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Top 10 Tips Every Youth Pitcher Should Know

1.) Be an athlete and GFF (Go Forward Fast!). Ask yourself this simple question, “When does a player throw harder; pitching or with a crow hop from the outfield?” The obvious answer is with a crow hop from the outfield because you are more athletic and are able to create more momentum. The key to maximizing your velocity on the mound is creating a similar momentum while keeping your direction moving towards the target (the catcher). Dr. Tom House says, “When the whole body gets moving forward and the front foot hits, that weight transfer turns into energy translation, and that energy is going to travel up the body, into the arm and into the baseball,” House also says, “The arm is just along for the ride. But if you don’t get moving forward as quickly as possible, you’ll recruit strength out of sequence, or have movement out of sequence, the energy is not going to be efficiently transferred from your body into the baseball.”

2.) Have a proper pitch grip that you have practiced. This seems like such an elementary point, but a lot of youth pitchers lose velocity and accuracy by having an incorrect grip. Many youth pitchers (even when attempting the most simple four seam grip) throw a palm ball with all four fingers (since their hands are small) on top and thumb on the bottom and this can hurt accuracy tremendously. Other youth pitcher are guilty of gripping the ball too loosely with their wrist being "floppy" at release which also affects accuracy. Dr. Tom House says, "to keep the wrist firm, you need to recruit strength from the fingertips and the forearms, and if you’re an 11 or 12-year-old, you may not have that strength yet. So you have to cheat by setting your wrist and forearm angle in your preset to recruit what strength you do have, and then squeeze the ball hard."

3.) Learn to pitch with a changeup. Pro Baseball Insider says, “The fundamental purpose of a change up is to deceive the hitter and change his timing.” Other than a well-located fastball, the ability to throw a change-up is the best pitch a pitcher can throw. Throwing a changeup will actually increase the perceived speed of the fastball because it gives the hitter a different speed with the same arm action and spin on the ball to account for. For youth pitchers, throwing a changeup helps give you a pitch to throw when you're ahead in the count and possibly low in the zone to induce a swing and a miss (chase swing). A well-located changeup is as effective as fastball "on the black" because it unnerves the hitter and his ability to time his swing with the changing of speeds.

4.) Dominate decision counts. Pitching to dominate the count helps pitchers from walking hitters while staying aggressive to keep the hitter guessing. The difference between 0-1 versus 1-0 and 1-2 versus 2-1 is about .200 in terms of batting average points. You don't want to try and be too fine in decision counts! This will lead to pitching "from behind" and becoming more predictable to the hitter. Attack the hitter in decision counts and stay ahead (to help keep the hitter guessing)!

5.) Never get beat on an 0-2 pitch count. An 0-2 pitch count gives the advantage to the pitcher. This is not the time to challenge a hitter with a pitch belt high out over the plate. The hitter is guessing on an 0-2 count and that expands the hitter's zone of what he will swing at which means the best weapon for the hitter's over-aggressiveness is to pitch outside the zone to try and get the hitter to chase. If the hitter doesn't chase, it's still 1-2 and still in the pitcher's favor. If the hitter does chase, their mechanics typically will break down and they'll swing and miss.

6.) Listen to your arm and know when to rest it. Pitching injuries are generally avoidable. Injuries can be prevented or minimized if a pitcher listens to their arm and is honest with themselves and their coach. Pro Baseball Insider says, ”So there’s a lot of things that go into youth arm care, a lot of it is education, a lot of it is common sense, but we have to understand that this is about development. It’s not about winning. Once these kids get to high school, that’s when winning starts to mean something." Pitching at the youth level should be about developing that player and not overusing pitchers (especially when youth pitchers are often underdeveloped physiologically). The golden rule is to rest and not risk it if a youth pitcher has a sore arm, follow a team-prescribed pitch count, and adhere to rest and recovery after pitching.  

7.) Learn how to field the pitcher's position. Once the pitcher delivers the pitch, they become the fifth infielder. There is little attention paid to pitchers fielding. Mistakes and errors made by pitchers in the field often show up in high leverage positions in the game. Certain situations for PFP (Pitching Fielding Practice) should be rehearsed in team practice so pitchers know when to cover first base or back up third base or home on a ball hit to the outfield.

8.) Condition the correct way. Pitchers are not football players and they are not long distance runners. They should not train like them. Pitchers need to train their core to be explosive, their legs to be powerful, and their pitching muscles (throwing arm) to be durable. Pitchers should not lift heavy in their chest and shoulders, and they should not run long slow distances. The vast majority of training should take place in the same energy system in which the athlete will be performing. Pitchers perform repeated explosive movements with rest between each movement and their conditioning should correspond to these movements. 

9.) Have good posture. A pitcher should focus on having a good, athletic posture over being "balanced" on the mound. There used to be a buzz word in the word "balance" when it came to pitchers being balanced, but this is a misnomer for pitchers to focus on because balance leads to stolen athleticism. As Cornerstone Coaching Academy says, "Balance is a very static idea, and there is nothing static about pitching." The word “posture” better describes what a pitcher needs to do to be athletic and move freely. “Balance” indicates that they will be stopping at some point. Develop good posture as a pitcher and be athletic and go forward faster in your pitching delivery!

10.) Build a repeatable pitching delivery. The ability to throw strikes and locate really comes from having the ability to repeat an efficient, mechanically sound delivery. The only way to repeat a delivery is to practice it over and over again. Using a software that tracks pitching mechanics such as Mustard or Rapsodo can help slow motion record pitchers and help them see what they are changing in their delivery (so they can better repeat an efficient delivery). Pitchers should practice their delivery while doing flat ground work and drills that build in repeatable muscle memory they can repeat their delivery.

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