Trouble With The Curve
There has always been much debate over when a youth player should be allowed to throw curveballs for the sake of his arm. Many leagues have rules in place where curveballs aren’t even allowed to be thrown until 11-12 years old. Although the threat of damaging a boy’s arm by throwing too many curveballs at too young an age is a valid reason for holding back, the point of this conversation has little to do with health and injuries. The main thing I want to discuss is the affect it has in regards to developing that child’s arm and developing the fastball.
I like to ask the kids on my team, “What’s the best, most effective pitch in baseball?” Although this point could be argued, most knowledgeable baseball guys would tell you that it’s the fastball. All other pitches that are thrown hinge on the success of the fastball. The answer I get often times though is that the curveball, or some similar pitch, is the most effective. Although I would expect a kid to give me that response, because to them making a ball curve or a guy look silly is cool and funny, what’s frightened me is the amount of coaches who obviously agree. There have been numerous times when we’ve played a team whose pitcher had an above average fastball, yet seemed to throw 25% or more curveballs. This concerns me for a few reasons…
- The player isn’t being taught how to effectively use his fastball to get outs
- The player isn’t developing his arm properly
- The player isn’t gaining confidence to use a fastball to get the out
My guys ask me on nearly a daily basis, “Can I throw some curveballs tonight?” My response is always the same. I tell them that if they locate their fastballs and stay ahead in counts and prove to me they can throw strikes consistently, we may mix one or two in there. ONE OR TWO. So far this season in three games, I believe I’ve called 3 off speed pitches total (We’re 3-0). What I want my guys to learn is that having a breaking ball that can strike everyone out at 13 years old is cool and funny, but when you’re 17 or 18 and trying to pitch at the high school level, your fastball is only 80 mph, and guys start figuring out how to hit that curveball, you become useless. I try to make them realize that they don’t need to throw 50% breaking balls to win a game or to get outs, but rather they would be better off learning how to locate their fastball, how to create movement with it, how to change speeds with it, and ultimately build velocity.
If a player is throwing a lot of curveballs, then they are going to develop a curveball arm. Every player out there wants to have the strongest arm, yet also wants to throw a ton of curveballs. Unfortunately for youth players, that just isn’t generally possible. If you want to develop a strong arm that will help you not only in pitching, but at every other position on the field, then you have to get out there and throw. Players need to be throwing often, mixing in a fair amount of long tossing, in order to build those shoulder muscles and gain arm speed.
The problem I’m seeing though is that as coaches, we get so wrapped up in winning the game that we neglect the kids arms and the fundamentals of the game, just so at the end of the season we can say we were the league champs. BIG WHOOP!!! Don’t get me wrong, I love to win and will do everything in my power to do so, but not at the expense of improperly developing a player. My number one focus is and should be to train and develop these players so that every year, every game, every day they are getting better and better. We need to remember sometimes that these guys aren’t in the MLB against professional hitters. Most the hitters in the leagues have trouble enough even hitting a fastball consistently.
As a result of all the curveballs being thrown, pitchers aren’t properly developing their arms and hitters aren’t learning how to hit. Now we’re sending kids to high school who are throwing 80 mph and can’t hit. But let’s not forget that time when we were 11 and won the league championship, right? If your son or player is being asked to throw numerous breaking balls under 14 years old, I would advise you to kindly pull the coach aside in private and ask him if he would refrain from doing so. Your child can have success for today, or he can learn to have success for later in life when it starts to really get exciting.
Feel free to chime in on your thoughts and experiences.
More reading and an article that goes more in depth can be found here.