The Fastpitch Softball League Pitching Dilemma
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The Pitching Dilemma in Fastpitch Softball Leagues has to be the NUMBER 1 challenge for youth fastpitch softball. The challenge is to get at least one player that can throw strikes for every team. Yet, the development of this skill is quite slow and time consuming. So as a league, how do you address this problem?
Without question, your fastpitch league must be proactive on this issue. Most new coaches have no idea how great the pitching challenge is going to be. Having coached Little League baseball in the past, I assumed pitching a softball would be on the same level of difficulty as baseball. I couldn't have been more wrong. In baseball, pitching the ball and throwing the ball are relatively the same skill and motion so all of your players develop some level of ability by just naturally throwing the ball. However, in fastpitch softball, the two motions are opposite. Throwing is overhand and pitching is underhand. None of the players EVER throw the ball underhand, so there is zero natural development of a player into a fastpitch pitcher.
It's a coaching issue
Wrong! I have heard this on numerous occasions - "The coaches need to spend more time with their pitchers". That's a nice thought but it won't solve this problem. My guess would be that less than 5% of all youth softball coaches have the knowledge to teach this skill. Most coaches are men, which means they've never pitched a softball underhand, and of the women that are coaching how many of them played the position in their youth? My guess would be about 1 in 9. The only conclusion that can be made is that the vast majority of league coaches are completely inadequate to teach this skill.
Step #1 - Promote Lessons & Clinics
The softball league MUST organize ongoing pitching clinics. This really should be easy. There are probably several private coaches in your area that would jump at the chance to put on group clinics. First, this is an opportunity for them to make a little extra money. Second, it's an opportunity for them to develop ongoing paying customers. And third, almost every private softball instructor really has a love and passion for the game.
If you are concerned about lack of participation, put some incentive into attending the group clinics. Every girl that comes to the first clinic gets a free t-shirt. Every girl that comes to the second session gets a free league pin. The girl that attends the most clinics gets new Ringor cleats. Or have a drawing after each clinic and give away a free private lesson. Give away a coupon for a free ice cream at Braums. Be creative and you should be able to find something that fits your budget, but DO SOMETHING.
A single clinic before the season starts is NOT adequate. I strongly suggest these clinics start as early as possible and should be held weekly until at least the season begins. Preferably, they would be held weekly throughout the season.
In doing group lessons the cost should be pretty minimal on a per player basis. Most private instructors charge $25 to $40 per hour. Divide that by 10 players and it's very affordable. The league probably will not be out of pocket any money, but they may need to help out by providing the facilities to hold a large group. Most certainly, the softball league needs to actively promote the clinics and provide incentives.
When selecting the instructor that is going to lead the group clinic, DO NOT get caught up in the argument about who is best for the position. Give all of the instructors an opportunity to hold clinics. The more involvement in your league from a greater number of private instructors is a Good Thing that will only help to better serve your league in the future.
I can't write an article about softball pitchers without also mentioning the
protective mask. As a league, you should always have the safety and well-being of your players first and foremost. League sponsored pitching clinics are a great opportunity to introduce the players and parents to this piece of safety equipment. Did you realize Baseball/Softball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in children, and the highest incidence occurs in children 5 to 14 years of age?
Step #2 - Private Instructors
Promote your local private instructors. It should be a simple exercise to compile a list of local private pitching coaches. Then publish that list on the league web site with contact information. Further, email the instructor list to all of the coaches as early as possible and send reminder emails on a regular basis.
Step #3 - The Strike Zone
If pitching in your league is weak or if it is weak in a particular age group, I would point this out to the umpire-in-charge and talk about having a loose strike zone. It's painful and boring as a player, coach, and parent to have to suffer through watching a walkfest. There just aren't many things more pitiful than watching a little 10 year old girl try to throw strikes and the umpire has a tight strike zone. Shins to shoulders and a full ball width on the corners of the plate. Watching girls walk does nothing to enhance the game. Young hitters learn to not swing, fielders go to sleep, pitchers lose confidence, and parents become disenchanted with the game.
The overall weakness of pitching in youth fastpitch softball leagues is a common problem. The answer is to be proactive. This is one area where the league must make an investment of resources and time to develop a winning softball league.
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