairly exhaustive list. I could probably do more but if you’ve made it this far you’re already made of stern stuff. Have to stop somewhere.
Of course, for other ideas, you can use the search function in the left column and put in “Product Review.” You’ll no doubt find a few other ideas.
In any case, happy holiday shopping! Just remember, no matter what you buy it’s the archer, not the arrow, that really makes the difference.
I recently had the privilege of working with Rick and Sarah Pauly (Pauly Girl Fastpitch), along with several of the top pitching coaches in the U.S., at a pitching clinic hosted by Jay Bolden. There were two sessions: the first for beginning/intermediate pitchers that focused on the fundamentals of good mechanics, and a second for more advanced pitchers where we did a lot of data measurement using various technologies such as 4DMotion for overall mechanics and kinetic sequence, Diamond Kinetic Balls for spin direction and rates, Pocket Radar for speed, as well as stations that focused on improving the rise and drop.
It was quite an opportunity for the participants to learn about pitching. Yet when it was all over a few of us had a discussion about how some of them had squandered that opportunity.
So that’s what today’s blog post is about: some tips that will help future campers ensure they get the most from the time they spend. And their parents get the most from their investment.
Tip #1: Come with an open mind
Perhaps the most frustrating comment any instructor in a situation like that can hear is “I don’t do it that way.” Basically that says “I have my way of pitching, hitting, etc. and I don’t want to make any changes.”
Ok fine, but then don’t bother signing up for the clinic. If you’re already doing what you want to do you and have no interest in hearing other perspectives, or perhaps finding a better approach, then there’s no point in driving all that way and taking up three hours of your time.
Stay home and play like you want, and leave the spot open for someone else.
But really the value in a clinic like this is hearing perspectives and learning techniques that could help you become better than you already are. If you listen with an open mind, and try new things even if they’re different from what you’ve done before, you may find you like the new things better. And that they work better for you.
The more open you are to different techniques, or even different cues, than you’ve heard in the past, the more likely you are to find what works best for you.
Tip #2: Sign up for the right level
This one comes from my friend Shaun Walker, an innovative pitching coach with Next Level Softball in Bruno, West Virginia. When you’re signing up at a clinic that offers different levels, it’s important to be honest about your level of accomplishment in the skill being taught.
It’s not just about age. It’s also about what you can do with the ball in your hand. If you’re a 14U pitcher throwing 45 mph who has trouble hitting her spots even though you’ve been pitching for four years, the beginner/intermediate clinic will likely suit you better.
Because pitchers who struggle with control on their fastballs or can’t at least reach the average speeds for their age levels probably don’t need advanced instruction on the rise and drop. They need to improve their fundamentals first.
If you’re going to sign up for an advanced clinic, you should be able to throw decently hard (55+ mph), have a reliable offspeed pitch, and at least have a start on a movement pitch or two. You need a fairly high degree of proprioception (fancy word for body awareness) because the subtle adjustment required to spin the ball in different directions will be tough to accomplish without it.
If you sign up for an advanced clinic and are completely lost and unable to do the things that are required you’ve just wasted three hours of time (plus travel) along with the money you invested. Take that same time and money and invest it in the beginning/intermediate session and you’ll get a lot more out of it.
Tip #3: Use it to see if you/your daughter likes pitching
Becoming a fastpitch pitcher requires a lot of time and effort, and in most cases a significant investment in pitching lessons. Why go down that road if it turns out the player doesn’t actually like it?
Keeley Byrnes, a great pitching coach with Key Fundamentals in Oviedo, Florida says that the beginning clinics are a great way to find out if the player likes and wants to become a pitcher. You can go through some instruction, find out just how challenging it can be to become a pitcher, and determine if it’s a path you want to try without the huge time and money investment of private lessons.
The clinic structure is also more conducive to “sampling” because with multiple players there isn’t as much direct one-on-one contact – particularly important to those kids who are a little more shy. They can give it a try and see if it’s for them without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Tip #4: Pace yourself
The structure of a three-hour clinic is unlike most typical practices. I have seen so many kids come out like a bright comet in the sky, only to burn themselves out quickly and have nothing left by the end.
It gets even worse if you’ve signed up for both sessions at a multi-level clinic like the one last weekend. That’s six hours of pitching. Who does that on a regular basis?
Don’t feel the need to get as many reps in early as you can. Take your time and pace yourself. Your future (six hours from now) self will thank you.
Tip #5: Understand it’s ok to fail
We all hate to fail, especially when standing in a room filled with our peers (or competitors). Yet a clinic is the place to try out new things.
The problem with new things is we’re not good at them, so you’re probably going to fail more often than you’re used to.
That’s ok. This is the place to do it.
If the clinic is any good at all, the instructors will understand and will try to help you get better. They will love your willingness to put yourself out there and do the hard work required to change.
Do that, and the most likely result is that you walk out knowing how to become a better pitcher than you were when you walked in. And you’ll be more ready to try new things as they come along.
Tip #6: Parents should be curious – but resist the urge to interfere
We get it. It’s tough for parents to watch their kids struggle, and it’s tough to resist the urge to step in when it happens.
Shaun says the ideal parents at clinics are those who listen so they can help their kids later, but who don’t get in the way of the learning process during the clinics. They certainly don’t say, “Ah, don’t listen to her, just keep doing it the way I showed you after searching on “fastpitch pitching” on the Internet.
Instructors at a quality clinic will not only tell you what to do but why it’s important. I know Rick Pauly is a master at this.
How much to participate can be a challenge, especially for some parents. You’re going to know your kids better than the instructors do, and will spend a lot more time with them than the clinic instructors will.
But land the helicopter anyway. Listen and learn along with your player, ask questions if you don’t understand something, but otherwise stay out of the way. It’s the best value for your entertainment dollar.
Tip #7: Embrace the different ways of teaching from different instructors
Keeley correctly states that one of the challenges of one-on-one instruction is that they player is only hearing things from one person. That instructor has his or her way of teaching things, but there are many ways to say the same thing.
One of the advantages of a clinic with multiple instructors is the opportunity to hear different explanations for the same thing. While one may not resonate with a particular player, the next one might.
And even if none of them is exactly on the mark for how that player needs to learn, the combination of statements, as long as they’re all basically saying the same thing in different ways, will help the player translate the instruction into a form she can use.
The other advantage of the clinic setting is learning from other players.
The participants are likely to be broken into groups. If there is a group of three, for example, and only one of them understands the instruction, she can also help explain or demonstrate it to the other two.
I’ve seen plenty of great examples of one clinic participant helping another to learn. Both of them benefit.
Tip #8: Gain more exposure to new things
While this sounds similar to Tip #1, it’s more about learning about things or taking in feedback you’ve never received before.
A good case in point is the technology we used at the last pitching clinic. You may think you have a great rise or curve. But the Diamond Kinetics ball will measure and show exactly what spin speed and direction you have.
If your rise is working pretty well but you discover you have a 10:00 spin, you’ll know you have more work to do to get it closer to a 12:00 spin. Make that change and it will be even more effective.
The 4DMotion technology is also incredible. It can measure all types of parameters from simple sequences (are you decelerating Hips-Chest-Arm?) to the speed at which your forearm is decelerating as you release the ball (which indicates the efficiency of your energy transfer).
With hard data in hand you can make improvements that may not have shown up to the naked eye, or even on high speed video. All of which will lead you to becoming the best pitcher you can be.
Get the most out of it
Attending a quality clinic can be great, or even a game-changer, if you approach it with the right mindset. But it can also be a giant waste of everyone’s time and energy if you don’t.
In other words, you’ll want to do more than simply get the t-shirt as Ken Bergren, a pitching coach in Oregon says.
Follow these tips and you’re far more likely to walk out thinking “That was fantastic.” And inspired to go out and work even harder.
I’ve spoken in the past about Rick and Sarah Pauly’s High Performance Pitching courses. They have put together a great series of Beginner, Intermediate and Elite-level online training courses that give professional instructors and bucket parents alike the ability to learn from two of the best in fastpitch softball pitching.
Recently they released a brand new course for the Elite program called “Tips for Making a Ball Move.” (Click on the Elite tab to find it.)
In his usual friendly and accessible way, Rick walks through topics such as what order to learn movement (i.e., non-fastball) pitches, increasing spin rates on pitches and how to be effective with grips. Lots of great information, and best of all it’s FREE!
But there was a three-part set of lessons in there I thought would be particularly helpful for bucket parents. Two of the lessons cover different types of training balls, and the other one talks about other types of gadgets.
I think these are some very valuable lessons for a couple of reasons. One is that we all look at those things hoping to find a shortcut to helping our daughters/players/students pitch more effectively.
As Rick shows his personal collection I felt like a kid again going through baseball cards with my friends – got that, got that, got that, hmmm, that looks interesting. As much as I say I’m not a gadget guy I’ve certainly spent my fair share of money checking things out.
Rick walks through each of them, talking honestly about what he uses regularly and which balls or devices mostly collect dust on his shelf. Before you hit the “submit” button on Amazon or an individual website I highly recommend you check out this series of videos.
The good thing is Rick isn’t really passing judgment on the balls or devices as much as he is sharing his experience. Why that’s important is that while a ball or device may not have worked for him, it might be just the thing you need. After watching the videos you’ll get a better idea of whether they’re worth checking out.
For example, he talks about SpinForm softballs. They are great for helping pitchers learn the curve or rise. But in my experience they’re also great for teaching the overhand throw – especially for a player who tends to get side spin instead of 12-6 spin on her overhand throw.
It’s hard to miss whether the ball is being thrown properly or not, especially if you play catch with someone who does throw properly. That visual helps players figure out what they need to do to improve. If you pair up a pitcher working on her curve with a catcher who needs some spin help it’s a win-win.
And honestly, that’s the thing about these various balls and devices. None of them are necessarily good or bad. Just like drills, using them to achieve success has a lot to do with the coach and the student.
If you have a specific need and use the device properly, it may be valuable to you – even if it wasn’t to me. But if you don’t put in the work with it, or use it as intended, you’re probably going to find it one day covered in dirt and grime when you go to clean out your garage.
The nice thing about Rick’s videos is they give you an unbiased head start on determining whether whatever you’re thinking about purchasing will help solve the issue you’re trying to solve. And again, that course is free so even if you don’t watch the rest of the lessons you can pop in and get what you need.
So before you go off chasing the latest softball device rainbow, give those videos a look. It might just save you a few bucks you can use to pay for your next hotel stay.
P.S. Just FYI, no matter what device or tool you buy, they tend to work better when you use them regularly.
You see it on fields and in cages everywhere you go: one or more pitchers lined up five feet in front of their catchers (or a wall) forcibly pushing a ball out of their hands by snapping their wrists up. Meanwhile, the pitching coach talks about how important a hard wrist snap is to maximizing the speed of the pitch.
As I have discussed before, this way of thinking is a holdover from the days before high-speed video enabled us to see what was really going on during the release phase of the pitch. What people perceive as a hard wrist snap is really a reaction to other things happening in the pitching motion, especially the sudden deceleration of forearm due to internal rotation and brush contact.
Giving up old beliefs, however, is difficult. I know it, because I’ve had to do it numerous times and it didn’t come easily. Most of us hate to admit when we’re wrong about something (some more than others), so we fight tooth and nail to justify what we’ve been doing or teaching.
Heck, I taught wrist snaps for a few years too before I saw the truth, and it wasn’t like I flipped the light switch one day and stopped. But when I realized that at best they were a waste of time and at worst they were preventing my students from maximizing their speed I stopped.
Of course, it helps to have evidence of what you’re promoting. That’s why I was excited to see this video experiment pitching guru (and personal friend) Rick Pauly created. Rick is driving force behind High Performance Pitching (full disclosure: I am an Elite Level certified coach at HPP) as well as the father of a pretty darned good pitcher who has had a long and distinguished career, first in college and then as a pro in the U.S. and Japan.
In this experiment, Rick place a bowler’s wrist brace on the pitching hand of a pitcher. If you’re not familiar with them, these braces are used to prevent the wrist from moving during the delivery of a bowling ball. They basically freeze it in place, preventing any kind of a forward snapping motion to protect bowlers from injury.
Here’s a video of the pitcher throwing with the wrist brace in place:
Within four pitches, using the wrist brace for the first time, this pitcher was able to throw within a half mile per hour of her top speed for that lesson. My guess is with a little more time to get used to it, the brace would have had zero effect on her speed.
This is an experiment you may want to try yourself. Have your daughter or other pitcher throw a few pitches as she normally does, and get a speed reading with a reliable radar gun on a tripod.
Then put the wrist brace on and have her throw a few more pitches. If she’s trying to throw hard at all you will likely find the same results.
By the way, if you do perform this experiment let us know how it comes out. I plan to pick up a wrist brace and try it as well.
The state of knowledge is evolving all the time, so it’s important to keep up. You wouldn’t want your doctor to automatically bring out the leeches no matter what you went in for, would you?
The same is true for pitching. The more you seek out the latest information, such as the effect a hard, forced wrist snap really has on pitch speeds, the better you’ll be able to serve your pitchers.
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.
One of the common flaws you will see even in otherwise strong pitchers is a tendency to stick their butts out toward first base (right handed pitcher) or third base (left handed pitcher) after they land. I call it monkey butt, since that’s how many primates “present,” while Rick Pauly calls it the “ninja” position.
No matter what you call it, what you end up with is a posture issue where the shoulders are not stacked up on top of the hips. Instead, the hips are cleared out of the way so the arm can come through the release zone unimpeded rather than making brush contact.
You can tell pitchers they need to stay stacked, hips under shoulders, but they can’t always feel what that means. In other words, they don’t realize they are sticking their butts back; that makes it pretty tough to correct.
One description I’ve heard of how to encourage them to keep the hips under the shoulder is to imagine cracking a walnut between the butt cheeks. If you do that, you will tend to bring the hips/butt in rather than sticking it out.
The problem with that is younger pitchers in particular may not have much experience cracking a walnut with their hands. So while they may nod and say ok, they may not quite be able to understand what you actually want them to do or how much pressure they need to apply.
The other night, however, I found a good cue that not only relates to a fairly common human experience; it also has the benefit of being one of those funny things you don’t ordinarily talk about, especially in a pitching lesson. It feels like you’re conspiring on a secret.
What I told a couple of pitchers with this issue was “Imagine you have a little gas getting ready to come out, but you don’t want to let it out. As you land, do what you need to do to hold it in.”
The pitchers immediately got the concept, and went from monkey butt to upright posture immediately.
I won’t say it’s a miracle cure. After a while they would get back into monkey butt position again. But by saying “hold the gas in” they’d immediately get back to better posture. I expect as they gain more experience they will learn to get the right position automatically – just like anything else.
If you have a pitcher who just can’t seem to avoid pushing her hips/butt back, give this cue a try. You may get some strange looks at first, but I’m pretty sure you’ll get the results you’re looking for quickly.
As anyone who has gone through the process knows, selecting a pitching coach is a bit like entering the Wild West. There are all these conflicting ideas out there, covered in articles, social media posts, YouTube videos and the like.
Some are good, some are great, and some, quite frankly, are downright dangerous to the pitcher’s health. But how does a parent who wants to do right by his/her daughter, or a coach who wants to give his team’s pitchers their best chance of succeeding, sift through all the muck to find the diamonds in teaching?
A new online education program called High Performance Pitching was introduced over the holidays to address this glaring need. It offers detailed instruction from Rick Pauly of Paulygirl Fastpitch, along with demonstrations of certain drills by his daughter and 8-time NPF All-Pro Sarah Pauly, that explains the mechanics used by every elite pitcher in the game today and how to achieve them, step-by-step.
High Performance Pitching is structured to serve several needs. For those who know little or nothing but want to learn the best way to pitch a softball in fastpitch, there is the Beginner level program. It offers three courses (one free, plus two others for $29.95 each) that cover the basic mechanics and key checkpoints to look for.
All courses are video-based so you can see each piece in action. It’s ideal for the parent whose daughter thinks she may want to pitch, a team coach who wants to help his/her pitchers get started, or anyone who is interested in finding a pitching coach and wants to know what to look for in what the coach teaches.
There is also an Intermediate program that gets far more in-depth into the mechanics of pitching. It consists of 12 courses, each roughly an hour long, that break down various aspects of basic mechanics and offer drills. It is designed both for pitching coaches who are interested in learning the mechanics of high-level pitching as well as anyone who is looking for help in a specific area.
To participate in the certification program you must first complete a background check and pass an online course about preventing sexual abuse. You must then sign and return the Standards of Instruction Affirmation and Code of Ethics for Coaches documents.
One of the best parts is there are also videos that show Rick Pauly working on these principles with different students. You get to be the proverbial fly on the wall as Rick works with a pitcher. That means you can see the individual repetition failures as well as the successes and how Rick approaches corrections.
In fact, for many pitching coaches these “live” sessions may be the best part as it enables you to see how a very successful pitching coach works. All too often we are stuck in our bubbles, with just our own approach to go by. These videos provide a unique and valuable perspective.
At the end of each course there is also a quiz to test your knowledge. If you are going for High Performance Pitching certification you must take and pass these tests. If you are not, or you are just cherry-picking certain videos, the quiz is optional.
You must also complete a personal interview with Rick or Sarah, either in-person or online, before you can be certified.
Finally, there is the Elite program which focuses more on advanced movement pitches, increasing speed, changing speeds, improving location of pitching and other topics. You must first take and pass the Intermediate certification program as a prerequisite to taking the Elite certification program.
(Full disclosure: I have completed both and am now Elite-level certified.)
The Elite program includes 10 courses, again each of them running roughly an hour. To achieve certification you must again take all the courses and pass all the quizzes. I believe you also have the ability to cherry-pick certain courses if you don’t want to follow the entire program.
In all, to become Elite level certified you will complete 22 courses, 150 lessons and 22 quizzes. It is all self-paced so you can do it when you have time.
For the Intermediate and Elite levels there is a $200 registration fee. You must then pay $29.95 for each of the individual courses. It is definitely an investment of money as well as time.
But is it worth that level of investment? Absolutely. I’ve been teaching pitchers for 20 years using the same approach yet I learned some nuances and concepts that will affect the way I teach going forward.
For someone who was brought up in the “hello elbow, paint your way through the release zone, slam the door” school (including former pitchers) it will be even more valuable because you will learn a way of teaching that produces better results for your students while keeping their shoulders, arms, knees and other body parts safer.
The goal of High Performance Pitching is to revolutionize the way fastpitch pitching is taught. In speaking with Rick, his main concern is all the harm that is being done to pitchers through poor instruction.
He wants to inform and educate parents and coaches, and offer an accessible, definitive resource that makes it easier to develop high quality, healthy fastpitch pitchers.
If you are involved in pitching in any way, at any level, it’s worth checking out.
And if you are a parent seeking a certified coach who follows the High Performance Pitching principles, be sure to check out the Certified Coach Locator. It lets you know who in your area you can turn to for high-level instruction.
One of the most common problems I see when trying to teach fastpitch pitchers to learn to whip the arm through the release zone is overcoming the urge to aim.
They’ll be doing a good job of bending at the elbow and letting the upper arm lead through the back of the circle (rather than pushing the ball down with their hands). But then, right before they get to that critical moment where the upper arm slows down naturally and the lower arm passes it to create the whipping action, they will instead let the ball get ahead too early and defeat the whip.
I’m pretty convinced the reason they do this is they’re trying to make sure they throw a strike. So what do they do? They tighten up and try to direct the ball at the plate rather than allowing the arm to finish its natural motion.
Not only is this a speed killer, it actually works against their original goal of throwing a strike. If you stay relaxed and let the joints in the shoulder and arm do their job, it’s actually fairly easy to throw a strike.
As long as you direct the momentum that’s been built up toward the plate, the ball will go there. Like I often say, the ball doesn’t care where it goes, so it will go anywhere you tell it to go.
But when you tighten up before the whip can happen, now you’re pushing the ball through the release zone. Momentum is no longer helping you, so it’s very easy for the arm to get off-course and send the ball in the wrong direction. If you’re off even just a few degrees from where you want to go, or you twist your hand funny, suddenly the ball is not going where you want it to.
For pitchers with this issue, a pattern usually develops. Say she throws low and way inside on the first pitch. On the next one, she will try to correct and direct the ball toward the outside, often going high and well out. Then you’re on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, with balls careening all over the place.
So while the goal was to “just throw strikes” (a phrase I really dislike, by the way), instead control becomes more difficult than ever.
Making the fix
How do you overcome this tendency? First, the pitcher has to understand that strikes are a result, not a goal. Consciously focusing on the far end rather than herself is the wrong thing to do.
With that in mind, have her move up close and just work on the finishing action to get the feel of the whip. As Rick Pauly says, if you can’t hit the target from close up you won’t hit it from far away. A good place to start that motion is with the ball about shoulder high, with the palm facing up.
One of the things the pitcher should focus on is feeling her upper arm pull all the way into her ribcage, with the ball trailing behind the whole way. If needed, you can even isolate that motion, i.e., eliminate the actual throw until she gets the feel of the upper arm leading.
Once she has that down, have her continue through and throw. The goal is to feel relaxed and let it happen naturally. Check to be sure she isn’t trying to throw the ball too early. There should be a definite pendulum (or two-piece) movement rather than the whole arm coming through at once.
As the pitcher gets the feel of it from that starting point, work your way back, first starting at 12:00 and then making a full arm circle, but still without a full windup or much leg drive. Only when she can execute the full circle and get the whip should she be allowed to pitch from a windup position.
The catcher dilemma
One other thing you may need to do is have the pitcher throw into a screen or net rather than to a catcher. The reason is psychological.
If there is a catcher there, the pitcher will focus on throwing the ball to her rather than on what her arm is doing. Double that if the catcher is Dad or Mom. That defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to do. So if the pitcher isn’t willing to make mistakes when there’s a catcher involved, remove the catcher so it’s no longer an issue.
Admittedly, sometimes it’s tough to see whether the pitcher is getting the ball ahead a little too early with the naked eye. That’s where video is so helpful.
There are plenty of inexpensive mobile apps that will help you capture and analyze video to see what’s happening in “the last mile” of the pitch. Even regular high-speed video on a smartphone or tablet will do in a pinch. Not only does capturing the motion on video let you see it. It also lets the pitcher see it, which is often very helpful in encouraging her to correct it.
Aim not to aim
It’s easy for pitchers, especially those who are just developing their mechanics, to want to measure their success in terms of balls and strikes. After all, that’s how it’s often measured in a game.
Yet real development comes when pitchers are able to stop consciously aiming the ball and learn to use a proper whipping motion instead. It will lead to far greater success in the long run.
I know the title sounds like a tongue twister (how much wood can a woodchuck chuck), but the question of how many pitches a fastpitch pitcher should have is an important one. Mostly because it determines how pitchers will be spending their valuable practice time.
The “old school” approach is that a pitcher only needs three pitches – drop, changeup and riseball. And that approach has served many pitchers well for a lot of years.
That may be outdated thinking, however. Over the weekend I again was one of the supporting instructors at the Indiana United Fastpitch Elite clinic, which was led by Rick and Sarah Pauly. On Friday night, Rick presented a PowerPoint talking about the overall mechanics of pitching, and then took questions both during and after the presentation.
One of the questions, from my friend Mike Borelli, was how many pitches should a pitcher have. Rick turned to Sarah, the winningest pitcher in National Pro Fastpitch history, and asked her how many she had.
Her reply wasn’t three. It was seven. As I recall she named drop, change, rise, two curves, backdoor curve and a screwball.
Rick and Sarah then went on to talk about how with today’s hitters you need to have more weapons.
Think about why that is. In the old days in women’s fastpitch, the ball was white, with white seams, and pitchers even at the international level stood 40 feet away. Pitchers put in way more time learning their craft in the off-season than hitters did. That might have been a good thing because what most people were teaching about hitting was pretty bad. Hitters are smarter, too, spending more time studying pitchers and looking for patterns. Also, there is no doubt today’s bats are much hotter than those back in the day.
You put all that together and having more than three ways to attack a hitter starts to make sense. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I have quite a bit of confirmation bias in this way of thinking because I’ve been saying it for years.)
If all you have is three pitches, even if they’re great ones, you become more predictable. And predictability is deadly. Just ask any pitcher who has a coach who likes to favor certain pitches. It’s a lot easier to dig in and hit if you know what’s coming.
Now, no doubt some of your pitches will be better than others. No doubt you will throw them more than others. But if that’s all you throw, it’s easier to prepare to hit against you. Throwing in something a little different, even now and then, keeps hitters off balance and uncomfortable, which is the key to great pitching.
It was great to hear this philosophy confirmed by someone who has been around the women’s game, and played the men’s game, for a long time. If you’ve been restricting yourself/your daughter/your students to three pitches, you might want to give this a little thought. Perhaps it’s time to add a new pitch.