The premier source for online instruction, strength training, and video analysis for windmill pitchers, fastpitch softball players, and coaches. Our mission is to develop softball players into top level, NCAA recruited pitchers and athletes. Furthermore we aim to educate the general public on proper pitching mechanics, techniques, and general softball skills.
Last week, I wrote a post that everyone really seemed to like. It was part 1 of a 2 part series on problems in pitching mechanics. Last week we talked about the really big, noticeable issues that can happen during a pitch. This week we are going to talk about the smaller, less noticeable mechanical issues that can be easily missed by someone who isn’t trained to see them. Now just because these problems look smaller and are less noticeable, it does not mean they don’t affect the pitch in a BIG way! This is why pitching can be so hard. The tiniest thing can make a huge difference in the pitch. So let’s get right into it. Here are the most common mechanical issues that are easy to miss, as well as how you might be able to correct them.
Stride (front) foot landing on or crossing over the power line: This problem occurs when the left foot (for righties) or the right foot (for lefties) lands on top of or across the power line. I know, you must think “how could something that small possibly make any difference?” Well it does. It makes a big difference. You see, when you allow the front foot to land on or across the power line, it blocks your arm from coming down the throw zone. Then we get into all of those problems we talked about last week like rotating and coming from behind the body in order to deliver the ball. This causes a decrease in speed and inside/outside pitches. When we have our girls set up for their drills, we have them set up with their back foot toe just touching the power line, and the front foot slightly to the LEFT (for righties) or RIGHT (for lefties) of the power line. This is how you should land when you stride off the rubber as well. This will create a nice clear path for the arm to get through. The only time the stride foot should land on or across the power line is during a curveball.
The Fix: Try using a visual marker such as a flat rubber disc or simply drawing a circle or an X in the dirt, and place that marker in the correct landing spot for the foot. This will give the pitcher something to focus on when it comes to having her foot land off the power line instead of on it or across it.
The Drill:The reach, track, fire drill is great to do for this problem. Since the pitcher freezes in power K, she can take a look down at her foot and make sure it has landed in the correct spot. It is especially helpful if you’re also using a visual marker. Find the reach, track, fire drill here
Palm down at the back side of the arm circle: This is really difficult to catch if you are not trained, especially because the arm circle happens so quickly. The essence of forearm fire and a delivery with maximum whip and snap is getting to the palm up/elbow down position at the back side of the arm circle. When we get to the palm up/elbow down position, we can lead from the elbow, creating forearm lag, and fire the arm down the throw zone with maximum whip, speed and command. Many times though, pitchers will turn their hands over at the back side of the arm circle and their palm and the ball will be facing down towards the ground. This is “push” position and you completely lose your ability to snap and fire the ball (Note: this is the position we get in to throw a changeup). When you push the ball, you can only throw so hard because you are limited in how much snap and spin you can generate. Pushing the ball also creates tension and stiffness that can lead to injury.
The Fix: Practice using the following drill:
The Drill: The best way to address this problem is with the isolated forearm fire drill. This allows the pitcher to set up with her palm up and elbow down and focus on relaxed whip and smooth delivery instead of turning the ball over and pushing. Find the isolated forearm fire drill here
Glove coming down too early: Last week we talked about the glove flying out to the side and how it can cause hip/shoulder rotation. But maybe you don’t do that. Maybe you keep your glove on the power line, but it comes down too soon. A little known fact about pitching is that a lot of it relies on perfect timing and balance. There are 3 things that finish at the same time when we pitch: the throwing hand, the drive through foot, and the glove hand. So what happens if you let the glove hand come down too early? When this happens the timing of the pitch and the pitcher’s balance can be thrown off so she will end up using more of her body to deliver the ball than a relaxed whip. Cue hip/shoulder rotations and bending/leaning as well– all things we want to avoid. The glove coming down too early can be very easy to miss because it is not as noticeable as the glove dramatically waving out to the side
The Fix: Glove coming down too early can be caused by scapular/shoulder weakness. If you work with a trainer you should speak to him/her about addressing this area
The Drill: try doing the isolated forearm fire drill, but when you do the first 2 swings of the arm, practice bringing the glove down at the exact same time. Train your body to let the glove come down at the same time as the throwing arm. Find the isolated forearm fire drill here
Glove hand reaching UP instead of OUT: This is also easily missed because the arm circle happens so quickly. This is a very common issue we see in pitchers during the “reach” part of the pitch when their glove hand and throwing hand should be pointing straight out towards the catcher. Instead some girls will reach their glove hand up towards the sky instead of out to the target. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal right? Wrong. Remember, the reach part of the pitch is what creates the throw zone so by reaching the glove up too high, you are creating a dropped back shoulder and a throw zone that is pointed up high (Note: this is a position for a rise ball). What you might see when your pitcher does this is a lot of high pitches.
The Fix: Practice the following drill:
The Drill: The best way to address this problem is again with the reach, track, fire drill. In this drill, the pitcher also freezes in the “reach” position, so she can focus on reaching straight out to the catcher, not allowing the glove to come up too high. When they get into the “track” position, make sure the glove is still pointing right at the catcher and not coming up too high. Find the reach, track, fire drill here
Arm bending or arm coming behind the head: Many times, a pitcher will have her body in the right position, but the ball will still go inside or outside. This can be caused by the pitcher collapsing her arm above her head (instead of having relaxed extension) and pulling the arm behind the head or body before the delivery. Again, as soon as the arm gets behind the body, the arm must slow down, and there must be hip/shoulder rotation in order to get back on the power line. It is important that the throwing arm be fully extended (but not locked) and on the power line throughout the arm circle and the delivery.
The Fix: this can sometimes be a core strength issue believe it or not, so ladies, make sure those cores are strong! But also try this drill:
The Drill: there are actually 2 great drills for this problem. Our go to drills for arm path are the end game drills. Another great drill to do is the 3,2,1 drill. It will be especially helpful if these 2 drills are combined with wall work! Find the end game drills here, find the 3,2,1 drill here and find a refresher on wall work here
I hope this has been as helpful as last week’s post! Of course these are not the only mechanical issues that can happen while pitching, but these are some things we see very frequently. Is your pitcher doing any of these? Have you noticed any other issues you are concerned about? Feel free to leave us a comment or reach out to us so we can try to help!
Since I began offering online pitching lessons, I’ve been interacting with parents and players who come to me seeking different things: some to learn basics, some want to improve, many want to “fix” different pitching problems. Some come to me from previous pitching coaches while some have pitched for years and are just looking for a tune up.
Recently I have been receiving a lot of emails from parents who say, “I’ve been studying videos online and have tried to teach my daughter myself but now I’ve reached a point where I can no longer help.” Many times a Dad will tell me, “I used to play and teach baseball but this is so different!”
Here’s the thing: Pitching is hard and there are SO many tiny mechanical parts that have to come together for the pitch to work. Some are so small that you would think they couldn’t possibly make a difference to the pitch, but they really do. These little details are nearly impossible to see unless you are a trained softball pitching coach. So parents don’t feel bad if you feel like you’re trying to learn the mechanics of pitching but your daughter isn’t getting everything. This is totally normal! This is why we are here offering lessons. But I totally understand that not everyone has the time (or maybe budget) for lessons with us, so I’m here to help.
Today I’m going to share with you part one of a two part written series that discusses the most common mechanical issues we see and some smaller ones that are easy to overlook but affect the pitch big time! Today we will talk about the 5 most common mechanical issues we see in pitchers, what you can do to help address these problems, and the best drill for that problem. When you’re reading through these I want you to keep in mind that the number one key to successful pitching is delivering the pitch without the throw zone breaking down. So now, let’s get right to it.
Postural Problems: After pushing off the rubber, have you noticed that your pitcher lands bent forward or sideways? Maybe her hips are sticking out, or her upper body is leaning across the power line? Perhaps her back is hyperextended and her upper body is leaning away from the power line? Maybe she is landing with too much of her weight on her front foot and it looks like she’s leaning forward. Or maybe she’s got too much weight on the back foot and she’s leaning backwards? These are all postural issues and they are VERY common, especially in younger pitchers. Postural issues can make your throw zone move up and down creating lift or drop in the ball. When we pitch we want to be vertically stacked and tall. The primary cause of postural problems is poor core, hip and glute strength, which is why this is so common in younger pitchers whose muscles have not yet fully developed. If you’re older however, the problem could be poor muscle memory.
The Fix: If you are 13 years or older, the best fix is to get with a strength and conditioning coach who understands softball and pitching. If you can target those weak areas I mentioned above and make them stronger, you will have a much easier time staying tall and vertically stacked throughout the pitch. If you are not 13 yet, we recommend trying the drill below:
The Drill: The best drill (in my opinion) that can help with posture is the first stage of the “reach, track, fire” drills. This drill allows you to break down each part of the pitch. You freeze in power K position where most of the postural issues present themselves. If you really focus on landing tall when you freeze in power K, it can help solidify that posture into your muscle memory. You can check out our video for the reach track fire drive drill here
Hip & Shoulder Rotation: One of the most common things young pitchers are taught is to slam their hips and shoulders shut (so their hips and shoulders are square to the catcher) when they deliver. It is believed by some coaches that slamming the hips and shoulders shut gives the pitcher more power, when in reality, it just causes the body to block the power line and the arm is unable to get through. This means that the arm has to slow down and come around the body, creating a big loss of speed and command. When we deliver the pitch, we want the hips and shoulders to be facing the power line so the arm has a clear path to the catcher. Hip and shoulder rotation can also be caused by poor core and hip strength, but it can also be caused by poor muscle memory if a pitcher has come from a previous coach who taught them to do that.
The Fix: Again, if you are 13 years or older, get with a trainer! Strengthen those core and hip muscles so you can keep the hips and shoulders out of the way. If you’re younger, try the following drill:
The Drill: The best way to correct hip/shoulder rotation would be with wall work. This means you can take any of our drills, or even a full pitching motion with your pitcher FACING a padded gym wall, batting cage net, or chain linked fence. Find a full explanation and demonstration of wall work here
Glove flying out: This is SUCH a common problem, and I bet you even see some college pitchers doing this. Have you noticed that when your pitcher pitches, her glove hand goes flying out to the side? When we pitch we want to have our glove hand pointing straight at the target. This helps maintain our throw zone and it helps keep our body in the correct position. When we allow the glove hand to fly out, it can cause hip and shoulder rotation and you will see all of the problems I listed above. So I bet you’re saying to yourself “wait, how do college pitchers get away with this?” It’s true, if you watch some of the NCAA games, you will see pitchers who allow their glove hand to fly out to the side. The difference between these girls and younger girls is their physical strength. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen how college softball players train, but most days of the week they are doing serious strength and conditioning. This means that even though their gloves fly out to the side, their cores are strong enough to keep their bodies facing the power line. Younger pitchers who do not have this core strength can fall victim to hip and shoulder rotation when the glove flies out
The Fix: Believe it or not, glove flying out can be a problem related to core strength, so older girls, get back with that trainer! You can also try the following drill:
The Drill: The best way to correct glove flying out would be with wall work, but instead of facing the wall, it is my recommendation that the pitcher should have her BACK against the wall. Again, you can find a full explanation and demonstration of wall work here
Pushing the ball: One of the most important parts of pitching is the relaxed release. We teach forearm fire, which utilizes a completely relaxed arm that allows for maximum whip and snap, creating the most speed and command. You might notice when your pitcher is pitching that her arm looks very stiff. Maybe her elbow is locked or she’s just pushing the ball to the catcher with her palm instead of staying loose and snapping. Many young pitchers feel that they need to “aim” for the strike zone in order for the pitch to work, but this is not true. The more relaxed you are and the more whip/snap you have, the more speed and command you will have.
The Fix: Focus on isolating the arm and wrist movements. Do not move onto other drills or full pitches until your pitcher starts to feel what it feels like to fire the ball instead of push. Try the following drill:
The Drill: The best drill for starting to feel the isolated delivery movement is the forearm fire drill! Here we will put our body into delivery position and solely focus on keeping the arm loose and relaxed while also firing the hand to the end of the throw zone. You can check out the isolated forearm fire drill here
Drive through problems: The drive through is the part of the pitch where the back foot comes all the way through to the front foot when you are delivering. The drive through comes through at the same time as the arm, and when it comes through fast and at the right time it can help maintain good posture and add speed to the pitch. Many times though, we see various problems with the drive through, maybe you’ve noticed some of them. Does your pitcher’s drive through not come all the way through? Maybe instead of pulling it through she kicks her foot to the side and then just steps through. Maybe she’s only stepping off the rubber instead of pushing? Or maybe you’ve noticed that she is collapsed onto the entire side of her foot when she pitches? When the drive through foot comes through, the pitcher should be up on her toe, and the toe and knee should be pointed forward towards the catcher. This allows for the drive through to come through completely and easily. When the foot collapses, it creates and anchor which makes completing the drive through very difficult. When the drive through is incomplete, you can lose speed and command
The Fix: You might think that problems with the drive through foot are caused by ankle or foot problems, but actually it is hip strength/flexibility that is the problem. If your pitcher has tight hip flexors or weak glutes, you might see problems with the drive through. Focus on strengthening those areas if you are working with a trainer. If not, focus on drills that isolate the glide off of the rubber. Try the following drill:
The Drill: A great drill to do to focus on the proper glide off the rubber is the reach, track, fire drill. Again, this drill isolates each movement of the pitch, and your pitcher can really focus on keeping the toe and knee in the correct position as they glide off the rubber and pull it all the way through during the delivery. Find the reach, track, fire drill here
I hope you guys have found this helpful, and be on the lookout next week for part 2 of this series, where we take a look at the smaller, less noticeable mechanical issues that can affect the pitch in a big way!
One of the best (and by best I mean most ridiculous) things we hear as pitching coaches has to do with movement pitches. I bet everyone has been to a game or tournament and heard something like this from a parents or coaches:
“Yeah, my daughter is 9 and she knows how to throw 5 pitches.”
“We just started pitching but we are working on the rise ball.”
If you are a pitching coach and you have new students reaching out to you, you may have heard something like this:
“Hey, so I know we just started learning the fastball mechanics but my coach wants me to be throwing a drop, a curve, and a rise, so can we focus on those?”
And my personal favorite –told to me by one of my 12U students’ father who was approached by another parent who said to him,–
“My daughter can throw 32 pitches.”
Really? 32 pitches? Care to name all of those for me?
Here’s the thing…being able to command pitches is all about learning the optimal mechanics, starting with the fastball. Fastball mechanics are the basis for all of the other pitches. If your fastball mechanics are not solid, your movement pitch mechanics will not be either. So when we hear people say that their 9 year olds “throw 5 pitches,” or when students ask to learn all of the other movement pitches when they are still struggling with the fastball, we kind of shake our heads and sigh.
It would be extremely rare for a 9 year old to master 5 different pitches. It is often very difficult for young pitchers to master even fastball mechanics, as their muscles and bodies have not yet fully developed. There are developmental and strength related issues that young and new pitchers have (e.g. weakness in the core, hips, legs) that may prevent them from having solid fastball mechanics, and as I said above, if your fastball mechanics aren’t solid, your movement pitches will not be solid either. So when we hear this from parents and coaches, it can be very concerning. More likely than not, they are focusing so much on what they think is a movement pitch that they are leaving solid mechanics behind and may be building poor mechanical habits into their young pitchers.
Furthermore, there are definitely movement pitches that are more difficult to throw than others. So while we may have a student who has pretty much mastered the fastball, the next question should not be, “Can we learn the rise ball?” For us, there is an order in which we teach pitches, and it goes from easiest to learn, to most difficult to learn.
So when and in what order should you be learning the other pitches? Here is what we teach:
Fastball: As I said above, the fastball is the very first pitch every pitcher learns. The mechanics for the fastball are the basis for every other pitch, and if you don’t solidify these mechanics, all of your other pitches will be more difficult to throw. This pitch can be taught at any age!
Changeup: It is our belief that EVERYONE needs to have a really effective changeup. We don’t care if you come to us as a 9 years old throwing 60+ MPH and are able to blow your fastball by batters. You MUST have a changeup. As we are seeing more and more in high level softball, straight speed just isn’t cutting it. Batters are very capable of hitting high speeds with ease, but when you can keep them off balance with off speed pitches, you become much more effective as a pitcher. We teach several different kinds of changeups and they can be taught at any age as soon as the pitcher is having success, command, and solid mechanics with her fastball
Drop: The drop ball is the first movement pitch we teach because it is the most similar to the fastball mechanics. The delivery of the drop ball (we teach primarily a turn-over drop) still utilizes a completely relaxed arm and wrist with the palm facing down on the finish. The differences between the fastball and the drop are body position and where the glove is pointing. However, because they are so similar, it is the first movement pitch we teach our girls. I have taught this pitch to girls who are 11 years old and up, simply because younger girls tend to not have enough wrist/finger strength to create true spin. This is why when parents of 9 year olds claim their daughters know 5 pitches, we know it’s probably not true. She might have a pitch that she throws low, or a pitch that she throws high that they call a drop or a rise, but it probably lacks the spin of a true drop or a rise ball.
Curve or Screw: Now that you’ve learned a pitch that goes on the vertical plane, we want to teach something on the horizontal plane. The pitcher can choose whether she wants to learn the curve or the screwball first (I always prefer the curveball because I think it has much more true movement than a screw ball, but it is entirely up to the pitcher to choose). Both pitches have the hand coming away from the power line (either across the body for a curve or away from the body for a screw) and both pitches require the palm to be facing up during the delivery. These two pitches require a lot of wrist and finger strength and quickness in order to get true bite, which is why we teach them a little bit later.
Drop-curve: This is a great pitch to throw to slappers! It is essentially a combination of the drop and the curve ball so we might even teach this before the screw ball. Because it is a combination of 2 pitches, we like to teach it after the other 2 have been learned. It becomes very easy to throw at that point.
Rise Ball: In my opinion this pitch requires BY FAR the most wrist and finger strength and speed. This pitch requires backwards spin and it takes a tremendous amount of wrist snap and finger strength to throw it and actually get it to move. By learning all of the other movement pitches first, a pitcher is developing her wrist and finger strength and therefore will be more prepared to throw this pitch. This is also the only pitch where you need to be throwing a certain speed in order for it to work (I think 55MPH, Coach Phil says at least 60). So again, when you’re telling me that your 9 year old can throw a rise ball, my answer is, probably not a true rise.
Rise-screw (for righties) rise-curve (for lefties): This is the last pitch we teach, and it is only for our most advanced students who have mastered all of the other pitches. Again, this is a combination of 2 different pitches so we need to make sure the other 2 pitches can be thrown on command before we teach this one, especially the rise ball. The rise-screw/rise-curve is a student favorite, as it rises up and in underneath the batters hands making it very difficult to hit if thrown correctly. But these pitches take a huge amount of wrist and finger strength so you must be able to command all of the previous pitches before learning these.
So if I was forced to pick an age to start movement pitch instruction, I would say around 11. Of course this varies with each student’s natural abilities. But I must reiterate, we will not teach any movement or off speed pitches until the fastball mechanics are solidified. Even if a pitcher is 15 years old, if she is still having trouble with mechanics and commanding the fastball, we will not teach them any other pitch until those mechanical problems are addressed and fixed. I know this is not what people want to hear. Everyone wants to be able to say they know every single pitch. But if you’re not throwing them with the correct mechanics, or you’re not throwing them with true spin and command, then there is no point in throwing them at all.
In today’s video, I’m doing our very first Q&A! I’ve collected some of the most recent and most common follower questions and will be answering them in today’s video! If you enjoy this sort of thing, leave us a comment and we will be sure to do it more often! And don’t worry, if we didn’t get to your question today, we will next time!
Softball Questions: Fastpitch Power Q&A Part 1 - YouTube
One of the most common drills I see coaches doing with their students (or drills that students choose to do on their own) is the target drill. I’ve seen this done several different ways; some coaches will put a ball on a tee and have their girls try to hit it. Others will get a circular target on a stand and put it behind home plate. I’ve also seen those vinyl screens with numbers painted all across them to represent different parts of the strike zone. The concept of target drills sounds great in theory, but you will never see me doing a target drill with my students. I know a lot of girls consider these fun and challenging, but for most girls (not all) they can actually be more detrimental than helpful. Again, I am not saying this applies to every pitcher, and Coach Phil disagrees with me on this topic, however it has been my experience that target drills do more harm than good.
We spend so much time teaching our girls the correct mechanics, and one of the most important parts of pitching is being completely relaxed and really firing the arm and hand down the throw zone with maximum whip and smoothness. Good posture with a fast arm and drive through are also extremely important.
When throwing to a catcher, I’ve found that my students do this very well. Their mechanics look solid and they fire the ball with good speed and command. Every so often I’ll get a video (or see a video online) of a pitcher trying a target drill, usually hitting a ball off of a tee or trying to hit a round target. I watch these videos and see their mechanics go out the window. They become so focused on trying to hit the target that they slow down their entire motion and try to aim the ball. Instead of snapping and firing they start pushing with their palms out and their arms look stiff. A lot of girls start bending and completely forget about their drive through because they’re so determined to just knock that ball off of the tee, even if their mechanics aren’t correct.
I know what you’re thinking, “just tell them not to do that!” Trust me, I have! And I’m sure other coaches have given that instruction as well. But for whatever reason, when you put some kind of target in front of them that is not a catcher, their mechanics start to break down. It becomes more about hitting that ball off the tee than staying relaxed and focused on good mechanics. As pitching coaches, we spend so much time doing meaningful drills that help solidify good muscle memory. So to watch those mechanics go out the window simply because the pitcher is trying to hit a ball off of a tee is very concerning.
In my opinion, having a catcher give spots is always better than a target drill. It is a more realistic target and simulates game situations. One of my favorite spot drills is the 3-spot inside/outside drill. This involves having the catcher give low, middle, and high inside spots as targets to hit and then the same three spots on the outside of the plate. The pitcher has to hit at least 4 out of the 6 spots before she can move on! It simulates real game situations and allows the pitcher to focus on her mechanics and relaxing. I use this drill very frequently with my students. You’ll never see me use a “false” target drill.
Again, I want to reiterate, I know this is not true for every pitcher. I know there are plenty of girls out there who can put that ball on a tee, keep their mechanics solid and knock that ball right off with great speed and command. It has just been my experience that many pitchers (especially younger pitchers who are just starting to learn the correct mechanics) will stiffen up, slow down, and start aiming instead of focusing on the mechanics and staying relaxed. This can definitely slow down the process for building the correct muscle memory.
What has been your experience with target drills? Do you like them? I would love to hear your opinions!
Lately we’ve talked a lot about the throw zone and how important it is to establish and maintain a solid, non moving one. We’ve really only talked about fastballs up until this point, but what about the movement pitches? Today, Coach Phil discusses the throw zone for each movement pitch!
Softball Movement Pitches: The Throw Zone - YouTube
As pitching coaches, you might think our only job is to teach you proper mechanics and then send you on your way. This is not true. In fact I don’t think it’s even our primary job. Our most important job in fact, is to make you your own best teacher.
What does that mean? It means that we want to make you truly understand the mechanics and why the pitch does what it does. We want to make you understand body positions and every movement so that when you are in game situations and we are not there to tell you what’s going on, you can self-diagnose any problems. For example, if you throw an inside pitch that veers too far inside, you will be able to figure out why that happened and fix it. This is called being self-aware, and it is a very important ability for any pitcher to have in her arsenal.
During lessons we spend a lot of time on various drills. New, beginner students may not even get to full pitching motion from the rubber during the first few lessons. All of our drills have a purpose. The forearm fire drills allow you to isolate the arm movement and focus on being smooth and relaxed. The end game drills focus on correct arm path and body position. The reach, track, fire drill breaks down each stage of the pitch so you can focus on what your body is supposed to feel and look like in each position.
Once students get to full pitching motion from the rubber, we might add power drills that focus on being explosive with your legs. When we work on movement pitches we might have you do up-close spins to isolate the wrist and finger movements. We have students do these drills repeatedly so the correct mechanics get built into muscle memory. There is something that every pitcher needs to understand: everything happens for a reason. If your pitch doesn’t go where you want it to go, it happened for a reason. If your pitch DOES go where you want it to go, it happened for a reason! Missed pitches happen because of mechanical breakdowns. Successful pitches happen because the mechanics were solid. It is so important for pitchers to understand why a pitch does what it does. Once that happens, they have become self-aware.
So how do we become self-aware? How do we really understand why the pitch does what it does? Well, it has to do with how badly you want to become a successful pitcher and how much effort and attention you give to drills and practices. That doesn’t mean only during lessons. It means when you’re practicing on your own as well. If you go out to practice and really spend time on the drills, and you really pay attention to how your body feels and what your body is doing, you will become self-aware. If you go out and you rush through the drills because you just want to get them over with, you could be performing the movements incorrectly and will engrave poor mechanics into your muscle memory. If you’re not paying attention to how your body feels, or what your body looks like when you miss a pitch, you will never understand why a pitch does what it does. This can be very detrimental to game performances.
For example, if you’re having a lesson with us and you are continually seeing your pitches go high and outside, we might tell you that your hips and shoulders are rotating, causing your arm to follow your shoulders across your body, giving you that high and outside spot. If you listen to that, and pay attention to what it feels like when that happens, you will eventually be able to feel the difference between rotation and staying tracked. Then, when you are in a game, if you hit that high and outside spot, you will be able to tell yourself, “Hey, I must have rotated, let me stay tracked” and fix the problem.
Your pitching coaches can’t follow you around to every single game and tell you what’s happening. Pitchers must to learn how to correct themselves when a pitch goes wrong. Only then will you be able to become the best pitcher you can be. One of the first things I say to my students is, “My job is to make you your own best teacher.” Go out, pay attention to your drills, learn from your mistakes, understand why the pitch does what it does and you can become a truly great pitcher!
I’ve been getting a lot of emails and messages on our social media pages from players and parents, all with the same concern. Each girl has reached out saying that they throw really well in practice and then throw so much worse when they are in game situations. Some of the most common things I hear are:
“When I’m practicing I throw upwards of 60MPH, but when I’m in a game I’m clocked in the mid 50’s”
“When I’m throwing in practice, I can hit my spots and I’m really good with my command. But when I go into a game, I’m really wild and can’t find the strike zone.”
“I feel like when I practice all of my movement pitches work really well, and when I go into a game nothing works.”
These complaints are common, and the cause is often a mental/confidence issue rather than a mechanical issue, but for some, mechanics can play a big part as well. The problem really lies in focusing too much on the result. When practicing, there is no umpire, typically no batters, no scoreboard, and therefore no pressure! Pitchers can relax and just focus on being loose and having good mechanics. Once they get into a game situation however, they fixate so much on balls/strikes, batters, umpires, scores and game situations that mechanics can go out the window. They become stiff, and try to aim or slow down, so mechanics start to collapse. It seems that girls are taught from a young age that you need to muscle the ball, overthrow it, or try to aim in order to get power and command, when in reality the opposite is true.
Here is a quick list of the most common mechanical flaws we see in pitchers during games that they don’t necessarily do in practices:
Pushing instead of firing: Many players are taught that muscling, aiming, and pushing are the ways to get speed and command. This is just not true. Relaxedness and fast arm whip that fires all the way down the throw zone is the way to see maximum speed and command. If you are practicing with good arm whip and relaxedness, but then you go into a game and you start stiffening up trying to aim for the strike zone, this could be a reason for the difference in speed and command.
Bending instead of staying tall: It is so important to be vertically stacked during the pitch. If you are nice and tall during your power K and your delivery, you will establish a better throw zone. In games, if you start to bend over or lean, you’re going to create a lot of problems such as arm going behind the body, arm getting off the power line, and movement of the throw zone
Smaller push off the rubber: Believe it or not, having a really good stride off the rubber can affect the pitch big time in both speed and accuracy. In practices, a lot of girls focus on getting a really good push off the rubber, but in games they might shorten the stride in an attempt to aim the ball. When you shorten the stride you can lose a lot of command and speed
Slowing down: This is SO common. Having a fast arm and drive through is so important when delivering the ball. The faster you get the arm and the drive through through, the less time you have to do something mechanically incorrect. Very often I see girls slowing down their entire motion in games because they feel this is necessary in order to get strikes when really the opposite is true
Losing the drive through: Having a quick and complete drive through will not only increase power, but help maintain correct posture and body position. If you are in a game and you stop driving through completely and aggressively, you will not only lose power, but you will also be more likely to land bent and rotate as you deliver
So what can we do to help close the gap between success during practices and games? Here are some tips:
Take video! Whenever I give a lesson (whether in person or online) I am almost always taking video. No it’s not so I can post it on Instagram, it’s so I can show the girls what they are doing and how they look. It is SO helpful for girls to see how they look when they are pitching. I will also often ask the parents to send me game video. This is so I can compare the practice and game videos, and if I see a big difference I will put them side by side and show my student. This shows them how they are changing their mechanics in games, which is causing them to struggle more. It is one thing to tell a girl what she is doing incorrectly, but showing them is often much more helpful, especially if she’s a visual learner!
Trust your mechanics: this can be difficult to do, but sometimes it is hard for girls to believe that the more relaxed and loose they are, the better the pitch will be. If you truly pay attention to how you feel during practices and just trust that those mechanics will carry you through a game, you will be MUCH better off. Just because there are umpires and batters doesn’t mean your mechanics should change.
Love the game: Putting so much pressure on oneself to throw balls and strikes often causes a breakdown in mechanics. This makes pitching more difficult and the game can become miserable for the pitcher. The game might not even feel fun anymore. So much of pitching is the drive and the burning desire to be out there no matter what situation you’re in. I always say, the mental part of pitching is even more important than the mechanical part of pitching. If you are having fun and truly love the game for what it is, you will be successful.
Performing badly in games can be one of the most frustrating things for players, especially when they feel they are better in practices. As coaches, we all wish there was something we could give or say that would instantly make our players mentally tough and confident. We can teach the mechanics and give inspirational talks, but the mental part has to come from the player! Go out there, be tough, have fun, and you will see success! It can be hard to become mentally strong and confident, but try separating yourself from the result. Rely on your mechanics! They will get you where you need to go.