Welcome to the House of Pitching Newsletter.
It has been a while since I’ve sat down to do an article. Sometimes life gets in the way of softball for many of us.
I’ve often said that places like Arizona and California don’t produce better players than in the East because they play year round softball. We can do that here in the east too. The difference is, they can play year round OUTSIDE in actual game conditions. We can’t do that. Sure there is the occasional “snowball softball tournament” for charity which is nothing more than people willing to freeze themselves solid for a good cause. I’ve formed the opinion that companies began making Yellow softballs not for the night game vision but so the balls could be found in the snow if you live where I do. ha ha
I really felt I’d be in better shape than most for the AAU tournament. For the first time since I stopped playing the winter seasons in New Zealand, I actually maintained a pitching schedule for myself during the fall and winter leading up to the tournament. During my weekly lessons, I do about 1/2 pitching lessons and 1/2 batting training. No, I’m not a batting coach nor do I pretend to be one. But I throw live batting practice to girls on one of the top rated travel teams in the east and a few college bound players looking to see some live pitching before their season begins. It’s a win-win situation for me because I get to throw and felt I was ‘keeping in shape’. The girls get to face my pitching and make the adjustments to the speed and movement that comes with it. The goal is for me to exploit holes in their swings and tell them where top notch pitchers are likely to throw them. I can throw as hard as they want or needed for their training purposes. Most have a hard time with the movement of the pitches and have never seen anything move so sharply before. So, I also spend a lot of time teaching the art of ‘picking the pitcher’ where I teach them how to read the pitcher’s body to identify what pitch is coming before it’s thrown. This can be done in a variety of ways and it’s up to the kids to figure out what I’m doing to give the pitches away. The difference in their hitting is absolutely phenomenal when they figure it out. I don’t know of too many people who wouldn’t want to know what pitch is coming before it’s thrown! And by studying the pitcher, it can be figured out. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes a pitcher gives it away easily. But the point is, they are learning. As I’ve said before, it baffles me how girls cheer and chant in the dugouts rather than watching what the pitcher is doing, even if they only learn what her best pitch is by watching her throw to teammates. A little concentration goes a long way. Don’t forget, knowing what pitch is coming will not only help the hitter but it destroys a pitcher’s confidence if they KNOW the hitter has eliminated the element of surprise.
So there I am, throwing riseballs, dropballs, and change ups for a couple hours every week. I’m a big believer in throwing batting practice as a pitcher because it provides repetition and timing for the mechanics. But for me, I thought I was keeping in shape. Yea well…. ummm… not so much. In my first game in Florida, I threw the first 6 innings and we won 5-0. I felt OK during and after but, not like I thought I would. By the time for my next start, 2 days later… OUCH! Even the hair on my arm was hurting. My entire body ached as though I’d done NO pitching prior to showing up in Florida. Now, I’m not a TOTAL idiot. I do realize a lot of this has to do with the fact I’m not 18 yrs old anymore. Nor do I have team trainers who work for Balco and can get me injections to help my recovery and conditioning. But, there is flatly NOTHING that substitutes for game situations.
I’m often asked how much pitching is too much. The answer is different for each kid. Often times a kid can lose focus after 30 minutes. This can be due to fatigue, a bad day at school, or anything. When this happens, SHUT IT DOWN. A lot of times the pitcher will go through the rest of the work out without concentrating and without focus, which can lead to a variety of problems and bad habits. It only takes a few bad minutes of pitching to create a difficult habit to break. And living where we do in the cold, where kids are forced to pitch INDOORS for 7 months per year… bad habits are tough to deal with. Bad habits can then lead to injury if it’s not treated quickly. So, shutting her down early is better than dealing with potential consequences later. It may also prevent a family feud as we all know some moms/dads get frustrated when their daughter isn’t concentrating.
Remember there will be good days and bad days in all areas of life, pitching is no different. If there’s still 30 minutes left in her ‘work out’ and she’s not focused, she’s not really going to be working on much in that time. Instead, she’ll be clock watching and just trying to get through the work out instead of actual training.
I’m not one who believes endurance can be built up in a gym. I know of coaches in high schools who demand their pitchers throw 300 or more pitches (in the gym) thinking this will provide endurance and game conditioning. Pitching in a gym is great for working on some mechanical things and spins for pitches but, not for game conditioning. You cannot simulate outdoor conditions while indoors, unless you’re lucky enough to play on a dirt field indoors. Even then it’s not the same. The ground tends to be harder (no rain) and usually taken care of better than your average city park. Lets face it, pitching in a gym has no rubber to push off, no holes to contend with in front or behind the rubber, and no holes where the landing spots are. These are all MAJOR things that can vary inning by inning in a summer game! Trying to replicate them on a gym floor is impossible.
As mentioned, pitching indoors can lead to mechanical problems. Crow hopping is a big one. It’s not ENTIRELY bad when a pitcher learns to do this indoors because it does mean she’s trying to use her legs. But, it means she’s not using them correctly and is jumping UPWARD instead of pushing outward. However, crowhopping is not a problem of the feet, they are a bi-product of the main issue which is a ‘hitch’ or pause in the arm circle. Almost every pitcher who crowhops gets sore in his/her front shoulder, because they pause their arm in it’s circle and force it with muscle. As a result of that pause, the feet replant. If the arm is sped up, the feet cannot do that replant thing.
One of the other issues is actually TAUGHT by some pitching coaches. Often times the pitcher will turn or pivot their foot sideways before pushing off the rubber. Some people teach this to help the pitcher get open but what’s really happening is they are reducing the drive forward by prematurely turning the foot while it’s still in contact with the rubber. I personally believe there’s better ways to teach someone how to open up. I mean, if turning the foot before push off was the best way to use your body, why doesn’t a sprinter do this before pushing out of the starter blocks? It’s because they need to push in the direction they are headed. So do we as pitchers. I personally think there are much better ways to get a pitcher’s hips open than the premature turn while still on the rubber.
It’s also quite common for pitchers to get lower back pain when playing indoors, and sometimes knee injuries. This is caused by the pounding of the body onto the hardwood floor which has no “give” as the ground/dirt has. Basketball players get the same type injuries a lot (especially in the knees, which is called “Jumpers knee”). Lots of stretching and strength programs in the right areas are the best preventive maintenance for this. I also see a chiropractor regularly who relieves my chronic back problems. A lot of people have horror stories of chiropractors, especially ones that pass out those crooked pens for advertising. OUCH. But “activator method” is quite interesting and worth looking into as it doesn’t crack your back like in yesteryear. It moves the specific bones that are out of place, instead of all of them!
The bottomline is, pitching indoors is great and the only thing many of use have to do during 7 months of the year. But it’s no substitute for playing outside and should not be confused as such. A lot can be accomplished from working inside but you need to know the limitations and potential problems that occur. Keeping an eye on them and knowing what to look for are keys to cold weather practice to make sure they don’t become muscle memory issues for real games outside.