Keeping the back foot down

Wow! Is this really my first entry in October? Where is the time going? I apologize for my lack of posting and will make a vow to try and get on here more often. I have lots of ideas. I just have to remember to get them down!

In any case, this one is about a fairly common problem with fastpitch softball pitchers — lifting the back foot when they push off. The rules, of course, state the back foot is supposed to remain in contact with ground until the ball is delivered. Many pitchers, especially those trying to get some good leg power into it, seem to have trouble with something that seems like it should be very simple. Although to be honest most umpires won’t call it anyway unless it’s really blatant. Still, we like to play the rules so let’s try to solve it.

There are some good drills that attempt to address it. One of my favorites is Cheri Kempf’s drill where you put a piece of paper or cardboard down in front of the pitcher’s rubber, and then try to drag it forward as the foot moves forward. That will treat the symptom, and will probably help if practiced enough. But it doesn’t address the reason that foot is coming off the ground in the first place.

In my experience, the thing that causes the foot to come off the ground about six inches or so is that the ankle gets locked on launch. And that is often caused by turning the pivot foot too much during the launch phase in a desire to get to the open position. In other words, a right handed pitcher will turn the toes way to the right (toward third base) instead of leaving them pointed forward at the plate and the catcher. When that happens the push-off comes off the instep of the pivot foot, the ankle locks, and the foot comes off the ground.

So how do you change it? Start with making sure the toes remain pointed at the catcher, or mostly so, so the ankle can flex — much like it flexes when a basketball player goes up for a layout. As the push-off occurs, push off the ball of the foot and roll up onto the toes. It’s not too tough a move — anyone who walks does it every day. Flexing the ankle and pushing off the ball of the foot should cause the toes to point down, allowing the foot to drag lightly across the ground. If you see a big divot in the ground, you’re not getting “up” enough and you’re losing leg speed.

The toes forward/ankle flex is a movement that can be practiced without a field, gym, or even a ball. All you need is about eight feet of unrestricted space. Start by focusing just on the feet and legs, without using a full motion with the arms. Once you’re comfortable with that, add the rest of the pitching motion, again without a ball. When you can do it reliably without the ball, add the ball. The problem should be solved.
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