Park City coach breaks down pitching
Ask any first-time softball viewer in Park City what is the most interesting thing about the Triple Crown softball games and it’s pretty much the same answer the windmill pitch. A whirlwind of underhanded arm flinging and sheer power can be enthralling to watch, and according to Park City High School head softball for the past two seasons, Gerry McMillan, even harder to teach.
A couple of years ago, Gerry teamed up with his daughter Andrea, a former collegiate softball pitcher in Hawaii, to write a handbook all about the windmill pitch. The instructional handbook is full of step-by-step instructions, pictures and tips to get the mechanics of the pitch just right.
McMillan is careful to point out that other coaches may have different techniques and ideas about how girls fastpitch pitching should be taught, but he says that he has found great success over the years as a coach in both California and Utah.
The McMillans break down the basics of the windmill pitch into six basic motions:
The Stance The pitcher begins with both feet on the pitching rubber. The heel of the right or left foot, depending on which hand the pitcher throws the ball with, is on the rubber with the toe of the other foot on the rubber.
The set position The pitcher puts the ball in the glove at belly button or over their head. At this point, the pitcher can select a grip on the ball to make it a curve ball, fastball, etc., without the batter seeing the grip.
The wind-up The pitcher then rocks backward slightly, with the body bending at the waist, and draws up the hands against the body, with the ball and throwing hand in the glove.
The forward motion The arms are extended downward and forward. As the pitcher strides toward the plate, with the glove-side foot, the arms begin an upward swing. The momentum of the stride should be enough to drag the back foot off the rubber. The pitcher then lands the ball of the foot, with the foot pointing about halfway to the plate. The glove arm, at this point, should be pointing to the target and the throwing arm should be vertical, or slightly past vertical, in its rotation. The pitcher should stay in balance. To generate ball speed, the pitcher needs good arm extension. As the arms begin their upward swing, the hands separate and the ball is turned to the outside and rubs against an imaginary vertical plane beside the pitcher’s throwing arm. Simultaneously, the pitcher cocks the wrist and places the hips and shoulders in proper position for a smooth windmill motion.
The release The release occurs slightly after the throwing arm has reached its down most position. The wrist then snaps forward, whipping the ball towards the target. The pitcher then pulls the glove close to the chest with the fingers of the glove facing upward.
Follow through The hips rotate toward the plate following the release. The arm continues forward and upward while the back foot drags forward to rest behind the striding foot.
If the technique sounds complicated, that’s because it is. McMillan says that he generally starts grooming pitchers at the tender age of six.
McMillan also notes that it takes a certain kind of kid to be a pitcher. Pitchers often absorb a fair amount of the blame for losses, so the ideal candidate needs tough skin. McMillan says that praise junkies are also likely pitchers.
"Some kids are not cut out," McMillan said. "It takes a strong mental attitude, hard work and skill."
In the summer, McMillan says that pitchers will generally attend camps completely focused on improving their pitch by working with top pitching coaches. During the season, he makes sure that his pitchers put adequate time in the weight room focusing on both the front and back muscles of the shoulders and arms. He recommends lots of repetitions at a light weight for speed and shorter reps with heavy weights for strength. He adds that a strong core for balance is important. Strong legs are also key in pitching well. In order to draw enough strength for a hard, fast pitch, all of the pitcher’s power must come from the legs.
Many people look at the windmill pitch and assume it must put a lot of strain on the rotator cuff, but McMillan explains that the unhand motion is actually more natural than the overhand pitching stances in baseball.
For more information about the McMillan’s booklet, "Windmill Pitching, contact McMillan at 645-8663.
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