Overhand throwing instruction in softball is very lacking, and this seems mostly due to the fact that pitching instruction is a different motion altogether.
In baseball, young boys who learn to pitch also necessarily learn to throw properly; pitching = throwing.
But for girls who pitch underhand and throw overhand, there is a disconnect and overhand throwing lessons are rarely sought by parents. Fortunately, we have a few solutions that will get big results — 5 easy ways for softball players to throw harder.
#1: Get The Elbow Up.
The most common flaw I see is a low elbow, and this is because girls are forced to throw a large, heavy ball.
With less relative strength than boys, it’s no wonder elbows drop. Converting a girl from a low-elbow thrower to a high-elbow thrower instantly adds 5–7 mph. This change never occurs “instantly,” however — it takes many months of concerted effort to fix, which is why most will not fix the problem without ongoing instruction and due diligence at home with drills.
The reason low-elbow throwing is so ineffective is part physics and part anatomy. When the elbow is bent at release, the moment arm is shorter, resulting in less torque produced at the same velocity (and thus force applied to the ball). Additionally, when the elbow is low the arm typically, but not always, adducts, making the final acceleration mostly a tricep-extension rather than internal rotation of the shoulder. We want internal rotation, which is the fastest human movement, rather than the must less explosive tricep extension.
#2. Increase Shoulder Stability
We test all our throwers for various signs of instability, and we find positive signs in girls at a much, much higher rate than in boys. One such test is the sulcus sign, which tests for laxity at the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint.
We gently pull down on the shoulder and see if we can elicit a sulcus (slight depression) where the humerus bone pulls away from the socket. We want tight, stable joints that do not allow for excess movement. Shown below is a very extreme example of a sulcus sign.
We don’t see extreme examples like this often (this is not one of our videos), but we do see positive sulcus tests in 70% or more of our females. Loose joints are thought to be “governed” by the body — the body reduces joint speeds in an effort to reduce the possibility for injury. If the body can sense that a joint is too loose to handle stress at a certain velocity, it will simply stop producing extra force beyond that threshold.
We commonly see velocities increase as loose shoulders become stronger and more stable. The increase in velocity is thought to be the body’s allowance because with more stability, higher speeds can be tolerated without dysfunction or potential injury.
Rotator cuff exercises are a great starting point for improving shoulder health, and every girl should be on a good strength and conditioning program to help reduce shoulder looseness and help increase speed, power and throwing speed.
Here’s one of my favorite rotator cuff exercises:
External Rotations with Theraband CLX
Theraband CLX is a new version of the ribbon-like band many people have used in physical therapy. We use them with all of our academy’s teams and the players who train with us in my facility. I highly recommend them, and the red tension is probably the right starting point for young softball players, or green for girls 14 and up.
#3: Stride Farther And Use The Legs
Athletes who are weak in their legs, most specifically in their glutes and lateral hips, tend to keep their legs beneath them more often. We see this time and time again, that weaker athletes have difficulty controlling their body in the air, at high speeds. The stride in a throw across the infield is an example — it’s an explosive lateral step that sends one leg pushing out in the air, forcing the body to stabilize on one, often weak, leg.
The farther and more dynamic the stride, the more forward momentum is produced and the more the hips and torso can help accelerate the arm. The young lady in our camp video below was an example of a under-strider. She did a great job focusing on it and added 4mph in our 3-day softball throwing camp. You’ll see what a difference a more aggressive stride makes in her “after” video.
#4: Throw It Like You Mean It
For us as instructors, finding ways to increase throwing velocity is our way of advertising — everyone else notices it, and happy parents chatter about it. It’s too easy with most girls — we can add 1–3 miles per hour instantly, just by giving them radar gun feedback and showing them on video how timidly they throw. “Finish” on a throw is crucial — we need to get 100% of our shoulder’s available acceleration on each throw and maximize hand and wrist involvement.
Most girls throw timidly, preventing full acceleration and leaving extra miles per hour unused. Just by teaching them to throw with more intensity, we can instantly squeeze 1–3 miles per hour out of their arm without changing or strengthening anything.
The young lady in the video below did a great job and gained 5 miles per hour in our 3-day camp. One of the biggest things you’ll see with her is that she threw with real intent to throw hard in her “after” video.
#5: Learn To Use The Hips And Backside
We see tons of poor backsides — back knees bending and lifting off the ground. We ideally want triple extension — ankle, knee and hip extended. This will not be as pronounced as with a baseball pitcher (because strides will be shorter), but it is still an important element when throwing as an infielder, outfielder or catcher. We don’t want weak, forward-bending back legs — they prevent the chest and torso from pushing forward, increasing good leverage to aid in accelerating the arm. Good footwork is key and sets us up for a strong throw.
Use These Tips! Throw Some Heat!
None of these tips above are complex — they simply require dedicated practice. Almost all amateur softball players lack in 3 or more of the above areas, which means almost everyone has 5+ unused miles per hour lying dormant in her body. Cleaning up mechanics, improving strength and stability and learning to throw with intensity will all pay huge dividends.
Lucas and I recently attended a 16U tryout in which we got radar readings from 50 girls. The average throwing speed? 46–50 mph. Three girls threw 54–57 and one threw 60–61mph — these were the top 8% of the group. We had three D-1 softball players in our Academy, all of which are heading off to college. Their average throwing velocity is 60–65 mph. Do you measure up?
Want More Tips and Drills To Improve Your Softball Throwing Technique and Velocity?
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Originally published at www.danblewett.com on February 16, 2016.