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NFCA Coaching Tip Of The Week: Importance Of Learning The Change-Up

The change-up has always been an important pitch for successful pitchers. In my opinion, it should be introduced as soon as a pitcher's fundamentals are pretty stable. Why? If a pitcher can consistently throw a change-up, there isnÕt a pitch she canÕt learn. It's also a way to teach balance. Balance is a major part of a pitcher's motion. If a pitcher can master two pitches, one should be a pitch she can throw for a strike. The other pitch should be a change-up. A great change-up is an equalizer. It makes the other pitches appear to be faster and it messes up the batter's timing.

In past years, some pitching instructors, coaches and/or parents have preached speed -- a fastball -- to the young pitcher. The 2001 ASA pitching rules move the 12-under group to 40 feet for championship play. They will be using a bigger (12') ball and the batter will have an extra five feet to see the pitch. Should we continue to teach speed? Absolutely. However, speed without ball movement and location is not as effective at higher levels of play.

Many coaches and instructors have harped on speed so much that young pitchers don't want to throw a slow ball. The pitchers with size will still be able to throw lots of fastballs if they also have movement. The smaller-sized pitcher's fastball wonÕt be as effective at 40 feet as it was at 35 feet. However, she can still be effective if she becomes a change-of-speed and location pitcher instead of just a one-speed thrower.

In my opinion, it will force many pitchers to have better mechanics and balance. ItÕs not easy to throw a change-up without some pretty good footwork and balance. That's why pitching instructors require pitchers to have sound fundamentals before attempting to throw advanced pitches. A change-up really isn't an advanced pitch. However, the pitcher's body must be in thecorrect position and balanced for it to work properly.

The change-up throws the batter's timing off and creates doubt. Just as the pitchers have been trained to throw the fastball, the batters have been trained to hit the fastball. The most difficult skill, in any sport, is hitting a round ball with a round bat, and hit it squarely. Baseball's Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa will feast on fastballs that don't have movement. They have a more difficult time with the off-speed stuff and the change-ups. The same is true for softball batters. Successful hitting equals timing.

There are so many different change-ups that I won't even go there. Most of them require the pitcher to have a tighter wrist, but some don't. However, here are some tips I will give:

1. In the pitcher's first move, arm speed and stride should always appear to be the same. The pitcher's body should look the same so the batter will think it's the same pitch.

2. Hide the ball behind the throwing side hip. Hiding the ball behind the hip keeps the batter from seeing the ball too soon and it keeps the pitcher's weight back.

3. Plant softly on the stride foot. Planting softball allows the pitcher to be balanced on the stride foot.

4. Make the toe-drag quick and long. Dragging the toes quickly gives the appearance of leg drive and power. Making the toe-drag long allows the pitcher to go forward and stay balanced. The key to throwing a change-up -- or any pitch -- is balance.

Finally, a couple of don'ts:

1. Don't slow the motion down to throw the change-up or off-speed pitch.

2. Don't practice throwing too many change-ups in a row if the tight wrist method is used. A tight shoulder, bicep and wrist can cause arm problems.

In this article, I have expressed my opinions about the change-up. If your kid can successfully throw the change-up another way, don't change anything. Don't mess with success. Individual differences must always be a consideration. There is more than one way to do things. Learning to pitch isn't any different. For any learning to take place, it must fit each individual pitcher's mind and body.

Good luck and I'll see you at the ballpark!