The Best Pitch in Fastpitch Softball Pitching:
The best pitch as far as fastpitch softball pitching goes is highly debatable. A large majority will argue that a riseball thrown correctly is the most dominant pitch in fastpitch softball. Others will say it's the change up because disrupting timing is so important. Then you have those who believe that the drop ball is the best pitch in fastpitch pitching. I think that it really depends on what level of play you're talking about. For example; from about 10U to 14U the change up is in my opinion the most dominant fastpitch pitch assuming you have a decent fastball. I think the reason is because young kids are so busy trying to catch up to fastballs that seem overwhelming to them at that age. To do this they develop the habit of starting their swing very early which causes them to look very bad on a change up. From 16U to 18U I believe the most dominant pitch is the riseball. If a fastpitch pitcher in this age group can put backspin on a ball with decent speed she can get a large percentage of batters to whiff. You will even see hitters swing underneath riseballs that are straight and flat. The main reason for this is because they expect the ball to be lower. Hitters see so many fastballs that their brain becomes programmed to expect the ball to take a certain path. Even if a riseball hangs and doesn't move up it still fools the hitter because they expect it to drop a little. Also, even though you begin to see many more home runs at the 16U to 18U level, most of them do not have the power to get underneath the ball and still hit it out. Now for the college level of fastpitch pitching. At the college level I believe that the best pitch is a really good dropball. You could make a strong argument that the best pitch is still a really good riseball, however, if you look at the NCAA statistics you will see that pitchers who were know for their riseball give up a ton of home runs. Hitters at the college level can hit pop ups out of the yard. You won't get away with near as many hanging riseballs as you will in the younger age groups. If you have a really good dropball you can be very effective in college. At least when hitters make solid contact the ball will not leave the yard. Lots and lots of ground ball outs is what you will get with a good dropball. If you have a great dropball you can strikeout just as many batters as you would with a riseball. And, if you can get a great rise, a great drop, and a great change, the Olympic team might ring your phone.
Increasing Pitching Speed:
One of the most commonly asked questions from parents of fastpitch softball pitchers is "how do I help my daughter increase her pitching speed". This is especially true of the younger age groups. The reason is because parents haven't yet figured out that they are going to need a lot more than a really good fastball to survive in the older age groups. We are as guilty of it as anyone else. When my younger sister was between the ages of 10 and 13, increasing her pitching speed was just about the only thing I was concerned with. Anyhow, I figured I would share one of the best ways to pick up some extra speed on a straight fastball. The Pitcher's Harness is one of the best ways to do this. It is simply a belt that has a very strong, long elastic cord attached to it. Whenever my sister would train to pick up a few miles an hour we would do the following workout at the end of her pitching session. First, she would throw two sets of 10 pitches while pushing out against the resistance of the cord. Then she would do another two sets of 10 pitches with the cord pulling her through. In other words, the cord was stretched out in front of her and assisted the arm, drag, etc. During the resistance part of the workout her speed would be much slower than normal as you would expect. During the assistance part of the workout her speed would be about 2-3 miles an hour faster than her normal pitching speed. During the assistance part of the workout you can see the arm speed pick up which accounts for the increase in speed. You can get these pitcher's harnesses from ClubK. In over 15 years of trying everything under the sun to increase pitching speed it is one of the absolute best ways to accomplish the task. Some other things that help increase pitching speed are distance pitching, weighted balls, and although the TightSpin Trainer is designed to increase the spin and speed of your movement pitches it tends to carry over to your fastball as well. Pitching speed gains that carry over to the fastball from workouts with the TightSpin Trainer are usually 2 - 3 miles per hour.
What's better, movement or speed:
We are constantly being asked, "what's more important to have, speed or movement". The answer is very simple, BOTH! If you have a lot of speed but not much movement you are going to get hit hard. Now, of course there are flame throwers in the 10's and maybe even some 12's that can blow straight heat past batters. However, past those age groups heat with no movement gets hammered. On the flip side, what if you have a lot of movement but no speed. This can be equally as bad as having speed only. If you do not compliment the movement with some speed what happens is that batters can track the ball. They pick up the movement and are able to adjust and once again you are getting hit hard. A slow curveball or dropball will have that long sweeping bend to it instead of a late sharp break. What really dominates batters is a combination of movement and speed. You don't have to be the absolute fastest by any means. All you need to be is fast enough to get a late tight break on the ball. In my opinion pitchers should be striving to throw breaking pitches at the highest rate of speed possible. But don't forget that the faster you try to throw your movement pitches the more likely you are to lose your spin. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be able to throw fast movement pitches with the proper spin which of course explains why so few do it. Those who do go on to set all the records and the record setters are never the fastest but rather they have the fastest movement pitches with correct rotation.
Close the hips or keep them open?
I hear people debating all the time on whether a fastpitch pitcher should close the hips or keep them open. When my sister was about 9 years old she began taking pitching lessons. Her first pitching coach always told her to "Close your hips", he harped on that constantly. She would try so hard to close her hips but every time she tried harder her ball would go to the left (she's a lefty). When that would happen he would blame it on her hips being late or not closing hard enough. Well, to make a long story short, and after years of developing this extremely bad habit we finally figured out that the reason her ball was going to her left was because her hips were TOO EARLY! Her hips were actually getting in the way of her arm causing the ball to shoot off to her left. I am now totally convinced that the hips should be open while the arm is coming though the release point. Maybe they can finish at a 45 once the ball is gone but at release I believe they should be open. This really has a huge affect on your movement pitches. It is impossible to throw a riseball with the hips closing before release. It is also much easier to get the correct rotation on the curve ball with the hips open at release. In short, if your hips are closing too early try keeping them open while you practice for a few days and see if you don't notice a big difference in your movement and control.
Does the Riseball really Rise?
This is the question that pitching junkies absolutely love to debate. The topic has taken on a life of its own over the years. Those who say it does rise really stick to their guns. They can't be swayed by any scientific evidence. They've seen it rise and that's that as far as they're concerned. It's sort of funny because the ones who believe it does rise tend to be the people who have tons of experience in the sport, especially on the field, while the ones who say it doesn't are usually the nerdy types who simply point to the evidence and the facts. The camp that believes it doesn't rise make a pretty good argument even though the pitch works so well. So how does it work so well if it doesn't rise? Their answer is because it drops less which is a very valid point. A hitter is expecting the ball to take a certain path and by dropping less than expected they swing underneath. I've seen hitters swing underneath riseballs thrown below their knees - no kidding! Think of the backspin that is imparted on the ball as fighting against gravity. It's certainly fighting against gravity more than a ball with topspin that is working with gravity. In other words, a fastball and riseball released at the same height and angle with the same amount of rotation (rotation in opposite directions) and speed will not hit the same target. The fastball will hit the target at a lower point than the riseball, hence the riseball "dropped less". I honestly can't say one way or the other whether the riseball really rises or not. I do not believe a female pitcher can make it happen. And until somebody proves otherwise, I'm not sure a man can do it either. I always go back to a pitching machine. A pitching machine is essentially throwing riseballs. I do not believe that a human can put anywhere near the amount of rotation on the ball as a pitching machine can. And even if they could, the balls coming out of a pitching machine aren't rising. I hope that one of the really good men's pitchers will prove that it can rise. But, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is whether or not the pitch works. If you can put tight backspin on a softball with decent speed you can get the majority of hitters to swing through the pitch at youth levels of play. I've seen kids dominate at the 18 Gold level throwing in the mid fifties with very tight rotating riseballs with almost flawless angles of spin.
Shoulder Injury Prevention for Fastpitch Softball Pitching:
One of the best things a fastpitch softball pitcher can do to prevent rotator cuff injuries is Theraband exercises. They are extremely easy to do and take only a few minutes. Therabands are elastic cords that come in all sorts of different degrees of resistance. They help strengthen the shoulder joint. In softball pitching, the force that is created with extremely fast arm speed causes the joint to separate during the circle. The looser the joint, the more separation, and the more likely you are to be injured. Theraband exercises strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint to help stabilize it during the windmill. We use them to worm up before pitching as well as afterwards. You will get some different opinions on when to do the exercises. I had a doctor tell me to only do them after pitching because doing them before could cause fatigue which could lead to injury during your pitching workout. However, most Major League Baseball players warm up with them before pitching and one would assume that they're getting the best medical advice out there. Consult your doctor to see what's best for you but I highly recommend the exercises. The small amount of time it takes far outweighs the lengthy time off you'll need if you ever develop tendonitis or some other shoulder joint issue. Search Google for Therabands and you'll find some good exercises.
Finding a Place to Pitch in during the Winter:
This can sometimes be the most frustrating thing you run into if you want to be an elite level pitcher. To stay on top, you simply can't take the winter months off just because you can't pitch outside. You must find somewhere to pitch indoors but it's much easier said than done. Here are some ideas that we've came across over the years: If you have a pitching coach ask him/her if you can use their facilities on days other than the one that you normally have your pitching practice. One day a week won't cut it if you want to be a dominant pitcher. Go to your local high school, middle school or local community college and ask the coaches there if you can get in the gym during basketball practice. You can pitch on the side or if you're lucky enough many gyms have a track area that's sits above the basketball court. And, if you're extremely lucky and you do enough sucking up you might even get a key eventually. If you know any local business owners who have space in their building or warehouse you can try there. Worst case scenario is you will have to go to a local indoor batting cage and try to work out a reasonable deal to use one of their lanes for an hour or so 3-4 times a week. If you look hard enough you will find a place. The way to get the best deal there will be to pay for the whole winter in advance rather than pay each time you go. It will take some persistence though so don't give up if the first place you ask turns you down. Find a place to pitch in the winter and come spring time you will be very glad you did.
Lower Back Problems and Softball Pitching:
Over the years we have seen many softball pitchers who develop lower back issues. Although there are several different mechanical flaws that can cause this, the one thing that they all seem to have in common is this: When they plant the stride foot they are leaning forward a bit. Then, in an effort to get more power in the pitch they lean back very fast, almost snapping back. Like any bad habit it takes a lot of time and effort to correct this. I believe the best way is to get the pitcher to get in the position that they end up snapping to before the stride foot hits and resists. This will eliminate that jerking motion that occurs when they resist and bend backward with so much force. Again, bad habits are really hard to break and it takes a lot of focused effort.
Who Should Call the Pitches?:
Everyone has an opinion on this topic. Some fastpitch gurus will tell you that the coach should call the pitches. Some of the reasons which support this theory include #1 the coach has more experience and is better equipped to call the right pitch, at the right time, in the right situation, to the right batter. It could also be argued that the coach has the scouting chart with him in the dugout which makes it much easier for him/her to call the best possible pitch. On the other hand you will have those who insist that it is the catcher who should be calling the pitches (keep in mind that these people usually have a daughter that cathces). :) Some arguements on their side include #1 it is less likely for the other team to pick the signals since the coach's signals are basically shown to everyone on the field including the opposing dugout. Also, it can be argued that the catcher has a better view of the batter; where they are standing in the box, are they all over the plate (it's hard for a coach to tell how close to the plate the batter is from the side), are they stepping in, stepping out, all of these nuances are detected much easier by the catcher. After trying both ways, here is what we've found works best: A variation of the two. We would have our catcher give us signals as to what the batter is doing. For instance, if the batter was standing all over the plate we might have our catcher tap her knee, or if the batter is stepping out we might have her touch her mask. Anything will do to give the pitch caller in the dugout a better idea of what the batter is doing that will make them more likely to be vulnerable to certain pitches. Try all three and see what works best for your team.
Average and Top Pitching Speeds for Various Age Groups:
Keep in mind that the speeds listed are just what we have seen after 17 years of being around fastpitch softball. They are by no means totally accurate, simply a rough estimation.
10U - Avg. Speed 38-42 - Top Speed 48-53 Low to mid 50's is very rare.
12U - Avg. Speed 44-50 - Top Speed 53-59 Upper 50's is extremely rare but we have seen as high as 61 mph from a 13 year who was still eligible to play 12U
14U - Avg. Speed 49-54 Top Speed 56-61
16U - Avg. Speed 53-57 Top Speed 60-68 Again high 60's is very rare but there are a few capable
18U - See 16U