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Simple Tips for Developing a Young Softball Pitcher

Youth softball pitchers traditionally play other positions through high school. But it’s never too early to prepare for specializing in that position later, says Brandi Crnkovic, softball coach at Trinity University (Division III) in San Antonio, Texas. 

Crnkovic, who also gives private pitching lessons to young kids, still believes it’s important for players to learn other positions, even if their eventual goal is to pitch. “When I played, if I wasn’t pitching, I either played first or outfield until I got to college,” said Crnkovic, the all-time strikeout leader at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas. “In college, I was strictly a pitcher.”
With that in mind, Crnkovic offered a few tips for getting a young pitcher on the road to success.

Start with a Fastball

The best way to develop sound pitching mechanics is to teach the fastball first. Crnkovic believes speed is an important element in a young pitcher, training the body to become accustomed to feeling the drive and push required to master the pitch.

One way to encourage good mechanics is to start with wrist snaps, getting a pitcher used to her point of release. From there, move to a half circle, a full circle with no step, and then work toward taking a step. Once she masters the release point, introduce pushing, taking a stride, and throwing faster.

To increase speed, try what Crnkovic calls a “lunge drill.” Have the pitcher lunge with her push foot forward, and throw out of that position, so she can actually feel the leg drive.

Introduce the Changeupweb-160303_Softball_vs_Calumet-009.jpg

Once you feel a pitcher is comfortable enough with a fastball to learn another pitch, Crnkovic recommends the changeup. She typically starts with a backhand flip motion. When the arm circle comes around toward the back side of the pitcher’s body, have her turn, cup, and flip the ball out the back of her hand. “It’s kind of tough, that’s why I teach it first,” Crnkovic explained. “It takes a little while to get it down, (but) your mechanics aren’t much different from your fastball as far as body positioning.”

Rise and Drop Balls

If a pitcher’s weight is more forward when she lands, she might benefit from learning a drop ball after the changeup, Crnkovic says. Kids who have longer arms are usually more comfortable with developing the rise ball. It depends on their ability to pick up the technique of each pitch.

“I think the rise is one of the toughest pitches to learn,” Crnkovic said. “The drop ball is, I think, a little easier, but to really master it takes a lot of work.”

Arm Strength and Conditioning

Proper mechanics are essential for developing strength and minimizing arm problems later on. If your arm or shoulder is hurting constantly, it often means you’re not throwing correctly. Crnkovic isn’t as concerned about the number of reps as some coaches. She recommends three days of practice and one game per week. Since stamina is important, have older pitchers jog for 10 minutes before bullpen sessions once or twice a week, followed by an hour of pitching. This not only keeps them in top shape, but teaches them to pitch effectively when they’re tired.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

Softball, Softball Player Development, Softball Tips & Drills