Properly coaching a pitcher is hard, but that task is far less difficult than actually pitching. Imagine what it is like to be a young pitcher trying to learn the most challenging position on the field. Many parents and coaches struggle with the softball pitching motion since it is different than the overhand throw or the baseball pitching mechanics they learned growing up. Coaches need to be careful to teach proper techniques without over-instructing young pitchers. Too much instruction or over complicated pieces of advice will lead to player confusion and frustration, which will ultimately produce fewer positive results in the circle. For coaches, it’s best to identify basic tips to revisit time and time again in order to produce a successful pitcher. Here are some simple tried and true examples:
Proper Pitching Stance
In Little League Softball®, the pitcher’s pivot foot needs to be on or in contact with the pitcher’s plate. It’s good practice to have the pivot foot’s arch meet the front edge of the plate so the ball of the foot can push-off. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, and staggered with the stride foot on, or slightly behind, the rubber. Legs should provide a good, solid base.
Start and Rotation
There are many ways to start the motion, but the most common is having your Little Leaguer® swing their pitching hand with the ball down past their hip and into a backswing. Once the hand begins moving forward, pitchers should shift their weight from their back leg to their push-off leg. Your pitchers should use the pitcher’s plate to drive off with the pivot foot like a sprinter in the starting blocks. As pitchers stride towards the plate, their body will turn sideways (belly button towards 3rd base dugout for a right hand pitcher) and into a K or X position. Remind them everything (ball, glove, and stride foot) should go toward the catcher on their “Power Line.”
Finish and Follow-Through
From the K or X position, pitchers will whip their arm and the ball down and to the catcher’s glove. The arm should stay relaxed and follow-through to the target. Many players may “lock down” or try to “muscle” a pitch. Just remind them to stay loose. Throughout the entire pitch, Little Leaguers need to stand tall and be firm in their body positioning. Pay attention to pitcher’s head and body positioning. Is everything centered and driving to the glove during the pitch? If not, remind her to keep her head as centered as possible with her shoulders level. Finally, the stride foot needs to strike the ground solid (about a 45-90 degree angle to plate). If it lands soft, there will be decreased acceleration. Also, watch the stride length. The key is balance and power, so if your pitcher is struggling, pay close attention that their stride isn’t too long and extended.
If a young player is struggling in the circle and is consistently off target, one of the mistakes coaches make is to flood their pitcher with constant corrections. If a player is consistently inside/outside/high/low, instead, instruct your pitcher to change her target. If, for example, the pitcher is consistently outside and high, tell her to focus on targeting the catcher’s left knee, not her glove.
Relax and Rhythm
Pitching can be stressful, so remind your player to relax, everything from their shoulders to their jaw. Pitchers should find a rhythm that is comfortable and properly paced. Make sure your pitcher is not rushing through any pitch. They are in control out there, and each pitch should be methodical and focused.
Make the Batter Invisible
Every coach knows that a pitcher could be lights out without a hitter in the box, but once a player steps in, a pitcher’s control is often less effective. It’s easier said than done, but tell your pitcher to just concentrate on the target, and pretend the hitter is invisible. Try to convince your Little Leaguer that it is just her and her teammate behind the plate playing a game of catch.
It’s important to not overwhelm pitchers with too much detailed advice, especially early on the season. You are not instructing a professional whose craft it is to pitch. Keeping it simple will provide solid results, which makes the game more fun.
Just as important, remember, you are the coach. Your responsibility is to teach, and have your Little Leaguer follow YOUR instruction. If a pitcher is getting too much advice from others, you need to speak to them to make sure what is being discussed is in line with what you are teaching.