The number one query that brings folks to this site is PITCHING DRILLS. So I get it, you might be a new coach and you know baseball and you know how to hit and you figure how hard can it be to teach some kids to hit? You throw to them and eventually they’ll hits. Of course you’ll show them the right stance, and all of that.
After doing this for 20 years that I have some tips on how to teach hitting, but you are probably right, you can teach hitting. The truth is that if you work them a lot on a batting T, good things will happen very quickly in most cases. Feel free to check out some of the hitting drills on the site as they do help.
Now for pitching — so you probably weren’t a pitcher — if you were you wouldn’t be googling “pitching drills.”
So what on earth are you supposed to tell a 10-12 year about pitching? Don’t worry I wasn’t a pitcher either — here’s what I have learned in 20 years of doing this:
Most leagues have a draft to try to scatter the pitching talent around and if you know baseball you are going to get yourself a couple of strong arms in the first couple of rounds of the draft as you know baseball revolves around pitching so you and everyone else will gobble up the 10-15 strong arms in a league of 100-150 kids (numbers may vary but you get the idea).
So you you want pitchers to rotate and you have to play 6 innings, so you can survive on 2 pitchers going 3 innings each. This does work and if you can get your strong arms to throw strikes which you probably can, then you’re set for a good season.
The catch — a bunch of other kids want to pitch. So they’ll ask and you’ll want to let them pitch and now what do you say to them when they heave it over the backstop a few times or can barely get the ball to the plate? How do you answer “can I pitch?” when it’s asked 1000 times and you are pitching just two pitchers.
To show you my evolution as a coach, my first season I ran two pitchers the whole time, won a ton of games and was proud of myself. My most recent season I was a little above 0.500 and 8 out of 12 kids pitched and all 8 threw a bunch of strikes.
I have to admit it was probably more fun to mow down other teams with two aces, but at the end of the day, its not really a youth baseball coach’s job to mow down other teams with two aces. You are supposed to be developing players. How do you know that the short 10 year old who can barely get it to the plate isn’t going to grow to be 6’4” and blast it?
Over the years I have seriously studied pitching mechanics, as I wanted to get more players to pitch and throw strikes. Its hard work, but it can be done.
I have a lot of drills on the site and my book goes through the mechanics but the thing I have learned is that the reason kids have strong arms when they are little is that they happen to be a little more coordinated than others. The whole body is used for pitching. The lower body plays a huge role and if you can get the lower body involved and if you can get kids to pitch the same way every single time they throw a ball good things happen. What you see if they throw a ball and they suddenly change 50 things.
With a new season approaching, tell yourself you want at least 5-6 kids to pitch but promise yourself you won’t put them in a game until they throw strikes in practice. Just pitching kids to pitch them is nice, but it’s not fair to all the other people who have to watch ball after ball sail over the backstop.
If you only away only one tip, it’s to bring a 46’ rope to practice so you can set up kids to throw 46’ to a catcher in the outfield. They don’t need a fancy mound to learn mechanics. They do need to know the real distance and they need to throw to a clear target.
- I like to pair each pitcher with his very own catcher. So they throw to the same person all season long. Figure that out early and stick with it. They build up a rapport with a catcher and good things happen.
- Have pitchers throw from 46’ away at a tennis wall —those practice walls for tennis often have a nice horizontal line at a good height for a strike. Tell them to hit the line 5 times out of 10 or they aren’t pitching for you. They’ll throw endlessly again the tennis wall and they’ll self correct.
- Recognize that pitching has a huge mental aspect. You have to focus and kids who can’t focus just can’t pitch. If they are wandering around and take three years between pitches don’t let them pitch. They need to work quickly, as the defense will fall asleep.
- Remember that first pitch strikes change the likelihood of a hitters success. Work hard on first pitch strikes.
- Do the same thing every time. Have a whole routine for pitchers, whatever you like but they do it the same way every time no matter what.
- Do not coach them during the game. You can have a cue if they are doing something that you have worked on in practice as in “Hey remember to get your arm back” but so many coaches come up with a grand mechanical improvement during a game. Resist the urge. There is no way a kid is going to really learn a mechanic and execute it in a game. There’s too much pressure and too many eyes on the kid and just forget it. Teach pitching in practice and repeat it so much that its just second nature in a game. Recognize that to do this well you need special pitcher/catcher practices where all you do is pitching and catching. You don’t need a field for it —you can use any grassy area that you can get to. Spend time on pitching and it’ll pay off.
- Use pitchers the same time all the time. Tell them, hey, you are going to be the guy who pitches the first two innings. You will do the last inning. You will do inning 3 and maybe 4 if you do well on 3. But let them know when they’ll pitch they’ll have it in their heads and be ready to go.
- Warm up pitchers. So many coaches yell over and say BOB, GO PITCH. And the kid hasn’t thrown in an hour. Big surprise the first 3 batters are walked — the kid is warming up while he’s on the mound. No no no. Have a plan, to sit the kid on the bench the inning before he pitches and warm him up the inning before. Have an assistant coach whose job it is to make sure warmup happens.
- Do not overwarm up pitchers — 20-25 pitches is the max. And they don’t go 100% when they are warming up. So many kids wear out themselves in the bullpen.
- Get the team to really support the pitcher — if he throws a ball get the team to give some encouragement.
- Teach the pitcher that if a player makes an error, they have to just live with it and not jump on the player or show obvious signs of disgust. This is where a pitcher can easily alienate their whole team very quickly. It destroys team chemistry and usually results in a long and miserable season. If you see a pitcher do it in a game and you have told them about it, take them off the mound fast.
- If a pitcher is not throwing strikes try someone else. My rule of thumb was 3 walks in a row and they were gone and i didn’t care who they were. I’m someone that just can’t handle giving the other team a free base. I’m fine if they beat my team, but walking them is basically handing them the game. They aren’t winning, you are just beating yourself. Who needs it? I’d rather lose by them crushing the ball.
- Do not let a pitcher convince you to leave them in the game. You are the coach. Just tell them “hand me the ball.”
- If a pitcher is crying on the mound, please remove them from the game soonest. Calm them down and tell them they are done for the day. Do not berate them publicly, but talk about it in practice and how we can’t go around and show the other team they have gotten to us.
- Tell the pitcher if someone crushes a ball over the fence kindly go ask the umpire for a new ball and act like nothing has happened. This will often build confidence over time.
- If a pitcher hits a batter tell them to go shake their hand. That being said pitchers are often really worried about hurting batters and you have to tell them that its just no way for a pitcher to live. Just shake their hand apologize and move on, but don’t let it ruin the whole day and turn the pitching into someone who is just lobbing the ball.
- Teach pitchers how to cover home on a wild pitch. Many youth games hinge on wild pitches and runs scoring off them. Practice frequently and have the catcher learn how to toss it right to the pitcher’s glove and teach the pitcher how to make the tag.
I started and thought I might have 4-5 tips, but you can see they just start flowing. The bottom line is that if you are reading this site in the pre-season and you are concerned about pitching — it means you are probably going to have a fantastic season as you are a coach who cares.