Every pitcher on the planet wants to get faster but if you ask them how to do it you'll get a million different answers. Learn exactly what adds to speed and what takes it away, and how to help your pitchers get faster.
OK, Pop Quiz: What's the ONE thing a pitcher must do to throw faster? That means, it can be the only thing she does and she'll throw faster. Here's a list of some of the answers you'll get when you ask this question:
- More Snap
- More Hips
- Bigger Stride
- Get Faster
- Move Your Arm Faster
Since pitching faster is something every pitcher wants to do you'd think they would ALL know exactly how to do it, but judging from these answers it doesn't appear that way at all.
So let's make this easier and ask the same question another way. Ask your pitcher to throw overhand really slow. Then ask her to throw overhand as fast as she can. You can try it right now - you stand up and throw slow without a ball. First throw your imaginary ball overhand - but throw real slow. Then take that same imaginary ball and throw it as fast as you can. When you're finished ask yourself, "What's the one thing you did to throw faster overhand?" Most pitchers will immediately say "I moved my hand faster here" - showing you their hand at the release point. Is that what you felt, or said? If so then you're EXACTLY RIGHT! For any player, pitcher or otherwise to throw a ball faster they must move their hand faster as they release the ball! Not move it faster when they start since that won't help your throw. The increase in speed must happen at the release point. It makes perfect sense overhand and yet underhand we have grown to expect more underhand.
Now I realize this is far too simple of an explanation for most people to handle when it comes to pitching. For some reason we can accept it for our overhand throw but we really, really struggle to accept it for pitching. This has always amazed me since I believe we need to try and make pitching as simple as possible in order to better help our pitchers understand and ultimately perfect it. We have this crazy urge to over-complicate pitching when we really don't need to.
Here's what I mean - when I say that to increase a pitcher's speed the most important thing they must do is increase the speed of their hand at the release point, people will then say things like, "well what about the stride?", "what about the follow through?", what about the snap?". None of these same questions will be asked when throwing overhand and yet, ALL of these things do happen when throwing overhand and pitching! We snap when pitching and throwing overhand, we take a stride when pitching and throwing overhand and we follow through when pitching and throwing overhand. And in fact, all of these elements increase as we throw faster in both motions, and yet we only micro-analyze the pitching motion&.why is that?
We've learned the pitching motion part-by-part instead of trusting our athletic self because we falsely believe that pitching is some kind of extraterrestrial skill that's far too complicated for mere mortals to understand, while we all know how to throw overhand and besides, what's so hard about that?! When I learn a skill part-by-part then I never really see what all the parts are going together to build, instead I stay too focused on the parts. Pitching is a whole motion that has its parts, but those parts only fit together to make the whole - not the other way around. Anyway that's another article, but for now understand this: pitching underhand and throwing overhand are more identical than they are different. Pictures 1, 2 & 3 show a pitcher on the left and an overhand thrower on the right - notice how very similar both motions are.
So, with all of that said, let's look at a list of 5 things that can really help increase a pitchers speed:
- Legs Start & Hand Finishes - While the hand must move faster as the ball is released in order for the pitch to go faster, the hand isn't the only body part that can help make that happen. Other body parts are what I call "helpers" which means, they aren't the "main" thing that needs to happen but they help the main thing happen. The legs are definitely big time helpers.
A pitcher should start her pitch powerfully with her legs by blasting herself forward toward where her stride will land. This is the same thing a player does from centerfield when throwing the ball home. When throwing overhand, we'd all would agree that the longer (or faster) the throw the longer the stride. This is because the feet help move our bodies forward in order to transfer that forward momentum to our forward throw. The feet start this whole forward motion.
Same thing happens in pitching - a pitcher's stride starts her momentum forward and forward is definitely where she's pitching. Even though the pitchers stride is the most dominant at the beginning it doesn't mean the pitcher's hands aren't moving at all, of course they are. They just aren't moving powerfully in the beginning of the motion, that happens later on when the legs have finished doing their thing then the hand takes over. So the feet start the pitch and then once the stride foot lands the hand starts to dominate and take over. While the feet/lower body are still moving forward it's much less powerfully than at the beginning - I'll explain this more in #2.
- Don't Get Stuck in the Middle - There are 2 places that are important to a pitcher; the rubber which is where they start their pitch, and their landing spot which is where they release their pitch. The part in between I call the Middle, and it's where a pitcher definitely doesn't want to get stuck. How could a pitcher get stuck here you ask. The most common way is by falling backwards after they stride which is usually caused by over striding or else bending their back and leaning backwards as they release the ball. Pitchers that end up in the middle area lose a ton of speed since at the moment they need all their power behind the ball pushing forward they're going backwards.
If you have a pitcher that falls backwards at the end of their pitch and looks like she should throw faster than she does then here's a simple drill to help her:
- Ask her to slowly pitch the ball
- As she releases the ball have her bring her back foot forward to her stride foot so her back knee touches her front knee.
- She should end up with her body upright and her weight balanced on her stride foot, with her back leg bent and her back knee touching her front knee.
- I'm not suggesting she pitch this way all the time. This is just a drill to help her keep her body moving forward toward her stride foot as her hand comes forward to release the ball.
This simple back knee forward drill helps a pitcher continue to transfer her weight forward onto her stride foot, which helps her then transfer her power forward onto the ball.
- The End Matters Most - Too many pitchers that want to throw fast simply start fast - with their hands - which ends up being a mess at the release point. Just like throwing overhand, ending fast doesn't mean you want to start fast. In fact, if a pitcher starts their hands too fast they can't maintain this speed long enough to also finish fast. So keep the end in mind - if you're trying to make your hand move the fastest when you let go of the ball, then remember you release at the end of your motion so make sure your hand moves fastest at the end. The end of everything matters the most: the end of the at-bat, the end of the game, the end of the tournament, the end of the season. Ends matter so make the end of your motion matter!
- Move Where it Matters - This goes hand-in-hand with #3 - be fast when it matters. We just said that needs to be at the end which is the release point, but then something else happens after release. Coaches call it the Follow Through, which I've learned isn't a good descriptor for players. We need to break pitching down into 3 simple parts:
- Part 1 - Before Release
- Part 2 - Release
- Part 3 - After Release
It's the After Release (or Follow Through) that pitchers can lose some speed in by simply slowing down drastically or else immediately stopping their hand after they release the ball. While pitchers usually aren't trying to slow down on purpose they do this crazy thing by thinking they need to finish UP!!! UP?!? The catcher is forward, the batter is forward the strike zone and umpire are forward and yet pitchers will finish with their hand and their power going UP - and then wonder why most of their pitches are high.
The Big culprit is this insane notion that pitchers must finish with their palm up and their hand almost in front of their face. Try this and feel your entire motion go up - so of course your ball will go up. But what's also important to note is that this causes an extreme loss of speed since the pitcher's hand doesn't stay behind the ball pushing forward (fast and powerful) but instead goes below the ball moving up.
Move your power in a direction that matters - in pitching that direction is forward! Especially on the fastball when you're simply trying to throw the ball forward as fast as you can with as much control as possible. For those of you that have UP finishers a big reason is the pitcher's elbow stays attached to their side as they release so they pivot their hand from the elbow - creating too big of an angle change up. So have them work on the following 2 drills to fix this problem:
- Basketball Pitch
- Distance Pitching
- Keep the Parts in Order - This simply means when it's time to move the hand the hand must be the priority so don't move the legs too much. Take golf for a minute. The reason most of us slice the ball onto an opposing fairway is we move our parts out of order. As we're bringing the clubhead down toward the ball, instead of letting our hands be the focus we suddenly think we're Tiger Woods and blast our hips forward - right body part, wrong time - causing our clubhead to be slow and never close to the ball and boom - there's our slice. We simply got our parts out of order.
This happens with pitchers as well. When they should be blasting their legs at the beginning of the pitch they'll pump their arms like they're about to take off. And then when it's time to let the hand take over and blast the ball forward they'll snap their hips sideways causing the hand to slow down even more and the ball to go sideways.
Keep your parts in order and remember that pitching is simply adding your parts together in a forward motion with power. Don't let any one part get too out of control, and certainly not out of order, and you'll be much better off and pitch much faster!
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