Guest Post: The One Trick That Can Make You a Better Pitcher RIGHT NOW!

Today we are very fortunate to have the first of several guest posts from someone with a tremendous amount of firsthand experience in windmill pitching and the game of softball in general. Jillian Schonberg went to Villanova University as the number one NCAA east coast pitching recruit in 2007, and now she’s a physical therapy graduate student at Harcum College.

You’ll hear us talk a lot at Fastpitch Power about how we don’t like to teach “tricks,” but rather we insist on proper, healthy mechanics and hard work, even if it takes longer to get where you want to be. Nonetheless, there IS one thing you can have that can make just about any pitcher noticeably better without changing anything else: a fabulous catcher. A good catcher is invaluable to a pitcher, and a good pitcher-catcher relationship is integral to the success of a team. Jillian is going to share her wisdom on the subject.

The Pitcher-Catcher Dynamic

If you go to a softball game, or watch one on TV, all eyes (and even the camera) are always on the pitcher. She is the one in the 8-foot circle in the center of the field, and she is the one that starts each and every play. Granted, a pitcher has the ability to make herself great by working hard, building strength, and developing different pitches. However, what really takes a pitcher to the next level is the relationship she has with her catcher. Most people attribute the effectiveness of a pitcher to the speed of her fastball, or the movement of her off-speed pitches. What most people fail to realize is that without a truly skilled catcher behind the plate, the pitcher would be significantly less effective.

When we think about catchers, we think about their ability to catch pitches, block wild balls, and throw out insanely fast runners stealing from first to second or second to third. While these skills are important, they are not what make catchers great. A truly talented catcher is great because of her knowledge of the game, and her ability to make decisions based on her understanding of the pitcher, the fielders, and the batters. Only with a truly skilled and knowledgeable catcher will a pitcher ever be brought to her true potential.

During both my high school and summer ball career, I was pretty successful. Yes, I threw at 70MPH, and had great movement pitches, but I was also lucky enough to have a catcher that was truly unbelievable. She had a great arm, a great glove, and a fantastic ability to block any wild pitches. However, this was not what made her such a pleasure to throw to. The reason I was so effective was because she understood me, and she understood everything that was going on in every inning during every play. She knew what pitches I liked to throw, and she knew what pitches worked for me and when.

What really made her amazing was her ability to call pitches. She never took signs from the coach, which is what you see in most softball games. Instead, she learned to call her own pitches based on where each batter was standing, and where the players on the field were. She would watch foul balls and make different calls based on where the ball landed. She understood what kind of pitch should be thrown and why, simply by watching the other players, and that is what made her great.

I remember a big game we played at one of our Tournaments over the summer. We both played for the Morris County Belles, and we had gotten matched up with the Worth Firecrackers, a highly respected and highly ranked gold level team that ended up going to the nationals on television with the Virginia Shamrocks. I had never faced a team like them before. Their coach had turned all of the batters into lefties, and I must admit that I have always had trouble pitching to lefties. Naturally, I was a bit nervous going into this game, because the team was so well known and there were so many college coaches watching. My catcher knew that I hated pitching to lefties, and she understood what I needed to do to be effective during that game. She watched each batter and changed her spots so that I was throwing pitches that made me comfortable, while still throwing off the batters. I ended up pitching one of the best games I’ve ever had that day, and it was all because my catcher understood me. In fact, a college coach came up to me after the game and said, “you two were DYNAMITE.” Catchers really have the ability to make us pitchers look better, and important coaches take notice.

In short, here is my advice to all players and coaches: If you want to be a great pitcher, make sure you have a great catcher. Because I promise you, when you have a catcher that understands the game, your pitcher will be ten times better.

About the author


Jillian Stephens is a former top ranked east coast NCAA pitching recruit. She graduated from New Rochelle High School and Villanova University. She played gold level softball with several teams including the Virginia Shamrocks and the Morris County Belles prior to college, and continued to play Division 1 softball at Villanova. She was a student in physical therapy at Harcum College in Pennsylvania, and is familiar with injuries, rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning. She also instructs in Phil Schonberg's pitching clinics and gives many private lessons in the Philadelphia area.

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