Due to a lack of muscle and skeletal strength, youth pitchers often use different throwing techniques than a more mature pitcher. It is important that coaches and parents recognize and understand some of these differences and that they don’t expect or force the youth pitcher to attempt techniques and skills which physically is not capable of performing. As the young pitcher gains strength, coordination, and balance, proper throwing techniques should be taught and practiced.
One of the major reasons that so many high school and college players have major throwing problems and lack arm strength and arm stamina, is that hey never threw enough during their formative years, and never developed proper throwing mechanics. In the past, many young pitchers learned proper techniques by trial and error. They learned what felt good, learned what techniques were effective for them and just did a lot of throwing on their own because it was fun to play catch. We have come to a point now where throwing skills need to be taught and drilled because young players don’t do enough throwing on their own, or working at the game on their own.
I. From the Wind-up Position
A. Problems coordinating the legs and body with the throwing arm action.
1. Poor balance during the leg lift; improper and early weight transfer forward.
2. Lead leg and hip doesn’t close up enough; therefore, the front shoulder never close properly.
B. Problem with the timing and action of the hands breaking apart:
1. Hand breaks backward instead of downward causing the throwing arm to hesitate during the backswing and disrupt the throwing sequence.
2. The pitching hand often stays under versus on top of the ball.
3. Causes a short arm (infielders technique) throwing action.
C. Stride problems
1. Short stride landing on a stiff leg.
2. Direction: usually young pitchers stride open by 2-3 inches since they don't have enough hip flexor and abdominal strength to properly rotate the trunk. This action adds a lot of stress on the arm and shoulder.
D. Grip problems
1. Due to a lack of hand size, finger length, and grip strength.
E. Ball release problems
1. Undercut the ball trying to impart a side spin
2. Throwing elbow and hand are too low and too far out to the side.
3. Lack of hand speed; they lead too much with the elbow and shoulder causing the hand to drag. This is probably due to a lack of arm muscle strength as well as the front shoulder flying open too early.
F. Follow-through problems
1. Recoil action of the upper body and arm due to:
A. Landing on a stiff leg
B. Weak abdominal muscles preventing good forward trunk flexion.
2. Short arm follow through action
3. Lack of balance throughout the acceleration, release and follow through phases.
G. Common arm injury problems
I personally believe that players 10-13 years old experience more elbow than shoulder injuries. At this age, the bones have not fully developed and hardened and the ligaments are not as firmly attached as they will be after puberty. Also, the arm muscles may not be sufficiently developed to support and decelerate the throwing arm properly.
Youth pitchers do not usually generate enough force to cause injury to the larger shoulder muscles and ligaments. Also, players at this age have great joint flexibility and range of motion which may help to prevent injury.
Youth pitchers should not throw breaking pitches because these pitches put more stress on the elbow joint than the fastball or straight change. Encourage youth pitchers to develop their fastball, control, and change up speeds.
The earlier a young pitcher can learn proper mechanics and good throwing action, the better his chances are of avoiding throwing arm injuries, plus he will be more effective pitcher with improved control and velocity.
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