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Teaching the Curveball

As pitchers get older and the competition becomes stiffer, it’s important for pitchers to get the ball to break or move as often as possible. Longtime softball coach Joe Catalano teaches pitchers one new movement pitch at a time. Once they can effectively throw a drop ball in practice and games, he introduces the next pitch: the curveball.

Catalano said movement pitches are especially important in today’s game because:

• As pitchers move up from 12U to 14U and beyond, the distance of the mound is moved back to 43 feet. Not too many years ago it was at 40 feet.

• The bats are so much stronger and lighter. Balls are flying off them harder and farther than ever before.

• It seems that the strike zone has shrunk making it even harder on pitchers.

Catalano has coached at Division I schools Niagara, Canisius, and Buffalo, and has coached high school and travel softball teams in the western New York area.

“While coaching at the University of Buffalo, I changed my approach when teaching (the curveball) after watching our pitcher Tori Speckman win a school-record 25 wins her senior year,” Catalano said. “She walked me through the technique and form she used, and I have been teaching this pitch with great success.”

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Rules of the Curveball

Grip: Hold the ball in a horseshoe grip with the index finger laying on one seam and the thumb lying on the opposite seam, with the seam separating the index finger and thumb.

Spin: The four seams of the ball must spin sideways to achieve the break needed for the ball to curve.

Stride: This pitch works best if the pitcher is able to stride slightly over her throwing side when she lands, while taking a normal length and aggressive stride. This forces the pitcher to use her whole body to throw the ball.

Posture: Just as the pitcher is releasing the ball, she takes her body and leans in the direction she wants the ball to break.

Release Point: This is a pitch the pitcher holds onto just slightly longer than normal. At the release, the back of her hand is parallel to the ground and her fingers are around the ball. Her throwing hand goes from one hip to the other, while maintaining her fingers going around the ball at release.

Speed of spin: The faster the pitcher can throw a softball, the faster the ball will spin. More spin = more break.

Using the Curveball

The most effective curve should start to break eight to 10 feet in front of the plate and — based on speed of spin — can move from six to 10 inches.

An effective strategy when throwing the curveball is to start the pitch down the middle of the plate and have it break to the corner when even or behind in the count. If ahead in the count, aim for the corner and have it break off the plate.

This pitch can be thrown to either corner and the height of the pitch can be adjusted with slightly higher or lower release point.

Teaching the Curveball

1. Start the pitcher 10 feet from the plate. Have her kneel down on both knees on a 45-degree angle to the catcher. Put the ball in her hand at the release point and have her swing her hand from hip to hip, making sure her fingers go around the ball with the back of her hand parallel to the ground.

2. When the pitcher has mastered the spin, move back to about 25 feet. Remain on both knees at a 45-degree angle. The pitcher now takes a full circle, again attempting to get the release and side spin perfect.

3. Move to the mound. Review the curveball’s principles one at a time, starting with all the coaching points mentioned above. “I find it best to have the pitcher focus on one and only one element at a time,” Catalano said. “The coach’s role should be to make corrections and adjustments until the pitcher has mastered the pitch. It will take approximately 300-500 repetitions before the pitcher feels comfortable and confident throwing this pitch.”

Drills to Practice the Curveball

The Cone Drill: Put an 18-inch cone on the outside corner of the plate with a ball on top of it. Run a line in the dirt 10 feet in front and center of the plate on an arc to the cone. The goal for the pitcher is to see if see can get the ball to follow along the arc and hit the ball on the cone. This drill really helps the pitcher with getting great side spin on the ball and teaches her the correct release point.

The Tee Drill: This is a difficult drill that gives the pitcher immediate feedback as to whether the ball is breaking or not. Set up a batting tee 10 feet in front of the plate and right down the middle. The aim is to get the ball to go around the tee and hit the cone. The drill forces the pitcher to get tremendous side spin on the ball because it is really tough to accomplish this drill, but allows the pitcher to see if the ball breaks or not. It also teaches the pitcher the value of leaning in the direction she wants the ball to go and the value of using her legs and hips.

Adding a Twist to the Curveball

Catalano introduces the drop curveball as soon as a pitcher has a good handle on the curveball.

Christine Keleher, a former standout pitcher at St. Bonaventure and the best pitcher Catalano ever worked with, dominated the competition with an outstanding drop curveball.

Her technique was a combination of the turnover drop and the curve. She simply started throwing her curve and just before she got to her stride hip she turned the ball over. She brought her fingers around the ball at release and on follow through she turned her hand over.

“Getting a pitch to curve and then break sharply requires a lot of patience and a lot of reps, but the rewards are worth it,” Catalano said. “The pitcher must remember that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”

From GameChanger and Tom Glave.

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