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When is the Right Time to Learn Movement Pitches?

I’ve heard a number of parents who are trying to teach their kids windmill pitching ask when is the appropriate age for a kid to learn movement pitches. Similarly, parents of my own students have often asked me when we will move on to something new, and the students are likewise eager to tackle this challenge. Since Coach Phil’s last two videos (which can be viewed here and here) gave an overview of how to utilize the throw zone during movement pitches, I thought today would be a good time to introduce this topic.

So, When Should You Start to Learn Movement Pitches?

Unfortunately, there is no one specific answer to this question. Saying “start at age 12,” just to give an example, is not a productive way of assessing whether or not the pitcher in question is actually ready; every 12-year-old is different. I’ve coached travel and tournament teams whose 12 or 13-year-old pitchers have come to me saying they throw four pitches, when none of their pitches actually do what they’re supposed to do. I’ve coached pitchers who have been successful through high school relying on their fastballs and change-ups with only one occasional movement pitch thrown in. Conversely, I’ve had young students who could legitimately throw four pitches before even graduating to the 12-inch ball. As a coach of any skill or sport, your goal should be to assess your athletes and remember that you’re teaching a student, not just teaching a skill.

Since the answer to the movement pitch question is different for every pitcher, I’m going to discuss how to look for cues that will indicate whether or not your pitcher is ready.

Rules for Determining if a Pitcher is Ready to Learn Movement Pitches

My number one rule is PLEASE BE PATIENT!! The appropriate reason to start learning movement pitches is never because your 9-year-old has already been pitching for a year and she’s bored, or has stagnated. There is ALWAYS room to improve the fastball and gain velocity, regardless of the age of the pitcher, but this is especially true for young pitchers. Now for some additional rules:

Assess the quality of the fastball. Here, there isn’t necessarily a target speed, because that varies too depending on the pitcher’s age and size. The pitcher’s speed should just stack up to her competition. More importantly, the pitcher should be confident in her fastball. What does that mean?

  • She should be throwing her fastball as hard (or harder) in games as she does in practice
  • She should be able to command the fastball and hit various spots with a high percentage of accuracy
  • She should be able to battle back from a count in the batter’s favor

Why is it important that the pitcher be confident in her fastball? If she isn’t, there is more work to be done on the fastball before moving on to other pitches. The movement pitches involve slight alterations of the body mechanics, which can potentially screw everything up if the fastball mechanics are not already solid and consistent. Plus, when a young pitcher begins learning movement pitches, she will inevitably struggle with them a bit. It will help keep her confidence up if she knows she can rely on the fastball in a game situation if she falls behind in the count because she’s missing her movement pitches.

Look at how the fastball is coming out of the pitcher’s hand. It should have good spin, indicating that the pitcher is capable of maintaining a loose, comfortable grip. Poor spin indicates a stiff grip or too much palm on the ball, probably as a result of small hand size. Movement pitches require a tremendous amount of spin, which cannot be achieved with a palmed ball or a stiff grip. If the pitcher has a grip issue, it will be tremendously beneficial to her overall development to get past it before tackling movement.

Start with the change-up. The change-up isn’t typically considered a movement pitch, and most people know that it is generally the next step after the fastball, but if you’re trying to skip the change and move right on to movement, I would not recommend that. Changing speeds is VERY powerful, and most pitchers can make it to high school successfully just with really good command of their fastballs and change-ups. If I’m putting together a team, I’d rather have a pitcher who can put those two pitches wherever she wants than one with spotty command of 4 or 5 pitches any day.

Be wary of teaching a 10U pitcher. This is CERTAINLY not a hard and fast rule; as I mentioned before, I’ve had students who were legitimately ready for movement pitches before they moved up to 12U, so I’m not saying that a 10U kid shouldn’t learn movement pitches. However, you should definitely be wary of it, and take extra care in evaluating the pitcher’s fastball and general mechanics first. Here’s why:

  • GENERALLY, 10U players have small hands. As I mentioned above, small hands can inhibit spin, and having good fastball spin is a must before movement pitches are attempted. If you’re dealing with a 10U kid who is tall for her age, or one who just doesn’t have any problem releasing the fastball well, that’s great. Just check very carefully.
  • Soon she will have to change to the 12-inch ball and move back 5 feet. This is a big transition for a young girl. Many can do it with no problem, but many struggle. I would rather see a kid focus on making this transition maintaining the velocity and command of her fastball and change-up than throwing movement pitches from 35 feet.

If you feel your 10U pitcher is ready for movement pitches, I would try choosing one to work on and at the same time (but separately) practicing the fastball with the big ball from 40 feet. Introduce the movement pitch with the 11-inch ball because it’s easier to spin, but if she seems to be spinning it with no problem, you can try the bigger ball.

What is the Best Pitch to Learn First?

When we run clinics with a large number of girls, we start with the turnover drop. The one we teach shares its grip with the fastball, and the changes in body mechanics tend to be easier to grasp than some of the others, so we’ve found that in a group setting the majority of pitchers can do it. If I’m working with someone one-on-one, I try to tailor my choice to the student’s natural inclinations. Each movement pitch has a slightly different body position and a different spin associated with it, and each pitcher will likely have quirks in her mechanics that will make some pitches come somewhat naturally and others very difficult. Typically, the turnover drop and screwball are a bit easier than the curve and rise. I always teach the rise last.

If you’re choosing your second pitch, consider one perpendicular to your first choice; that is, if you’ve learned a vertical movement pitch (drop or rise), choose a horizontal movement pitch (screw or curve) next, and vice versa.

Finally, remember that few successful pitchers throw 5 or 6 pitches. Most throw 3 or 4 (including the fastball and change-up) really well. I think it’s important to learn all the movement pitches so you can choose which ones are the most effective for you, but don’t be discouraged if you end up discarding a couple of them. It’s normal!

To sum up, if you’re thinking of teaching your kid movement pitches, or getting frustrated with your pitching coach for not teaching anything new, carefully consider these points before making a decision. Please leave any questions 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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