Have I mentioned how much I love speed work? Oh, and leg drive. Oh, and spin. Okay, you’ve got me. I love everything about pitching. I am blessed to be doing this for about 20 years now (I can’t believe it!) and I look forward to working with my amazing athletes. I love not only hearing their accomplishments, but also helping them in their struggles.
It’s true that I have a reputation for adding speed. I am blessed with having 4 girls commit to some big Division 1 schools within just a few years and they all throw mid sixties. I am so proud of all of the work they have put in and they are obviously reaping the rewards.
But sometimes speed can hurt rather than help and it’s important to know when to actually back off.
Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: A girl takes her first lesson as a 16-year old and is throwing 46-48. She doesn’t have tight rotation on her fastball. She knows a curve and a change up but neither is really very good. Based on her motion and athletic ability, I know that I can make some adjustments and get her throwing 53-54, tighten up her spin, and get her breaking pitches working.
Should I do it?
The answer is probably no.
I know, you are on the floor in shock right now. I will wait for you to get up.
Okay. There you are.
The reason why I would not try to increase her speed is because hitters are used to seeing the ball come in 53-56 in that age bracket. So I would explain to the girl and her parents that, while i can get her to throw harder, it would probably be in her best interests to instead work on tightening her spin and making her breaking pitches work. This way, she will be at a speed that most hitters aren’t used to seeing, and if she can place the ball well and create some weird spin, then she will be just as effective as the girl who is throwing really hard. What we don’t want is to make her just a little faster so that she becomes like a hitting machine in game situations.
Because speed is not synonymous with efficacy when it comes to pitching.
Hard to believe, but true.
The first major thing that you need to address as a pitcher is mechanical efficacy. This helps to prevent injury, but, as a nice side affect it also typically adds the most speed. I have had athletes who have added upwards of 15 mph strictly by working on this one element. Think of it this way: if you were a race car driver, you would spend some time getting your car aligned to make sure it ran its best. Same with your body! After alignment comes speed work (when appropriate), then accuracy, then spin. I never go on to speed work without first making sure that everything is good in the alignment department.
But the example above is not the only instance in which speed work would do more harm then good. So what are some other instances in which it might actually be harmful to add more speed?
- When speed work is creating problems that do not resolve over a few weeks. Whenever I start speed work, I also put a little disclaimer in the mix. I tell my athletes that for the first four to six weeks, speed work might negatively affect accuracy and spin pitches. This is normal until your body adjusts to how quickly it is moving. But if you have spent 3 months on speed and it is making your mechanics a hot mess or you can’t locate the ball at all, you would be more effective without it for the time being and then you can re-evaluate in a few months.
- When you are coming back from an injury. This is a situation in which you must carefully monitor pitch counts and your mechanical efficiency, and speed should actually be a low priority. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever try to get faster again, but doing too much too soon can actually bring your recovery to a standstill or perhaps even re-injure you. Follow the pitch counts prescribed by your physical therapist.
- When speed work makes you tight and anxious. This is kind of a unique situation, but I have seen it more than once, which is why I am bringing it up. I have had girls who threw much harder while doing speed work but find that they work better in a relaxed state and cannot have the two harmoniously coexist. Sometimes this is resolved just by working on the mental game, but pushing too much speed work and intensity with an athlete who throws best when she is relaxed is a losing battle. Better to play to her strengths and let her dominate in the game in her OWN way instead of just assuming that speed will make her more effective.
I hope that this post has saved some of you from expending your efforts in a way that doesn’t best serve you. For some of you, it hopefully has just refocused your efforts a little and allowed you to play to your strengths more. For more great information on pitching every week, sign up for the newsletter at www.flawlessfastpitch.com. Or if you would like to meet me in person, sign up for the Elite Pitching Intensive (or, you know, email me:)).