“DIY” Pitching Mechanics for Parents, Coaches, and Young Pitchers
Baseball season is here and with the more pitches that are thrown this early, the more elbow and shoulder injuries we see. We see a ton of pitchers here at SSOR and we find that we’re helping them with the same things. Yes, many kids have a “pitching coach” already, but we’re not here to teach kids when or how to throw a curve ball or situational pitching. Our expertise is evaluating the mechanics of the pitching motion to ensure that key aspects are done properly as well as to make sure that the young athlete has the appropriate mobility, length, and strength to make an effective, efficient pitch with as little injury risk as possible. The nice thing is that there are some basic things you can do right at home to help your son. Word to the wise – do not work on these things during the game. Game time is not the time to work on mechanics.
“THE BALANCE POINT”
Achieving the balance point is critical. The pitch comes down to balance, timing, and direction. Many kids have poor balance, either from being gangly from growing too fast, being too tight, poor posture, or from a history of lower extremity injury, like ankle sprains. Or, they may just have poor balance in general. Without achieving a proper balance point, it throws off the timing of the pitch.
This is an easy one to work on. Have your pitcher stand on their drive leg in place and just hold their knee up. They should be “silent” in their stance. The nose, belly button, knee, and the instep of the stance foot should be in a straight line and the posture should be upright. See figure 1 below.
THE ARM PATH
There are lots of ways pitchers get to their “cocking phase.” Unfortunately, many of them have an arm path that leads to injury. After withdrawing the ball from the glove, it should follow a “down, back, and up” or “scooping” motion for optimal mechanics, as in the video clip below (“Arm Path”). Rotating the arm downward (Figure 2), known as the “inverted L” is a major problem for shoulder and elbow injuries. Practicing the arm path can be done in a mirror. Notice as well that the throwing arm hand in the video is turned towards the middle infield or “pronated.” The pronated position effectively “coils” the forearm to improve velocity moving forward.
Most kids stride way too short and try to “muscle” it to the plate using their arm for everything. Ideally, they use their plant leg to decelerate the arm and trunk motion. A shortened stride leads to a straighter knee and lots of stress to the back of the shoulder.
The proper stride length is roughly 85% of the pitcher’s height, give or take a few % points either way. You can practice this by putting two pieces of tape on the floor and having them practice striding. See figure 3 below. Additionally, the plant leg knee should have an angle that is roughly 125-135°. Related to the stride length, if the pitcher strides enough and uses their plant leg to decelerate the pitch like they should, they can avoid many of the injuries we see in pitchers. The “knee angle” should be about 125-135°. Now, most people don’t have a way to measure this like we can, but you can see in the photo roughly how much knee bend the pitcher should have in the lead leg.
Without the proper stride length and knee angle, young pitchers can get lots of shoulder pain, specifically the back of the shoulder. Many of them, as stated above, struggle to use their lead hip to decelerate the pitch. The hip is a better mechanism to “brake” the body – obviously our glutes are larger than the muscles in back of our shoulder. See the video link below (“Follow Thru”). Basically, you can use a chair, get a big split with the correct knee angle, and work on the follow through motion.
So many kids and/or their parents tell us that their son has a “pitching coach.” We credit parents trying to reach out to others with more knowledge to help their boys maximize their innate abilities. That said, many pitching coaches don’t understand biomechanics and movement dysfunction as well as how to correct aberrant movement patterns. This is precisely why the sports physical therapists at SSOR are your first choice to complement their pitching coach’s instruction.
Give us a call if your youngster is having pain or even if you want someone to look at them from head to toe to make sure your boy is able to get the most out of his sessions. Remember, you can see a PT in Kansas now without a physician referral. Give us a call, it would be exciting and a privilege to help your son achieve his goals.