*Guest blogger* John “Smokey” Moore breaks down the pitching wind-up for kids.
Coach John “Smokey” Moore has been pitching since he was six years old. He grew up playing baseball in Somerville, MA, high school ball in Lexington,MA, and college ball at Roger Williams University. In the 1980s and 90s, John had stints in the Boston Park League for Mass Envelope and in the Intercity League for the Augustine A’s (now Gately A’s) and Elm Supply (Casell Club). After a brief respite, John returned to amateur baseball in 2003, playing in the MSBL and creating the “Toys For Tots” program within the MABL/MSBL . He has been coaching since 1984 within Somerville Little League, St. Mary’s in Revere,Mass, and also within the gameBoston Jr. Rams AAU program (U12). John also serves as a pitching instructor at in Woburn, MA.
Teaching Young Kids How To Pitch
When teaching the aspects of pitching for kids it is important not to teach them too much early on. I compare this to teaching a 9 year old Calculus when in fact they need to learn about simpler mathematics first. So after 24 years of coaching and teaching kids about pitching, I have found it is best to keep it simple until they are a little older and ready to be finely tuned as a pitcher. There are 5 steps of pitching that can be used to teach the most important and basic pitching technique. I feel early on for kids it is all about balance and alignment. This will enable them to “throw” more consistent strikes. My motto is accuracy first and speed second when dealing with younger kids/pitchers!!
Step 1……The Step Back
Your heels should be in the middle of the pitching mound, arches on the front edge of the mound and your toes on the dirt. Doing this while standing up and not bending at the knees has worked best with feet together. The pitcher should take a “baby step” and rock back about 6-12 inches on your glove side.
Step 2……The Pivot Foot
The next step is your “pivot foot”. For a right handed pitcher you will pivot your right foot so it is parallel and in contact with the rubber while standing on the dirt. The opposite for left handed pitcher – it is the left foot that needs to pivot and be parallel to the rubber. Most kids at an early age will have that foot on top of the mound or half a foot on the mound / dirt. This is a no-no because it will throw off their balance when starting Step 3 and of course most Little League fields already have a pretty good size hole in front of the mound so we don’t want the pitchers to “fall” off the mound.
The pitcher lifts his leg (not swing or kick the leg) towards his back shoulder but not coming past the pitching mound. Both shoulders should be on a straight line to the target and the catcher. Hands should be somewhere between the shoulders and belt buckle usually around letter high on a baseball uniform. That back leg or “post leg” should be slightly bent with the pitchers weight on the toes/ball of the foot – not the heel. In order to obtain a proper balance, most kids should be able to hold this position without becoming unbalanced for a good 30 seconds. When practicing this step, they should wait a good 1-3 seconds before getting ready to stride and release the ball.
Step 4……Stride and Release
Extend your arms in line with the target and then step toward the target line with the landing foot. Pitching arm now comes over the top with the index and middle finger pointing to the sky (on top of the ball) and the thumb pointing to the ground (bottom of the ball) to extend the arm, then over the top to the release point while tucking the glove in. You will find a pitcher is “opening up” without the “tuck in” and will use his arm more than he should. Also, it will throw off the alignment towards the target because it will cause the pitcher’s head to move to the outside to obtain more power.
I have always found that the release point should be a few inches to a foot out in front of your face. Early release of the ball will cause a high pitch and often if a release point is too far in front of a pitcher then that ball will hit the dirt before home plate. In any case, a pitcher and a decent coach will “find” that release spot for a particular pitcher. The landing foot should still be in alignment with the target and should be flat on the ground toes pointing towards the target, not on the heels or toes while releasing the ball. It is also important for the throwing elbow to be even with the shoulders when landing on that front foot.
Step 5……The Follow Through – Finish
A lot of young kids who pitch normally finish with their throwing hand next to their waist, where a front pocket would be. The problem with this type of finish is the pitcher does not get the lower body involved and will usually pull their head outside of the intended target. The finish position should have the throwing hand “below” and “outside” the landing knee.
The pitcher starts in the “balance” position with shoulders and nose on line to the target. Glove shoulder will be in front and throwing shoulder behind. As their hands break and the pitcher’s weight goes forward, their head must go in a straight line towards the target. Again, at the finish the throwing hand is “below” and “outside” the landing knee.
These 5 steps will help a young pitcher to develop accuracy and be a more consistent pitcher. As a pitcher gets older and starts to grow into his body, more advanced techniques can be applied to these steps.