Loose arm whip is absolutely critical to pitching fast. It’s not a stylistic choice; every single elite pitcher whips her arm, regardless of how she was taught to follow through after the arm whip takes place. Some lucky windmill pitchers begin whipping their arms within the first few days of learning; it just comes naturally to them. To many, however, it does not come naturally, and in those cases I believe teaching the arm to whip is the hardest thing for a young pitcher to do. BUT, it’s not impossible. It’s a long and arduous process that requires a lot of dedication and patience, but it’s not impossible. For those who are trying to learn arm whip and aren’t quite getting it, or for those who have learned a different way to pitch and are now trying to switch to the arm whip, I will compile some resources that you can use to help get the job done.
Understanding the Mechanics of the Whip
The key element in the arm whip is the involvement of the elbow. Just as the elbow begins to lead slightly before snapping the forearm (and, as a result, the wrist) through during an overhand throw, so must the elbow lead the arm down the back of the circle before kicking the forearm and wrist through during the windmill pitch. Think of it as an overhand throw, just upside down.
The vast majority of pitchers who do not whip their arms do one of two things instead: they lock their arms perfectly straight throughout the whole circle (usually finishing with their arms high up over their heads), or their elbows point back toward second base while their hands lead them down the back side of the circle, setting them up for a “hello elbow” / elbow-to-the-catcher finish. I have never seen a serious softball player throw overhand using either of these methods, so take heart in the fact that you / your pitcher CAN whip; it’s just a matter of incorporating what the arm does naturally during the overhand throw into the underhand throw.
For diagrams of arm and hand position around the circle, take a look at this article. This is probably too much information for a young pitcher to digest, but it’s important for the parent or instructor to understand what to look for.
Here is a video explanation of the whip mechanics (we call it “forearm fire”):
Keep in mind that Coach Phil is breaking down the motion slowly in a way that it can be seen, and so his arm is not very limber. For a realistic example of what the whip should look like, check out these videos of Yukiko Ueno. Her arm whip is amazing!
Drills and Methods for Getting the Arm Whip
There are two methods for teaching arm whip. The first is my preferred method, and I think it should always be attempted before resorting to the second.
The “Feel It” Method
Whether the pitcher in question is getting the whip naturally or not, the whip is natural. What she’s doing instead is fighting what her body wants to do naturally. The way to solve this is to get her to relax, stop thinking, and remove the association of “pitching” with the action she’s trying to accomplish with her arm.
The first thing you can try is having a loose, easy underhand catch. Alternate one overhand throw, one underhand throw, trying to get them to feel really similar. Speed and accuracy don’t matter at all here—in fact, they don’t matter at all until the whip is achieved on a consistent basis. If the pitcher can’t help but stiffen up to try to throw strikes, have her throw by herself into a wall, fence, or net.
This is a really good drill for feeling the whip too:
Once the feeling of the whip is introduced, speed up the G-flop drill and introduce a full (but isolated) arm circle without a catcher. The pitcher should just focus on throwing into a wall/fence/net as hard as possible. She can even do it indoors with a ball of socks or a beanbag, something that has a little weight to it. The catcher can be re-introduced once she’s whipping every time without thinking about it.
The “Break It Down” Method
The Feel It method is ideal, but it doesn’t work on everyone. In other cases, you may have to break down the whip piece by piece.
Again, the elbow involvement is the critical piece. Have the pitcher stand close to a wall/fence/net and perform the isolated Forearm Fire movement that Coach Phil demonstrates in the above video in super slow motion. Starting with the arm reaching back, very slowly bring the elbow all the way into the hip before flipping the forearm through past the body. Once this elbow involvement feels natural, gradually speed it up, and eventually progress to the drills in the Feel It method.