What’s Wrong With Being a Beginner?

In a fast pace world, we are always thinking ahead and thinking what’s next? We are searching for bigger and better things. I think we can all say at one point or another that we have fallen victim to this. I especially notice this fast-forward thinking with pitchers and pitchers’ parents. Not many pitchers are ok with being a “beginner” pitcher for very long (usually less than a year). They are ready to move on to the next pitch or the next “level.” It’s that rushing before mastery can get them into trouble…

The beginning months and years for a pitcher are CRITICAL to the longevity and success of her future career. Beginning months should include LOTS of reps and drills working on spin, release point, balance and understanding the pitching arm circle. Ie. boring stuff for both parents and young players (I get it, I’ve been there). Too often, the foundational drills get glazed over like brussel sprouts in a buffet line.

Pitchers think that just because they have learned (not mastered) the beginner drills that are critical for a foundation and they have done them a couple of days in a row, that it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.

It’s just not true. You build that foundation by focusing on rep after rep after rep of the SMALL details.  The foundation you are aiming to build comes from muscle memory of doing these beginner drills relentlessly until you can do them in your sleep with the correct MECHANICS – not just looking at the result of ball or strike.

Too often when young pitchers are more focused on the result of balls or strikes or strikes, they let their mechanics go by the way side. They begin aiming the ball, not snapping the ball. Aiming results in slow speeds and less movement. By trying to throw strikes without solid mechanics, to keep the ball low for a strike, they lean their body forward instead of adjusting their release point and staying tall. Those are quick fixes in the game in order to get a result they want – a quick fix strike. Those mechanical quick fixes are not helping to build a foundation worth anything in years to come.

I am a HUGE advocate for starting a pitcher with months and months of drills, and in the first few months not even pitching from full distance/full circle (to an 8-10 year old, I know it sounds like a real life nightmare, but it’s worth it!).

I think getting the reward of pithing from full distance should be earned.

Getting to pitch from full circle is like a present! If you do the hard work, then you EARN your way back after mastering the progression drills. Pitching from full distance is the goal ahead…the end point, not the start point. Think of doing a crazy calculus problem, you’re not going to start with the problem, and then jump right ahead to the answer. You have to do all the little steps that make tape 30 min-an hour to get the answer to ONE problem.

It is very rare that I come across a pitcher and parents who are patient enough to put in the time to just focus on drills and not succumb to the pressure of wanting to move on to full pitch too soon. I love the idea of mastering one drill before you move on to the next progression drill. Master those progression drills before you pitch from full distance. Often pitchers and parents want to jump right into pitching from the full distance and aren’t willing to put in the foundational work that is done in the FRONT of the pitching rubber.

That foundational work is where pitchers can find REAL success later down the road.

The easy way out is to skip all the drills, or you do them, but not really DO THEM correctly (aka going through the motions to make your parents/coaches happy). Building a solid foundation takes more effort, which is why not everyone is going to do it. The true colors come out of the work ethic of a player and if they are willing to put in the time for the SMALL things that make BIG successes down the road. And let’s face it, it also is more work for the parents. The parents will need a better understanding of what mastery of a drill looks like. They will need to be knowledgeable about pitching and they should study pitching. This will help a pitcher know whether or not to move on because if the PARENT knows what the mechanics are supposed to look like, then they will be able to hold the pitcher back or encourage her to move on once the drill has been mastered with correct mechanics.

I’m not sure where the hurried pressure stems from – if the parents are getting pressure from the players or if the players are getting pressure from the parents. Maybe it’s the parents getting pressure from the coaches or the players getting pressured from their friends. Just like in life, we are always looking for the NEXT thing, I see the same thing with young pitchers. It’s almost like the pitcher gets bored with drills (similar to a hitter doing tee work). Every pitcher just wants to throw full distance and every hitter just wants to hit front toss or off of a pitcher only. They don’t want to do the DRILLS that are going to make them great down the road.

Think of this real life house foundation example that is comparable to a pitcher’s foundation:

A home starts with a concrete foundation. Before anything goes on top of that foundation, the foundation has to be SOLID and made sure it is poured correctly, because once you start to build a home on top of that foundation, there is no going back and fixing it. I’m sure the guys who pour the foundation would love to just find a piece of land and start pouring with little to no instruction, but those guys have to take their TIME to know ensure that foundation will be done right. A house with a compact foundation is a safe house, and one that will last forever. A foundation that is rushed and not done the right way may end up getting a crack in it. Thus, the house loses its value and it’s unstable. A home foundation that is not done correctly may look really good in the beginning, but years down the road, eventually the foundation will suffer and the overall house will suffer. It may look pretty and really good instantly, but then years down the road the truth comes out as time passes.

A pitcher has a mechanical foundation that is very similar to a house’s concrete foundation. It should not be rushed. A pitcher may be able to get by at first with rushing through the beginner drills and paying little to no attention to forming a solid foundation in the beginning years of pitching. Eventually, that poor foundation is going to get exposed the older the pitcher gets – whether it’s through not being able to learn new pitches because of incorrect body position due to poor mechanics or maybe that pitcher never gains more speed because they wanted to rush too quickly and not learn the proper leg mechanics. Also, years down the road, it will be MUCH harder to make mechanical corrections because of poor muscle memory when a coach is trying to work with you (just like trying to go in and fix the foundation of a house because so many things are sitting on top of the concrete foundation). I also see that those who rush through the beginner drills are those who stand out in 10u and 12u, but then they don’t get much better in 14u, 16u and 18u. (I am NOT saying this happens to EVERYONE, there are always exception to the rule). You have to ask yourself what is your long term goal? If you want to pitch in college, then you need to put in the foundational work NOW, not put it off until later, because LATER it will be MUCH more difficult to fix.

Before you move on from a drill or learn a new drill ask yourself these 2 questions. (Please remember, the answer must be yes to BOTH of them, not just 1 of them.)

  • Can I do the drill and throw 9/10 as a strike?
  • You can throw them as a strike, but are you doing that drill with the CORRECT MECHANICS? (have a check list made by either the paernts or pitching coaches so that there are expectations of the pitcher that she knows she needs to have)

It’s good if you can throw strikes – that’s the most important part of being a pitcher – being able to locate the ball where you want it. HOWEVER, if you are wanting to be a successful pitcher and pitch for years and years down the road, you must be able to throw strikes AND have correct form. Too many times form is sacrificed to throw strikes, especially in a game.

Always remember where you want to end up YEARS from now, not just next week. It’s so important to keep that in the back of your mind. Do you want to be the pitcher getting all the innings in 10U and 12U? ….or do you want to be the pitcher getting all the innings in 16U, 18U and in college? When I do these college softball games on TV, we definitely are not talking about a girl and the success she had in 10U or 12U. In fact, I can’t say that I have ever mentioned anything about 10U or 12U.

What are you rushing for? Is the reason that you are rushing and blowing past foundational drills more important than your daughter’s future softball career in high school and potentially in college? It can be hard, but focus on the future by focusing on the NOW at practice. Be aware of the future and have goals, but be present and understand each day a little pitcher’s foundation is growing. I can tell you right now, a pitcher is NOT measured by how quickly they can say they started to pitch from full distance or by how many pitches she has. Years down the road when your daughter is trying to make JV or Varsity, one of the questions at tryouts will not be, “So how many weeks and months did it take you to get back to full pitch?” Are you as a parent willing to show patience with your daughter and not RUSH her? Are you as a parent willing to not be pressured by the drills getting “boring” and instill in your pitcher that these drills are what are going to make her GREAT down the road? Create tenacity. Create work ethic. Create mastery.  Pitching will be full of drills from the beginning until the end. Hitting will be full of tees from the beginning until the end. They’re not going away, so a pitcher needs to learn to appreciate them and understand their importance!

ENJOY every moment of being a beginner at something. The beginning of something only gets to happen ONCE. Why rush through it? As a parent, take time to learn the DETAILS of pitching so that you KNOW whether or not it’s time to move on and you have a better understanding of the mastery of each drill. Ask questions of what to look for at lessons and google pitching drills and information online. If you are going to be her coach away from games and lessons, then it’s important that you have a foundational knowledge of what needs to be happening. You guys can learn it together.


 

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Amanda Scarborough

My mission is to motivate, influence and help young softball girls in a positive way. I look to not only improve their softball skills, but also touch their lives at the same time. Welcome to my website, a place where I share my passions and illustrate this mission. Explore, find inspiration and be challenged.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • You are 100% right, but then the kids and parents are seeing the recent posts of Tennessee getting verbal commitments from 8th graders and makes us all question are we doing enough? Are we not doing it fast enough? Should we be playing travel ball at 6 so she can be ready by middle school? We need consistency in the message from the leaders of the sport!

    • Scott, I think you are so right and it’s a huge problem. Every college coach I talk to mentions early recruiting and injuries as the two biggest ongoing macro-level issues in their game, not just softball but a number of sports. All of them say they don’t like recruiting girls so young but that if they don’t the best girls will be committed by the time they offer. At the same time, I see girls committing before they step foot in high school because the college they like has the same school colors as their middle school. Parents are rushing to get their kids on to the best travel teams at early ages because if they don’t they fell as if their child will be left behind. Late bloomers are becoming more and more rare because they aren’t in the “system.” One of the top 5-10 travel fastpitch programs in the country (Beverly Bandits) said just this week that from now on they will only be taking players groomed inside their own program from younger ages. I commend its founder for doing that but I think he’ll have difficult competing at the level he’s been competing without bringing in top players from other programs, although I am cheering for his success with this new model. This program usually gets bashed for “stealing” players from other programs. Today it’s getting bashed because kids not already in the program won’t have the opportunity to play for one of the nation’s best. Yet, the unsettling part of it is that if your child isn’t in the program by the time she’s 10 she won’t be in it going forward, thus the “race” that Amanda is trying to stall.

  • what a great article Amanda!! My mentor way back thought me these things as I use them to this day in my pitching clinics, I give a hand out to every parent so they know what to work on with the young ladies. So glad you posted this!

    Thanks for all you and the Package Deal do for the young ladies across the nation and Canada?

  • Hi Amanda. Just wanted to say that this article is great. Actually, all of your posts that I have read have been great. My biggest pet peeve, and as a mother of a daughter one of my biggest fears, is that kids these days are too rushed – especially in sports. I agree with you 100%. The amount of times that a kid wants to learn a curve ball, before they can even throw a fastball is amazingly high – and what’s even more incredible, is that they are seemingly encouraged. Parents and coaches have to stop looking for the “best 11 year old softball player”. Kids need to have fun, learn the basics, go through those basics in real time versus slow motion (aka “aiming”) and…. Last but not least, have fun again! It is a game, after all. Growing up the umpires would make ME go chase the ball after I threw it OVER the backstop about 50 times per game. I wouldn’t alter my mechanics for a strike. I just wouldn’t. And I was young. I wasn’t “good” yet. But I refused to “shorten” or “slow up” for the sake of a strike. There were times when I even did a half windmill…. Like in practice – to get my body right…. We need more long-term thinking – as you so wonderfully highlight. I love that you are doing what you are doing and delivering the message that you have been delivering. Never had the chance to go head-to-head with you in college (I pitched at OK-State until
    2003), nor even get a chance to watch you play much. Wish I had. Thanks for putting out great content, for giving softball players a place to get solid information and for helping those girls and the game.

  • Great points. My 9 year old daughter has been training all winter throwing into a pitching pad. She has improved both her speed and location dramatically. We use a lot of the drills from the pitching video you did with your friend in Texas. I finally had a chance to catch my daughter in the back yard last week and every pitch she threw was frame-able. It was a great moment with no one around except me, her and her little sisters. I was proud of the way she worked and improved in the off season. No games needed. Then reality hit, I know once the season starts and games begin they will be fewer of those special practicing moments. We will play too many games and too many tournaments. More teams than ever will attend the endless number of showcases and nationals just to be seen. More young girls will verbally commit to a school they “love” without knowing anything about the coach or program. It really is mind-numbing for parents. In our case we played house league last year but we felt we had to play travel/select this year at 9 years old or get left behind. It is so hard because there are two extremes, house league which is becoming more uncompetitive every year and select/travel which is increasingly hyper-competitive. Our house league plays 12 games and select/travel could play 60-80 in the summer alone. We decided the route to go was to play travel/select in spring and summer and not play any games in fall or winter. Up north all the select teams feel the need to play more games in fall and winter inside domes. The overriding feeling is if they don’t they will fall behind the warm weather kids. We plan to take some time off than train, train, and train in the fall and winter. She wants to play more games because they are more exciting and I am tempted to let her play fearing she will fall behind won’t make the team etc… The world is changing and I hope we are on the right track. Thanks for your great posts.

  • Hello coach I’ve been following you and the gals you work with for awhile. I admire the work you guys do. I have 3 daughters all play ball. Im very fortunate to have talented kids. I do have one that pitches. She just turned 11 and is throwing 50mph constantly. My question is she has started her womenhood. How can I get her to overcome that obstacle. I’m talking the pain/discomfort or cramps and the mood swings that come with her body change. We have a female pitching coach that does a great job but how can I dad/coach not get her off her game. Please send me some feedback you can post this if you wish. I know I’m not the only dad/coach with this. I have read your articles about us crazy dads! Great job and spot on. Hope to hear your input. Thank you coach.

    • It’s just part of the being a girl! I thin the more important part is for HER to realize what is going on and be AWARE of it! This way she can notice it and try to combat it! Also taking some tylenol or advil or midol…your method of choice for her!

  • Thank you so much for these wise words. My 12U “A-Ball” pitching daughter is getting tremendous pressure from her team coaches to throw faster, faster, faster. She meets with her long time (since 9 yrs old) private pitching coach Jocelyn Forrest as many times a month as time (&$) allows. She is determined to have my daughter learn form fundamentals and master basics just as you write about here. She is looking at the long- term. The difference in philosophies from the team coaches (many team coaches, not just current) and you (and Ms. Forrest) couldn’t be more at odds. We often arrive at a pitching lesson downhearted and discouraged, however letting go of the pressure to throw faster and seeing my daughter hit spots (inside, outside, rise-, curve, etc….) we leave uplifted and filled with renewed determination to stay the course. Jocelyn reminds my girl ” speed will come, you only get the chance to instill good habits and form once, now… ” It is based, as you state ; on muscle memory. The girls who are being told to throw as hard as they can for strikes may have some success now at 12-14 but as they advance they will no longer be able to overpower the hitters with fastballs down the middle, the “daddy- ball” coaches need to learn from the wise women who have been there and are now giving back through instruction. Thanks again!

  • Fantastic article! I have an 8 year old that wants to learn pitching and I’m trying to find the best drills to start with to get her release and wrist snap down. What are your suggestions for 2-3 drills absolute beginners need?

    Thanks!

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