Although my career as a collegiate softball pitcher ended decades ago, I still identify with the sport, because it continues to shape me off the field. My countless hours on the mound instilled the discipline and work ethic I needed not only to succeed at my job but also to evolve into the non-competitive athlete I am today.
Similarly, playing softball made me more aware of the big picture—the power of teamwork, to be precise—since no softball squad can live off pitching alone. Yet I realize now I was only scratching the surface of my potential. Reflecting my own experience, here are four tips you can use, starting today, to be the best pitcher possible.
1. Get into a Pitching Routine
I do not believe there is a magic number of pitches you need to throw per day or week. That said, I do agree that the first year should be intense in terms of frequency in order to attain consistency.
When I started out, I would go to a nearby park every other day and throw 500 pitches (give or take a few) against a metal fence with velocity in mind. Since my control was erratic at that point, it did not make sense to have a catcher. Although this might seem inefficient, it was actually motivating and helpful, because it forced me to focus on precision. (I didn't want to have to fetch balls that went over the fence, but when I did, the extra cardio was probably a blessing in disguise.) Once my coach saw that after months of throwing to an imaginary target I was starting to hone in on the strike zone, we incorporated a catcher.
This method was beneficial because it had a built-in reward system and allowed me to see my development in stages. My advice to aspiring pitchers, based on my experience, is to focus on arm speed first and worry about location afterward.
2. Work With a Pitching Coach
Once I started hitting the catcher's glove consistently, my softball coach periodically took me to a pitching coach. He was intimidating and tough, but I am eternally grateful to him for the things he taught me. He was selfless with his time, generous with his knowledge and firm with his methods. I appreciated him then and revere him now.
I am proof that a good pitching coach can be the difference between becoming a pitcher and simply learning to throw the ball over the plate. A coach can teach you about ball movement and placement as it relates to batters, which is important at more competitive levels. Unlike most softball head coaches, a pitching coach has specialized knowledge and can give you the one-on-one time most pitchers need.
Learn more about what makes a great softball pitching coach.
3. Plan for a Proper Warm-Up
I was one of the fortunate pitchers in the '80s who had few joint, muscle and tendon issues. I attribute my luck to a proper warm-up and a smooth pitching delivery (windmill), one that relied heavily on leg propulsion and wrist strength. (Check out Kansas Softball's warm-up routine.)
I have vivid memories of doing wrist curls in my high school gym. That said, I advise any pitcher who feels discomfort after a game not to ignore pain symptoms. Icing muscles is a great way to prevent injury and speed recovery, even if your pain level is relatively low. Don't underestimate the power of an ice pack and an Advil or two.
4. Research Your Diet
Although I did my share of running laps, sprints and weightlifting repetitions, I regret not understanding the true connection between exercise and nutrition.
Back then, I couldn't differentiate between a protein and a carbohydrate and never questioned the food put in front of me at home. I strongly believe pitchers need to educate themselves before embarking on any diet and training regimen. When I became a vegetarian as a teenager, it affected my energy levels on the mound for a short period. Had I taken the time to do some research, the transition probably wouldn't have been as noticeable, and maybe I would have increased my potential as a college recruit.
RELATED: The Softball Off-Season Diet
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