Baseball throwing drills that develop the correct arm action
Baseball throwing drills may seem unimportant for kids as young as 4 or 5, but nothing is further from the truth. Unless kids throw the ball correctly in their early playing years, it may be too late to change their actions to the correct ones.
There is nothing more important for youth ballplayers than being able to throw a baseball with speed and accuracy, especially with major league field dimensions approaching at the high school level. In all my years of coaching baseball, rarely have I seen players capable of changing their throwing motion after a few years of incorrect throwing mechanics. Therefore, it is crucial to develop correct throwing habits at a young age to develop arm strength and to avoid arm injury.
Drills in general, and especially baseball throwing drills, force the correct actions as much as possible. In that way, a good drill speeds up the process of doing a motion correctly. It is vital to begin by working on just one movement at a time, before moving on to the next one. Eventually, the goal is to put it all together into a fast-moving natural habit. Once players can do it without having to think about it, the process is complete and then they have a chance to develop the movement and reach their throwing potential. Any bad habit will hinder the ability to get to top speed and avoid injury.
As with any drill, coaches should have players do things slowly at first to make sure they do things correctly. It may take thousands of repetitions to develop the habit correctly, but that will be worth it in the end. Many sports and baseball movements are like riding a bike, once done it is repeatable for the most part and within a degree of variance.
The following baseball throwing drills will develop good mechanics, which leads to speed, accuracy, and freedom from injury. As mentioned, the earlier you can get kids working on these the better. Of course, with kids as young as 4 or 5, you may only be able to keep their attention for a few minutes. It is essential that you do not force them to go much longer than they want, so you do not alienate them from wanting to practice.
Baseball Throwing Drills for Correct Throwing Mechanics
- Grip – Above is a four-seam grip that young players should strive for. Young players should use the three-finger grip until their hand size grows. This will keep the middle finger in the center of the ball. Developing the correct grip is the initial key to great mechanics. The ability to keep the middle finger and thumb in the center of the ball, as the fingertips go across the 4 seams of the ball is important for backspin, speed, and accuracy. A three-finger grip is recommended for youngsters until they can do the above with their release.
Usually around 9 or ten years old, depending on the size of the player’s hand, is when they can handle the two finger on-top grip. Have players set the ball in their glove and practice taking it out with a four-seam grip. This will take time at first, but once players get the handle of it, they should work on doing it faster each time. Speed will be of the essence when fielding balls in games.
- Backspin Drill – With the above grip, players set their elbow shoulder height and practice flipping the ball up in the air with as much backspin on the ball
as possible. Controlling the release of the flipped ball, so they do not have to chase the ball after flipping it, is the goal. With practice, players should try to flip it higher and higher in the same manner. Of course, this drill also works on a player’s knee while flipping the ball to a partner, a wall, or a backstop at a short distance. Both drills will develop a fingertip feel for the ball, which is necessary for accuracy. In addition, the faster the rotation on the ball with the correct backspin, the better and it will help speed. Attention to detail, so thrower’ elbow is shoulder height is essential.
- Set-up and direction drill– Using three cardboard cutouts develops the correct and crucial footwork for throwing speed and accuracy. Throwers begin with their feet square upon catching the ball, step into the second box with a complete rotation of the throwing-arm side foot, and then step into the third box, which is directly at the target. Without a direct step, the thrower’s hips will not function correctly causing a lack of accuracy and power. The length of the step will be determined by the distance of the throw and will develop naturally, with the key being the direction. Players should land with the ball of the foot striking the ground first to prevent an early opening of the hips.
Similarly, drawing a direct line from the lead foot towards the target or setting down a couple of objects for the player to step in between is a good practice drill to reinforce the correct step. An indirect step is the most common area of break down in a player’s throwing fundamentals, especially on longer throws. **** Players should practice pointing their front elbow at the target and not their glove, as that will help keep them closed, too. Have players follow the direction of their elbow as they step.
Other Key Baseball Throwing Drills
- Arm Swing drill –
With player standing with their feet in a direct line and front shoulder facing the target, the coach holds a ball up at ear level and player’s arms distance away. The player reaches back and grabs the ball from the coach before looking at the target and throwing to it. This drill promotes the correct arm motion of the thumb breaking down and the fingers on top of the ball with the wrist and hand facing away from the target on the arm back swing.
- 2nd Arm Swing drill – Similar to above, with player standing with their feet in a direct line and front shoulder facing the target,
Arm swing drill to keep thumb under and fingers on top of ball[/caption]
the player takes the ball out of their glove and reaches back and sets the ball against the raised coach’s hand, before looking at the target and throwing to it. It is necessary to have players front side work correctly also, so when they raise their throwing arm, their front elbow should also lift to shoulder level. This move also gives them the direction to follow, with the front elbow pointing directly at their target. This drill is the next step in promoting the correct arm motion of the thumb under and fingers on top, with the wrist and hand facing away from the target on the arm path.
- Follow through drill – Set the throwers rear foot on a chair and have them make some throws. This drill forces a weight transfer and follow through with the arm. It is necessary that throwers allow their arm to travel the complete path so the body can alleviate some of the stress of the arm action on the shoulder and to prevent aiming the ball. This is done by the players throwing arm finishing at his opposite side hip, thigh or knee and by having his rear leg come up and forward as they throw. Like hitting, this weight transfer and full rotation of the hips puts power into the throw.
To make sure player follows through and does not start aiming the ball, have player slap their glove side hip after release. Players, who are working on pitching, should slap their glove side thigh or knee on the follow through with the longer stride of pitching.
With all baseball throwing drills, players must perform the same arm action with the front side arm also, with the thumbs breaking under. Players should gradually increase speed and distance of throws until they are able to perform the correct mechanics at all distances.
When a coach is unavailable, players can practice by setting balls in a bucket and placing the bucket behind them. They can practice taking the ball out of the bucket and dropping balls into the bucket. This action also gives them the proper motion of fingers staying on top of the ball on takeaway.
Baseball throwing drills – Putting it all together
Stop action drill
After players have a good grasp of the right throwing motion, it is time to put it together on the ball field. Whether it’s fielding a ground ball, fly ball, or line drive, coaches should have players begin by just going to throwing position as fast as the can after the catch. What coaches and players should analyze at this point is whether their feet and front side align correctly at their target. Players should have both elbows up, body turned and eyes on target. Once they get this position correct on a continual basis they should go through with the throw.
At this point coaches should go through with the throw and follow their throw with a few steps in the direction of their throw to ensure they follow through and their momentum is at their target.
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Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is now available. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 120 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.