Youth Pitching Basics (Ancaster Baseball)

PrintYouth Pitching Basics

1. Select pitching candidates. Focus your search on the players with the strongest arms. If the ball doesn't get to the plate, there is little (some young batters will swing at anything) chance for a strike. Perhaps some players with arms that appear weaker can be improved immensely with proper mechanics, but you have to start somewhere. A way to judge their arm strength is to watch them attempt long throws, like outfield to second base. Finally, choose the pitchers that have the best combination of arm strength, coordination, and maturity (ability to concentrate). Since you are just beginning, you will need an absolute minimum of 3 pitchers a game (allowing at least 3 or 4 full days rest between games where a pitcher of that age has thrown a significant number of pitches, about 30 or more in my opinion).

2.KEEP IT SIMPLE. For this age, I would recommend focusing on a) grip, b) balance, c) direction, and d) concentration. There are a lot more details (below) for each of these areas, but I recommend keeping these basics in mind to keep it simpler for the player (and the pitching coach). Along with these four focus areas, as the pitcher starts to develop you may see signs of rushing the delivery. I really haven't addressed that here. Suffice it to say that there shouldn't be any rushing until the pitcher has reached the landing ("power position") and the arm is starting to come forward.

3. Start with grip, using a 4-seam fastball grip. Explain to the pitcher that the 4-seam grip will provide the most accuracy. A side benefit is that when you get them to focus on simple things like grip and stance, it clears their minds, calms them down, and helps them to develop good habits that will lead to consistency.

4. Next focus on balance. If a pitcher starts off-balance it is difficult to recover to throw a strike (or at least a lot harder and eventually may limit the control that a pitcher will develop). Have them start with the stretch. If your league allows leadoffs (LL doesn't) the situation will often warrant pitching from the stretch and, in my opinion, the stretch is much simpler (essentially a subset of the full windup) and leads to far less "direction" problems. Glove shoulder should point toward catcher's glove (target).The glove should be touching the front, tride leg, and the ball should be in the pitching hand and resting against the rear leg. Their feet should be spread in a nice comfortable stance about shoulder width apart of a little less. Make sure they do not bring their feet too close together during the initial stance or in the set position (show them that standing with their feet together gives them bad balance compared to the wide stance - demonstrate this by gently pushing on their shoulders while they try the different spacing). I think it helps to tell them to pretend that they are in their batting stance (except for the location of their hands) with a slight knee bend. This gets the weight on the balls of their feet and that will help balance tremendously. When they come to the set position (glove and ball together somewhere on a line between belt buckle and chin), they don't have to move their feet closer together at all (or a slight movement if it seems appropriate for the individual). Regardless, watch that they don't move their feet too close together that their balance suffers (also in my opinion, tough to execute a pickoff with feet close together). Final major balance consideration deals with lifting the stride leg knee to reach the "balance position". The stride foot should be beneath the knee (not out in front of the body towards third, assuming a right hander, RH, or folder under the pitcher's butt). The pitcher's head should be over the pivot foot leg and not leaning back towards second or first. The knee should lift to at least belt high and balance should be maintained. If weight is on the balls of the pivot foot with a slight knee bend, stride foot is under the raised stride leg knee, hands are near the body between belt buckle and chin, and head is aligned over pivot foot leg, reasonable balance should be attained.Simple, right?

5. Now focus on direction. Common problem, especially with youngsters that haven't developed good throwing mechanics, is to open up the front shoulder (hips, lead arm, etc.) too early. This leads to a myriad of problems including, of course, control and potential future injury to arm and shoulder. Good direction starts with the stride foot and lead (glove) arm action. The stride should be toward the target. Everything (stride foot, front hip, stride shoulder) should stay square to the target during the stride. The stride foot should be directed toward the target just before landing. The lead arm elbow should be directed toward the target during the stride. At landing, stride foot should be on a line to the target and hips and shoulders should still be square. Pitching arm should be bent at about 90 degrees (forearm vertical, upper harm horizontal from shoulder) with all "pointing" in the general direction of the shortstop (ball not facing toward target yet). Overall, this is known as the "power position". Everything before this position is designed to reach this position with weight still back and proper alignment. A great drill is to start from the power position and deliver the ball to the target. I have found this the best way to start orking a new pitching candidate. I recommend a distance of about 30 feet because you don't want them to sacrifice the mechanics to reach the glove. In this drill, the pitcher should be able to focus on keeping the focus on the target, tucking his glove into his body and delivering the ball, keeping his eyes level (not leaning the head excessively), following through with his pitching arm, etc. The drill should demonstrate that with proper alignment it should be relatively easy to deliver the ball straight to the target. The pitch might be high or low, but should not be excessively left or right. After 5 seasons of watching youth hitting I guarantee that players (that swing at all) will swing at bad pitches that bounce or are over their head at a higher frequency than they will swing at pitches that are far inside or outside.

6. Concentration. This is not just the last part of pitching. It is the first part, important throughout the delivery, and is ALSO the last part. I like the section on "Centering" (focusing most on one thing) in Tom House's book, The Pitching Edge. Essentially explain to the pitcher (or batter, etc., the philosophy applies across the board) that their senses detect lots of things all the time (people talking, wind blowing, seeing the batter, plate, catcher, fence, etc.), but that they can only focus on 1 thing the most. While delivering a pitch, that one thing they are centering on is a spot on the catcher's glove, the target. Tell them to shut out everything else. Don't think about the last pitch, the next pitch, or anything else, just the current pitch and the goal of throwing the ball through the target (never "to" the target, but "through" it). Explain to the pitchers that concentration gives them an advantage over other pitchers regardless of any pitching mechanics. Tell them the other teams don't do it. Tell them it's a secret. During games, before the pitcher starts any of the delivery you can remind him to "center on the target" or just "center" to help him start his focus.

Absolutely, positively swear to yourself that you will make sure that someone keeps an inning by inning pitch count.

Be aware when a pitch count is approaching or over 30 for an inning (high pitch counts for a single inning take a huge toll especially on hot days). Be aware when a pitch count is over 50 for a game (never start a new inning at that point). When a young pitcher shows signs of tiring (mentally or physically) be aware and react accordingly (e.g., if the pitcher has just struck out 2 players and reaches 50 don't automatically take him out if he still looks strong but if he's only thrown 30 pitches and has walked/hit 3 or more in a row he'sprobably done).

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Printed from ancasterbaseball.ca on Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 8:54 AM