Improve Your Softball Fastpitch

Full reach, classic X, forward thrust, pushing hard! by rlz
Full reach, classic X, forward thrust, pushing hard! by rlz

• Angling for that starting pitching position on your softball team? Trying to take your game to the top level? Here are a number of great tips to improve your softball fastpitch skills.

• All fastpitching begins with the grip. Learn to grasp the softball with a gentle firmness; don’t smother the ball. You should have a firm enough grip to control the ball and not lose your grasp, but not so firm as to strain your hand or choke the ball. If your hands are large enough, there should always be a slight gap between your palm and the ball’s surface. You control the ball with your fingers, and especially with your fingertips, not with your palm. Learn the ‘horseshoe’ or ‘C’ grip, in which your thumb and fingers ride opposite sides of the same ‘horseshoe’ or ‘C’ of the curve of the stitching threads. You should practice handling and twirling the ball until you can quickly slip it into a horseshoe grip every time.

• Move on to the arm circle. In an ideal fastpitch, your pitching arm should make a perfect 360-degree arm circle, parallel to the side of your torso, beginning from alongside your leg and rotating around to high overhead, and then back down and around to alongside your leg again for the release of the ball. Be sure to extend your arm to complete straightness and maximum extension; no bent elbows or laziness. The speed of the ball and accuracy of delivery are dependent on maximum power; the greater the circumference of your circle, the greater the speed and power. Practice stretching high and pushing hard as you make your arm circles.

• Watch your ball-hand position relative to your wrist and arm. Most fastpitches are delivered by means of a flick of the wrist at the release of the ball. If your hand and wrist aren’t ‘cocked’, then you have no flick strength or movement. Keep your hand cocked as much as possible, and keep it cocked throughout the entire arm circle.

• Next, make the ‘X’. Just beyond half of your arm circle, your ball-hand and stretched arm should be moving to the rear of your throwing shoulder. At the same time, your glove hand, as a counterweight to your throwing arm’s thrust, should be rising to a similar height, but pointed toward your catcher. At the same time, you should be striding toward home, with your back foot trailing on the pitching rubber. Your body should make a perfect ‘X”, with both arms up and splayed, and both legs splayed outward as well. Furthermore, your ‘X’ should face 3rd base if you are a right-handed pitcher, and should face 1st base if you are a left-handed pitcher. Your body must change alignment, first facing the catcher at the start of your pitch, then turning 90 degrees to the side at mid-arm circle, then returning to face the catcher to end the pitch. It is this change in alignment that provides much of the ‘snap’ power for your pitch, and, also quite crucially, allows your throwing arm to safely clear your hip.

• It is also important that your ‘X’ is vigorous and broad; you must stride strongly toward the catcher. You should ideally thrust forward off your back leg, rather than jumping with your front leg. A great way to practice thrusting off your back leg is to practice incomplete pitches beginning with your forward leg raised off the ground; that way you CAN’T jump with it — all thrusting power will have to come from your back leg. Set a stride-length goal for yourself, then try to outdo it. Also, remember not to ‘crow-hop’, or let your back foot skip-step off the rubber at the end of your pitch. Your back foot should drag in the dirt of the pitcher’s mound, leaving behind a nicely carved sideways facing ‘C’ describing its path. If you don’t see that ‘C’ in the dirt, then you aren’t keeping your back foot planted, or you aren’t describing a ‘C’ path by turning your ‘X’ to the side, or both.

• In fastpitch softball, most of the power of the pitch is provided not by arm speed or strength, but in fact by leg thrust and strength. To improve the power and speed of your pitches, work on leg power and thrust, either by repeated drills and practice, or by weight training on leg muscles, or both. Also remember that power only helps if it’s toward the catcher. Extraneous movement side to side or at odd angles is simply a waste of power and will only serve to tire you. You should therefore strive to keep your wind-up, arm circle and pitch finish as compact and efficient as possible, without a lot of flourishes or needless movement. Always conserve your power and thrust it toward the catcher.

• Hold your line. Learn to establish a direct line from the pitching rubber to the center of the plate, and align your body and its movement through the pitch with that line. Learn to correct your line if too many pitches are consistently inside or outside. Remember that the difference between an inside and an outside pitch over a 40’ to 43’ pitching distance is a very slight angle of alignment, and, in fact, most of the direction of a pitch, if not all, should be provided by your fingertips at release, anyway.

• Point your glove. As you begin your arm-circle, bring your glove hand up with arm extended, and point it at the catcher’s glove. Not only does this give your throwing arm thrust the necessary counterweight, but it also allows you to sight down your arm to your target with every pitch. Over time, your hand-eye-arm coordination will see to it that your pitches fly right.

• To build up your strength for greater power and speed, and to increase your durability through a number of innings, practice pitching drills at five, ten, fifteen, twenty feet and more beyond normal pitching distance. As you increase the pitching distance, you’ll develop more power and will let your body automatically use its own muscle memory to determine all the correct ‘settings’ to get your pitches where they need to go. Pitching should become automatic; you should not have to try to remember every nuance of technique on every pitch.

• Practice the various wrist-flicks necessary for your mix of pitches. Work at wrist-flick drills until your arm and wrist and hand develop their particular muscle memory, and the selection of technique for a particular pitch becomes unconscious and automatic.

• Use the pitch grunt, if it helps. Many pitchers think that grunting, yelping or otherwise percussively expelling air at the instant of pitch release helps them to better time and synchronize their body mechanics, or to push harder for each extra oomph of effort. Whether you use a grunt or not, however, you should always put maximum effort on every pitch every time. Only at maximum effort is your body likely to find its ‘groove’. And its better for your pitching stats and your team’s performance if you give 100% every inning for fewer innings, than if you ‘save yourself’ and give a poorer performance over more innings.

• And finally, practice, practice, practice. During playing seasons, the average high school varsity, junior varsity or teenage tournament/travel softball pitcher should probably throw an average of 50 to 100 pitches per day, and should have strenuous workouts two to three times per week. If weather or schedule or facility availability make full pitching workouts impossible, then practice in a bedroom or basement with balled-up athletic socks as stand-in for a ball. What’s important is perfect your body mechanics, building unconscious body and muscle memory, and drilling the basics and nuances of technique. Then go enjoy the game! (Next, go enjoy rickzworld.)

Push Hard! by rlz
Push Hard! by rlz
Follow through to finish! by rlz
Follow through to finish! by rlz

These helpful fastpitch softball tips have been brought to you by Cleveland native Rick Zimmerman, and his very cooperative and understanding daughter Sloan (Harvard, 2013). Mr. Zimmerman is an architect, cartoonist and expert witness with extensive experience in online writing on a variety of topics — sustainable design & construction, local architecture & landmarks, coping with daily life, humor & whimsy, and cartooning and art.

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