After learning the basic mechanics of the pitching motion, it’s time to teach your pitchers how to throw some offspeed pitches. Below are 4 basic pitches that every softball coach should know how to teach.
The change-up is a pitch that looks like a fastball but is actually about 30% slower than the pitcher’s average fastball. It is deceiving to batters, who prepare for a fastball, and is effective at messing up their timing.
The flip change is most commonly used change-up. The grip is the same for any fastball. The only real difference is the way that pitchers release the ball. On the final down swing, instead of pointing the inside of their wrist to the catcher, pitchers point the outside of the wrist to the catcher and flip the ball.
The change-up should be used when a pitcher wants to confuse and surprise the batter.
The drop ball is one of a pitcher’s most effective weapons. It should be used when batters are becoming comfortable with a pitcher’s style and pitching rhythm to switch things up.
For pitchers to throw a drop ball, they must be able to snap their wrists sufficiently at the point of release so that it gets the proper amount of backspin. Pitchers hold the ball with their four fingers on the “U” portion of the seams. The pitcher takes a shorter stride than normal and, upon releasing the ball, pulls her fingers back and up so that the ball “peels” off her hand and gets good spin.
The rise ball is only successful for pitchers who can throw over 50 mph. The pitch also has to have intense speed and backspin so that the air breaks properly over the ball so that it rises. To throw a rise ball, pitchers should place two fingers on the narrow part of the ball, where the seams come closest together.
The arm rotation is the same as a fastball, but the release is different. On the final down swing, pitchers turn their fingers so they are on top of the ball at the release. The ball should be released low, near the pitcher’s knees.
For softball, the curve ball works best with a three-finger grip. This comes from two fingers resting on the sides of the seams and the middle finger resting on top of the U or on the leather itself.
The curve ball does not depend on the grip as much as the speed and direction. Pitchers should throw across their bodies, with their pitching arm ending up crossed over their abdomen. For the legs, players should step across their pitching line, to help create the necessary curve for this pitch.
Many pitchers suffer from common injuries because of their time playing softball. The following habits and techniques are ones to watch out for when building up a team’s endurance and pitching ability.
Over-use Injuries—Too much pitching, or simply too much repetitive movement, can result in shoulder or rotator cuff injuries in pitchers. To avoid suffering an overuse injury, pitchers should be rotated through so that no one pitches too many innings or games without rest in between. Also, pitchers should avoid throwing the same pitch over and over with no variation. The lack of variation will quickly lead to an overuse injury.
Unprepared Muscles—Without a sufficient warm-up and stretching period, athletes, including pitchers, put themselves at risk for injuries that result from cold muscles. Coaches have the responsibility to include warm-up and stretching time in their practice plans and game strategies to protect their athletes and instill good habits for the future. To help pitchers warm-up properly, coaches should encourage them to wake up their entire body, usually through jogging and stretching. Pitchers should also ready themselves by mimicking the movement they will do, such as circling their arms and throwing soft pitches.
No Follow Through—Pitchers who stop their arm movement as soon as they let go of the ball are at serious risk for injuries resulting from “snapping” their arm. Follow-through allows pitchers to safely defuse the momentum created by their arm circle and ensure that no sudden action puts their arm at risk for injury. Lack of follow through can lead to elbow and forearm injury because of the immense pressure put on this area of the arm during a pitch.
Bending at the Waist—Pitchers who bend forward at the waist when they release the ball put unnatural pressure on their backs and run the risk of injury. This technique is common among new players and can come from simply bending at the waist or from opening the body to the catcher. When pitchers turn sideways to the catcher, they tend to bend forward at the waist on the final downswing and the release of the ball. This method also puts unnecessary strain on the back, leading to lower back injuries.
Jerking the Body—In an effort to maximize momentum, some players jerk their head, neck, or shoulders as they whip their arm down to release the pitch. Without correction, this habit can lead to head and neck injuries as well as back problems.
Next step: to get more techniques and ideas for training your pitchers, go our complete collection of pitching drills for youth softball! And don’t forget to share this article on Facebook or Twitter if you enjoyed it!