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The pole as a tool for fastpitch softball.

In developing fastpitch softball pitchers, instructors have to be creative and resourceful on both the youth and older levels. The use of "tools" to develop such pitchers (7-18) is my way of creating and maintaining interest for both the player and instructor.

When you have pitchers who have been coming to you for an extended period of time, it is essential to provide them with the necessary motivation to improve and come back.

Too many instructors rely on doing the same thing over and over. Our philosophy at the Extra Innings Academy is to make the lessons as stimulating as possible. We want them to see us as instructors who are always looking for exciting ways to help them become the best that they can be at that skill.

The old-time philosophy of teaching does not always work with the modern athlete. As instructors, we must learn to adapt--not an easy task with pitchers.

This treatise is not about teaching technique. I will interject a little philosophy and / or techniques but that is not my purpose. I want to make the lessons more interesting to the students, get immediate feedback from them on the tools prescribed, without having to explain more than one thing at a time.

The pitching tool I will describe is the use of the pole show in the photos. I have built such poles approximately four feet tall, as seen in Photo 1. I will also show you some of the pitching charts that we use with all the drills.

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Since everyone has seen and / or used some type of chart and net, I will not discuss mine. Anyone interested in the dimensions may contact me (see below for my email address).

Another important point I will mention is that we do not rely on using a catcher for our lessons. If a pitcher wants to throw to a catcher, that is fine but I found that you can get more out of the development of the pitchers by using a chart.

If I tell the pitchers that we are working on a fastball at the 3 on the chart, I will know if they hit the 3 or not immediately. Catchers will move their glove to catch the ball, and that can give you a false sense of control.

What is my opinion on giving lessons? Either way, catcher or chart, it is your choice. I also feel that repetition is important. So we have a shopping cart that holds hundreds of balls. Having a catcher throw the ball back wastes time. I believe in getting in as many pitches as possible. So we empty the cart before picking them up.

Back to the use of the poles in our lessons at Extra Innings. We had our poles made, but you can be creative and use the materials available at your facility or house. When I first started, I used some of the items that I am about to suggest.

You can put a pole into a cement block or use a base from a Christmas tree and attach a broomstick in it.

You will find an advantage in time and convenience to make something that is easier to move back and forth and right to left. It takes me only seconds to move the apparatus during the lessons. Being able to move the tool quickly and easily makes the lesson go smoothly with less loss of teaching time.

There are many ways we use the poles in our lessons from beginners to the advance pitchers. I will cover the ways we use it with the beginner or intermediate thrower first. We do not use these poles for the beginner who is still trying to develop her delivery, nor do we place too much emphasis on control early in the learning process.

I like to start using the pole as soon as the picture can hit the mat over 75% of the time with decent velocity. This will depend solely on the individual pitchers' ability.

The poles are great for the thrower who has some control but is not ready for pinpoint placement. This will help the pitchers to start working on inside / outside locations. I place the poles right down the middle of the targets. I don't like my pitchers to throw down the middle.

When they "bang" the pole with the ball, they will know that they threw down the middle--the feedback to the thrower is immediate. The goal is to throw left or right of the pole, but land on the mat. As a pitcher gains control, I move the pole over to the right or left, see Photo 2. This will allow them to work on throwing inside or outside with more accuracy, but will still allow a margin of error.

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In my future articles I will discuss how we use other tools to develop more control with pitchers. This is just one of the earlier steps in developing confidence in delivering the pitch to a specific location of the plate.

I use the poles in different ways for the more advanced pitchers. First, I do use the poles with my advance pitchers as a warm-up tool. This is the same drill as the beginners. I like to have them throw alternating left and right side. This makes them feel comfortable on working the corners.

You may also want to use something to simulate a batter. I have used the cheap inflatable punching bag or you can use another pole to make them throw in between the poles if you choose. They must focus in on the target and put the pole and / or the bag out of their mind. This is great training tool.

The second way I use the poles is for teaching the curve ball. I will not address my teaching technique for the curve ball. (If you are interested in learning about my technique, you may email me).

This is not a drill you would use for a pitcher who is just beginning to learn how to throw a curve. Whenever I hear about a thrower who has a curve ball (or any other breaking pitch), I will discover that the pitch is actually a fastball that goes inside, outside, up, or down! I want to see a pitch that "moves" as it approaches the plate.

To teach this you will need a reference point that the pitcher can instantly see. The pitcher has to be able to see that the pitch breaks at some point and lands at a spot that is different from that at which it started.

This is not an easy task--for the pitcher to throw or the instructor to teach! I start by setting the poles about halfway down to the target, slightly to the right of center for right-hand throwers and opposite for lefties to develop the curve ball.

I do not start too far off center or too close to the plate or they will not have a lot of success and get frustrated.

The goal of this drill is to pick a spot, or place a number just left / right of the pole, depending on whether you are working with a right or left-hand thrower. The pitcher attempts to throw a ball that will go from the right of the pole and land on the left side of the pole on the mat. (See Photos 3-7).

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As a pitcher becomes more efficient in their delivery of the curve, you should move the pole to the right first. When a pitcher is able to throw the curve ball faster, you will want to move the pole closer to the plate.

Important thought: By "faster," I mean more rotation on the spinning ball. I use the terminology of RPM's (revolutions per minute)--you can obviously use your own jargon in relation to the rotation of the ball.

Velocity is very important in breaking balls, but the faster the ball spins the better your ball will break and it will break later. This will make the pitcher understand that the ball should break as late as possible.

I try to get the pole within 10 feet of home plate and lined up just off-center. This will teach the pitcher to throw an inside curve--a pitch that starts at the batter and breaks back toward the plate. You will move the pole depending on the level of the pitcher you are working with.

After the pitcher masters the first location on the curve ball I like to move the pole to the left for the right-hander and the opposite for lefties. I then start working a breaking ball that starts in the middle of the plate and breaks outside the zone. You will want to start over with the teaching progress.

Start the pole halfway down toward the plate and in the middle. Work to 10 feet away from the plate and make the ball land on the outside numbers. It is very important for a pitcher to learn to throw a curve ball that is inside and outside.

I like to teach my students to throw pitches for strikes and balls. The curve ball is an excellent pitch to throw out of the strike zone for a ball. Do not work on just throwing strikes.

For the pitcher who has command of the curve, you will want to make the pitch location more specific on the mat--high and low.

The third pitch we work on with the poles is a screw ball (I call it "runner"--a pitch that runs (breaks) opposite the curve ball). I like to teach this pitch after the curve ball is mastered, but that is up to your philosophy.

You set this drill up the same way as the curve ball, but this time, instead of working a ball that breaks toward the mat or your target, you want the ball to break away or inside at the batter.

You will want to move your pole inside, right for right-handers and left for left-handers and closer to the plate as they develop the speed to make the ball break.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned something about teaching fastpitch pitching. As instructors, we must understand that it is up to us to create a positive learning environment that also increases enthusiasm. Don't be satisfied in doing it the old-fashioned way. Look for and create new teaching tools for your pitchers!

If you have any questions, feel free to email me@oocoachhawkoo@yahoo.com.

By Brent Hawkins, Extra Innings Baseball and Fastpitch Academy Evansville, IN

Hawkins was previously the head fast-pitch coach at the U. of Evansville (IN) and at Greenfield-Central (IN) H.S. He has been involved with fastpitch as a player, coach, and instructor since 1977.
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Author:Hawkins, Brent
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:1815
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