Pitching: A Body and Mind Endeavor
by Becca Heteniak
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” This quote by Robert Collier describes perfectly the hard work that must go into being a great and, ultimately, successful pitcher. The pitcher is arguably the most challenging and time consuming of all positions in softball. Of those girls who decide to take on the leadership in the circle, some excel while others never reach the tough standards being a pitcher entails. The difference comes from two significant aspects of pitching: execution and mental toughness. Good execution is often a result of mental toughness. However, good execution is most notably due to being able to repeat the fundamental mechanics pitch after pitch. The better the muscle memory, the more consistent a pitcher will be, and the way she faces mental challenges in practice will allow her to tackle those same challenges with ease come game time.
Think back to some of the great pitchers through the past couple decades: Lisa Fernandez, Michele Smith, Jennie Finch, and Cat Osterman. From the time when Michele and Lisa reigned and put softball on the map to now when Jennie has just retired and Cat still shines in the NPF, we see two universal similarities: proper fundamental mechanics and mental toughness. When I played at DePaul and worked with pitching coach Cat Osterman, it was impressive to see first-hand the way she utilizes the fundamental form and the mental aspect of pitching to her benefit. I realized that fundamentals and mental strength, accompanied by hours and hours of hard work and practice, are what gives pitchers a foundation for success.
I believe teaching the fundamentals from a young age is important in creating a path of success for pitchers. By promoting the proper mechanics, a pitcher will learn correct body position, arm circle, leg drive, and wrist snap. Having a strong understanding of those important facets of pitching early on in a pitcher’s career will allow her the mental toughness to make adjustments under the pressure of a game situation. I have learned in my experience that an interactive teaching style is more beneficial, especially with young pitchers. It engages the athlete in the process of considering her body position, arm circle, leg drive and wrist snap and leads to better understanding of mistakes and quicker, more useful adjustments. By forcing the thought process to occur, a pitcher will not only build a foundation of better fundamentals but also increase her mental toughness. As she becomes more and more aware of the reasons behind poor pitches, she will understand the corrections and adjust accordingly. This greater understanding will help a pitcher create muscle memory and ultimately become a more consistent competitor.
Having an understanding of the fundamentals is also important as a part of the prevention of pitching-related injuries. Too often now I see young girls sustaining injuries that could have easily been prevented by simply correcting improper mechanics. And frequently these injuries are due to a lack of emphasis on the power of leg drive. As females, we carry the majority of our muscle mass in our lower half. Without the emphasis of increasing leg strength and drive, a pitcher is almost certain to end up with an arm injury.
Today, the focus on picking up speed has become more prevalent. A fundamental look into a pitch tells us that small increases in speed and strength in the proper mechanical form will help to increase pitch speed. Rather than simply trying to throw harder, focusing on increasing leg strength, picking up arm speed, and improving wrist snap through resistance and weight training is a safe and effective way to gradually build muscle and increase speed.
Above all, making sure that a pitcher is held accountable for her pitches and her mental attitude is what will help her achieve success in the game of softball. A pitcher is the physical leader on the field and she sets the tone of the game. If her execution, mental toughness, or a mixture of the two is not at the level it should be, the rest of the team will follow suit. Pushing a pitcher to figure out the mistakes she makes rather than giving her the answers with no thought on the matter will make her more independent and mentally strong. A mentally strong pitcher is most often a successful pitcher. Look back to the great pitchers of the past and present and you will see fundamental pitchers that have a “take no prisoners” attitude. That is how you become a successful pitcher and ultimately win in this challenging game.
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