Welcome to the House of Pitching Newsletter.
People in most places are fiercely loyal to their pitching instructor. Like the old Seinfeld joke about how everyone believes their doctor is the best in the world: “You should see my guy, he’s the best!” People can take on an almost religious feel to their pitching instruction. On many levels, that’s good. As a parent and pitcher, you are putting a lot of time and money into what this person is telling and teaching you. Where it becomes scary is when you are encouraged NOT to see or listen to others. I actually know of pitching coaches who DISCOURAGE their students from attending camps and clinics done by others. To a degree, I understand that. Doing things a whole new way can disrupt what the pitching coach is trying to do. However, I look at it the opposite way and hope people see and listen to as many people as possible. It’s going to do 1 of 2 things and either way YOU win: #1. It’s going to confirm you’re on the right track (either by disagreeing with what’s being presented or having the clinic teaching the same things) or #2. you are going to learn a better way to pitch. Something can be taken from every clinic, even if it’s something NOT to do. Don’t be too open minded (or your brains will fall out, ha ha) and be changing at every whim and every time you hear something different.
I’m very adamant that I believe in right and wrong. Just as I believe in correct mechanics to throw a ball overhand or swing a bat, there are correct mechanics to doing this underhand. And all you have to do is compare the similarities between the top pitchers in the world (male and female) to see what they are. When a clinician presents something contrary to what the best are doing, it’s your obligation to ask WHY and have them explain themselves. Obviously, not in a crass or rude way, but in a diplomatic way for the sake of learning. But the best way to know what to do when conflicting opinions are thrown at you: Try it yourself!!!! Try it and see what happens and what is natural for your body to do. Does it feel normal to bend your elbow straight up to your pitching shoulder or to let your elbow snap across your body? Does it feel normal to ‘close the door’ with your hips at
the same time as the ball which forces you into the fielding positing or to close after the ball passes and fall into the fielding position naturally? Both of these things are probably contributing (if not outright causing) your pitches to go far inside for a RH pitcher to a RH hitter. Opposite for lefties. Some of the things which are routinely taught out there make no sense and all you have to do is try it for yourself to see that and feel it.
Ok, off my soapbox for a minute and onto a pitching tip which may help as the spring season approaches. This will apply to everyone but mostly for people who live in places that gets very windy this time of year and it’s something to do year round. ALWAYS have your pitcher warm up in the same direction as she will pitch in a game. For some strange reason, most girls softball fields construct their bullpens in the opposite direction to the actual field. Why this is done is truly one of the great mysteries of life for me. But having your pitcher throw in the same direction will help them adjust pitches with the wind variables. Throwing into the wind will always make the ball break more but that’s no reason to do that in warm ups if the actual pitching rubber on the field will have the wind at your back.
For some of you, that little tidbit is standard practice and comes with the “pitching 101” book. But for others, it’s something to seriously consider and will help your pitcher immensely, especially when the weather is bad.
The mental side of pitching is something that a lot of pitching coaches, especially those without actual pitching experience can fathom. I include baseball pitchers in that because they know what it’s like to be ‘out there’. Keeping focus in the midst of it all is often quite difficult. And some kids forget the simple fact that this is a game of failure, not success. Great hitters get a hit 3 out of 10 times for a .300 average. That means a pitcher is going to fail 3 out of 10 times. Hitters fail 7 of 10. So the odds are in our favor but it’s GOING TO HAPPEN. They need to build a bridge and get over it when it does. The best thing to do is play percentages and have a strategy.
Slappers.. the long running debate of how to pitch to slappers is often discussed and there is no way to know who’s right/wrong in the debate. One thing it varies on is, how good is the slapper? Are they actually good at slapping or do they get lucky? Do they run towards the pitcher or run out of the box towards 1st? These are signs that will help a pitcher to know what is best. The best place to pitch a GOOD slapper is down/inside. Throwing outside to them is insanity because they are LOOKING to hit the ball that way! Throwing low is better because it’s harder to hit a ball dropping OUT of the field of vision vs. one coming up into it. The lower the pitch, the more of the secondary movement down they will have to make with the bat in order to make contact. It’s also very helpful if your team works together and the first baseman diplomatically asks the 1st base umpire (and
catcher should be talking to plate umpire) to please insure the hitter is NOT out of the box at contact. So much effort and crying is about a pitcher who goes 2 inches off the ground that nobody cares when the hitters ‘cheat’.
One of the best overall things that can be done is discuss your game plan as much as possible before hand. Single out their best hitter and DO NOT allow that hitter to beat you. If they come up in a big situation with runners in scoring position.. walk her. Don’t ever let the best hitter beat you. Make it be someone else. Again, that’s playing percentages. If you don’t know the team you’re playing and their personnel, then you’re going to have to do the unthinkable: trust the OTHER coach knows what he/she is doing and is putting their best hitter in the #3 spot.
As most who’ve been long time readers of mine know, I’m not a big fan of coaches calling pitches. Instead, I’m a fan of coaches TEACHING the kids how to call pitches on their own. Especially if you’ve never been a pitcher (softball or baseball) it’s impossible for you to know the intangibles of things. Ground conditions, how the ball(s) feel, etc. It sometimes amazes me that coaches can think they know better than the pitcher and catcher about all these things despite not having to be the one throwing the ball. Obviously the art of how to call a game is something that must be taught over time, that’s no different than any other aspect of the game. Learning how to pitch, hit, run bases, etc. are all things that take time to learn. But, far too many people don’t start this process early enough in pitching development for the pitcher to hone her own gut instincts for what’s right and
get a feel for the game. Going back to what I said earlier, a pitcher will lose 3 out of 10 battles, there is nothing that haunts a pitcher more than not throwing the pitch they wanted to at a particular time and getting beat on that pitch. Personally, if I lose a game because a hitter won a particular battle then I want to lose on the pitch I thought was best at that time. Hey, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose it’s that simple. And while I’ve never understood why coaches continue to do the pitch calling instead of teaching the kids for themselves, another aspect of strategy comes into play. If your honest with yourself, ask this question: Do I communicate with my fielders about where to play vs. various hitters and situations? If the catcher is taught how to call pitches and locations, she can guide the outfielders and shift the infield based on where the pitch is
supposed to be thrown. For a RH hitter that you want to keep the ball away from, the catcher will shift the outfield to opposite field slightly. If you intend on jamming the hitter inside, the field can be shifted for a pull hit. Catchers can shift the fielders around much more discreetly than a coach can.
Some will say this is too much to lay on a young girl’s shoulders. While I’m the first one to admit I don’t understand how women think, I believe almost anything can be taught. And as I’ve said before, we put far more important decisions in the hands of kids which have far more dire consequences than a softball game. If we trust them with life situations, I think we can teach them the appropriate time to throw a change-up!
These are just some basic strategies to apply as the season kicks off. Of course there are countless others. Playing the percentages will win plenty of games, that’s for sure.
It’s not too soon to start scheduling things for the fall/winter that will be here before we know it. Nobody wants to even think about winter training right now, everyone is ready for summer. Me too. But, it’s the preparation in the off-season which leads to success in-season. Remember, practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.