Take throwing motions apart to break habits

ASK CAL

July 16, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

I COACH GIRLS' 12U FAST-pitch softball, and some of my players have already developed bad throwing habits. Could you share some teaching tips and drills for improving overhand throwing mechanics?

Steve Nichols, Milwaukee, Wis.

DEAR STEVE / / Poor throwing habits are abundant in youth baseball as well. The best way to overcome them is to break the throwing motion down into its various parts. With throwing, the biggest issues we see are: failure to use a four-seam grip, getting the hand under the ball as it is taken out of the glove and up (pie throwing), letting the elbow drop below the shoulder at release point, and failure to take the front shoulder and front foot toward the intended target.

By having players throw from one knee, with the glove-side knee up, and making them concentrate on using a four-seam grip; taking the ball out of the glove and down, out and up with the hand on top of it; keeping the elbow above the shoulder; and making sure that the hand goes from above the ball to behind it as it is released, you can take the lower body out of the equation and develop proper arm action. For players who drop their elbows, place a batting tee next to them on their throwing side when doing this drill. Extend it to about shoulder height and have them make sure that their elbows don't hit the tee when they throw.

To address the issue of not pointing the front shoulder and not stepping toward the target, have the player focus on looking right down the front shoulder toward the target, using it almost as a scope, taking a small step toward the target with the glove-side foot upon release and another step toward the target with the throwing side foot after release. When doing this, have them continue to practice the same fundamentals that are used to execute the tee drill.

My 8-year-old son just completed his final season of machine-pitch ball. In the fall, he will be facing live pitching for the first time. Are there any suggestions or drills that will help prepare him for live pitching?

Wayne Skelton, Owensboro, Ky.

DEAR WAYNE / / Many kids your son's age become pretty good hitters when hitting off of a coach, a parent or a pitching machine. But when they face other kids, something changes. Every pitch is not a strike, so they have to learn which pitches to swing at and which ones to let go, and the fear of getting hit with a pitch comes into play. The best way to learn how to hit off of other kids is to actually do it, but we all know that most 9-year-olds don't throw strikes consistently enough to be able to pitch batting practice.

My advice is to throw to him from the proper distance as much as possible to help him with his timing. Don't groove every pitch. Throw some inside, some outside and some high. Throw some faster and some slower.

Let him know when he swings at a pitch that is a ball and when he takes a pitch that is a strike. He should start to figure out which pitches he can handle best pretty quickly.

As for the fear factor, what I did with my son was to play a game of dodgeball. I had him stand in the box like he was hitting and threw soft balls that wouldn't hurt at him so he could see how easy it was to get out of the way of the ball and could learn how to move his body to avoid pitches that were way inside.

My son coaches a baseball team of youngsters, including my grandson. My son told me that a right-handed batter should hold the bat in such a way that the left hand is at the knob and the right hand is just atop the left hand. My next door neighbors have a four-year-old son who holds the bat with his right hand at the knob and his left on top. It seems that this is restrictive and could be damaging. Can you tell me if there is a correct way to hold the bat?

Jim Burke, Baltimore

DEAR JIM / / Your son has it right. A right-handed batter should place the left hand near the knob and the right hand above it. Left-handers should do the opposite. There should not be any gap between the two hands.

Of course, it is OK to choke up and move that bottom hand up the handle a little bit to increase bat control if a bat seems to be a little too big for a young player to handle.

Many major league players find it more comfortable to choke up a little bit. The grip your neighbor's son uses is a cross-handed grip that does restrict the ability of the wrists to generate good bat speed.

One thing that often is overlooked with the grip is how the bat actually is held. Many kids jam the bat into their palms and squeeze it very tightly. In actuality, the bat should be gripped loosely in the fingers in such a manner that the knuckles you use to knock on a door are lined up. This unlocks the wrists and allows the hitter to generate maximum bat speed through the hitting zone.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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