If you look carefully when instructing or watching many female windmill pitchers, especially young ones, you will begin to see a tiny mechanical flaw that is becoming so common I’d almost call it an epidemic.
I see it in my own students, in others during games, even in online videos of pitchers from all over the country: a small pivot of the push-off foot that takes place prior to the load.
It's often so slight and quick that it may go unnoticed by many pitching coaches. It took me several years of teaching to discover that it may be the single most ubiquitous mechanical problem. Though this turn of the push foot seems so small—insignificant even—it can trigger a domino effect that results in a much larger breakdown of the pitching mechanics.
First and foremost, the poor foot alignment weakens the push off the rubber, limiting the potential velocity of the entire pitch (think of trying to steal a base with your feet turned out like a duck—my bet is you'll be thrown out). It can prevent the push leg from achieving the full extension needed for explosive results. It can also cause premature opening of the upper body as the torso attempts to realign itself with the support leg. Very often, it leads to common drive through issues such as the dreaded illegal crow hop or the power-draining “anchor leg,” when the instep of the foot is dragged hard through the dirt.
Popular training aids like the Power Push (an attachment for the pitching rubber that sandwiches the pitcher's foot between two small barricades, preventing turning) and the Power Drive (a pedal-like device that tilts the push foot downward) have been developed to discourage this very problem and help facilitate a proper push off the rubber. They do not, however, address the key issue: WHY are so many girls prematurely pivoting their feet in the first place?
The answer is pretty simple: turning the foot out is a natural compensation for key weaknesses elsewhere in the body. While the exact cause can vary from pitcher to pitcher and should always be determined on an individual basis with the combined help of a pitching coach and a strength training professional, it is typically one—or a combination—of three culprits: hip instability, ankle immobility, and lack of core strength.
Hip instability is extremely common in young female athletes who are just beginning or have not yet begun a serious strength training regimen. When asked to perform initial diagnostic physical movements such as squatting or lunging, many girls will find that their knees naturally want to move inward toward each other. This is a counter-reaction to the hip's natural tendency to pop outward. If you could ask a subject to stand on one leg and then allow his or her body to go limp like a rag doll, you'd see this in the collapse of the leg: the hip would pop out and the knee would fall in.
A proper load in windmill pitching is a strong weight-bearing action—not unlike the diagnostic squatting and lunging exercises—followed by an explosive push. When a pitcher does not have the hip stability to support that action, she turns out her foot in anticipation of the load in order to counterbalance the knee's inclination to collapse inward.
Ankle immobility (or inflexibility) can cause a similar reaction. In order for a pitcher to load deeply, her ankle must be flexible enough to allow her knee to come straight out comfortably over her foot. When this capacity is not present, the knee again seeks that inward angle where it can bend farther and move more freely. The foot, again, pivots outward to compensate.
Core weakness can contribute in a couple of ways. For one, it is extremely common for girls to stand naturally with a sway (an arch) in their lower backs. If a pitcher assumes this posture on the pitching rubber—as opposed to tucking the pelvis forward and engaging the core, straightening the back—it can encourage the hip's natural tendency to pop outward, as explained above. Additionally, in an ideal pitching motion, the torso opens up to the side after a strong forward push has taken place, as the arms are transitioning from being lined up together at eye level to assuming the “K” position. It takes incredible core strength to be able to make this transition in the middle of the pitch—basically, in mid-air. The average female windmill pitcher, especially in the early stages of her development, does not have enough core strength to accomplish this consistently. Subconsciously, she begins to pivot her push foot outward so that the opening of her torso occurs gradually as she pushes off the rubber, while the upper body strives to realign itself with the support leg. She successfully opens her torso, but she loses power and stability as a result.
So what's the solution? Adopting a strength training program that addresses ALL of these areas will make a pitcher better, whether she is affected by all, some, or even none of the aforementioned weaknesses. The athlete should never feel discouraged or inferior for having these weaknesses. In fact, it is more common for young females to have them than not to have them. This information should merely stress the importance of supplementing pitching practice and knowledge of the proper pitching mechanics with regular, productive strength workouts.
It is entirely possible that the use of a training aid, or even just specific focus on keeping the push foot and knee forward during pitching workouts, will be necessary if the outward pivot has become an ingrained habit independent of other body weaknesses. For best results, however, address the underlying cause first.