Played baseball for 13 years and coached little league for 7. Dan has a true passion for the game.
Nearly every little league ballplayer I've ever known, myself included, says they want to pitch when they start out. Why wouldn't they? That's the guy who gets to touch the ball every play. All eyes are on him and the batter. It's the quarterback position of baseball.
Well, if you want to help get your youngster into the rotation, start to instill the basic pitching mechanics and techniques I've laid out for you here along with explanations of common terminology and rules surrounding the pitcher position. This will give your little leaguer the tools he needs to impress the coach right out of the gate. This article will focus on the following.
- Proper mechanics
- Wind up vs. stretch
- Pitcher rules
- Tips to help with the mental aspect of pitching
Little League Strike Zone Size
In the first years of kid pitch little league, the strike zone is typically from the shin to shoulder and white line to white line. (One batter's box line to the other.) A bit forgiving so the batters are encouraged to swing.
At age 10, this will shrink a bit to being over the plate between the knees and armpits. Then again from knees to belly at around age 13. Once in high school, the zone is more lower knee to belt.
This is, of course, subject to the judgment of the umpire...as are most things in baseball. It never hurts to ask at the beginning of the game what the umpire will be calling.
If you want some more information on how a little league field is set up, I wrote an in-depth article on little league measurements and lining (striping).
Intro to Pitching in Little League Baseball
Little League Baseball rules usually state that the players start pitching to each other, instead of using a tee or having a coach pitch to them, at around the age of 7. That said, I'm willing to bet that the boys who will end up pitching the most at that time will have already been working on the job in the back yard for a couple of years by then though. I'm not suggesting you get out there and start having your child throw you a hundred pitches at age 5 but I am suggesting that if you really want to give your child a leg up, you have to get out there with them yourself and show them the basics.
Let's start here with the object of the pitcher.
- Throw the ball so that the batter can hit it.
- Get ready to catch it when he does.
Don't over coach a beginning pitcher. In these beginning years, the focus should never be on striking people out or "aiming" the ball.
- Don't tell them their job is to strike out the batter because this creates pressure and disappointment, not to mention it's just not true. Strikeouts happen and sure, strikeouts are great so give 'em a high five but pitching goes well beyond that later down the road so don't create the pressure of that being the job description. If they give up a hit, good. That means they're throwing strikes and the rest of the team won't fall asleep. We can work on "working the strike zone" and such around age 12 or 13.
- Don't tell them to aim because the word "aim" makes the player think he needs to do something different than he normally does or from what comes naturally. Think about it...when you throw a ball or rock, you don't really aim like you do with a dart. Let the brain take care of the aim...just throw the ball to the zone. This brings up another point...the word aim leads a kid to believe that there is a SPOT to throw the ball rather than an AREA. This is important for them to understand.
Pitching From the Stretch
Pitching from the stretch is the best way to start teaching your ballplayer to pitch in little league. It's a bit simpler to follow due to its' step by step process. The wind up is more of a complex motion and if there are runners on base, the pitcher will need to be in the stretch anyway.
Let's take a look at pitching from the stretch in photos so you can see and understand clearly what the steps are. I've provided looks from both the left and right-hand side so you can see how the process is still the same just with a different push foot and throwing arm.
Pitching from the Wind Up
Pitching from the wind up allows the pitcher to go through a fluid motion that allows him to build up a bit more power. In the earliest stages of little league baseball, kids do not often throw from the wind up and once the motion is started, the pitcher cannot stop his motion or a balk can be called. This is why when there are runners on base, the pitcher throws from the stretch. He then has 2 different positions in which he can attempt to throw out a runner who is leading off or stealing a base.
In this video, you'll see the only real difference is the step back off and to the side of the rubber before rotating the foot 90 degrees for a good push off. This is then followed by the knee lift and continues like pitching from the stretch. It's just that rocking back motion that adds the extra boost to the pitcher's delivery.
Tips for Helping a Little League Ball Player Become a Pitcher
- Remember what I said about the objective of a pitcher. It isn't his job to strike everyone out. Especially in little league. Rejoice when it happens but don't make it the objective.
- Remember what I said about aiming. Instead, focus on getting everything moving toward the plate. Accuracy will come more naturally this way.
- Pitching is largely mental. I can't emphasize enough that a pitcher must understand he will hit a batter. He will give up a homer. He will throw bad pitches and when these things happen, he must remain calm. Getting taken out of the game is NOT the end of the world. Everyone has bad days.
- As pitching is so mental, ballplayers tend to overthink what they're doing. If you feel this might be the case, try talking to them about their day while they pitch or even have them recite their ABC's. It really doesn't matter as long as they aren't thinking about what they're doing.
- As you begin to make progress, place two trash barrels at the plate, one on each side, to simulate batters being there. Try to get the pitcher to pretend they aren't even there. It's the pitcher's plate and the batter's job to move if the pitch is wild. By pretending the batter isn't there, the pitcher gives himself a little bigger mental target area. If the batter is in that area, the pitcher has to blot that out and not try to miss the batter. IT'S HIS AREA!
- Practice like you play. When practicing pitching, make sure your player wears his hat and you are set at the proper pitching distance for his/her age group.
There are a whole lot of rules in baseball however in little league, there are a few things that are the main focus of the little league baseball officials. Balking is the most common penalty which means the pitcher has done something wrong and the base runners are now able to advance one base for free. Even home and no one wants that.
- Coming set: We talked about this when discussing the stretch method of pitching. The umpire wants to see a complete stop basically when coming set or a balk can be called.
- Stopping in the wind-up: Again, a balk will be called if a pitcher in the wind up stops his motion at any point during the process of delivering the pitch.
- The ball and glove must stay together once they come together. This applies mainly to the stretch again. Once the player comes set and the ball comes in contact with the glove, it can only come out again to be pitched or a balk can be called.
- Stepping off: If the pitcher decides he's not ready to pitch, from the stretch, he can step back off the pitcher's plate toward second base and address whatever caused him to not be ready. Then he can start over again. If in the wind up, he can only do this before he starts his motion and must step back with the opposite foot he would if he were going to pitch.
- Spit balling: A pitcher may lick his fingers or wipe his forehead so long as he wipes his hand on his pant leg prior to touching the ball. Spit balling isn't quite what it used to be.
- Uniform: If the pitcher is wearing a long sleeve shirt, it cannot be white. Nor can he wear a batting glove or have any distracting gear on his person while pitching. The glove color itself can come into question if too distracting or extremely long strings hanging from the glove. Basically, the pitcher is to wear his basic uniform when on the mound as not to distract the batter.
Little League Pitching Should Be Simple
I hope the information above has given you some good ideas on what to work on with your youngster and future little league baseball star. Just remember to keep it simple to start. As much as I love baseball, for the little players, it's hard to keep them interested sometimes and if we go to deep to fast, they can become overwhelmed and bored. As with all baseball practice drills for young ballplayers, you want to emphasize a couple of key points repetitively in small doses so interest isn't lost.
The true moral of this story is, your child is a natural. Don't over coach them so that they can find their comfort zone. No matter what the "pros" say, they all say if you're not comfortable doing what you're doing, it's extremely hard to be successful.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can the pitcher in little league wear non-prescription sunglasses?
Answer: That can really depend on the league and age group they are in. Typically the pitcher isn't allowed to have anything unnecessary to play the game, however.
© 2014 Dan Reed
Larry W Fish from Raleigh on September 26, 2017:
An interesting article, Dan, and it brings back a lot of memories. I was a pitcher in Little League and also played first base. That was many years ago, my last year in little league was 1961. At the end of the season we were taken to Yankee Stadium. It was the year Roger Marris and Mickey Mantle were in a homerun race. Marris ended up with 61 and if I remember right I think Mantle ended up with 56.
Anyway Little League was a great time and years later I watched my son play and later my grandsons. Wow, I must be old, hahahaha.
Dan Reed (author) on August 30, 2014:
Thanks baseballbrains. I appreciate the feedback. Yes, keeping the kids loving the sport is most important particularly when young.
baseballbrains on August 30, 2014:
This is great information, good job on it! I like the reminders of "keeping it simple" and not overcoaching. As coaches we always feel like we have to be "fixing" stuff or we're not doing our jobs, when really a Little League coaches job is often just letting the kids play! Very good breakdown of the rules too, well done.