How to pitch better in softball
If you’ve ever seen high school or college softball games, you know that even though players pitch the ball underhand, they can generate tremendous ball speeds. Pitching underhand at up to 80 mph while keeping the ball in the strike zone requires sound fundamentals you can teach kids in the backyard, at the park or on a ball field.
1. Start with control
Don’t put your child on the pitcher’s mound if she’s learning pitching for the first time. Controlling the ball is more important than power, so start halfway to the plate and let her move back as she gets the hang of pitching and can consistently get the ball over the plate.
2. Work on technique
Although a softball pitch is one smooth motion, there are several key parts you should teach separately.
Teach the pitcher to start with her hands together at her belt. From this position, she can raise her arms forward in front of her to start her motion. Alternately, she can start with her arms straight out in front of her and drop them to her belt. Louisiana State University head women’s softball coach Beth Torina recommends drawing a big circle in this drill that will help your child learn a proper motion.
Teach the double windmill motion. The basic softball pitching technique starts with your pitching arm straight in front of you, then going backward and downward toward your hip, then backward and upward over your head. From this position, you reverse the motion, coming forward and down, and repeating this motion a second time before coming back down forward for the pitch. Watch slow-motion film of two-time All-American Texas A&M player Amanda Scarborough to see this motion clearly. At this point, don’t worry about your child’s grip or other technique.
Have her practice this motion slowly, then at half speed, with and without a ball just to learn the motion.
Teach the leg-stride timing with the arm swing. During a softball pitch, players take a long stride forward with the leg opposite the pitching arm. As players develop more coordination and speed, they will take a jump step, with the back foot leaving the ground. In either case, your child should plant the lead foot before the pitching arm comes forward to provide stability and help increase arm speed.
Let your child know that whether you are throwing a football, hitting a tennis serve, pitching a baseball or throwing a softball, you generate most of your power from the legs, hips and trunks. Learning how to time the leg stride with the arm swing will help a child get a fast pitch to the plate.
3. Work on grips
After your child has learned the arm and leg movements, introduce different grips. Where you place your fingers on the seams of the ball puts different spins and rotations on the ball. For example, for a fastball, place the fingers evenly on the top seam of the ball. For a curve, bend the thumb and place the knuckle against the ball and the fingers along the bottom seam.
4. End practices with pressure
At the end of each practice, simulate a few batters by having your child tell you which pitch she is going to use and where she is going to throw each pitch. For example, have her say, “Fastball high,” or “Curve inside.” Have her tell you whether each ball she throws is a ball or a strike based on where she was aiming and where the ball ended up.
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