Flick of the Wrist: Pitching 101

Written by Michele Wheat

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Children playing baseball and softball can enjoy these exciting team sports during the spring and summer, but as fun as these events can be for both boys and girls, there is some risk of injury, especially for those who pitch. Overuse injuries are common, affecting shoulder and elbow joints. Kids who throw too much during the season may experience pain with movement or even reduced movement when comparing the throwing arm to the non-throwing arm.

Injury prevention is an important part of children's baseball and softball coaching. When players prepare to pitch, coaches should teach proper mechanics for pitching, focusing on control and accuracy. A proper warm-up is crucial before jumping into throwing pitches. Players should stretch their muscles and gradually begin throwing the ball before moving into pitching wind-ups. Kids who pitch should also be allowed to play other positions in the field. Pitch count limits are effective for reducing elbow and shoulder injuries. A pitch count limit is a maximum number of pitches a pitcher can throw in one game, and this should be combined with rules setting a required amount of rest time between pitching appearances.

Arm injuries are prevalent among youth baseball and softball pitchers. Elbow pain is a common complaint for pitchers, mainly stemming from overuse. Doctors have coined the term "Little League elbow" to describe one injury that tends to happen to young pitchers. This injury involves the growth plates at the inside of the elbow, and it happens due to the stress placed on these growth plates. Pain and swelling are the main symptoms of this elbow injury. Shoulder injuries are also typical for youth athletes. Similarly, this injury has been dubbed "Little League shoulder," and it involves stress on the arm bone near the shoulder. With this shoulder injury, stress leads to a widening of the growth plate, which causes pain and swelling at the shoulder. Softball players also are at risk for tendinitis in the elbow, forearm, or wrist. The windmill motion used by softball pitchers can be damaging to the entire arm, from neck to wrist.

The use of proper pitching mechanics for baseball and softball is vital for success and to avoid injuries. By learning these fundamentals, youth pitchers can enjoy the game, exhibit good control over the ball, and stay healthy. The following sequence of body movements should be used in every pitching motion.

  1. Starting Stance: Stand with the body squared off to the plate. Keep feet shoulder-width apart with the pivot foot in front of the rubber and the free foot slightly behind. Keep hands at mid-chest with the pitching hand and wrist deep in the glove. Keep the eyes on the target.
  2. Wind Up: Initiate the delivery with a hand pump and rocker step at the same time. Next, pivot by placing the pivot foot parallel along the front edge of the rubber.
  3. Leg Lift: With the pivot foot in place, rock forward into the leg lift. Keep the knee bent with the leg hanging freely straight down and weight back to maintain balance.
  4. Maximum Knee Height: Move the knee higher to the maximum knee height, thigh higher than the parallel point to the ground. Keep the back leg firm.
  5. Stride: Move into a forceful side lunge from the back leg to the front leg. As the lead leg moves downward, break apart the hands and take the ball out of the glove to initiate the throw. Move the throwing arm down, back, and then up into the cocked position. Move the gloved hand forward and upward toward the batter.
  6. Stride Foot Contact: Land the stride foot flat on the mound with the knee over the ankle. The throwing hand should be at about head height with the arm extended slightly farther than the elbow and the wrist back.
  7. External Rotation: Square the hips, trunk, and shoulders to the plate with the arm cocked.
  8. Arm Acceleration: Lead with the elbow, forearm, and hand, moving forward to release the ball. The hand should move parallel to and then cross in front of the trunk and face. The wrist snaps back to a neutral position as the ball releases. Flex at the waist over the front leg.

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