You've probably heard the old adage pitching is just an extended form of playing catch.
When it comes to the fundamentals of pitching—building proper throwing and pitching mechanics for any Little League player, it is a true statement as any.
By playing catch correctly, a player's upper and lower body forms a synergy to produce an accurate and strong throw that, in turn, translates to great mechanics off the mound like this from Mets pitching prospect Steven Matz:
Here's something to remember:
A pitcher's arm action and movement patterns establish themselves at a fairly young age, so deliberate and purposeful repetitions on correct fundamentals can set the foundation for a solid base and act as building blocks for more advanced pitching skills.
This is how youth pitchers can achieve short-term success and make long-term improvements on the mound.
Throwing with a purpose
Throwing shouldn't just be a way to get loose or warm up, but should have a purpose behind it.
I often watch Little League and even high school pitchers warming up prior to games as they engage in the common practice of playing catch.
Playing catch is almost a lost art since few coaches fully understand the dynamics or the importance of it.
Rarely do I see coaches supervising players' throwing mechanics as they do their pre-game or pre-practice warm-up throws.
Playing catch the right way, like MLB pitcher Zack Greinke demonstrates below, is key to developing proper throwing mechanics—and, for pitchers, building good pitching mechanics.
13 steps to perfect throwing mechanics
Playing catch, and more importantly throwing the ball takes balance, leverage and forward momentum.
While throwing a baseball seems like a relatively simple process, it is actually one of the most important skills in the game itself.
Below, I have broken the throwing process down into 13 steps:
- Start by facing sideways with front shoulder directed at the target or whomever you are playing catch with. Feet parallel…not staggered
- Hands together at chest. Elbows down and in close to the body…relaxed, just like minor league pitcher Joe Mantiply shows here:
- Head and most of the the players weight should be over the back leg
- Weight shift – as hands start to move down toward belt start to step toward the target leading with the front hip continuing to aggressively move sideways. Resist turning too soon. This is more of a lunge type movement than a turning action
- Take the ball out of the glove at the belt with fingers on top and thumb underneath. Don't let ball turn in hand after hand-break
- Pendulum swing the arms down and back away from the body while lifting the arm up so that the elbow reaches shoulder height with hand and ball along for the ride. (ball should not get to shoulder height before elbow) Throwing arm should be extended back and remain slightly bent and loose, as demonstrated by Joe Mantiply here:
- The glove and lead elbow will reach shoulder height before the throwing arm. For pitching you want the glove and elbow on the same plane when they reach shoulder height. (glove not above or below elbow…sometimes gloves are too heavy for kids)
- After stepping toward your partner, land on a bent front leg while the arm is still extended back and cocked to 90 degrees or slightly less
- Front foot should be directed at the target and should land on a straight line from the middle of the support foot toward the plate. Front leg knee should be over the foot. Knee pointed at the target. Foot should not be too angled away from target.
- At landing use the glove arm to help rotate the trunk so the head and chest are facing the target making sure the throwing elbow stays at shoulder level and does not drop down. Head should be level. (the trunk delivers the arm and provides arm speed)
- As the trunk turns or rotates the throwing arm will lay back and then once the hips and chest are facing the target the throwing arm will extend out to the side of the body while fully extending the arm into ball release.
The amount of trunk lean or tilting toward the glove side should not be much more than about 20 degrees.
- Flex the trunk forward out over the landing knee
- Finish by with the throwing hand down and behind the opposite hip showing the back of the shoulder to your partner. (If this is not emphasized it will not be emphasized while pitching.)
Don't let your kids pitch until they can play catch with proper throwing mechanics. Remember, playing catch should be fun but also should provide learning.
Focus on smoothness. If it looks robotic it cannot be smooth. Smoothness is an indication of proper timing of all the parts.
This is where many coaches go wrong by not paying attention to all players when they are playing catch.
If you want to help players develop proper throwing mechanics then this is a good place to start. But coaches should monitor players during warm-up throws.
If pitching is indeed an exaggerated form of playing catch, then initiating good throwing mechanics is essential to finding productivity on the mound or at any position.
If young Little Leaguers play catch correctly and with a purpose, then getting the pitch over or around the plate (when given the opportunity) becomes relatively easy.
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What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
Are there any fundamentals that I missed?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment and let me know.