Welcome to the Coaches Corner. An ongoing series from First Choice Softball that will be featuring tips and advice from some of the top names in Fastpitch Softball. Be sure and check back soon as we will continue with additional advice from the experts and how you can learn to improve your game!
The first thing to understand about pitching is that it takes controlled repetition to properly learn the basic motion. Your daughter should want to practice on a frequent basis. I encourage my clients to practice at least four times per week when starting out. The duration for each practice can vary. Practice as long as your daughter is having fun and is engaged. Going through the motions does not improve technique. Twenty minutes of engaged practice can go a lot further than an hour of unengaged repetition.
Practice can be broken into parts as well. Maybe your daughter benefits from doing 5 minutes of snap work and taking a break before starting in on other drill work or full pitching. There are several drills that can be modified to be done indoors in case of darkness or inclement weather. Be creative and remember that young kids do not typically have a long attention span, even for activities they enjoy. It becomes the job of the parent and/or coach to keep workouts varied and interesting. If your daughter is having fun practicing, then “becoming a pitcher” is serving its ultimate purpose already.
Let’s start at square one!
First, make sure the equipment you are utilizing is correct for your daughter. 10 and under players use an 11” ball. All other levels use a 12” ball. Fastpitch uses a yellow, leather ball with raised seams and compression ratings of 375 lbs.
Second, let’s set up the pitching distance. The measured distance is the front of the rubber to the back tip of the plate. 10U players throw from 35 ft. 12U players throw from 40 ft. All other levels (for the most part) throw from 43 ft. These distances are regulation, but for our purposes at this point of development, they are merely guidelines. At the beginning, work at closer distances while your daughter learns the basics. Ensure that she is finding this experience to be encouraging.
It’s important to understand the whole motion but in manageable, teachable parts. Here, I have broken down the motion into 3 pieces: premotion, k-position and flip/follow through. I first provide an introduction to the pitching motion, called the presentation. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about power line, the concept upon which the whole motion is built. We see the power line in just about every aspect of the game. Here’s how it contributes to pitching.
Power line Arguably the MOST important part of pitching!! The power line is a simple concept. Draw or just imagine a straight line beginning at the pitcher and ending at the target (which is directly over the middle of the plate, just to keep things simple). We are going to build our motion on this power line. The idea is that if we keep the ball on our power line during the motion, we increase our chances that it follows that same line to the target, resulting in more strikes and overall better accuracy. There is also a speed component to sticking to the power line, but we’ll get into that later.
Presentation While proper presentation is not part of pitching mechanics, it helps to learn how to present and get set on the mound. We can ensure that we are throwing legally and promote a rhythm right from the beginning. Start a couple feet behind the pitching rubber, facing home plate, with your arms separated and hanging at your sides. The ball can be either in your hand or your glove, but the hands must be separated. Approach the rubber by placing your throwing foot halfway over the front side of the rubber. If you are right handed, your right foot should be somewhere between the middle of the rubber and the right side. If you are left handed, your left foot should be somewhere between the middle of the rubber and the left side. Your glove foot (or stride foot) should be barely touching the back side of the rubber and about shoulder distanced from your throwing foot. This should be a very balanced stance. Any signs from the catcher or coach need to be taken from this position before the hands join. Once any signs are received, bring your hands together and pause. This is a good time to take a moment to focus, relax or visualize the ball hitting the target.
Premotion The premotion is any motion that happens prior to the arm rotation. At the beginning stages of development, it is more important to keep the premotion small, so we can ensure proper balance and weight transfer. I recommend starting with the hands together in front of the lower abdominal area, with the elbows slightly bent. From there, push both arms down as you lean forward and bend into the throwing knee. The hands can separate as they become straight and both arms should reach forward to the target.
You can also choose to use a backswing. If so, start with your hands together, resting in front of your throwing leg. Slowly separate the hands and bring your throwing arm back toward second base (staying on the power line). At this stage of development, I recommend a small backswing (no more than 45 degrees up the backward rotation). As your arm swings forward past your hip, both arms should be reaching forward to the target together.
The stride leg (left leg for righties; right leg for lefties) should then move up and forward along the power line as the throwing foot pivots the body into a 90 degree (open position) turn. At this time, both arms are continuing up the rotation. Once the throwing hand reaches the top of the arm circle, the palm should open up to second base. The glove arm should start back down the rotation on the front side.
K-Position The throwing arm is extended to the top of the arm circle, glove arm pointed toward the target and body in an open position. The stride foot lands at a slight angle (between 45-90 degrees to the plate is great for now) near the power line. The body weight should be slightly over the back foot at this point of the motion. As the arm is making it’s way down the arm circle, ensure that the ball is still traveling on the power line and the arm is loose and relaxed as it prepares to release the ball. As the arm approaches the release, the body weight should be shifting forward, but do not bend at the waist. Keep the hips in the open position (at least halfway) until the ball is released.
Flip/Follow through The release of the ball is often referred to as the wrist snap. The wrist should be cocked backward, with the palm facing down. As the wrist begins to snap the ball forward to the catcher, keep the fingertips behind the ball and flick forward. Don’t forget that the fingertips are just as important as the wrist when releasing the ball. At this point, the arm should continue its motion forward and up the rotation. Do not tighten to stop any motion. The throwing leg should drag forward toward the stride leg and the hips should close to bring the body square to the target. For beginners, I recommend trying to follow through so that both feet are on opposite sides of the power line and the body is balanced, ready to field a ball.
Before you start practicing, here are some things to consider. Good mechanics equal good pitching.
Remember to start slow. Do each piece of the motion by itself before trying to put it all together. Don’t even throw a ball to start. It may help to just do the motion in front of a mirror several times. Think of the pitching motion like a series of new dance steps. Do them slow first to make sure you have them down before trying to put the whole routine together.
From good mechanics come strikes. Don’t worry about trying to throw strikes. Work instead on having good form. Repetition work with good form will provide you with great accuracy.
Do NOT try to throw hard. Speed is the last thing we should be concerned with at the beginning. Trying to throw with speed at this point will hinder your ability to throw with proper form.
Most importantly, have fun! The more you enjoy practicing, the more you will get out of your practices. Pitching, at times, can get frustrating. Exercise patience and remember that it takes years of consistent practice to master this skill set.
About our contributor: Michelle Harrison is a pitching instructor with over 16 years of instructional experience. She grew up playing ball in Southern California for such organizations as the Orange County Batbusters and Gordon’s Panthers. She went on to pitch for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and won a Big-10 Championship against powerhouse Michigan in 1999 to advance to Regional appearance at UCLA. The Gophers fell just short of a College World Series appearance.
In 2006 in the Twin Cities metro of Minnesota, Michelle established Strike Zone Sports and quickly became the most recognized pitching instructor in the area. She has worked with several All-State players and helped them take their careers to the collegiate level.
Michelle’s philosophy for pitching instruction is to recognize and build upon the strengths of each individual pitcher. Each pitcher is unique, and the motion should be tailored specifically to bring success based on a distinctive set of talents.
Michelle just recently relocated to the Bay Area of California and is currently accepting new clients. Please visit her website at www.szsonline.com for more information or contact her directly at 651-373-1651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.