When we are assessing a new pitcher, details matter. We will even look at her shoes to determine some of her main issues. This surprises people because they think pitching is primarily an upper body function.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at it this way. When a good hitting instructor works with a kid, the main emphasis often revolves around getting the power of the hips into the swing. It is not a hitting or pitching thing. For females, power comes from the legs and hips. Here is an illustration. Have a shortstop try to fire a ball across the diamond with both shoes nailed to the ground, or have your best hitter try to hit homeruns while sitting on a stool. Speed is a combination of hip power and explosive efficiency in the upper body.
If a kid has been wearing the same pitching shoes for a while, I can immediately learn a lot about the things keeping her lower body from being efficient. If she is tearing up the very top of the toes, that means she is dragging with the shoelaces pointed to the ground. Try standing with your “push” foot behind you, laces pointed straight down, with your shin parallel to the ground. Then try to drive it forward. You will feel like you are dragging a piano with that leg. if you try to complete the pitching motion in this way you will feel stress in the hip flexor area, the lumbar spine region, and the shoulder labrum. It has a huge impact on power, speed, location, and health.
If the shoes look like someone took a bite out of the side, right under the ball of the foot, this can indicate as many as six different issues. It can indicate poor pitching posture, terrible use of the back leg, upper body barriers, but many times it tells me she has poor hip mobility and flexibility. We test the hip before moving forward. Trying to fix the problem without checking to see if her body is capable of creating a desired movement is frustrating to her and can be dangerous.
If her landing shoe is rounded, and perhaps a few stitches have torn loose on the outside of the shoe, it is a big indicator of hip flexibility and mobility. She can’t push into the front hip forcefully. Her back leg will be stuck behind her. Trying to force this kid to fire into the front hip with more power is flirting with serious ankle or knee injury.
If her drag foot shows tremendous wear on the side, above the sole and all of the way back to the heel, we know that we are going to have to look at upper body issues, better takeoff technique, and an understanding of how to use the legs. Often this indicates hip inversion, which must be assessed and addressed first, or better technique cannot be achieved.
And, sometimes I just look at the bottom of the shoes. Extensive wear on one side or the other can lead us to test certain strength and flexibility issues. Only then do we look at form.
If we find strength issues, those affecting muscle balance, or problems with mobility and flexibility, we are going to start them on our Strength Program, available on our website. At the same time we will begin teaching proper movement patterns to go along with the strength enhancements they will be making.
Whatever you do, avoid gimmicks like the balance beam if your pitcher shows poor shoe wear. That is extremely risky. Many popular tools force her to make a move she cannot make. A positive outcome is very unlikely. Find someone with the experience to assess the problem and explain it in a way you can understand. If you or your pitching instructor have questions, feel free to contact us.
Footnote: Denny will be conducting the pitching portion of the Lynchburg College Softball Camp on July 14 & 15 in Virginia. We would love to see you. For information: www.lynchburg.edu/softball