Teach Kids How To Throw, Pitching Will Come Later
I get asked this question all the time:
"I have a kid who's never pitched before and he's all over the place. Can you walk me through the steps really quick to get him pitching better?"
My answer puts some people off, but it's always something like this: "The very first step is to quit thinking about pitching in steps".
I won't go into the many issues that are being created by kids spending too much time on little fields, too little time throwing baseballs on flat ground, too many "pitching instructors" pounding the mechanics drum, or the "win now" attitude of too many youth coaches.
This article is not about that stuff, but those things all play into the discussion in big ways.
So a coach says to teach a kid to throw before he pitches, what on Earth does that mean? First, here is how the two are different:
- Throwing is how to use your body and arm to send a baseball flying in the general direction of a target.
- Pitching is throwing, with a bunch of other stuff that's designed to get a hitter out. (Location, secondary pitches, deception, velocity, mental aptitude, etc...)
The problem is that too many kids are learning all of that pitching stuff before they know how to throw the ball correctly.
I do a lot of lessons with kids who are middle school age, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them don't throw the ball right. They've been "pitching" for three or four years already, and yet they have no idea how to get the most out of their bodies to throw the ball, or even how to hold a baseball properly.
This is flipped exactly backwards from the way it should be, we must teach kids how to throw properly.
So here's a few tips on how to teach kids how to throw:
- Clean up the game of catch. Kids make most of the their throws (by far) during catch. While I'm not a big fan of catch being like a boot camp drill, it is critical that proper throwing form is used by the players. They take thousands of reps during catch over the years, they're either getting better or worse...make it better.
- Get their bodies moving. It's okay (if you have to) to start warming up close and with a little throwing that doesn't do much with the body. But move passed that quickly, and get them stepping into the throw and gaining momentum toward the target. This doesn't mean they have to throw as hard as they can right off the bat, you can gain momentum and move your body without throwing at max effort. Almost everything they do during catch should involve their legs, hips, and core.
- Replace shoulders. Proper throwing requires a couple things that can be addressed by this: proper alignment to the target, and upper body rotation. The benefits of that rotation would take another article to explain, but for right now just get working at it. The front shoulder needs to start out pointing at the target, and the back shoulder needs to be pointing to the target after the throw. Full replacement, every single throw.
- Fix the grip. There's no excuse for the amount of kids I see that are middle and high school age that don't know how to hold a baseball. Teach every kid a four seem fastball and make them throw it. It's what you want every player at every position throwing; it's straighter, harder, and easier to control than any other grip. Work on getting their thumb below the ball instead of on the side as soon as their hand is big enough to do it.
- Start with strength. The answer to improper balance is not to slow them down so that they can balance. It is to strengthen their legs and cores to the point where stabilization IN MOTION can take place. Kids are not good at balancing because they're not strong enough yet in the places that matter. Slowing them down to achieve balance makes the problem worse, instead speed them up and work on strength and agility exercises. They need to be a controlled explosion, not a statue.
Going along with throwing before pitching is when they should start to learn a curveball and we've written about that too.
Alright, that's all I have for now. If you do those 5 things to teach kids how to throw they will be much better at throwing the baseball. Throwing is first, pitching is second.