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Most Frequently Asked Softball Pitching Questions

By Sherry L. Werner

There are as many ways to teach our athletes to pitch as there are pitching coaches. Each person has his/her own biases and these ideas get passed along over time. Chances are that once an athlete becomes a coach, he/she will teach the same way he/she was taught.

The questions that have been asked of me point out the many different pitching philosophies. I believe that there is no single “right” way to pitch. The complexity of the woman’s body does not allow one answer. Arm length, leg length, and the relative sizes of hundreds of muscles are just a few of the traits that vary between athletes. Factor in the brain and its many functions and it is impossible to generate the same outcome even if you taught two athletes t pitch in the exact same way.

Unfortunately I do not have precise scientific answers for most of the questions readers ask. Very little quantitative data is available at this point. Funding is extremely limited in the sport of softball, so for now we have to use the facts we have and combine them with the basic laws of science to attempt to answer pitching questions. In time we will have clear-cut facts, but at this point I will share 10 of the most frequently asked pitching questions and their scientifically based answers.

Q1: What is the most important pitching component?

A) Of course, all parts of the pitch are critical in their own way. I feel that this question could be answered differently from each pitcher. If the rotation is only as good as its weakest link, then assessing weaknesses is important. In general, the most common weak link is hip/trunk rotation. Because this is the all important tie between the power-generating lower body and the ball-delivering throwing arm, I would vote for the hips/trunk as the most important component.

Q2: How important is the glove hand arm rotation?

A) All facets of the pitch are important. The non-throwing arm can be used to distract the hitter as well as to aid the upper body/trunk in rotating to a closed position near ball release.

Q3: Is it best to teach speed or accuracy first?

A) From a minor learning/motor control standpoint it appears that emphasis on proper mechanics has to be of foremost importance and that encouraging the athlete to throw “all-out” (for speed) initially requires less relearning later. The “built-in” accuracy mechanism in windmill pitching (provided by the arm circle) makes this premise even more feasible.

Q4: How important is arm speed?

A) Without a doubt, arm speed contributes to ball speed. Some pitchers rely on it more than others, though. The longer the lever, the slower it rotates, and although a shorter lever moves faster it cannot create as much force. It is a give and take situation.

Q5: Is the wrist the most important factor in ball speed?

A) The hand, which moves as a result of wrist joint motion, is the last thing to touch the ball and thus its speed is important. The muscles that move the wrist, however, are very small in comparison with the muscles of the upper arm so it appears that the wrist is no more critical than any other body part.

Q6: What is the major contributor to ball speed?

A) On the basis of limited quantitative data, it appears that upper arm rotation contributes most to ball speed at the instant of ball release. It is not clear yet which other contributors lead to the proper motion at release.

Q7: What is an appropriate stride length?

A) Again there is no right answer. Each pitcher is different. It appears, though, from the data we have collected, that the stride should be as long as possible without compromising efficient trunk/hip rotation. Both over - and - under striding create pitching motion problems.

Q8: At what age is weight training appropriate for young pitchers?

A) If an athlete is old enough to learn to pitch, he/she can begin weight training. Low volume, short specific strength training should be used for young pitchers. Surgical tubing and theroband provide sufficient  resistance training for these athletes. Situps, pushups, etc., can also be used.

Q9: When should back leg drive occur?

A) The jury is definitely still out on this one. Many opinions, all of which have a certain amount of validity, exist regarding this subject. It may be that it is a very individual thing. It does appear though, that the back leg drive is critical in pitching.

Q10: Is there a “safe” way to pitch?

A) Coming from a clinical biomechanics background, most of my research has been aimed at joint stresses and the “safety” or injury prevention side of pitching. It appears that all pitchers put moderate to high stress on their throwing  arms. Some endure more than others. Long-term effects are not known, so it is virtually impossible to answer this question.

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