Does this sound at all familiar to you?
I got an email the other day from a little league coach looking for some tips for working with very young pitchers. I get these questions from parents and coaches a lot, so I decided it would be a good idea to put together an article with some general guidelines.
Here is his email:
First off, I loved that this coach had his priorities straight. He’s all about wanting to arm himself with good information to make sure he’s doing what’s best for the kids.
Working with very young pitchers is completely different than coaching older pitchers. My philosophy when it comes to coaching kids that young is you want to give them a good foundation, but more importantly, keep it positive and keep it fun (keep the “FUN” in FUNdamentals). So while I am all about advanced training and maximizing mechanical efficiencies with my older guys, my approach with very young pitchers is totally different.
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3 Simple Tips for Teaching Pitching Mechanics to Little League Pitchers:
1. Be Patient
Remember that for very young pitchers, this is all new to them. You’ve seen a lot more baseball than these kids, and the movements in the pitching delivery have been ingrained in your mind. If you pitched yourself, you had years to develop your delivery and it’s probably second nature at this point.
You can’t expect a kid to have perfect mechanics (if such a thing exists) right out of the gate. It’s like learning to walk, it’s a gradual process. When you were a toddler, you didn’t just start walking on your first attempt. You took a step, maybe two, and then you tumbled. But you kept trying – kept falling and getting back up, and you gradually got the hang of it, and it eventually became effortless.
You don’t chastise or criticize a toddler every time he falls down, do you? So be patient with these kids who are just learning to pitch. Guide, encourage, and trust that with patience and persistence, the young pitcher will get the hang of it.
Bite your tongue: Resist the urge to rattle off everything you know, nit-picking every flaw and bombarding the pitcher with coaching cues and critiques.
This is one of the toughest things to learn for a new coach, but it’s one of the most important
You see a pitcher making mistakes and you want to correct them – that’s natural. But not only is this discouraging for the pitcher, it can be totally overwhelming!
Throw too much information at a young pitcher, and they won’t know where to start, and they’ll just feel confused and hopeless.
You don’t want a young pitcher walking away feeling like his head’s going to explode!
So my advice is to start small. Focus on one specific aspect of his delivery, and work on it until he gets it.
2. Keep It Simple, Keep it Fun
Here’s part of my response to that coach’s email:
When it comes to keeping things simple in terms of mechanics, I often think back to a discussion I had with one of my minor league coaches. We got to talking about teaching mechanics to little league pitchers, and he gave me some great advice:
“Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be. When it comes to the pitching delivery, you’ve got three main things going on: a forward stride, a sideways turn, and a downward tilt. Keep it simple.”
3. Teach the Pitching Delivery in Segments
Okay, so up to this point I’ve focused on keeping things simple and fun (because I think it’s that important!), but that leaves the question… so how do I actually teach them good mechanics?
Okay, fair enough. My first suggestion is to start by teaching the delivery in segments. The pitching delivery is a complex chain of movements with a lot of moving parts. Focus on one thing at a time.
Here are some basic guidelines for teaching good mechanics to very young little league pitchers:
Get the Arms in Sync
In your delivery, your glove arm has a direct effect on your throwing arm. So it’s important to get them both working together. Here’s a simple drill for helping a pitcher get his arms in sync.
Load the Hips vs. Getting to a “Balance Point”
One problem with the way most coaches teach pitching mechanics is they focus too much on specific “points” in the pitching motion, rather than training good movements. This tends to kill momentum and make the pitcher stiff and robotic.
Read more of my thoughts on that topic here:
Pitching Drills: Why Most Are a Complete Waste of Time
There’s a big difference between loading the hips and getting to a balance point. The goal should be to help the pitcher get into a good position to create momentum and get his body moving towards home plate.
With young pitchers I sometimes recommend taking the arms out of the equation when teaching this part of the pitching delivery. Here’s one drill that can be effective when working with young pitchers:
I like to tell young pitchers to picture an imaginary line from their back foot right to home plate. This is their drive line, and they should try to keep their body right over that line as they throw. It can help here to actually draw a line in the dirt or use drills with a pre-set stride like this one:
Control the Glove Arm
This is pretty simple. Basically, you want to be active with the glove arm, getting your arms in sync like I mentioned above. But as you turn to throw you want to make sure to stabilize and control that glove arm, bringing that glove elbow down towards your ribs. Getting wild or sloppy with the glove arm (swinging it out or letting it drop down) can lead to control problems and potentially put more stress on your throwing arm.
Here’s an article that explains in more detail what I mean by “control your glove”
The Importance of Good Glove-Arm Action
And that’s it! For the majority of pitchers 10 years old or younger, I would NOT make it more complicated than this. Give them a chance to work within this framework, have fun, and develop their own style.
As they get older, there will be time for making more advanced mechanical adjustments. Those would include things like developing a more powerful stride, maximizing hip to shoulder separation, and stabilizing with the front side.
And regarding his second question about pitch counts, my general feeling is the less they pitch in games at that age the better, but like everything it’s context dependent. You have to be aware of the signs that a kid is getting tired (starting to get wild, getting sloppy with his mechanics, etc.). I referred this coach to ASMI’s pitch count guidelines. They err on the conservative side, but it’s certainly a good place to start.
Hey, do you work with young pitchers?
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