The best softball pitchers know what it takes to lead their teams to the post-season, and they plan ahead to get there. Here are four pre-season habits that set them up for success.
1. Get in Shape
Your team will go only as far as your legs and arms take them. If you are not following an arm care or conditioning program, you need to begin now. Arm care involves strength training the shoulders, upper back and forearms, along with a long toss program. My personal favorite arm care program is available at JaegerSports.
Conditioning programs should include a day or two of long running (1-3 miles) and three days of sprintwork.
Here is an example of a sprint day:
2. Practice Transitions
Transitions involve moving from one movement pitch to another and hitting your spots. If you don't practice your transitions, you will get in trouble mid-season. You want to be able to throw multiple movement pitches while changing your mechanics as little as possible.
Pitches that require you to dramatically change your stride will cause you to lose your mechanics the quickest. Spend the first two weeks of your pre-season program alternating fastballs and one movement pitch. Use each practice session to work on one or two movement pitches only.
The goal is to throw strikes with each pitch using the same mechanics. If you throw really wild fastballs between movement pitches, you are probably changing your mechanics too much.
Once you get two solid practice days for each of your movement pitches, you can work on throwing movement pitches back to back. Pair pitches that you will typically throw back-to-back in a game—e.g., practice up and down pitches on the same side of the plate, diagonal pitches (low out, up in), and fast/off-speed pitches.
Don't forget to practice for left and right-handed batters.
3. Spend More Time Early On with Spins and Fastballs
Your pre-season should contain more fastballs than you typically throw. This will help you maintain proper mechanics until your first game. Practicing movement pitches too soon can cause a breakdown in your mechanics early in the season, and it's very difficult to regain them when you're pitching three or more games per week.
To improve your movement pitches during the pre-season, spend extra time on your spins to develop strong fingers and gain more control.
4. Avoid Overload at Practice
Many times pitchers try to practice five or more movement pitches at a time. Overloading like this can keep you from developing two to three strong pitches. You end up being just OK at all the ones you try to throw. Instead, focus your practices on the big three—fast, off-speed and breaking the plane. Locating and mixing up these three pitches is enough to keep batters off balance and be successful at the beginning, middle and end of the season.
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