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Pitching: Young Athletes
A Note to Parents and Coaches
It's great to influence children to be competitive in their sport. While I'm all about a great game and seeing players push themselves, I must remember that I am an adult. I know my physical limits and capabilities as well as my mental ones. I know what works for me because I've had time and experience to learn my body and it's boundaries. As a former athlete, I've been pushed to my limits by others and pushed to my limits by myself. It's because of that extra push that I have developed perseverance and gained essential knowledge. Sometimes we adults lose sight of the fact that our children don't yet know what we know because they haven't had the time and experience that we have.
Be patient with a young athlete. It's great to take a kid to pitching lessons here and there, but I wouldn't dump my life savings into it. It's not worth it. A young man will not throw ninety miles per hour overnight just because you've been taking him to a pitching coach. You should use pitching coaches more for guidelines rather than principles. There is really no right or wrong pitching style. After learning the basics pitchers tend to develop a style of their own, something that works and feels right to them. You can't force that, you have to let a kid develop it. What feels comfortable at age twelve or fourteen may not feel comfortable anymore when he is sixteen or eighteen and a foot longer. Let him tinker with his wind up and get into his own rhythm out there on the mound. When he starts having success he'll know what works, what feels natural, and what doesn't. What you can do as a parent or coach is monitor him and make sure that he isn't experiencing any pain. As for his mechanics, you can make sure that he is relaxed, loose, and balanced.
Balance is the real key to pitching and if used properly it can increase velocity. Balance keeps the head and the eyes focused on the catcher's mitt before and after the pitch is released. Balance will keep your pitcher firm at the peak of his wind-up, explosive on the way to the mitt, and in a strong position after his delivery. Some wind-ups will look smoother than others. How your pitcher goes through his wind up makes no difference as long as he can stay in line to the target from push off to delivery. Help your pitcher develop his balance by having him go through his wind-up over and over again. Have him do towel drills. Watch the short video at the bottom of the page for some examples.
Strength and conditioning is more important that getting technical with pitching mechanics. If your a coach, have your pitchers run. Many mechanical errors show themselves late in the game and are caused by a lack of conditioning. Long distance running will help prevent your pitchers from getting tired in the later innings. For the first few weeks of practice, before the first game, have them run a mile each day and go through their wind-ups twenty-five to thirty times with no ball. Going through their wind-ups while they are fatigued from running will help them develop muscle memory. When they get out on the mound for their first game of the season they will breeze through the first few innings.
As you watch your pitchers progress through the season, you will see them succeed as well as fail. Help pick their confidence up when they are down and help them stay focused when successful. Pitching is very analytical. Pitchers have a tendency to overthink at times and it can cause them to make an occasional minor adjustment. Pay close attention to your pitchers deliveries and pick up on these adjustments. Ask questions when necessary, but don't feed into your pitchers over analyzing of things. At the end of the day it is the pitcher on the mound, not you. If they want to win bad enough they will have to be willing to do what it takes. Good luck this season!
An example of a pitcher's eyes focused on the mitt immediately after delivery.
Can you think of another important and noteworthy aspect in a pitcher's mechanics?
Please add your input in the comments section at the bottom of the page.