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.