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Is a Pitcher who “Experiments” More Likely to be Successful?

Several weeks ago, I was participating in a conversation on a softball message board about pitchers figuring things out themselves through experimentation. There is a lot of valuable information that can be gleaned from this idea of “experimenting,” so I wanted to share this with all of you here as well.

We at Fastpitch Power are extremely confident that the pitching mechanics we teach will give the vast majority of pitchers the best possible chance to succeed. However, as I’ve mentioned before, there is no “one size fits all” windmill pitching motion; if you watch the Women’s College World Series or international play, you’ll probably notice that every elite pitcher pitches a little differently. This is due to the variety of strengths, weaknesses, body types, etc. among athletes, and it’s totally normal. Experimentation is an important part of the learning process for a pitcher (or any athlete) if done intelligently. However, too much experimentation, or the wrong kind of experimentation, can be detrimental. How can you tell whether you’re helping or hurting yourself? We’ll discuss good and bad kinds of experimentation today and hopefully that will become clear.

What Does Not Qualify as Experimentation?

While it’s true that you may have a particular strength or body type that allows you to pitch effectively in an unconventional way, there are certain elements of windmill pitching mechanics that are consistent among almost all great pitchers, and should be adhered to for health reasons. For example, if you have a strong forward lean in your motion, you are certainly pitching below your potential velocity, and you’re putting yourself at risk for injury. Insisting it works for you when your coach may be trying to correct your posture is NOT experimentation; it’s laziness. Don’t confuse the two.

What Types of Experimentation are Unhelpful?

Changing your pre-motion unnecessarily: This is a little tricky; on one hand, you may have problems with your pre-motion, in which case experimenting with different pre-motions could be very helpful. However, this isn’t what I mean. I’ve seen many pitchers, especially young pitchers, constantly change their pre-motions hoping that will fix all their problems. Really, as long as you’re loading properly, the pre-motion has less effect on the rest of the pitch than you might think. Changing it in this case is more superstitious than helpful, and can actually screw up a developing pitcher by altering her timing. If you’re uncomfortable and need a better rhythm, or you’re getting yourself in a bad starting position somehow, by all means change it up. But if you just faced a pitcher with a different backswing last weekend and she threw a bit harder than you, that’s not a good reason to change what you’re doing.

Losing patience and trying too many things: Let’s use the change up as an example here, though it could apply to lots of things. You’re learning a change up for the first time, beginning with the push change. You struggle with it for a while, and switch to the flip. You struggle with that, and switch to the knuckle. You struggle with that, and switch to the shovel… and so on. Then you keep bouncing from one to the other because none are working out. Before long, several years have passed and you still have a lousy change up. It is very possible that the first grip you try of a particular pitch may not work well with your hand or your body. That’s for you and your coach to determine together with careful consideration, and it’s OK. Generally, however, you want to try to settle on a method and really work at it; otherwise you end up practicing too many things and mastering none.

Examples of Helpful Experimentation

Playing with your routine: Let’s say you typically practice three days a week and play on weekends. Maybe you work on everything every time you practice. Maybe you like to focus on speed one day, movement the second day, and batter situations the third. Try different practice models to see if one has a greater effect on your weekend than another. You can say the same about your warmup routine before games. If you tend to give up runs in the first and then settle down, maybe you need to experiment with adding more to your warmup. If you fizzle before the end of the game, maybe you need to throw fewer warmup pitches, or tweak your game day nutrition.

Tweaking your grips: So much of the success of a movement pitch depends on its spin, and its spin depends on the action of your fingers and the feel of the ball in your hand. It’s important to understand how the ball is supposed to spin and how you can achieve that spin, but once you have that down, shifting the ball around in your hand slightly (as long as it keeps the integrity of the pitch) can help you get a better feel for it. Everyone’s hands are a different size, and what’s important is that YOUR fingers are pushing off the seams in a way that can achieve the spin you want.

Getting out of a bad habit: When you’re stuck in a rut, you have a bad habit to fix, and you know what you’re doing wrong but you just can’t feel it and stop it, sometimes the best thing to do is just try SOMETHING. When you’ve got a habit you can’t break, it means your muscle memory is programmed incorrectly. if you just keep practicing and your pitches don’t feel different to you, chances are they haven’t magically changed, and you’re just continuing to ingrain the bad muscle memory. The first step to changing is to introduce the idea of change to your body. So, do something that feels different. Even if you throw the ball over your catcher’s head, or bounce it, that’s OK! You need to introduce the feeling of change to your body before you expect it to make a major change for good.

Have you ever figured something out from your own experimentation? Share your story in the comments!

About the author

Carly

Carly is a windmill pitching specialist and co-founder of Fastpitch Power. She has coached teams at every level from 10U to NCAA. She also designed and built fastpitchpower.com. Please feel free to leave questions and site feedback in the comments or via our contact page!

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