Ah, crow hopping. This topic has been causing frustration and controversy among windmill pitchers, softball coaches, parents, and probably umpires for years. MANY pitchers—even many elite pitchers, some of whom you may have seen on television—do it, yet it’s illegal according to the rules of fastpitch softball. Over the next two posts, I’m going to talk a bit about what crow hopping is, what causes it, and how to fix it.
What is Crow Hopping?
I’ve heard the term “crow hopping” refer to two different things in softball. The first one is the exaggerated hopping motion an outfielder uses to set her feet and start her momentum before a long throw. It’s perfectly legal and not what we’re talking about.
The other type of crow hopping, also called “replanting,” refers to a windmill pitcher’s drive-through foot breaking contact with the ground and replanting in a new spot. This is the term used among pitchers and pitching coaches in my region. If you know it by another name, you’re always welcome to leave a comment. We want to be able to explain things as easily as possible.
Since video is a language we can all understand, here’s an example of crow hopping:
The Crow Hopping Controversy
There’s no question that crow hopping in windmill pitching is illegal, yet there isn’t much incentive for an offending pitcher to correct herself. Why? Because from local rec ball all the way up to the best NCAA tournaments, umpires either ignore the rule or call it very inconsistently. If you’ve been watching the college world series over the past few years, you may have noticed that this issue has arisen occasionally.
Some people will argue that the reason it’s illegal is because it gives pitchers an unfair advantage if they can plant their feet closer to the batter. I disagree; I think pitchers who DO crow hop are at a disadvantage. If any of you are crow hoppers who are letting it slide because you’re not getting called out on it, here are some reasons why you should address the issue anyway:
- Not crow hopping is better for the command and speed of your pitch. If you maintain a solid foundation with a powerful drive-through instead of hopping, you will throw harder. Also, NOT jumping closer to the batter puts you in a better (and safer) position to field the ball if it’s hit to you.
- It’s also better for your body. Keeping a firm foundation reduces the chance of injury.
- The umpire may not notice or care, but the opposing coach might, and if the opposing coach brings it to the umpire’s attention, the umpire has a responsibility to look for it and call it from that point forward. And you know the opposing coach is most likely to care when you’re neck and neck in a tough game!
- If you’re thinking of playing in college, prospective coaches may not be as interested if they notice that you pitch illegally, especially if they are trying to decide between recruiting you versus someone else, or starting you versus benching you.
Top Reasons for Crow Hopping
Take a look at this image, which shows optimal all around body mechanics approaching 12 o’clock in the arm circle:
A crow hop would typically happen somewhere around this stage of the pitch. This pitcher is NOT crow hopping; she’s kept her solid foundation, and while her drive-through foot has come away from the rubber, it has done so by gliding across the ground. This pitcher has excellent posture and she will land with a solid front leg, keeping her upper body behind that leg and creating strong front side resistance.
In my experience, the number one reason for crow hopping is a core weakness that prevents the pitcher from achieving this posture, creating that front side resistance, or both. To put it simply, if that back foot has pressure on it, it won’t leave the ground. That pressure comes from the pitcher’s trunk staying back through delivery. If that pressure is alleviated and too much weight/energy is instead shifted forward onto the front leg, the back foot can easily drift up off the ground. This frequently begins to develop in young pitchers who have become advanced in their pitching skills and want to be more explosive, but their bodies aren’t strong enough to handle the more aggressive motion.
This issue can take a number of forms:
- A forward lean throughout the duration of the pitch
- A forward lean or bend in the waist during the delivery
- A lunging posture upon landing
…and others. Some are obvious; if the pitcher is leaning right from the start, you can clearly see that the center of her weight is shifted away from the back leg, allowing it to come up. Sometimes the cause will be less obvious; video or pictures of the pitcher might indicate good upper body posture during the hop, but if there is any breakdown of the posture or the front leg after landing, it’s still possible that her energy/weight could have been in the process of transitioning forward at the time of the hop. It takes tremendous core strength to create solid front side resistance, and it’s likely that a pitcher with this issue may need to supplement her pitching practice with strength training in order to overcome her crow hopping.
I personally feel that this posture/balance/resistance issue accounts for most crow hopping, but there can be other causes. They could be present together with the aforementioned core strength problem, or they could be the sole cause. Here are a few:
Turning the push foot during the load. I discussed this at length in a previous post. This can cause a number of problems, and crow hopping can be one of them. The most common result is the pitcher will drag way too much of her foot, often the whole side, along the ground. However, sometimes the pitcher’s body will anticipate this and try to avoid it by hopping, readjusting the position, and replanting. Foot turn is also the result of weakness, particularly in the hips and legs as well as the core; if the pitcher isn’t strong enough and/or well aligned enough in her legs to support a proper load and push off, the foot will begin to turn in an attempt to support the weaknesses. See this post for a more in-depth explanation.
Jumping up off the rubber instead of pushing out. This is an issue that is more common in younger pitchers (or slightly older beginners) who don’t really understand what the explosive push forward off the rubber feels like. After they get the hang of pitching a little, they will be tempted to become more aggressive, and some might jump off the rubber—sometimes straight upward— because jumping is a familiar feeling.
Having a “hitch” in your overall motion or your arm circle. This is a bit of a “which came first?” situation, because the hop itself is likely what causes the hitch in the motion. However, it’s possible for the hitch to become an ingrained habit, and the pitcher may need to work specifically on smoothing out the motion after she has addressed any possible core strength issues.
What I mean by “hitch” is this: I tell my young pitchers to count to 3 in their heads when they pitch, and match their motions up to that rhythm. One is the rock back, two is the load forward, and three is the whole rest of the pitch, smooth and fast. When a pitcher has a hitch in her motion, it’s like she’s pitching on a 3.5 or 4-count, where one and two are the same, but three is the front side of the circle to about the top (including the crow hop), and four is the rest of the delivery.
So, the moral of the story is work on your core strength!! Next week, we’ll take a look at some pitching drills you can do to address the ingrained habits the stem from crow hopping and hopefully eliminate that hop for good.