Bringing Balance to the Mound
By Dave Miramontes and Rich Taylor, MVP Band
In any sport, and especially baseball, the development of fine and gross motor skills plays a significant role in one’s ability to bat, field, catch, and when the time comes, pitch. As a coach or parent, we must understand that the development of these skills comes at different times for all players, but they can be improved through practice and repetition. One skill that can always be improved upon and plays a critical role in almost all activities is balance.
For the pitcher, good balance sets up good timing, which in turn leads to a productive pitch. Without proper balance, mechanics are hurried, arm action is flawed and the quality of pitches is poor. Often times, Little League coaches place more emphasis on the end result of a pitch rather than what occurs during the wind-up phase. What many coaches also don’t understand is that both balance and good mechanics determine the location of the pitch. Keep in mind that the most successful pitchers find that mastering the location of a pitch plays a more critical role than merely speed. Although speed is enticing and is a desire to most kids and adults, it cannot be mastered until balance is first achieved.
After 30 years of working with younger kids, we have found that Little League players often think in simplistic terms. Therefore, the information or skills we provide them must be easy to see, feel and perform. Most importantly, the information must make sense to them (notice how I say them). The balance points that we teach, not only provide a player with a foundation needed to reduce the strain to one’s arm, but will in turn help achieve more velocity, accuracy and productivity.
There are five basic balance points every pitcher will perform before the delivery of a pitch. We refer to these points as “checkpoints”. They must be completed in sequence, and must be performed in a controlled and consistent manner each time a pitch is thrown. Together, all of these points allow the pitcher to perfect one’s form and timing, get his/her arm in the proper throwing position and release the ball with less strain to the arm. They are as follows:
1. Start position
2. Leg Lift
3. Leg Fall
4. Glide and Plant
1) Start Position:
Before we even begin our wind-up, a pitcher must maintain good balance. To do so, one should begin in an “athletic position”. This term is commonly used in all sports as it refers to an athlete taking a balanced position with the weight being placed on the balls of one’s feet. In a set position (stretch position), your feet should be about shoulders width apart, hands & glove remain together (somewhere between your waist and chest), and of course, your weight being placed on the balls of your feet.
2) Leg Lift (in a stretch position)
After establishing your starting position, you can now begin to lift your front leg (glove side leg). This leg should come up no lower than your waist. Often times, we tell our players to bring their thigh to a point where one could balance a dinner plate it. In doing so, we remind a player to continue to keep the weight on the balls of your pivot foot while keeping your head over the pivot foot. During this phase, your throwing hand and glove will still remain together somewhere between your belly button and chest.
Note: One should keep in mind the key to the leg lift is merely to hold the height of the balance before moving on, thus considered a checkpoint. A slight rotation of the hips toward third base (for a right hander) or first base (for a left hander) is recommended, but again, not critical.
3) Leg Fall:
Once you have reached the height of your leg lift, its return should travel down the same line as it went up. Just before your front leg returns to the point where it began, and just before it touches the ground, your hands should then break. At the same time, this is when you begin your glide phase.
Note: By breaking your hands at this particular point, a pitcher will continue to maintain their balance thus enabling the arm to have enough
4) Glide and Plant:
Once your hands break, and you begin to glide forward, your front foot should now travel in the direction of home plate. Once your front foot strikes the ground, it should land similar to that of an airplane landing perfectly on the ground. With all of your momentum now traveling towards the plate, your entire weight should transfer to the ball of your foot.
Note: Landing on your heel does not allow enough weight to transfer toward the plate, thus leaving you off balance and placing a tremendous amount of strain on the arm. On the other hand, landing on your toe will place too much weight over the front and does not provide you the proper leverage needed.
Striding too far also leads to imbalance; therefore the stride length should be equal to 85% of your body length. If a player can’t transfer their weight, they’ve probably taken too big of a stride.
In finishing the delivery, we recommended that little league players be taught to finish balanced and square with their lead knee bent and pointing towards home plate. We also recommend that a player complete the pitch with their head directly over their front knee and both eyes level to the catcher. This will not only allow their arm to follow through beyond the release point and across the body, but forces them to remain balanced with their eyes on the target. Just as a batter isn’t supposed to take his eyes off the ball, a pitcher shouldn’t take his eye off the target. If a pitcher cannot keep his eyes level at the completion of a pitch, one may find themselves falling off the mound to one side or another. Keeping a pitcher balanced after the pitch will also allow a player to achieve both muscle memory and a common release point. Location and accuracy will follow, as will the quality and velocity of pitches.
When teaching any youth player to pitch, it is important to remain patient and calm. By making too many changes to their technique in one outing will only discourage and confuse them. There are many days in the season and pitching of all positions, cannot be mastered in one day. Kids are often tainted by what they see on TV or many times what makes sense to them. Thinking like a kid will also help understand the psychology of kids.
Here’s an example:
In pitching, being able to throw the ball harder could in fact register in their minds that speed equals speed. In other words, the faster one moves toward the plate, the faster the pitch will be. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone must remember that faster body speed does not equate to faster pitches, arm speed does. If balance never enters their train of thought, the struggle to gain consistency may be very difficult. Eventually, a lack of proper balance may lead to constant pain in the arm or even worse, arm injury.
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