How to throw a baseball (fielding, not pitching)
May 4, 2024 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I throw like a person who can't throw a ball. My son (7 yo) plays baseball and his throwing skills aren't great. Primarily he needs to work on getting some distance/a nice arc instead of just bouncing the ball in front of the target (detail below the fold). Please point me to resources, ideally videos, that can help him learn to throw better.

So my son tends to throw the baseball so it ends up doing a 90 degree curve from his arm to the ground instead of a nice parabola to the person he's aiming for. I am not a great thrower either, though I feel like I have a better understanding (in theory) of what he's doing wrong than he does. I think the problems are these:

1. He's not looking where he wants to throw. At the moment of release his body/head are often oriented downwards instead of up towards the person he's throwing to. I think this downward orientation drives the ball down.

2. I think his release point is too late in his arms rotation.

3. I think he might have some wrist action at the end instead of keeping his wrist/hand in line with his arm.

4. I think he doesn't understand that balls fly in a curve, not straight to their ultimate destination so he doesn't have a good intuitive understanding of what the ball will have to do to get where it's going.

The thing is, my son is very analytically minded. He loves studying pictures of pitchers grips and trying them out and learning and explaining the science and math behind things. I think if there were a video kind of explaining the math and science of throwing in an accessible way and providing a little checklist he could do in his head or trouble-shooting (if the ball is hitting the ground too soon, try this...if the ball is going to high, try that) he would take to that much better than he takes to mom saying "Look at your target! Look up with your face" (when instructed to look at the target he often keeps his head/body oriented downward and just looks up with his eyes like a person looking over their glasses at something).

I know practice is the most important thing and he wants to practice a lot but I think some theory that he can work on incorporating into his practice would be very helpful to him and welcome by him, as long as it comes from some source other than me (i.e. a video or a book). Do you have anything to recommend?

Note, I'm also willing to look at "how to coach kids to throw baseball" material or "one weird trick to teach your kid" kind of stuff, but would really love something I could just share with him.

Just to be clear, I don't actually care if my son ends up being a fantastic baseball player. I am fully aware of his genetic heritage. But the other kids on his team are much better at this and it means they're reluctant to throw the ball to him playing catch and it seems like he doesn't get to play some positions, which will result in his having less opportunity to practice while other kids get more which will just make the skills gap bigger. He cares a lot about baseball and playing well and I'm worried if he starts to notice this it will upset him. Baseball has been very good for his social development and I don't want him to sour no it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The thing is, my son is very analytically minded. He loves studying pictures of pitchers grips and trying them out and learning and explaining the science and math behind things.

I was like that at his age.

The vital thing I missed back then, which I never really got a handle on until my mid twenties, was that there's a huge gulf between knowing how to do a thing and being able to do the thing, and that what bridges that chasm is practice.

I suspect your son's throwing would improve if both of you stopped trying to take his technique to pieces analytically and instead set up a physical practice environment within which to let it improve. Make a cardboard target, tape it to a wall so it makes a satisfying thwock when hit, and have him scratch his analytical itch by logging how many times he can hit it with a ball in a session of fifty throws, each from six inches further away than the last (always make the first throw from the longest distance where his accuracy is already good enough).

It's pretty much inevitable that both his accuracy and power will improve fairly rapidly and he'll see that by reviewing the logs. This will set both of you up for a lifetime of not having to fight about practice being boring (which it is, let's not kid ourselves).

You might even find that he starts wanting to show off his target skills by competing with you, at which point your throwing skills are going to get dragged into improving as well :-)
posted by flabdablet at 9:51 PM on May 4 [11 favorites]

I think if there were a video kind of explaining the math and science of throwing in an accessible way and providing a little checklist he could do in his head or trouble-shooting (if the ball is hitting the ground too soon, try this...if the ball is going to high, try that)

The most important troubleshooting principle to apply here is that if the ball isn't doing what you want, try again. Maybe from a little closer if frustration has begun to set in. Don't start ramping up the target distance until the ball is doing what you want more often than not.

Also be aware that any deliberate change he makes to the biomechanics of his throw is going to result in lowered accuracy at first and he'll need to reduce the target distance to compensate for that and bed the change in. If you both expect that, it becomes a much less frustrating effect to deal with.
posted by flabdablet at 10:03 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

he doesn't have a good intuitive understanding of what the ball will have to do to get where it's going

Again, if he's as analytically oriented as I was at his age, he's going to believe on some level that the way to get that kind of intuitive understanding is to study more reference materials, which is incorrect.

The fastest way to improve physical intuition is with physical experience, and the most effective way to structure physical experience is to create initial conditions for success and then progressively stretch them.
posted by flabdablet at 10:09 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]

Seconding flabdablet.

This is about his body learning what to do, not his understanding.

Focusing on technique and principles also risks making all of this feel pressured and removing the fun of it all.

When I was a child with little ball sense, I challenged myself to learn by building up different skills. Making up all kinds of games like "what happens if I bounce the ball with alternating hands, now can I do that with my eyes closed".

Unstructured play.

Nothing was failure, everything was an interesting experiment.
posted by Zumbador at 11:36 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

There almost definitely are such videos but I haven't watched any so can't make recommendations.

But if he likes being analytical, then maybe you could help him take an analytical or "science!" approach to the benefits of practice. For example each time he could think of a different way to throw, practice it X times, and see what the results are. Or, maybe more helpfully and with a stronger focus on the benefits of practice itself, he could just track how many throws it takes to start reaching distance D, then how many throws it takes to start reaching D+X, then D+2X, etc. - with different stats for reaching reach the first time, reaching them 50% of the time, 80% of the time, etc. Or just track each of his throws, maybe planting some kind of marker where they land, and then see how much farther his later throws in each session have gotten vs. his earlier ones. And you could log his farthest throw each day, the number of throws each day, his favorite throw each day, and so on. (I'd probably mix in some weird bonus challenges too, like "throw like a clown" or "throw while doing a ninja yell" or "throw like a hippopotamus ballerina doing a spin" to add some laughter and help him not take it all too seriously.)

I think I'd also replace at least some of the target practice with just distance practice - can you get the ball across some line, regardless of where it actually lands. You could have fun taking turns to pick random places to place the line. (You'll probably want a bunch of balls on hand so you don't have to go chasing it down each time.)

Doing a few practices like these together could help him get the hang of doing them on his own, or with a friend at a similar level. And then he could tell you about his results/stats at the end.
posted by trig at 12:28 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

(It can also be interesting to look at improvement over multiple sessions rather than a single one - both to reduce frustration after less successful practices and to think about the theory that the brain also needs some offtime to process mechanical skills.)
posted by trig at 12:33 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

look at improvement over multiple sessions rather than a single one

Absolutely vital, hence the suggestion to log everything. Improvement via practice is often not linear - it generally proceeds as a succession of little breakthroughs, after each of which some aspect of what's been practised sometimes goes a bit backwards as the feeling of amazed accomplishment causes the eye to go off the ball, so to speak.
posted by flabdablet at 1:03 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

Go out to the park & throw balls to each other?

Advantage: fun!
posted by rd45 at 1:56 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

I agree with the practice and the logging, and if he really wants something to analyze, set up a video camera pointed at him so he can correlate the images with the logs. It can be hard to feel what you're doing when you're learning a new movement, and being able to see it can help a bunch. (This is why gyms tend to be covered with mirrors!)

It'll also give him something to compare with instructional videos, which I, alas, have no recommendations for. I throw pretty well but it's a result of endless hours of catch with my dad and regular baseball practice in a peewee league.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:05 AM on May 5

(Although I will say that given the symptoms, I think he might be imitating pitchers who can throw the ball much harder than he can so the arc is much, much flatter and longer. If he can't put that much power behind it - and he can't, no kid can - he needs to aim *above* his target, not straight at it.)
posted by restless_nomad at 5:07 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

I would maybe focus less on what pitchers are doing with their arms and look at what outfielders do with their legs after fielding a ball. Specifically—and this is the one crucial thing that my kid took forever to internalize—stepping forward and across your body with the opposite foot before throwing. This may or may not be an issue for your son, but in my experience once you get the lower body mechanics down then the desired ball trajectory sort of follows naturally.
posted by staggernation at 5:33 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

A great exercise I have used to teach a kid to throw more accurately is this:

Stand a short distance (10 feet?) from each other with your shoulders square to one another. Bring the ball to a throwing position near your ear. Look at the person you’re throwing the ball to. The catcher should put their glove “target” right at their chest. Then use an overhand “flip” motion to toss the ball to the other person. Your torso and shoulder shouldn’t move much, just your arm. This simplifies the throwing motion, and helps you focus on the release point.

Do this from a short distance until you can consistently hit the catcher in the chest with the ball. Once you can hit the target consistently, start slowly increasing the distance. At some point you won’t be able to reach anymore, and you’ll need to start including a step with your throw, and eventually a full arm/shoulder swing, but that will come more naturally since now you understand your release point.

I was taught this method in little league, and I still warm up with it as an adult.
posted by soy_renfield at 6:33 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]

I'm (assistant) coaching my son's little league team for the first time this year. One thing I've observed is that there is generally a big range of abilities among the kids. Kids develop at different rates, and it seems especially when it comes to coordination and things like throwing and catching. My son's throwing is dramatically harder and more accurate than it was at the end of last season. Most of that comes down to getting reps in, but part of it, I'm sure, is just his body developing. So just getting out and playing catch with him is a great idea.

If you do want to work on mechanics, one thing the more experienced coaches emphasized to us is to not overload the kids with too much to think about. Work on one part of the throw at a time. I think that soy_renfield's suggestion is a great example of that. Start simple and at a short distance, and then add something else when there's a meaningful sign of improvement.

Another exercise they showed is starts with throwing from the knees and focusing on rotating the torso to make the throw. The glove hand is held out in front, aimed at the target, and then the thrower turns their torso (keeping that arm out in front) and makes the throw. A lot of young kids I've seen think throwing is all in the arms, but the legs and trunk are critical for driving the arm. This focuses on the trunk.
posted by synecdoche at 7:28 AM on May 5

When I was learning to throw, my then-boyfriend (a former baseball player) took me to a park that had racquetball courts. People still play racquetball but not as avidly as other stuff, so nobody cared if we monopolized the court for a few hours.

Throwing at a wall will fix your technique better than almost anything because you can dectuple your reps. Nobody has to chase a bad throw; the ball just comes back to you. We would make a chalk mark on the wall and I would just throw and throw until I would hit it a few times and start to recognize all the sensations in my fingers, hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and whole arm. I learned to stay looking at the mark, bend my front knee, and step through the throw.

The time and space to just throw, without an excess of direct instruction to distract or demoralize me, led to my being able to put together the kinesthetic knowledge base I needed.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:37 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]

For my kid it was practice practice practice + in the moment feedback.
So after a throw, offer a comment “release a little later on the next one” or “eyes on the target” and as mentioned above only one adjustment at a time.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:50 AM on May 5

I think this is very individualistic. Each kid learns how they learn and you know the little penguin best and should focus on his learning style. Next, know that some kids never really improve enough or in time to keep up with their age group. Some kids will always out play their age group. My two sons, one a lefty and one a righty had rifles for arms. They both lost interest in baseball as too slow. (Baseball is my favorite sport). One, became the starting QB on his HS team, his arm was that good. I do not recall ever once working with either of them on technique until they got to HS and technique including footwork was vital.

Is your son trying to throw a little league approved baseball? It may be easier for him to start with a tennis ball. The ball's weight obviously is affected by gravity and your son's arm strength. I would also be looking at his finger grip. Is he using his entire hand or the traditional two fingers and thumb underneath?

Analytically, there are obviously people who throw a ball really well. That means to me as an analytical person that it can be done. I think you are somewhat putting the cart before the horse by trying to find the perfect technique at this stage. By any technique necessary, see if he can just get the ball to a fairly close target. A tennis ball against a wall (school?) or against the garage door. Even if he has to throw like a dart, just pushing it, get him used to aiming and hitting a target. Then, when he can consistently hit the target from various distances, start on technique. I think he needs to see some success and improvement before he gets to perfect mechanics.

Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Practicing the perfect method is what makes it instinctual. But, I do not believe a 7 year old's goal should be perfect technique. It should be success. Success at that age is getting the ball, by any means/technique, to the teammate. Then, shortly after he has found a way to get the ball to the target, start adjusting his technique.

I agree 100% that he needs to be looking at his target when he throws. Not down, not at coach, not at mom or dad, but at the target. Also, hang a string across the path of the ball at about 4" to 6" above his head and have him throw it over that string on the way to the target. I might even spend 10 minutes seeing how high he can throw it. When he gets it up in the air, ask him what he did differently from what he was doing originally. Go to a local HS team's practice and have him watch the infielders throw. A lot of throwing for any distance is in the legs and the footwork.

I am not sure watching videos for him is the right path. Watching videos for you to learn how and what to teach might work. I could (and did) watch videos on proper golf swing, yet I still can't get it right consistently after decades of trying.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:00 AM on May 6

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