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Pitching Mechanics Tips from Olympic Softball Star Jennie Finch

Jennie Finch hasn’t played competitive softball since 2010, but the former U.S. Olympic star pitcher remains a passionate ambassador of the sport she’s loved since age five.

One of her biggest concerns is the rash of injuries among pitchers. Referring to a study conducted by biomechanics consultant Dr. Sherry Werner, Finch says less than 1 percent of pitchers are using proper mechanics in their pitching motion.

“That’s mind-boggling,” Finch said. “There are a lot of pitching coaches out there teaching unsafe mechanics. We’re seeing Tommy John surgery, we’re seeing biceps being torn. It’s heartbreaking.”

Finch, who led the U.S. Olympic Team to a gold medal in 2004 and a silver medal in 2008, conducts camps throughout the country, and runs a softball academy in Flemington, N.J. Along with developing young girls into the best players they can be, her mission is to protect them against bad habits that can cause serious injury and keep them off the field.

While many coaches rely on wrist snap and K drills to work on a pitcher’s routine, Finch prefers a more mound-oriented approach.

“In order for you to be the best pitcher you can be, you have to get on the mound and pitch,” she explained. “Let’s not break it down unless you need help with a certain aspect of your pitch mechanics. Let’s try and get it all together from the mound.”

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Finch advises pitchers to start throwing close, about 20 feet, if the catcher or volunteer can handle it. The motion and windup should be fast, with a three-foot stride, then open and close as quickly as possible. The goal is to condense each pitch, reducing the risk of bad mechanics. Whereas a hitter’s swing should be short and compact, a pitcher needs her arm speed to be as fast as possible. The leg drive off the mound should be solid, with a firm front side. Record videos of these exercises to track and break down the pitcher’s motion and what her body is doing.

“If pitchers go back to the pitching mound distance instantly, they lose those fast-twitch muscles,” Finch said. “Start 20 feet, then gradually work your way back two giant steps at a time.”

Ideally, Finch says it’s best to have someone to throw to. If this isn’t always possible, or the catcher is unable to handle the 20-foot starting distance, a pitching net can be used. As a child growing up in La Mirada, Calif., Finch spent hours throwing to her father, Doug, who constructed a pitch-back using an old trampoline so she could practice by herself when he worked late.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Jennie said. “It all comes down to how badly you want it.”

Doug’s resourcefulness has not only made a difference in Jennie’s development as a pitcher, but in the sport itself. When Jennie was 9, she realized her right arm was more developed than her left. Concerned about muscle imbalance, Doug invented the Finch Windmill, a training and exercise machine that boosts muscle strength, endurance, and balance on both the left and right sides. For over 20 years, it has helped many athletes in different sports raise their performance level, minimize muscle overdevelopment, and reduce the risk of shoulder injury.

Jennie recommends jumping rope, walk lunges, and other similar exercises to develop an athlete’s fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are used to increase speed. She’s also a firm believer in the popular Rice Bucket exercise.

“It’s easy; you can do it at home, in front of the TV, whatever you’re doing,” she explained. “Just dig your hand in a bucket of rice and strengthen your fingers and wrists.”

You can find out more about Finch’s camps and academy by visiting her official website.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

Softball, Softball Player Development, Softball Tips & Drills