It is universally agreed in the baseball world that good pitching is the name of the game. "Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting" is an accepted baseball absolute. Some experts have estimated that pitching is 80% of the game. If we believe this to be true, then I ask: "What percentage of our practice time do we devote to pitching?" 80%....50%....25%? It is an aspect of the game that we can all agree is crucial, but is sadly undercoached. The following will be helpful in instructing young pitchers. These are simple, time-tested strategies and drills that will hopefully be incorporated into your team practices.

Warm Up to Throw. Don't Throw to Warm Up!
It is very important to allow all your players the opportunity to stretch and loosen up before allowing them to play catch. This is especially critical in the cold weather of March and April. Five minutes of baseball-specific exercise will get the blood flowing and help protect the arm and shoulder

Wind-Up and Delivery
With young (and even high school) pitchers, we try to break the pitching motion down to 5 steps. Youth league coaches often shy away from coaching pitchers, often citing a lack of knowledge. Keep it simple. Have your pitchers constantly repeat the 5 steps and you'll have a frame of reference and understanding, along with teaching cues to use;  rather than yelling tired phrases such as "bend your back," "follow through" and "hey, throw a strike and let them hit it."


Step 1: Baby Rocker Step
Step 1:   4 - 6 inches
Step 2:  The Pivot

Step 3:  Balance Point
Step 4:  Stride and Release
Step 5:  Follow Through
(Extend to plate,
Finish Low)
I have found that these 5 steps are easy and understandable for young pitchers. This method has been used successfully from 9-year-old players, right up through high school pitchers. Using the steps as verbal cues can help pitchers when they struggle on the mound. It serves as a reference point for coaches and players alike.
The Stretch Position
Some pitchers may feel uncomfortable using the 5 steps. In youth leagues, children may lack the strength, balance and coordination to master the proper wind-up, pivot and delivery. If your pitcher has difficulty mastering the 5 steps, I suggest the stretch position.

Set the pitcher up on the rubber, feet spread shoulder width apart, with their front shoulder facing home plate. Have the pitcher raise his hands, while bringing his front foot back to the rubber. When the pitcher has come set, he strides toward the plate and delivers the pitch. What we have done is to eliminate steps 1 & 2. We have reduced the delivery to a 3-step process. Keep it simple! With fewer components to the delivery, there is less chance for breakdowns and mistakes. Consider that today there are increasing numbers of major league relievers who never pitch from a wind-up and go exclusively from the stretch.

I recommend that Little League pitchers be taught two pitches: the fastball and change-up.


The 4-seam fastball is held with the index and middle fingers across the horseshoe of the baseball. The ball should be held out on the tips of the fingers with the thumb placed on the bottom of the ball. Keep the ball out of the palm of the hand. The 4-seamer is the pitch that can be thrown with the greatest velocity. The backward spin created when the pitch is released provides a true and accurate path. It is considered the easiest pitch to control. It is for this reason that the 4-seam grip is taught to every defensive player, due to its' accuracy.

Fastballs develop arm strength by building arm muscles. You get stronger through exercise. The fastball is the easiest pitch to control; hence a pitcher throws more strikes. Throwing strikes is the name of the game.
Hitting is timing. If a pitcher throws the same pitch over and over again, regardless of its' speed, a good hitter will catch up to it. Using a change-up will add variety to your pitcher's arsenal and disrupt the batters timing. Also, the change-up is safe, unlike the dubious wisdom of teaching children the curve ball.

Think of the change-up as a fastball with a different grip. The motion, arm speed, release and follow-through are exactly the same as a fastball. In fact, this is imperative because if a pitcher tips off the change-up, it loses all of its' effectiveness. In throwing the change-up, "choke" or "stuff" the ball deep into your hand. Unlike the fastball grip, you want the palm of the hand on the ball. The more skin you have on the ball, the more friction that is created and the result will be a pitch with less velocity. You may grip the ball with 2 or 3 fingers, across the seams. When releasing the ball, keep a stiff wrist. A good teaching point is to tell the pitcher to "drop" the ball onto home plate. "

The change-up must be thrown often in order to develop it.  It can be a frustrating
pitch at first but with repetition it will become an effective weapon. Experiment.  Play
around with grips until you find one that feels comfortable to you. Having a change-up
causes the hitter to double his thinking at the plate. Throwing a fastball following a
change always makes the fastball seem faster. The change-up disrupts timing, is easy
on the arm and is great fun when you tie a batter into knots. The time you devote to
practicing the change-up will pay great dividends!


THE PITCHING GAME ... Some things to consider:

Practice pitching.   A pitcher only gets better by throwing.  Have them use the drills and work off the mound. Being an effective pitcher, being able to have control, can't happen by throwing once a week. Pitchers must do their "pitching homework" in order to improve.

Anticipate / Field the position.   Pitching to the plate is just one part of the equation. Once a pitcher releases the ball, he becomes the 5th infielder. Make sure they know the situation and where to go with the ball when it is hit. Examples:
** Any ball hit to the right side of the infield requires the pitcher to break to cover 1st automatically.
** Whenever a runner is on third base, it is the pitcher's responsibility to cover home on any ball that goes by the catcher.  (If you've watched enough games in Little League, you realize that this is the main source of run production.)
** Field bunts and comebackers. Never barehand the ball unless it has come to a complete stop.

Get that first strike in on the batter.  This gives the pitcher a tremendous advantage to be ahead in the count. Walks are poison. Not only do they give the opposition baserunners, but walks tax your player's arm and bore their defensive teammates to death. The old baseball adage is "you can't catch a walk." Let them hit it. Really. The odds are in favor of the defense 9 to 1 when the ball goes into play.

Coaches count pitches.   Particularly early in the season. Do not overwork young arms. Get into the practice of splitting games with your pitchers. Their arms are not ready for heavy workloads. Use 3 pitchers in a game (just like you would do with your rightfielders). Arms stay fresh.  Pitchers can come back later in the week and they will thrive on the regular work rather than appearing just once a week. This requires coaches to pay less attention to the scoreboard, but it will help to develop and preserve pitchers. As the weather gets warmer and the pitchers stronger, you can then stretch the innings out. Remember, count pitches not innings. Rule of thumb: Start the kids at 30 - 35 pitches and then add in increments of ten. Signs of fatigue include: shortness of breath, loss of control, pitches going higher, throwing arms dropping lower, resulting in pitchers slinging the ball, rather than being "on top."

There you have it. I've scratched the surface of the pitching game but you are now "armed" with info to impart to your hurlers.

Barton's Youth Baseball Pitching Drills

The 5 Steps of Pitching
1. Baby Rocker Step (4-6 inches)
2. The Pivot
3. Balance Point
4. Stride and Release
5. Follow Through (Extend to plate, finish low)