Offseason Tips


By Cheri Kempf, NPF President and Commissioner
November 19, 2009

Well, here it is once again, offseason training time. As an instructor, this is my favorite time for training. It is the time for the athlete to make the largest strides toward improvement and enhancement. Ironically, some of our over-enthusiastic coaches have almost diminished this vital training season, by making year-long playing seasons. They have turned everything into “in-season” training, overlooking the valuable properties of offseason and preseason training periods. 

That being said, be sure pitchers have this opportunity in training when targets, locations, and mistakes are not the issue. This offseason training opportunity is the time to take one or two big steps forward in development, and remember in doing that, the athlete will have to crawl before they sprint. Not only is this OK, it is an important part of the learning process. Here are three primary areas for pitchers, coaches, and instructors to be focusing on during the offseason.

1. Check Mechanics – Do the Tune-up and Maintenance Check 

Pitchers should evaluate their mechanics throughout the season, but that is not always as easy to do as you think. Also, you may not have the opportunity during the competitive season to break the motion down enough to do the things necessary to get back on track. You have to keep going with what you have if you are in the heat of competition. However, the offseason is the time to lift the hood so to speak and take a close look at what is going on under there.

In pitching in particular, things such as tight follow-throughs, side-stepping the power line, posture adjustments either forward or backward, and balance issues can easily creep into the motion during the competitive season for any number of reasons and often times they stick. The offseason is the time to get rid of these problems and get the proper mechanics back. The best way to do this is through video analysis. If the coach or instructor is capable of doing this, then that is perfect. It’s best to record from multiple angles for assessment. Any way you do it, you need to know what the problems are and what to focus on in repairs, so that you are not increasing the severity of the problem, but instead fixing the problem.

Once you have identified weak areas or problem areas, be sure to focus a bit of time in each workout to correct the mechanics that were a bit out of kilter. By being consistent and diligent with your work, you can probably eliminate most of the problems in simply warming up correctly and doing some self checks throughout your workouts.

2. Speed Development 

No better time to get yourself into a speed workout than in the fall. Many years ago, we tested the over and under weighting ball program at Club K that had been tried and tested in baseball. Tom House and Coop DeRenne had focused a study on different training regimens using heavy and light balls. Their research in baseball had proven conclusively that over and under weighting in an organized manner did increase speed in most pitchers. So, under the advice of the biomechanists from the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., we added and took away 20 percent of the weight of a regulation softball for our heavy and lights. We added a few pitches to the workout overall, since fastpitch pitchers usually work at higher overall pitch counts than baseball pitchers, and we put it to the test ourselves. That was more than 12 years ago. The results we had then are the same as they are today and are the same as Tom and Coop found in baseball – the over and under weighting works! It effectively adds speed and power to pitchers if done correctly.

The plan is eight weeks long and requires the pitcher to workout with the plan three times a week for the duration. Again, it’s best to record from multiple angles for assessment. If you want to make your own kit, that works too, but just be sure you stay within the suggested 20 percent variance. (A regulation softball is between 6.25 and 6.75 oz.) There are a lot of weighted balls on the market right now and many of them are inappropriate to pitch with a full circle. Be sure you are using the right equipment! You can also find the eight-week workout in my book, The Softball Pitching Edge. (If none of that works, e-mail me and I will send you one.) There are two things necessary for the weighted ball plan to work. Number one, you have to stick to the workout and do it for eight weeks. The second point is, you have to pitch as fast as you can with no emphasis on control every single pitch. 
So, this is an excellent plan to add speed. I like this workout because it is structured. The Australians have added an interesting addition to the workout by employing a tube sock. That seems to work also, but is just a little more difficult to explain in this article. Fixing mechanical errors and increasing effort without emphasis on control can also help add speed overall to the pitcher.

3. Add a Pitch or Add a Variation to a Pitch

No better time than the offseason to add a pitch to the repertoire. Start from the beginning and work spins first if you are learning the drop, rise, or curve. Be diligent with this and work to get the spin right before backing up. As you begin to make progress, look for triggers that help you feel the correct movements. Tossing a spin at 10 feet away with no arm circle is very different from throwing full speed at 40 feet. Often times, the body will default to familiar positions at full speed, thus making the correct spin impossible.

When adding pitches, for beginners, after speed and learning to throw directions, consider a change-up or a peel drop ball. This will depend on how hard the beginner is pitching speedwise. If she is on the slower side, work the peel drop and get a little tail on the pitch at the end. This will go a long way towards success. If the pitcher is quicker, then a change-up would be the most effective pitch to learn next. For pitchers who are established with a simple drop and change, think rise ball (possibly turnover drop) and curve ball.  Moving the ball up and down in the strike zone will always be effective in making the ball more difficult to contact solidly. For established pitchers who have a good concept of movement. The established pitchers I am talking about are usually in college. For instance, learn to throw your drop, rise, and curve in the yellow zone and the green zone, not just all green. Try to work your curve and screw at different heights to take them off the flat plain that is standard for those pitches.

The main thing is to remember you are training in the off season. Control is not a factor now. Perfection of pitches is not a factor now. Let yourself make mistakes to find the right path with the pitches you may be adding or the mechanics you are trying to repair. Pay no mind to controlling the softball when you are adding pitches or adding speed. There are more important things to focus on. The time to work targets and accuracy is in preseason – not the offseason. Be patient and train with the season you are involved in right now. This is the one where you can make the biggest strides in improving yourself for next year’s competitive season. Get started!

Article from the Little League Website.


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