Regardless of experience level, having a practical practice space is critical to a pitcher’s success! Colleges spend millions of dollars to have the best facilities for their athletes. You wouldn’t expect your student to succeed in the classroom without a proper workspace would you? The same applies to pitchers as well. I’m not suggesting you break the bank in creating your practice space, but there are some basic necessities that will allow your pitcher to get the most out of her practice.
New and less experienced pitchers should spend the majority of their practice time pitching at closer distances so they can focus on their mechanics rather than accuracy. More experienced pitchers should practice at a close distance when learning something new or making corrections for similar reasons. An effective practice space only requires 10-15 feet of space in total.
Ideally, your pitcher has both an outdoor and indoor dedicated practice space. Weather can easily be used as an excuse not to practice. It’s too rainy, or too cold, or too hot, etc. Games will be held in just about any type of weather, so it’s important that your pitcher practice in those conditions, so that she knows how to adapt. However, if weather is a deterrent from maintaining a consistent practice routine, then find a space indoors to practice when she can’t get outside. It can be a basement, garage, bedroom, hallway, kitchen…you get the idea. As mentioned above, she doesn’t need to pitch at full distance all the time to make marked improvement.
When she is outside, try to find the flattest land possible for her to pitch. Dirt is helpful, so she can see where her stride foot is landing and where her drag foot is going, but it is not mandatory. A paved driveway or grass will work, too.
Practice Space Essential #1 – Mound
A standard softball mound is 24 inches across and 6 inches wide. Commonly referred to as “the rubber”, but your practice mound can be made of other material as well. A simple piece of wood, cut to the specified dimension, is all you need. (If you’re not comfortable cutting the wood yourself, most hardware stores will cut the wood to your dimensions for free). The important thing here is that she has SOMETHING to feel under her feet during practice. Why is this so crucial? A pitcher that does not have a mound to push off of will often develop a “cheat step”or slide her foot forward before beginning her pitching motion. In a game, this would be called an “illegal pitch.” For some, this can be a difficult habit to break once it’s been rehearsed this way.
Some people try to save their yard and/or flooring by using a pitching mat like the one shown above. Mats come in a variety of sizes, materials, and colors. You can make even make your own with a piece of AstroTurf and wood for a mound, purchased from your local hardware store. Regardless of which mat you choose to use, include a Power Line (if one is not already printed on your mat), and be sure to mark your pitcher’s stride length. Aim for 6-8 of the pitcher’s foot-lengths for an optimal stride length.
Practice Space Essential #2 – MULTIPLE Taped Softballs
Nobody is going to want to chase after a softball after every pitch or two. So, it’s important that you have MANY (20+) softballs that are available to use for practice. We encourage our pitchers to use electrical tape on EVERY practice ball, so that she can watch the spin. If throwing with a 4-seam grip, the tape should run perpendicular to horseshoes created by the seams.
A surplus of softballs makes practice less arduous when a catcher is unavailable. She won’t have to retrieve the ball after every pitch, which will give her the fortitude to practice enough to make it worth her while. Not to mention those days when accuracy is not her strong suit, even with a catcher, having multiple balls will mean less chasing and more time getting better!
Practice Space Essential #3 – Mirror
Parents and coaches often say, “I can’t see what she’s doing while I’m catching her.” However, she can’t see what she’s doing either, and it’s important that she can see what she’s doing when working on her mechanics. Mirrors and softballs don’t mix, so when working on mechanics, have your pitcher do airthroughs in the mirror, while you and she watch her motion. This allows you to move around and watch from various angles, and provide feedback as necessary. Additionally, the pitcher can learn what proper form should look like, eventually concentrating on the feel of those mechanics, which is the ultimate goal. Seeing is believing, and when she can see herself in a mirror, she can start to improve whatever aspect she needs to strengthen to make her better.
Practice Space Essential #4 – Net/Tarp
There’s nothing quite like the sound of a loud glove pop when a pitch hits the catcher’s mitt! However, there are SEVERAL reasons a pitcher needs a net, with some being more obvious than others. One of the more common reasons for a net is to eliminate the excuse, “I don’t have anyone to catch for me.” A net can always be a practice buddy. If a net is unattainable, a tarp can also be used in the same manner. We don’t encourage pitchers to practice alone often (feedback is essential for improvement), but OCCASIONALLY a solo practice is better than no practice at all. Of course a larger net can also serve as a backstop, which eliminates time wasted chasing after wild pitches and makes retrieving errant pitches all around easier.
But the not so obvious reasons for a net are also the most beneficial! First, when focusing on mechanics, a pitcher should not pressure herself to throw strikes right away. Focus on feel, and body awareness at first. Pitching into a net, without a catcher allows a pitcher to feel what her body is doing, without worry of where the ball is going. Beginners should spend most of their time pitching into a net for this reason, but even more advanced pitchers would do well to make tweaks to their motion using this technique.
Occasionally, pitchers will show hesitancy when working on speed or movement pitches (such as drop balls), if they think they may “hurt” the person that’s catching. As many “bucket dads” can attest, even if in full gear, the SOFT-ball can still inflict pain. Pitchers know this, and may hold back (either consciously or not). To allow pitchers to feel comfortable taking risks, have them practice throwing into a net.
Practice Space Essential #5 – Target
Aim small, miss small. Pitchers need to have a great visual to learn dominating accuracy. Control is a pitch, and we discuss the importance of this in our article “Pitching Ropes for Accuracy.” Pitchers (and their coaches) frequently think they’re better at locating their pitches than they really are. Merely pitching to your catcher’s glove is not specific enough. A multicolored plate helps the pitcher see where the ball is over the plate, as well as which corner.
Ropes make great (and inexpensive) targets for height, corners, and movement. There are so many options for rope arrangements. Your target can be as simple (beginner) or sophisticated as you like. Our ropes rarely come down in our training facility, but there are portable options that allow for easy rearrangement.
Feng Shui for Pitchers
Pitching is a difficult skill, so make it easier for your pitcher to get into a consistent practice routine. Think of it as feng shui for pitchers. An efficient practice space leads to a motivated and focused mind, and more productive practices. While there are many other bells and whistles that can be added to your pitcher’s practice arsenal that may benefit her, merely having the basics can lead to her success.
Interested in learning what our practice space looks like at our indoor training facility? You can reach us through our contact page to set up lessons! Join our FREE mailing list (see green button) to receive helpful articles and discounts delivered directly to your email address. Additionally, for more videos with tips and drills, subscribe to our YouTube channel! Visit our online store to purchase all your softball pitching tools!