The Side Arm Conundrum  July 07, 2016 21:13

What’s wrong with throwing side arm? Should a young player be “corrected” if they drop down and sling the ball from the side? Heck, I honestly don’t have an answer for you. I wish I did, but to say the baseball and softball worlds, and all the “experts” out there offering advice and expertise on everything from how to apply eye black to the art of the squeeze bunt, are divided on the subject of throwing side arm would be an understatement. I have an opinion, my own preference on teaching throwing mechanics, based on medical research and respected baseball and softball knowledge, but I can’t definitively tell you one way or another if it is right or wrong, healthy or detrimental. I can most definitely tell you, just like throwing over the top, that throwing side arm can be done in a right way and a wrong way, and this is what is most important. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is one of the best throwers in the game and he demonstrates the two types of throws perfectly.

My feeling is this: throwing side arm should be used like a tool, but you need to know when to use it. Throwing side arm can be a very effective tool, for middle infielders, for a quick release and to keep runners from getting into their bodies around second base (this is for higher levels of play, so let’s leave that alone for now), and for pitchers who may not have the velocity to consistently get hitters out throwing from a more conventional arm slot, and who need to change looks and speeds to keep hitters off balance. These are situational tools, to be used when the time calls for it. Hey, there are jobs that require a sledge hammer, and there are jobs that require a chisel. If you choose the wrong one, the results may not be what you’re looking for, and if you don’t have both in your toolbox, you may lose the job to someone who does. This is why I feel it is extremely important to build a solid foundation for good, efficient, and effective throwing mechanics from a young age. 

Let’s look at this from the standpoint of youth baseball and softball. If a young boy or girl loves to play baseball or softball, the best thing a parent or coach can do is to teach them to play the game in a way that allows them to experience that joy for as long as possible. When we limit their effectiveness, and pigeonhole them into roles or positions where there abilities can only be utilized in one or two spots on the field, we minimize their chances at longevity. 

I tell this story often, and I think it applies particularly well to this debate. I was at a high school softball game recently, during the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) playoffs, very high level play. A ball was hit to the right side, deep in the hole by the second base bag. The young lady playing second made a great play in the hole, knocked the ball down, recovered, and made a throw, a sidearm throw, to first for the out. Her throwing motion struck me because it was more of a flick from the side then a throw, and although it got there, barely, it did not have much zip on it. After a clean single, the clean-up hitter stepped to the plate and hit a shot to deep center field. The relay throw missed the shortstop, but the same girl playing second was in position backing up the play, and fielded the ball at the edge of the infield grass as the runner on first turned for home. The second baseman quickly turned, dropped down to sidearm, and threw home. It was a very quick turn, but her throw had no power, no force, and it bounced twice before reaching the catcher, a good step and a half too late. That run was the difference in the game, and it should never have scored. The runner should have been out by two steps, but the second baseman only had a chisel, and at that particular moment, for that particular job, she needed a sledge hammer.

I believe it’s best to teach kids to throw from a more conventional, over the top motion. I believe throwing this way is the most efficient, effective way to deliver the ball, in terms of accuracy and velocity. I believe it is detrimental to allow kids to throw in a way that may hold them back when the field gets larger, and the distance players need to throw gets longer. I agree that it is not always best to tinker with a young player’s natural “slot”, but when a coach or parent sees something incongruous in a player’s shoulder level, or if there is pain or soreness involved in a motion, it is best to try to adjust the throwing mechanics as early as possible. After all, even successful Major League players adjust their slot from time to time (See Max Scherzer). 

If you are interested in helping your young player make this adjustment using The HeadCoach Throw Trainer, here are some simple steps to get you started:

Start on one knee, glove side knee up. Establish a solid base, where you son or daughter won't easily topple over if pushed or nudged. He should be balanced and firm in this position. 

Make sure hips, trunk, and shoulders are turned perpendicular to the throwing partner, who should only be 10-15 feet away. We want to generate good rotation, and squaring the shoulders to the target too soon will decrease the torque needed to throw with velocity. 

Point at the target with glove or glove side elbow. This is very important, and a lot of kids ignore this element of throwing mechanics. Pointing that glove keeps them focused on their target, and it gets them moving forward, in line with where they want the ball to go. 

As the player starts to rotate, coming up towards release point, try to graze the tip of the VIA at the midpoint of the throwing wrist. Look at the VIA, and have them hold their hand, with a ball in it, so that their wrist is right at the tip. This is where the hand needs to be as they come forward to release the baseball. 

As the throwing arm comes up and forward, make sure to pull that glove back into the body, tucking it into the chest. At the same time, make sure they bend at the waist, keeping their eyes directly on the target, reaching to release the ball out in front of their body. Two things you will hear coaches say over and over are "on top and out in front". Very important for getting the most velocity possible, as well as keeping the ball in line and improving accuracy.   

Finally, as the player finishes their throw, be sure to follow through with the throwing hand on the OUTSIDE of that up (glove side) knee, and down as close to the ground as they can go. Bending and releasing out front, the throwing hand should reach the outside of that leg with ease. 

This does not need to be strenuous throwing, it just needs to be very deliberate, making sure to really focus on completing each step correctly. Creating good mechanics is a matter of repeating certain motions over and over again until it becomes second nature. When correcting a flaw, it takes time and a conscious effort at doing it the right way, every time, over and over and over. 

Start here. Eventually you will increase the distance and the velocity of the throws. For now, have the focus be on coming up and over top, and hitting very small targets. For instance, don't tell the player to hit your glove when they throw, instead tell them to hit a spot in the webbing of your glove, then hold it up and see if they can hit it. Make this a game called “hit the spot”.  Aim small, miss small. Repeat. Whatever your feelings may be about throwing side arm, this has proven to be a very successful tool in making the adjustment to more conventional mechanics.