To properly understand movements within the pitching motion, we need to first address how the body moves in many other athletic movements. Softball pitching is not unlike the overhand throwing motion or other movements within the sport of softball. A solid foundation of movement is needed to properly throw a pitch, and it all begins with the legs. If we can identify problems with the stride leg and drive leg, we can often alleviate many other issues within the pitching motion.
Current pitching instruction teaches athletes that the toes are in control of the hips. In order to open the hips to clear a path for the ball, the toes must also be turned. This is asking pitchers to point their toes and hips perpendicular (45-90 degrees) to the target with their glove side of their body at the target. This will have the pitcher landing with the toe pointed behind the batter (45 degrees) and the dugout (90 degrees). As the toes and hips get turned, the arm now has to pitch the ball across the midline of the body moving from the throwing side across the belly button to the glove side.
The lower body is asked to stop quickly with the landing knee extended and the knee locked. The purpose of this motion is to create resistance in the stride leg that transfers to faster arm speed.
Once the ball is released, the pitcher is asked to bring the knees together and “close the hips.” This follow-through motion is believed to generate lower body power after the ball has left the pitcher's hand.
Turning toes and hips together aligns the shoulder, torso, hips, and hands with the target. The pitchers now must create an unnatural arm slot to complete the arm circle. This is where we see
This is also the reason why a high number of youth pitchers hit their side to the point of bruising when they pitch.
Landing with knee perpendicular to the target puts lateral stress on the outside of the knee and puts ACL at risk for injury. Landing with the knee extended and locked cause the pelvis to absorb the landing. The repetitive landing motion will result in hip or SI joint pain.
Hip adduction involves smaller leg muscles located on the inside of the thigh. Without a targeted strength training program, these muscles are subject to strains as they are not equipped to handle the demand asked of them in the pitching motion. More so, all power motions should be completed before the release to affect the ball velocity and direction.
The toes and hips move Independently. The toe lands in the direction of the target, slightly pronated no more than 25 degrees. The hips open through left and right hip external rotation. The hips can then internally rotate as the arm comes down through the arm circle. As the hips internally rotate, the torso rotates to accelerate the arm. The shoulder is able to work from external to internal rotation to complete the arm circle. The carry angle of the elbow ensures room for the arm to clear the hip for release.
Landing with the knee in a flexed/ bent position allows the larger muscles of the leg (quads, hams and glutes) to absorb the landing and are built to withstand the repetitive motion.
Hamstring helps the quads straighten the knee after landing to pull the body forward and assists in hip internal rotation.
The Flying K drill effectively teaches proper toe angle and landing mechanics.
Starting Position: Same starting position as regular pitch.
Motion: Perform the first part of the pitching motion all the way until heel strike of the stride leg. Freeze and balance at heel strike.
Technique: The athlete should be able to complete a proper lunge with very little adjustments from their landing position. The knee of the stride leg is flexed and directly over the heel with toe slightly pronated. The knee of the drag leg should be under the hip in a flexed position.
The Step Up Drill demonstrates proper timing and closure of the Pull Phase.
Starting Position: Start with feet straddled similar to the starting pitching position.
Motion: The stride leg starts forward to place foot completely on a 10” box as the arms begin the upward motion of the arm circle. As the arms begin down in the Pull Phase, the stride leg will extend to pull the athlete up onto the box to complete the pitch.
Technique: Learning the Pull Phase. The arms pull down as the stride leg pulls the athlete and hips forward.
Courtney Hudson is the owner of Coachataclick and the Engineered Performance Lab. She has a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering. In fall 2016, she had the opportunity to sit in and guest lecture for a Kinesiology and biomechanics course at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where she provided detailed mechanics of the pitching motion and shared her knowledge of training young female athletes.
Courtney pitched at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where she also began her coaching career as a student assistant. After completing her education, Courtney redirected her focus to coaching the next generation of softball pitchers.