Recognizing the need for a scientific basis in softball pitching, Fastpitch Softball Magazine has asked me to write a monthly column devoted to the science of pitching. I will use this first column as an introduction to give you an idea of my background and softball research experience.
I have been addicted to softball since I was eight years old. Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, my summers were consumed with softball. My mother was my biggest fan and “team mom” for all of my teams (including college, I think!). My father was the coach for every team I was on and he was a pitching coach, relying on very little information out there at the time. They continue to be my biggest fans and “coaches” today. Thanks, Donna and John!
We were involved in Little League, Big League and ASA competition. As a pitcher and shortstop in high school I was first team all-league and named to the all-decade team. In college, I played second base and was a four-year letter winner at Slippery Rock University. After my junior year I was selected as an Academic All-American.
Although I pitched when I was young, I did not know much about the windmill pitch until I went to college. As a Physical Education major I began learning how to teach skills like pitching, and at the same time my father was attending pitching clinics. Through him I learned a lot about the windmill pitch. When I went to Indiana University to pursue a Master of Science in Biomechanics, the obvious choice for my thesis topic was the windmill pitch.
One of the first steps in a research project is a review of related literature. My review of softball research did not take long. Although many books, articles and videotapes exist that are written by coaches, only a handful of scientific studies had been undertaken. This emphasized in my mind the need for solid research in softball. Two years later, I had completed the first ever three-dimensional analysis of windmill pitching. My thesis investigated the timing of the pitch, the path of the ball, factors contributing to ball velocity and stresses on the shoulder.
When I graduated from Indiana, I was offered a research assistantship at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO to work in the Sport Science Department. Sport Science consists of Biomechanics, Exercise Physiology and Sport Psychology. Biomechanics, which is my area of expertise, is the study of human movement. The goals of Sport Biomechanics are to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Basically, we apply Physics, Biology and Engineering principles to athletics. High-speed videography, force measurement and computer analysis are used to evaluate sport skills. In my opinion, it is our job to carry out research and be able to bridge the gap between high-tech science and the coaches and athletes.
From Colorado I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where I worked at the American Sports Medicine Institute with James Andrews, MD. Because I worked with a group of orthopedic surgeons, our research was geared toward prevention, detection, and rehabilitation of athletic injuries. Although I did have a chance to evaluate a few injured windmill pitchers, most of my time was spent analyzing the stresses on the elbow in baseball pitching. Never one to stray too far from softball, I also coached a Dixie Youth team and ran informal pitching clinics for seven to twelve year-old girls.
Although coaching has provided many memorable moments, my biggest thrill came in a phone call from my former boss, Head of Biomechanics at the Olympic Training Center. She asked if I would assist her staff and act as a softball consultant in collecting data at the Pan Am softball tryouts. Once softball was officially declared an Olympic sport for 1996, ASA (the National Governing Body of softball) had better access to the Training Center and asked for biomechanical testing. We collected high-speed video data on six of the top pitchers at the tryout. We also collected force data on the stride foot of one pitcher (whose last name was Fernandez!). Along with the stride foot force analysis, I calculated the loads on the shoulder and elbow joints from the video data.
Since my first experience with elite pitchers, I have gotten a PhD in Biomechanics from Penn State, carried out a study on the pitchers at the 1996 Olympics, worked at Steadman-Hawkins Sports Medicine in Vail, CO, Tulane University in New Orleans LA, TMI Sports Medicine in Arlington, TX and now am a private biomechanics consultant and pitching instructor. Recently I collaborated with Jennie Finch and her dad, Doug, on 2 instructional DVD's based on science and medicine.
The need for a scientific basis in pitching is obvious. We need to know if the “proper” mechanics we are teaching young girls are safe and efficient. Gradually, more and more interest is being shown in getting the facts on pitching. I will attempt in future columns to share with you the results of my research, studies that are done by other scientists and the science behind the art of pitching. I hope you are as excited as I am that Fastpitch Softball Magazine is giving us this opportunity.