So often, we are quick to instruct young pitchers and softball players in general through a step-by-step process. I am guilty of this myself. With an idea of what a pitch or drill should look like, I often find myself wanting to provide feedback nearly every pitch. Clearly, it's easy to over-instruct, and often this can lead to an overload of information for young pitchers. Below are a few key tips to help your young pitcher self-adjust and create body awareness without over instructing.
Arguably the most important and likely the most difficult aspect of pitching is creating consistency. For young pitchers, the emphasis on consistency should be placed on creating proper movement patterns and mechanics rather than consistency of location. If she moves at full-speed and in sequence or "on time", her location should improve as well. In order to reduce injury and help increase a pitcher's abilities, encourage your pitcher to remain focused on their mechanics rather than the outcome of each pitch.
For a few mechanical tips and drills, check out my article, "How Proper Mechanics can Improve your Topspin".
Now that I've addressed the importance of body awareness and consistency, let's think about how to implement those in your pitcher's everyday practice. Below are a few reminders and tips for beginner pitchers that will help them make adjustments and create awareness and consistency from pitch to pitch.
For beginners, I recommend spending most of their practice time throwing at a close distance and into a net before spending the last five to ten minutes working on full distance pitches. I like to have my lessons throw to a very close net when we are working on a small mechanical change, as shown in the gif above. After working on the small change into the close net, we then transition into throwing to a pocket net 10-20 feet away, as seen below.
Although it may be fun to catch for younger pitchers, watch them develop, and give feedback, the early stages aren’t always about throwing a perfect strike. Instead, it’s important for young pitchers to learn how to focus on certain parts of their motion while learning to work at full speed. If they are constantly worried about where the ball goes, they may have a tendency to slow down and aim rather than creating the right mechanics at full speed. Slowing down too much can also have a negative impact on a young pitcher finding the proper timing for each pitch as they progress.
An air-through is simply practicing a pitch without using a ball. When working with a young pitcher, we are trying to teach good habits through repetition. Practicing air-throughs helps reinforce good mechanical habits within the pitch before actually adding a ball to the equation. Much like throwing to a net, an air through can be a great tool to help a young pitcher make mechanical changes without worrying about the outcome of the pitch. During lessons, I like to have my pitchers complete three air-throughs with good mechanics between each full pitch. As the pitchers advance, they should need fewer air-throughs.
At a young age, it may be easier for a pitcher to learn based on visual cues rather than telling her the adjustments that need to be made. When throwing in front of a mirror, it will be easier for a pitcher to see if her arms and legs are working together rather than away from the midline of her body. The more she completes air-throughs in front of a mirror and sees some of the things she needs to improve, the easier it will be for her to make adjustments on her own. This will also give the young pitcher some responsibility in understanding what she’s doing rather than relying on someone else to give her a cue. If you don’t have a mirror in your practice space, you can record video on your phone and share it with your pitcher instead.
It’s your pitching instructor’s job to help your pitcher understand and implement good mechanics within the pitching motion, but it’s important that a pitcher understands what adjustments need to be made when she’s practicing on her own. We don’t want to create robots. If a pitcher or player is just waiting on their next cue without having to think about it themselves, they will have trouble adjusting during a game. Instead of handing out coaching cues after each pitch, take the time to ask your pitcher what they feel and what they can improve on. Even if their answer doesn’t match up with exactly what you’re seeing, it will be beneficial for the pitcher to have to think through her adjustments in the long run.
For a beginner pitcher and her family, learning the pitching motion can be confusing, but remember, the beginning stages won't last as long as you think. Make sure to provide plenty of encouragement so that your young one views pitching as something she enjoys and wants to continue to improve on. Keep small goals in mind, as it's easy to get caught up looking at many different aspects of pitching all at once. Learning the motion and perfecting it is a neverending journey, but it is well worth the time spent.