Times have changed when it comes to pitching, no doubt. The radar gun has turned into the "end all" for most pitcher's who want a future beyond youth baseball. Sure, a few players reach the highest levels with "finesse" pitching, but failing to throw at least in the lower 90's means one's chances of playing pro baseball are out the window, and to pitch at the college level one better be at least in the middle '80s. With that in mind, it stands to reason that to coach baseball pitchers to throw harder, speed development is imperative for the future-minded player. Of course, position players as well need to develop arm strength and kids of all ages need to gain arm speed as they progress up the baseball ladder. I often tell kids that as a freshman, if not a year or two before, they will be playing at the same baseball dimensions as major league players do - yes where the big boys with mature bodies perform. So, you better develop your arm speed before that time.
So much more is known about developing arm speed now. The innovative Tom House began the study of throwing hard and throwing mechanics some thirty years ago, and the knowledge increases as time goes by. Academies like Driveline Baseball Academy out Seattle way seem to be at the top of the list of arm speed development. Their teaching is above the level necessary for the 97% of players who just hope to have fun at the lower levels of the game and maybe into high school ball.
The first order of business, even before a throwing program will help, is attaining the correct throwing fundamentals. Like most things, without the right basics, full potential is not possible. A knowledgeable and observant baseball coach is necessary to teach the fundamentals. Even a few years of throwing the wrong way may make it impossible to recover from and developing their full potential arm speed will probably never occur. There is no overnight solution to throwing a baseball faster, but players, who work hard and throw fundamentally correct can improve their throwing speeds in a relatively short period. Players, who have sound throwing mechanics, have the best chance of staying healthy and reaching their throwing potential. The good news is that players, who throw mechanically incorrect, can increase their throwing speeds almost immediately by creating better throwing habits. Of course, changing habits is never easy, nor automatic, so as implied, it is best that kids learn to throw correctly from the start. Coaches must coach baseball throwing mechanics when kids begin their baseball playing days and be "sticklers" for the little details like feet alignment and arm path that determine the right fundamentals. Most kids, except for the number one starting pitcher on a team, do not throw enough so coaches should make sure kids throw at home, too.
Maximum velocity is unreachable without the correct grip. The correct grip is with the fingertips of the index and middle finger on a seam with a four-seam grip. Coaches should make sure the player's thumb is directly under and centered between the two fingers.
Next, coaches should correctly align the players' lower half, even before addressing the arm action. Arm speed and injury avoidance start with the big muscles of the body, from the feet to the waist. The throwing action begins with players making a complete 90-degree turn of the throwing arm foot, allowing the front shoulder to line up directly at the target. Coaches should make sure kids square their back foot up completely, especially during warm-up throwing sessions, as this is when bad habits often begin. Additionally, teaching players to land on the ball of the lead foot will allow top arm speed.
The next step a coach should address is the correct arm action. Players must swing their thumb under their fingers on the backswing and maintain that position until the arm starts its forward motion. Coaches should teach players to raise the front side elbow to shoulder height and directly at the target in coordination with the throwing arm action. This move is probably the toughest of all for coaches to teach because it is a long process to change incorrect arm action, especially for players, who have done it incorrectly for years.
Once these actions are completed, it is crucial that the throwers stride is directly at the target, so maximum leg, hip, and torso rotation is possible. This direct step will also allow for the maximum, extended release point, which is also necessary for top speed. With this maximum arm extension, the thrower's weight will almost automatically transfer, but coaches may have to make sure players' back leg comes up and forward after release. An incorrect stride length may cause a lazy or premature follow through, which inhibits maximum velocity.
Although strength training exercises do not automatically lead directly to increased arm speed, it helps players with overall body strength and arm recovery, both vital to reaching top throwing speed. A controlled, age-oriented strength-training program, devised by a knowledgeable trainer, is necessary. This program will develop the entire body with an emphasis on leg strength, core strength, shoulder area development, hand, and forearm strength.
Failure to perform any one of these steps will prevent maximum throwing speed and often leads to arm trouble. Finally, coaches should listen to players carefully, so they are aware of the individual player's body fatigue signals. Arm fatigue is the leading cause of injury, which usually inhibits any chance at reaching one's maximum throwing speed.
Many factors inhibit the player's ability to throw faster, with a lack of genetics being one of those. Of course, one never knows what their genetic ceiling is until they put in the long-term effort to reach their top speed. Once players have done sufficient throwing and fully mature physically at the high school level, they will have a good idea of their maximum throwing potential, within a few miles an hour.
First, coach baseball players to warm up correctly, with gradual increases in speed and distance, as the arm loosens. Many injuries occur, often unbeknownst to the player, from throwing maximum speed or close to it before the arm and body are ready for that rate. Additionally, extra time should be given for warming up in colder temperatures.
Along with the correct throwing fundamentals, players need a consistent throwing program to reach maximum throwing speed.
The throwing program should include high-speed throwing, with long-toss as one of the best options for this. Pitching is maximum throwing, so that counts as top speed throwing, too. One must allow for the proper rest periods following those maximum throwing days. Coaching supervision is always crucial for observing players mechanics during the throwing sessions, as any bad habits or overuse will lead to injury or the lack of success of the throwing program.
The throwing program should be at least six months in length, but no more than nine months, and should include at least three days a week but no more than five days of throwing. Throwing during the baseball season counts towards those months, of course.
Coaches should check for proven extended distance toss programs and adhere to pitching charts on pitch counts and rest periods. Just winging it with things like those often lead to arm issues.
There is no way a player can reach their full potential to throw the ball harder than by developing the entire body. Like most things in sport, the power begins with the big muscles of the lower half and core, so it is paramount to teach baseball players strength development and conditioning. Coaches can research some basic body wight exercises that players of young ages can do and use the last 5 or 10 minutes of practice for such conditioning. The best chances of keeping a players' arms healthy is with maintaining overall body strength.
As with all coaching, it is mandatory to condition the player's thought process. That begins with teaching them patience because there will be ups downs, and plateaus along the way. Helping them remain hopeful is crucial and trying to coach them to not limit their potential is key. For example, players may set a goal of a 5 mph increase in speed when much more is possible.
After playing major league baseball, Jack Perconte has taught baseball and softball since 1988 and offered valuable coaching training too. He has helped numerous youth players reach their potential, as well as having helped parents and coaches navigate their way through the challenging world of youth sports. Jack is one of the leading authorities in the areas of youth baseball training and coaching training advice.All Jack Perconte articles are used with copyright permission.
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