Common Throwing Mistakes Part 1: Lead Leg Resistance
Today we kick off our series on common overhand throwing mistakes made by softball players. In this series we are going to look at the issues that we find most commonly with our athletes that either come to our facility or we train online, why those issues need to be fixed, and how we may begin to fix them.
Right out of the gate, we are going to focus on the one of the top velocity and accuracy killers that softball players face: poor lead leg stability.
Lead leg resistance is one of the most important aspects to throwing hard. That’s not to say that nothing else matters – but if everything else is equal, having a very strong stable front leg through release will allow an athlete to move efficiently transferring energy that’s already in her body up through her core, and eventually in to the throw. Many of our athletes come to us without much front side resistance, and still many more come to us with pitching experience not understanding how to rotate around that front leg in a way that’s distinct from their pitching motion. This leads to a cut off throw which doesn’t properly engage or decelerate your muscles and puts significantly more stress on the arm.
Leg look like this? That’s no bueno...
The reason this is so important is because without a stable lead leg through release, it becomes very hard to transfer energy up through the body. The idea here is that more stability and greater resistance into that front leg means more energy transferred up through the core (assuming we have good rotation), this leads to more energy up in your arm and by extension into the ball.
So how do we fix this?
At the heart of our “how do we fix this” section of the next few articles, is the understanding that we can’t just tell an athlete what to fix and assume that’s all that needs to happen. In fact it’s quite the opposite – all of our drill work and all of our training is based around the idea that the body is good at self-organization. What this means is that through the proper constraints and overloads, we are able to give athletes a goal, and then we get to sit back and watch them work. This doesn’t mean as instructors and coaches we’re lazy, it just means we’re not barking orders at our athletes every single time they pick up a ball. Too many times athletes have too many voices going on inside their heads. Our goal for all of our training is to create feel and attach that feel to what athletes are thinking inside your own head. Cues that may have helped me while I was playing may not be appropriate for 10-year-old girls playing softball for the first time. They may also not be appropriate for a college player who is a two-time All-American and wants to work on her throwing form.
At the end of the day if we can help athletes feel what they’re trying to fix then they can make an adjustment. So cueing is kept to a minimum, and constraints are highly valued. For this reason we also choose drills that have large carryover in terms of making adjustments in the overall game, and we try to minimize the amount of drills that we do. In other words, instead of trying to incorporate every new drill we see on Instagram, we pick a few drills that give us all the qualities were looking for in good throws, and master those. This has led to a significant increase in the quality and performance of our athletes’ throws, and a significantly shorter development time.
That being said – let’s get back to lead leg stability…
Our main drill for lead leg stability is our rocker throw:
By anchoring the lead foot on the ground and not allowing it to move off the ground through the throw, we are able to put considerable focus on the front leg and how it works through the throw.
We are also able to feel weight shift which is important in terms of our timing and when the lead leg needs to stabilize – meaning we can’t just land completely locked out. When the lead-foot lands, the knee is still flexed – having some bend to it. What we don’t want to see is that knee continuing to move forward through rotation and release. Instead we want that knee to stop all forward movement and extend as the athlete rotates and releases the ball.
A major note here as well is that many times an athlete doesn’t have the strength or mobility to do this. If this is the case that athlete should consult somebody who can handle assessments and training in both mobility and strength. As always we recommend a strength program be incorporated year-round into any kind of training.
Common Drill Mistakes
Many times athlete simply shake their butt, or they bend at the waist and dump their chest to try to rock back-and-forth. It’s essential that they bend their knees and keep the chest at more of an upright position through release. This allows them to feel how their back hip engages and how the back leg works as well.
Two other common mistakes with this drill are that athletes like to walk through their throw, or resist don’t properly engage their font leg leading to them almost falling back through release.
An easy way to fix this is to have the athlete “hold their finish”. When this happens the athlete will end up being solely supported by their lead leg, and have to drive off their back leg enough to get up and over. We don’t recommend doing this for long periods of time, and as soon as an athlete begins to start feeling this we transition into more of a standard rocker drill.
Hopefully this gives and idea of what we’re looking for in terms of how the front leg should work, and a way to implement a drill in to your practice. Rockers can be used as a warm up, or as a stand alone drill, but should be used consistently to help promote proper lead leg resistance.
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