Growing UP Pitcher!
Just the other day, the indoor batting cages near our home were packed to the gills with young girls learning how to pitch. Fall season has recently ended, and it seems that all the girls on the field want to get in on the action that takes place on the rubber.
It’s a beautiful thing. But it starts out so painful. Young girls, usually 10U and below show up at the field to play fastpitch, or teams just graduate from coaches pitch or pitching machine and lose interest in the game because it’s so boring. For a season or two, the game is all about walks, and the team that wins the most is the team that has a young girl who can at the very least, throw the ball over the plate. This is a painful stage in fastpitch softball. Some girls lose interest kicking their toes in the dirt and pulling weeds in the outfield and move on to other sports.
And then there’s the other others who stick it out…. AND WANT TO PITCH!
Moms and dads and anyone else with the patience develops a bucket butt, and spends countless hours ‘catching’ and you get to witness first hand just how difficult it is, and how much time it takes to develop a pitcher. Time goes on. And your daughter/team gets into 10U and you get adjusted to the size of the new ball. More struggles. They pick up speed. You have to nag them to practice. They pick up more speed. They are imagining that they are Jennie Finch! They catch the fever of how awesome it feels to strike people out. Swinging.
In travel ball, the pitching finally gets really good around 12U. If your girl can pitch, and pitch well – chances are in 12U she is a beast. If she has a change-up or drop ball to go with a CONSISTENT FAST BALL, her time on the bump is probably a little frustrating but still tons of fun! She’s a rockstar! A beast!
THEN. Enter 14U.
At 14U, the bats get hotter. The girls are all growing at crazy different speeds. The batters get more disciplined. The umpires get really tight, they want to see control. And, much to the dismay of many pitchers, especially those just entering 14U a fastball is nothing more than an invitation to drill the ball to the fence.
Remember, the pitcher is supplying all the power to the batter. And if you come across a pitcher who has speed, but whose pitching is fairly flat, or who doesn’t have a DEVELOPED secondary pitch that is off-speed, the team is going to be in trouble.
One of the most frustrating things to hear about pitching is people constantly talking about speed. My daughter throws “57 mph.” My daughter is the fastest pitcher in her league. That pitcher is fast. It’s all good in the younger age groups, but in 14U, a fast ball is not going to throw a good batter off-balance.
Growing up pitcher is HARD! And SPEED is not the telltale sign of an adept pitcher. If your daughter is graduating to 14U this season, you will see that a fastball, is EXACTLY what the batters are looking for because a) they know they can time it, and B) they know that they can hit it HARD SOMEWHERE.
The best pitchers have a few pitches that are fully developed. The older a pitcher gets, the more she has to work on her ball spin, and her MOVEMENT! Speed is fantastic, but with all the progress batters are making these days, most can time and launch a fastball. Remember, pitching is timing. Hitting is upsetting timing. And unfortunately, a lot of pitchers moving into higher level 12U and 14U fastpitch get discouraged because they aren’t able to simply blow balls by the batters. They aren’t striking girls out at an alarming rate anymore. If they’ve depended upon a fast ball in younger age groups, they won’t get very far with it as they get older, no matter how FAST it is.
So what is a pitcher to do?
Work on moving the ball. Locating the ball. Work on accuracy. Don’t worry about learning 7 new pitches, but try to perfect a couple. Pitching coaches really should allow girls to get fully comfortable throwing 2-3 pitches WELL before overloading her with 6 pitches that she can’ kinda sort of maybe’ throw for a strike. And by all means, lets allow speed to develop at its own pace and not put so much emphasis on speed. Sometimes, the faster a ball is – the flatter it is. There are certainly the occasional phenoms that can throw so fast for their age that they will blow the ball by most batters, but those girls are few and far in between.
These in between years (middle school) can be difficult on a young pitcher. This is a time when many girls decide to take a break from the mound or quit altogether. But the beautiful thing is if they learn to adapt, and build their mental strength and condition themselves to adapt the ever-competitive arena of fastpitch softball, and are willing and able to learn how to outsmart batters by changing speeds and spinning the ball – their futures will be bright.
While it can be hard to keep a young pitcher encouraged during these struggles – it definitely pays off in the long run! While there are a lot of constant changes for pitchers to overcome, each of them will serve to make her stronger, and better as she gets older.
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