While you're stuck at home over the next few weeks, you're likely looking for ways to improve your game. Although, you might be quick to pick up a ball and bat and get in a little practice, don't neglect the importance of strength and conditioning. You can follow this two-day softball strength program by Nick Esposito of Champion Performance with little to no equipment. For the few exercises that require a dumbbell or medicine ball, you can get creative with household items to provide some resistance.
Generally, strength and conditioning are vastly overlooked in our sport, specifically for younger athletes, so now is a great time to introduce them to this series of bodyweight exercises and stretches. Nick specifically designed this program with softball players in mind to increase their flexibility, mobility, and core strength.
The program comes with videos of each exercise to limit the guesswork as well as specific cues and instructions on each video. Check out the complete two-day program with videos by clicking the softball icon below.
Learning to utilize a proper leg drive is one of the most challenging parts of pitching. Many young pitchers struggle to feel or understand what creates power through the initial drive off the mound. An adequate drive sets up your body positioning throughout your pitch, so it is something that every pitcher should be aware of and work to improve. If you cannot consistently produce a drive that is both powerful and direct, other parts of the pitch will likely be affected, producing pitches with lower velocities and less accuracy.
To initiate a great drive, it’s important to understand how to properly load the legs. Much like hitting, loading the legs requires a hinge at the hips. A hip hinge is achieved by creating flexion in the hip joints, in other words, driving the hips back. A hip hinge can also be coupled with a bend of the knees which helps create a more balanced weight distribution (Fleur, Taco Fleur, & Girevoy Sport Institute Kettlebell 2019).
Now that you understand the importance of hinging at the hips and know how to complete that movement, what’s next? The hinge is the initial loading of the backside of the legs (glutes and hamstrings). After the pitcher has loaded her legs, she also needs to complete her drive by extending the hips forward. To do so, she will have to engage the glutes, creating a thrusting motion that propels the drive leg out and the stride leg up and out.
Below, I've shared one of my favorite drills to teach both a hip hinge and proper extension.
Pitching is an extremely complex movement that requires strength and stability. The drills above will help a pitcher understand the positions she needs to get into; however, it's necessary to complete other exercises to strengthen the areas needed to complete correct movements as well as increase power. Below, I share a few exercises that help pitchers activate their glutes and create body awareness.
I like to utilize hip marches for a few reasons:
Kettlebell swings are sometimes known as the king (or queen) of all exercises. A proper kettlebell swing requires a hip thrust that uses your glutes and hamstrings. This is similar to the thrust we are looking to create during the drive of the pitching motion. To make this more pitching specific, you could start in your split pitching stance, and transition from a hinge position to extension while using a small dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands.
Anti-rotation lift-offs are quickly becoming my favorite exercise to incorporate into lessons. By strengthening control through the pelvis and hip regions, we are affecting the ability to control this area while pitching. If a pitcher can't control their hips and core in a standing position, imagine how difficult it would be to control while throwing a softball at a high velocity.
I wanted to share these drills as a way to bridge the gap between pitching and strength training. These are not the most difficult exercises, but they are helpful to create an understanding of different movements within the pitching motion. It's important to prioritize your stability and body awareness in any activity, and I often find that many pitchers lack the stability to control their movements while pitching. If you want to get better faster, get involved with a strength training program, and at the very least start to incorporate different core strengthening and glute activation exercises at home.
Fleur, Taco, et al. “True and Clear Definition of the Squat and Hip Hinge Exercise.” Kettlebell Workouts, Exercises, Courses, and More by Cavemantraining, 13 Feb. 2019, www.cavemantraining.com/caveman-bodyweight/true-definition-of-the-squat-and-hip-hinge-exercise/.
There has always been this question in pitching, what makes a pitcher great? At a young age, what should a pitcher focus on first, speed or accuracy? To me, this is an interesting question because both of these outcomes are influenced by the same process, learning how to move properly throughout the pitching motion.
So, instead of instructing pitchers based on developing either speed or accuracy, why not teach them to move properly? By doing so, you are now setting the pitcher up to be able to complete consistent movements that then allow them to throw strikes while also moving at full speed.
Throughout the years, there have been differing opinions on “proper pitching mechanics”. Often, instructors may teach based on what they believed they did or what they felt or thought about doing in their motion rather than how they actually threw. Hitting instructors are experiencing the same realization. What we used to believe, is now being disproved left and right. Now that we have various forms of technology, the simplest being slow-motion video, it is easy to see what high-level pitchers and hitters are actually achieving. Does every elite player move the same? No, but we have found that there are optimal ways to move.
Now, much more goes into moving properly than just pitching. Pitching is a complex movement that requires the pitcher to move through multiple planes of motion, yet we expect young pitchers to complete this movement with ease, or even to make adjustments quickly. However, many pitchers at the youth level and even many high school age pitchers, are not able to complete many functional strength movements properly. They lack core strength, shoulder stability and much more, so rather than asking them to consistently complete movements that they are not strong enough to do, why not encourage them to invest in their strength, flexibility, and mobility?
There are a variety of ways an athlete can train various muscles and work to gain strength. At Softball Rebellion, we have partnered with Nick Esposito of Esposito Strength Club to provide our athletes with an online performance plan to help them develop the strength and stability needed to move better and therefore pitch better. Nick has also provided our pitchers with an upper and lower body dynamic warm-up that they must complete prior to beginning their lesson. To check out our warm-up routine, click here.
Currently, we’re in the process of partnering with Upright Athlete, a physical therapy and sports performance clinic in Durham so that we can further develop our pitchers in all capacities. All of these aspects along with our lesson format allows for our pitchers to develop a further understanding of how to move properly and how that affects their pitching.
Now, let’s circle back around to our original topic, speed vs. accuracy. Once a pitcher has a better understanding of how to move and is more stable to do so, there are times where we want to train speed and also when we want to create game-like situations that incorporate and train accuracy.
When training specifically to increase speed, completing speed drills, for example, we can not also expect accuracy. If a pitcher is working on developing more speed but is also expected to throw a strike every time, she will never push past her limits. So, in these moments we work to train speed specifically without focusing on location. If a pitcher’s movements line-up on time while working on speed, she’ll still throw the ball with decent control; however, I wouldn't ask a pitcher to hit a specific spot while training speed. The combination of strength and stability a pitcher will develop through functional movement should assist her not only in creating better, more fluid movements but also in increasing speed.
This is where training gets even more fun for athletes who move well. I often find that when pitchers try to “aim” or “place the ball” they slow down, and they still struggle to throw strikes. Their mind takes over and instead of just throwing, they think about every little thing they need to do to try and throw a strike. Now, they’re pitching slower AND they’re inaccurate. Instead, allow your pitchers to complete the task of throwing to different locations while moving at full speed. Encourage them to be explosive and allow them to free their minds from thinking about mechanics and instead work to achieve a task, like throwing through an area in the pitcher’s pocket or throwing seven strikes out of ten. Challenge them to stay somewhat under control but still stay explosive. Then, they will learn how to create consistency within their motion, develop accuracy, and still throw at their average or top speed.
Now that we’ve talked about working on accuracy by giving pitcher’s tasks to accomplish, it’s important to understand that we can also shoot for a speed goal at the same time. For instance, I tell my pitchers that I want them to stay within 2-3 mph of their top speed on every pitch. So, if they are able to hit 63 mph multiple times (multiple times being important here), I want them to stay within the 60’s on every pitch. Let's say that same pitcher has hit 65 once and only once without showing me that they can repeat that speed, I will not ask them to stay within 2-3 mph of 65, instead, I’ll ask them to try to stay within 2-3 mph of their average speed, which might be 64. So, in the bullpen, I would say, your goal is to throw seven out of ten pitches through the zone, but they only count if they are within 2-3 mph of your average/ top speed.
Overall, I hope this article has made you question how you or your athlete train. Does your pitcher move well? Could they move better? I’ll be the first to say, I am still learning. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m trying to incorporate important aspects of physical development with our pitchers as often as possible, and I’m committed to learning more to help put them into better positions.
I encourage you to do the same. It’s worth investing time and money into a program that will not only make your pitcher better but also keep her healthy. The more you understand the importance of movement and body control, the easier it is to make quick adjustments. Remember, pitchers are athletes and they should be trained like athletes. If you’re only pitching with little to no outside training, you’re missing out on development.
As we ring in the new year, there is talk of new year’s resolutions and changing mindsets, but I want to talk about the importance of setting goals, specifically pitching goals. See, to me resolutions and goals are a bit different. Resolutions are things that often seem solitary, they’re set once and never changed. They typically don’t evolve throughout the year, and they may be forgotten or given up on, but they are a reminder of what you’d like to become or what you’d like to focus on. Don’t get me wrong resolutions are great, but I think goals are better, and here’s why.
Goals are ever-changing, once you reach one, you set another, and you continue to grow with and through your achievements. As a pitcher, you should always be evolving, always searching for ways to improve, all while acknowledging that you’ve hit your goals along the way. Through my lessons, I’ve had pitchers come in one day and state, “I’m going to hit 43 today!”, and then they do it. There’s something special about setting your mind to an act or a goal, it tells your mind and your body, “Hey, let’s do this!” I’ve also had other pitchers who typically come in quietly, put their work in, and leave the facility. They, often, are a bit less focused than the pitchers who I mentioned above. Sure, they get better, but it usually is at a slower pace than those who openly stated their goal for that day.
Every pitcher is different, I acknowledge that. Just because a pitcher is quiet doesn’t mean she doesn’t have that special fire inside her. When I don’t hear her state a goal, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have one, but I think it’s far more powerful when we voice our goals. Then, once she’s allowed herself to say it out loud, I believe she is more likely to hold herself accountable. The goal is no longer just a thought in her head, something she might like to accomplish. Instead, it’s something tangible, that her support system (mom, dad, coaches, teammates and friends) can help her accomplish.
So, I hope that those few paragraphs encouraged you to create some goals, or maybe encouraged you to speak to your pitcher or pitchers about goal setting. Now is the perfect time to do so, as most players are typically in the middle of their off-season. Maybe you took some much deserved time off during the holidays and it’s time to get back on track with your practice schedule. As you set goals, it’s important to set both short-term goals and long-term goals. This gives you some boxes to check along your journey so that you know you’re trending in the right direction.
Each of your short term goals should help you reach that long-term goal. These benchmarks will help keep you motivated week to week or even day-to-day. Below are a few examples of short-term goals for pitchers.
We all have those big numbers in mind that we’d like to show up on the radar. Maybe it’s 60 mph, or maybe it’s 45. Those numbers are great, but often your average velocity is more important. This is the velocity that you can rely on showing up consistently, not a number you hit once in a blue moon. To track your average velocity, write down the velocity of every full pitch you throw during that bullpen, or you track your last 20 pitches of the day and divide the total number by the number of pitches thrown.
If you plan to succeed in the circle, you need to throw strikes. You can do that in a variety of ways, through swings and misses, through called strikes, or through foul balls, but you are going to need to throw through the strike zone to have successful outings. This is easier to track in games, but you can at least track called strikes in practice settings. Start out by tracking your strike percentage in your next bullpen, then aim to increase it steadily throughout the week. Will you improve or succeed in every single bullpen? No, but you should see a steady increase in your strike percentage as you go. Use the rough days as learning lessons, and go back over your numbers to see how you can improve during your next practice.
This might not seem like a big deal to some, but to me, this is HUGE! Having a consistent pitch-to-pitch routine is a game-changer, so spending time on this during practice is a must. Anything you do during practice will show up in a game, so why not practice your routine? This might be one of the best short-term goals you can set. Everyone’s routine will look a little different, so make it your goal to find one that works for you. Aim to get better and better at incorporating and trusting your routine every day.
For ideas on how to improve your pre-pitch routine, check out this article.
Practicing often is essential, but if you’re consistently putting in un-focused practice you’re missing out on valuable time. Goal-setting is a great start when it comes to building a focused practice, but it is the pitch-to-pitch focus that will really set your best practices apart from others that are lack-luster. Tracking the first two short-term goals above will help you stay in the moment, as well as developing your routine. My other advice for staying focused during long bullpens - allow yourself time in between pitches to zone-out. A full hour or more of complete focus might seem exhausting at first. The few seconds before throwing the pitch and the execution of your pitch should be your focused time. During the time in between, allow yourself to breathe and reset.
Need help tracking your average velocity and strike percentage? Click on the red softball above for a printable bullpen chart.
I would argue that your short-term goals are the most important, as they will contribute to your long-term success. That being said, it’s important to set some BIG goals as well. These goals should naturally take a bit longer to obtain, so make sure to acknowledge your small victories along the way. If you see continued progress towards your long-term goals, even a little, you’re on the right track.
Above I mentioned that your average velocity is the most important, and it is, but we want to reach for the stars (sorry for the corny metaphor). Ultimately, once we hit that big number, you should then aim to make that your average, or at least close the gap. Maybe you want to gain 5 mph this year, or maybe you want to gain more. Depending on your age and your current speed, you may be able to gain 5 or more mph in a year. Set a reasonable but exciting goal, and plan out how you’re going to achieve it.
I am a huge proponent of commanding a fastball and a change-up, but once you’ve mastered those, it’s time to add another pitch. Whether you’re learning a dropball or a riseball, spend time in the developmental stages. There is a reason I made this a long-term goal. New pitches generally take a long time to perfect, so don’t give up on a pitch just because it doesn’t come to you right away. Rather than learning another new pitch right away, stay focused on one and perfect it. The better you can make 3 or 4 pitches, the more effective you will become. Working on too many pitches at once can make it more difficult to develop true movement.
Elite pitchers create swings and misses. Yes, they also pitch to contact, but we do want to create swings and misses as often as possible, so why not make that one of your goals? You can do so by continuing to develop movement and changing speeds. An elite change-up or off-speed is a huge component of creating swings and misses, so I would start there. Next, continue developing your movement pitches by improving your spin direction and increasing your spin rate. Finally, create deception. The more you can disguise your pitches, the harder it will be for a hitter to decide what to swing at. Below, are a few articles and videos on developing a change-up and creating deception.
This is a fun one, as it is individualized to each person depending on your age group, development, and ambition. Everyone should have one HUMUNGOUS goal, whether it’s fulfilled way down the road or in the near future. Maybe you’re in high school and you’ve decided you want to play in college, maybe you want to win a state championship, or maybe you want to make your middle school or high school team. Whatever big goal you have, voice it, write it down, and make it happen. The only thing holding you back is you.
Setting goals is great, but we set goals in order to achieve them, so it’s important to make a road map or a checklist for obtaining your goals. If you can paint a clear picture of what you need to do to reach each individual goal, it will be far easier to achieve them.
Big dreams and goals are never accomplished in one day but instead little by little with great investment and attention to detail.
Christmas is just a week away, and if you're anything like me, you might still have some Christmas shopping left to do. Whether your daughter is at the youth level or preparing for her last few years of travel or high school softball, essential training tools are gifts that keep on giving. Below you'll find our favorite training tools at Softball Rebellion for pitchers, hitters, and even a few fun additions for stocking stuffers!
**Links to each article can be found by clicking the title of each picture**
Pitching essentials are a little different depending on what level your daughter is at, but I'll start with the basics. Earlier this week, I wrote an article featuring three indoor pitching drills, and I mentioned throwing into a close-up net as a great option for offseason training. To do so, it's helpful to know which nets to buy. There are tons of net options out there, but what you'll want to buy will vary based on the space you have to throw in and what your pitcher is trying to accomplish.
Bownet is known for making a variety of easy to assemble netting options. This particular net stands at just 6' tall, making it a perfect net for indoor or outdoor training. You can set it up in a matter of minutes and take it back down after you finish your bullpen. For a visual representation of the strike zone, you can also purchase their Zone-Counter attachment.
If your pitcher is working on commanding her pitches in and around the strike zone, the 9-hole pitcher's pocket is a perfect gift. The 9-hole pocket provides an added visual for locations throughout the zone, allowing pitchers to hone in their accuracy.
This is by far the most extensive location training net I've seen. Although I have yet to use the net myself, I love that it also serves as a teaching tool in relation to multiple zones pitchers should throw to. The Lokator set can also be used in conjunction with their free app so that you can chart your pitcher's practice and review it later.
You may have noticed, most of the balls we use when throwing or doing drill work have a tape-line on them. It's extremely important that a pitcher understands what type of spin she generates on each pitch. This also holds true for overhand throwing. Adding a tape-line makes it easier for a pitcher to see her spin and understand the adjustments she needs to make. Now, you can certainly add a tape-line yourself using electrical tape, but if you're looking for a ball that already has the tape-line, Spin-Line Softballs are the way to go. They also have great seams, and we all know pitchers love great seams!
Even at a young age, arm care should not be overlooked. Set your pitcher up for success by incorporating Jaeger Bands into her pitching routine. If you're looking for a proper arm-care routine, check out how our pitchers prepare to throw in this article.
I recommend the J-band Junior for most pitchers that are just beginning an arm care routine.
The Diamond Kinetics PitchTracker is geared towards more advanced pitchers, but younger pitchers can also use it. The pitch tracker softball provides pitch to pitch feedback on speed, spin direction, and spin rate. These metrics provide valuable information for pitchers working on changing speeds and throwing movement pitches. The best part about the pitch tracker, it's affordable! Starting at just $99 you can purchase a tool that will give pitchers real-time feedback on every pitch they throw.
There are TONS and I mean TONS of gifts you could purchase for your favorite hitter. I'm sure a new bat is one of the gifts that seems like it's always on the list, but I'm going to keep the focus on a few other tools that will aid in your hitter's development. Now, I am a little biased, as we sell hitting products at Softball and Baseball Rebellion, so I will add a few of those, but mostly I'll focus on products outside of what we sell.
Blast Motion has been the most accurate and well-known swing analyzer for the past few years. There is no better way to make adjustments pitch to pitch than to see a visual and numerical representation of what is actually happening within your swing. With Blast, hitters no longer have to guess how they got to contact or only go by feel. Instead, they have real data that you can view right on your phone immediately after each swing. It's as easy as popping the sensor on your bat, setting up the app, and swinging away.
One of the tools our hitting instructors enjoy using at the facility is the Line Drive Pro. This tool gives your hitter immediate feedback on their swing direction and is also versatile enough for indoor or outdoor use. This tool can also be used to feed ground balls to players without the use of a softball.
If you're looking for a new tee for this upcoming season, The Launch Angle Tee is our best seller. The tee's angled adapter top allows you to see more of the ball than any other tee out there. If you happen to have any old broken tee's at home that needs refurbishing, you can also purchase one of our adapters.
I always loved opening my stocking on Christmas morning. It might be filled with much-needed hair ties or quite a bit of candy, but if you're looking for a few softball-related stocking stuffers, I've compiled a few things your softball player could enjoy on or off the field. From colorful bat grips to softball inspired t-shirts, keep the softball theme going with a little added flair.
Oftentimes when talking about off-season training, I hear that it's too cold to get outside or there just isn't enough time to practice. Although I can't argue that the temperatures have dropped and there's not much daylight left once school gets out, there are plenty of simple drills that you can complete indoors. The fact is, you don't always need to throw full distance to improve your mechanics or your speed. Instead, spend a few days a week completing the following drills to enhance your form.
All you'll need for these drills is eight to ten feet of space and a net or tarp.
I don't actually call this drill "elbow-leading arm circles", but it's something important to emphasize for a correct and efficient arm path. Many pitchers have heard the term "whip", but often it's taught incorrectly or poorly understood. You can only create a true whip when your elbow leads your arm circle in the downswing of your motion. If instead, you are pushing the ball down or "palm-down" at the 9 o'clock position your arm will remain stiff and straight, leading to a lack of whip.
As you master your stationary arm-circles, it's important to achieve the same form during your full pitch. There are a few key factors that contribute to arm whip, so keep these in mind as you work on incorporating this arm path into your pitch.
Stop and go's have always been one of my favorite drills to help pitcher's understand their body positioning. This is a great drill to work on positional awareness, as mentioned above. You can complete normal stop and go's into a net, or for an added challenge, add a glove snap to finish instead of throwing the ball into a net. Both of these variations are helpful, but I find that an additional glove-snap can help younger pitchers who have a poor understanding of when to release the pitch. I will caution you, young pitchers tend to miss their glove during glove snaps, so it's still helpful to throw in front of a net.
This is something I have seen from a few different pitching coaches recently, and I decided to try it with my own clients, particularly pitchers who struggle with crow-hopping or have a crashing ankle as they go into their drag. Pitching with no shoes on will allow the pitcher to feel which part of their foot they are driving through, landing on, and dragging with. The more a pitcher can feel what she's doing, the easier it will be for her to understand what adjustments need to be made.
CAUTION: Do not throw at top speed while barefoot. You will fall. Trust me, I speak from experience.
Although I did find solace during my last collegiate game, my experience with the yips was far from over. I mean that in both a physical way, as I have still struggled with the yips as a coach, when throwing BP as well as in other circumstances, but also in understanding that it will always be a part of me and a part of my story.
As someone who has felt the helplessness of losing control and also the freedom of escaping that hopeless state, I know there are many others who are still searching for the ability to throw freely again. If a few words of advice or shared experience can help, I want to be the one to share. After a wonderful response from my initial article, I wanted to continue telling my story and the different "fixes" and mindset that helped me through it.
As I mentioned above, my experience with the yips did not last just one season. Despite finding myself comfortable in the circle again in my NPF career, there were still pitches that felt a little off. Specifically, when I threw inside dropballs to right-handed hitters, I never quite had the same control that I once did. I sometimes battled the “please don’t hit them” thought in the back of my head, but other times, I knew I was fully in control.
To me, after the first go-around, this experience was a day to day occurrence, and I imagine it’s very similar for others. Some days may feel like a breakthrough while others feel neverending. This is why I feel the worst thing you can do when you’re in the thick of it, is give up or give in to that hopeless feeling.
I know you might feel like quitting. You might think, I’ll be okay without softball, or I can play another position where it won’t affect me. And you’re right, you will be okay without softball. We all will have to let the game go at some time or another, but this experience is about so much more than just softball.
If you give up now, when things feel dreadful, you’ll never know the joy of picking up a ball and throwing freely again. You won’t experience that ah-ha moment of triumph once you overcome your current obstacle. Most importantly, you may face another circumstance in your life where you feel like quitting, and you will not have this experience in your back pocket to remind you to persevere.
The thing is, you’re still capable of doing all of the things you’ve done before. You’re still physically capable of throwing the ball just as hard, and you can still spin it. All those years of practice have not gone to waste. They did not disappear. Physically, nothing about you has changed, which can be refreshing when you think about it. You did not lose the ability to do what you enjoy, but it feels like you did, and I understand that. I had to will myself into thinking that things would be okay, that I would not let the yips beat me. I knew I was stronger than this obstacle and I had to prove that to myself over and over and over again by continuing to try. So, all I ask is that you give yourself the same chance because one day you’ll be glad you did.
Imagine all of the things you can overcome, if you can overcome this feeling of embarrassment, of letting others down, of letting yourself down. Even if it never feels quite the same, it’s important that you understand that you are good enough and you have to believe in yourself enough and be willing to fight your negative thoughts to try and get through it.
I can’t imagine if I would have quit altogether, but I did consider it. It was my senior season, and I hoped to continue playing in the NPF. Then, the yips happened, and I thought, would I be happier if I stopped playing after this season? Would I be happier if I never pitched a softball again? Will teams even want to draft me after seeing that something was off? Even worse, what if they did draft me and I couldn’t even throw a strike?
Well, they still took a chance on me, and I am so thankful that I did not give up on the sport I’ve loved for well over a decade. If I would have given up, I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful teammates, coaches, and competitors who I admire and who have taught me many life lessons. If I would have quit, I wouldn’t have been able to share this experience and speak with many other athletes who are contemplating quitting right now, and I also wouldn’t have been able to overcome the second time that I experienced the yips on a large scale.
You heard that right, the yips found me again, and once again it was in my final season, this time as a professional athlete. It was the same dread, the thought of “not again, I thought this was over”, but this time I had experience, and I knew I could figure things out. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the yips did not always affect every pitch I threw. Granted, prior to these struggles, I probably threw my fastball 60-70 percent of the time, so it still affected a lot, but I could still normally throw my curveball and my change-up for strikes.
That is how I got by during my second round with the yips, I threw offspeed (my curveball is also offspeed) nearly every pitch, and when I needed to, I loosened my grip on my fastball and just let it fly. Sometimes the loose grip would help me get the ball somewhere near the plate, enough to make it enticing, but I didn’t know what side of the plate it would go to or if it would be a little high or low. It wasn’t a guaranteed strike by any means, but it was enough to give me a small spark of confidence.
Luckily, a few days after, we had a week-long break. During that week, I went to work on finding a solution. Normally I throw my fastball with a four-seam grip, so I thought, what if I try to grip it like my curveball? I did just that, and it did help. I think somehow, a different grip eased my mind into thinking that it was okay to throw the ball because when I normally gripped the ball this way, I didn’t have the same jello-like arm. After working on it for a little bit, the pitch became more natural, and eventually, I then started throwing my fastball with a 2-seam grip. Slowly but surely, I gained some confidence back throwing hard strikes again, and since then, things have been closer to normal when I throw to hitters.
So, if you’re going through this, is there a pitch you can still rely on? Often, I find that many pitchers I’ve spoken with can still throw their change-up, so why not make the pitch you can throw great. It might just give you the confidence boost to keep going. Finding that first step, that first boost of confidence is a huge key to freeing up your mind to enjoy pitching again. That’s the big key, you have to find joy in what you’re doing. It’s so hard to find joy in this situation, but you can! Small victories lead to big victories, but you can't have small victories without an initial attempt. Quitting is not your answer, and you owe it to yourself to keep trying to find your solution. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you’ll learn so much more about yourself through the journey.
Wanting to pitch every game quickly turned to hoping that I wasn’t in the starting line-up. Could I ever feel confident in the circle again? Would pitching ever be the same? Each day, I questioned which version of myself would show up. Will I have control of my arm today or will my hopes of pitching well quickly turn to dread? All of a sudden, what once felt commonplace to me felt so foreign. My arm felt like jello as it went into a whip (the last half of the arm circle). My release felt forced and stiff, and I had to hope and pray that the ball might land somewhere near the strike zone.
I often returned to my apartment, crying in my car after games. How could this happen? In the previous season, I had pitched the best in my life, and I felt confident beyond belief. Nothing could stop me. Then, after one game, and two hit batters against Georgia Southern, everything changed.
This was my reality in my senior season, the season I had hopes of helping my team return to the World Series, the season I hoped would be my best yet. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards. Looking from the outside, you might not have realized anything was wrong. My stats were still good, and I pitched often. Watching certain games, you may have even seen a strong performance in the circle because there were still a few great games thrown in the mix. That was the hardest part, there were games of success, of feeling completely myself, and there were games where I had no idea where the ball would land once it left my hand. One of the great games I remember from that season was driven by anger and frustration, two things I was not much accustomed to in my collegiate career.
Don’t get me wrong, I experienced plenty of frustration in my bullpens and in games early in my college years, but many opponents knew me as the pitcher who smiled through the good and the bad. That season, I had to learn to pitch with a different kind of concentration and a different motivation.
If I had the answer, I’d surely write about it in hopes that it would help every player ever affected by the yips, but the truth is, I don’t have the answers. Honestly, I don’t think anyone does because every player’s experience with the yips is individualized. I still question what it was that brought it about. I have a few ideas, but I don’t think I’ll ever know what the true cause was, or what specific moments lead up to it, but let’s start with pressure.
I have always put unneeded pressure on myself. Even in high school, if I had twelve strikeouts, I would question why I didn’t have fifteen. It seems so silly now, but it’s the truth. No one had higher expectations of me than, well, me. Now, there were certainly times where I didn’t believe in myself as much as I should have. Confidence is an interesting thing. You could have the highest expectations of yourself, and sometimes you could even meet those expectations but still, somehow you don't feel good enough. This was part of my problem.
Let’s rewind to May of 2014, I was named ASA/USA National Player of the Year, and I couldn’t believe it! In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have thought about being in the same category as the previous nominees, let alone winners.
Do you want to know what one of the first things I felt was after the excitement and emotion wore off? I felt like I still had to prove that I was good enough. Think about that, we were at the World Series for the first time in ten years, I had already won the award. Yet somehow, I still felt like I didn’t belong. I still felt that I had to show people I deserved the award I was just handed.
After winning, of course, I opened up social media. Along with many congratulations and positivity, I also found criticism. “She doesn’t deserve that award after losing 17-2 against Michigan in game one of super regionals.” “She’s over-rated.” “Sierra Romero should have won.” The negative comments continued, and I gave into them. I agreed, I wasn’t as good as the other nominees, and I didn’t deserve this award. Once again, the pressure built, but this time it happened because I was trying to prove to other people, outsiders, that I belonged.
My thoughts turned into reality in our World Series games. I only made it a few innings against both Oregon and Baylor, and we went two and barbeque. That might be where my yips problems all started. The pressure to succeed, driven by my personal perception, remained a constant burden. I proved to myself that I wasn’t good enough, but I was going to change that. My mission for my senior season was to help guide us back to the World Series.
Fast forward to January 2015. I was invited to Team USA try-outs after not making the team in the summer of 2014. During one session of the try-out, the pitchers were asked to throw live to bunters. I threw every single ball into the dirt. I could not make an adjustment, and my arm had a jello-like feeling each time I released the ball. A coach asked me, “haven’t you thrown BP before, don’t you do this at practice?” I had never had a problem throwing to bunters before, but each time the ball bounced into the dirt, my embarrassment multiplied. I felt fine for the remainder of tryouts, and I thought I pitched well, but I was devastated when I didn’t make the team, and I couldn’t help but return to the embarrassment I felt in that moment.
Later on, I learned that the yips are at times caused by a traumatic event. Would I really consider that traumatic? No, but the embarrassment was real. When thinking of how this process started, I always return to that moment, when I had the first sense that something was off.
After our home opener during my senior season, the same problem started to show up in games. I couldn't throw a strike with my fastball/ dropball. I would throw the ball in the dirt, over the catchers head, I hit batters, and I even threw the ball behind a hitter on a few occasions.
With the help of my coaches, we went to work combatting my yips. We reached out to specialists, and sports psychologists as well as former players who battled similar circumstances. I even spoke with a sports psychologist that specialized in the Emotional Freedom Technique involving tapping to alleviate stress, but I couldn’t buy into it. Although I wanted to work through the problem, it didn’t feel like that was the right route for me. It wasn’t until I started opening up to teammates and others about what I was feeling, that pitching started to feel less like work and more like fun again.
Once I admitted to myself and to my teammates that something was off, I no longer felt the need to hide. That's when things started to lighten up. I spoke with Eileen Canney, a former pitcher at Northwestern who once experienced the yips throwing overhand. I felt the biggest sense of relief after speaking with someone who shared a similar experience. Knowing that I wasn't alone meant the world to me, and I believe it might be one of the toughest parts of the yips. You can't explain the feeling to anyone who hasn't experienced it. It's not the same as simply walking batters or missing your spots, it's a complete loss of control. It's feeling helpless in a sport that once felt like home.
Throughout the remainder of the season, things were far from perfect, but they did get better. After starting the first game of our Regional opener, I was pulled after the 4th inning or so after walking multiple batters. After that, I didn't pitch again until game three of our Super Regional against Tennessee.
Sitting on the bench was far different than competing in the circle, but I'm thankful I got to experience moments of huge growth during the regionals and super regionals for my battery mate, Jessica Burroughs. Eventually, I got my chance to pitch in game three of our super regional.
I'm not sure if it was the weight of possibly pitching the final game of my career as a Seminole, or knowing my team needed a strong performance in the circle to advance, but I finally found some normalcy in the circle. As the game wore on, my arm felt less like jello and more natural. I was confident in my pitches and knew exactly what I wanted to throw. We lost the game 2-1, and I was devastated that our season was over. I would never pitch again in a Florida State jersey, but I finally felt like myself in the circle, and I knew there was more softball in my future.
If you asked me to change the circumstances, to go back and redo my senior year without this speed bump, I'm not sure if I would. Half of me still wonders what could have been had I thrown normally and naturally during my senior year. Would my collegiate career have ended differently? Would I have performed better in the NPF?
I'll be honest, I don't think I ever got back the exact same confidence in the circle that I once had, but I don't think I'd choose to go back if I could. I learned so much about myself and my identity through my struggles. Sharing my story with others who've experienced something similar is so special, and as I mentioned before, a shared experience can make all the difference. I'm not done sharing, and I know there are far more players that I can help in the future. Most importantly, I hope I can encourage others to share their stories and know that perfection is not the goal. Be okay with 98% perfect in whatever you do. Searching for that last 2% might be what's getting in your way.
If you want to dominate in the circle, I suggest you start mastering your change-up. To do so, it's important to practice your change-up regularly. In my previous spin series article, I mentioned the importance of selling your change-up and creating deception. To do so effectively, you'll want to throw this pitch for a called strike, and generate swings and misses. Below are some of my favorite drills to develop a devastating change-up. I almost hesitate to call them drills, as these exercises are more about changing visuals and using constraints to improve the trajectory of the pitch.
By now, you've probably realized that I love using strings to work on pitch depth and movement. For the change-up, there are two exercises that I love to use the strings for. Both will involve a mid-distance string, and the exercises can be used interchangeably, as they're relatively the same. I have found that some pitchers respond better to different goals, so try out the thought process for both and see which works best for you.
I originally used this video for other movement pitches like drop and rise, but you should try to tunnel each pitch you throw. If every pitch looks similar as it's on the way to the plate, the hitter will find it difficult to hold back their swing. This drill is ideal for chase pitches or creating swings and misses with your change-up.
Change-ups are unique to the individual, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Take the time to find the change-up that's right for you, and practice it CONSTANTLY. In the same way, you have to find out which drills and exercises work for your specific change-up, so take the time to try out a few. Once you find something that works for you, stick with it and make it part of your daily bullpen routine.
Hitting is all about timing. Of course, there are other components, but if you're on time with a pitch, you have a good chance of doing some damage even if your swing isn't perfect. As a pitcher, our goal is to disrupt the timing of the hitter and produce weak contact or swings and misses. Sure we have other goals: movement, location, etc. but changing speeds is the easiest way to disrupt timing, and a change-up gives you a more drastic speed change than simply locating a fastball at different parts of the zone. Yes, fastballs and other pitches located in different zones can change a hitter's timing as well. For more on this, check out this article on Effective Velocity.
So, how can you effectively change speeds? Let's look first at a few of the best change-ups and off-speed pitches in the game of softball right now.
What do you notice about the locations of these three pitches? Are they all perfectly located? I would say no, as two out of the three are thrown over the middle of the plate, but what you should notice is that each pitch is located at or below the knees. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important to locate your change-up, but it's also important to understand the intention or goal of the pitch.
In my article on quality pitches, I mentioned that counts can also dictate the quality of a pitch. Each pitch location above directly corresponds with the count the pitch was thrown in. If the pitcher needed a strike, they threw their change-up over the plate, if they needed a chase, it was below the knees. Despite two of the pitches being thrown over the middle, the height of each pitch made up for their location on the plate. Two out of the three pitches also demonstrated quality movement, another aspect of a quality pitch.
Along with a change of speed and proper location, a change-up must also display deception. First, you MUST sell your change-up. As a pitcher, you've probably heard this 1000 times, but I feel it's still often overlooked at a young age. As you grow older, any tells in your change-up (shortening your stride, slowing down your finish, different grip, etc.) will not go unnoticed, specifically at the college level.
For true deception, it's also helpful to have your change-up move in a similar pattern to another pitch. For example, let's look at a comparison of G. Juarez' change-up and curveball.
It's very easy to see that these two pitches are similar, especially when placed side-by-side. Now let's look at the overlay of her curve and off-speed to truly understand how similar Juarez keeps her pitching motion while throwing these two pitches.
Clearly, Juarez knows a thing or two about deception. Her body positioning stays exactly the same on both pitches, and both pitches move in a similar direction, to a similar location. As a hitter, it's nearly impossible to recognize the 10 mph change of speed until it's too late.
If you watch a great deal of college softball or softball in general, you'll notice there are a variety of change-ups and offspeed pitches. Different pitchers throw different change-ups at various speeds. As I've grown through the game, I have certainly seen change-ups that are "too slow". Personally, some may have considered my change-up (backhand flip) too slow. At times it would come in 15-18 mph slower than my fastball.
I agree that most of the time a 15+ mph difference is too slow; however, I also threw two other offspeed pitches. My curveball and my rise ball were offspeed (50-54 mph) while my change-up was (40-44) and my fastball/drop ball (60-64). I would aim for a 10-12 mph difference in your fastball and change-up, but if you already have a change-up that you can command that's a bit "too slow" it's worth developing an offspeed. For more on offspeed pitches:
A great change-up takes time to develop, so don't give up on it if the pitch isn't perfect right away. Try a few different grips and types of change-ups if you're struggling to create the right speed change. Once you master your change of speed, work on throwing this pitch in any count for both a strike and a chase.
Look out for more information on different types of change-ups and a few drills to help you perfect your change-up next Friday.