Claire Rietmann-Grout 2015-11-24 04:21:33
My favorite part of coaching is teaching pitching. If I had understood pitching a decade ago the way I do now after years of giving lessons, I think I would have been an even more effective pitcher in college. As a pitching coach, I encourage my students to use me as a resource for improving their game. I was thinking the other day about all of the questions pitchers and their softball dads and moms ask me and I have made a list of the top five questions asked. Some explanations are easier than others, but here is the concise version. Enjoy the tips! “Coach Claire, how do I gain speed?” Gaining speed is the ultimate Holy Grail for all pitchers. It is no secret that speed and power in pitching is generated from the legs. It would be easy for me to tell them to drive harder off the mound or get a bigger push, but I actually think it is better advice for younger pitchers to think about their timing. Pitching is all timing. If your arm is fast in your windmill, but your legs are slow dragging, then your pitch is going to be off (too high in this case). A pitcher needs to have her arms and legs work together at the same quick speed to throw consistent pitches. The first step to improving a pitcher’s timing is to have them feel comfortable moving their body quickly. What they think is quick is not always the case. I often ask a young pitcher to show me how fast her arm can go around in a circle. She shows me her fastest arm possible and then when she does her drill at that speed, there is already an improvement. After that, I ask this pitcher to show me how fast she can run. When you combine your fastest arm circle with your sprinting legs, that is the feeling of perfect pitching timing. Perfect timing leads to increased speed. “When can I learn a new pitch?” I often have newer students who get bored doing the same fastball drills over and over in their lessons ask me when they can learn something new. I believe that a pitcher is ready to learn a new pitch when she is able to spin the ball correctly. This can be in the first couple lessons or in the first couple months. It is easy to show a pitcher the motion of a curveball, screwball, or rise ball, but it does them a disservice to “teach” them a new pitch if the pitch won’t actually break. My suggestion to pitchers is to practice spinning the ball into their glove while they are watching TV or driving in the car (as a passenger, of course). The more time they spend spinning the better, and the sooner they will have breaking pitches. “Coach, how many pitches should my daughter throw per workout?” My answer to this question has evolved a bit. My original answer was to warm up with all the drills and then pitch until your daughter is tired. Once the pitcher is tired, throw 10 more pitches while focusing on good fundamentals because you gain strength and stamina from going past your limits. I still believe in this theory, but I have found that people wanted more of a concrete answer. I now tell them that for 8u pitchers it is 75 pitches plus warm ups, 10u pitchers is 100 pitches plus warm ups, and 12u and up is at least 125 pitches and probably more if they throw multiple pitches. After I give them this suggestion, I always follow it up with, “A good pitcher throws three times per week, a great pitcher throws five, a dominant pitcher throws six, and a pitcher who battles over-use injuries throws seven.” Rest days are important too! “What can I do if I can’t pitch outside?” We have very few wintery days in Southern California, but there are often times when it is hard to go outside to practice. My suggestion for a little indoor workout is to find a full-length mirror and grab about three or four socks. Make a sock ball about the size of a softball, and then practice your pitching motion in the mirror. Practice your drills and motion facing the mirror as well as to the side for different angles. The mirror will never lie and it can tell you if you are leaning forward, hopping, or if your timing is smooth. The best part is, you can throw the sock ball at the mirror and it won’t break. “What are some extra exercises I can do?” I love it when pitchers want to do extra work to get better and stronger. Running is really important for leg strength and pitching stamina. Many pitchers don’t like to run, but this is something I wish I had embraced during my career (my pitching coach growing up said the same thing about herself!). Body weight squats are another exercise that’s great for pitchers. Start with three sets of 20 and you can easily do them at home before bed. When you get bored or the exercise becomes too easy, try doing it wearing your backpack full of school books. Core strength is the last focus for a well-rounded pitcher. A good pitcher is balanced, and that comes from core stability. It is also important to have a strong back so it can withstand the torque from the pitching motion. To strengthen your core, incorporate such exercises as crunches, sit-ups, and planks. I even downloaded an app called Daily Ab to help with my own core strength. I hope you find some of these answers helpful. Of course, every pitcher is different, but in my experience these are all things that work. Happy practicing!
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