When should you teach youth pitchers how to throw a curveball?

By Dan Gazaway, Owner of The Pitching Academy

This has been a debatable topic for many years now and there are many theories as to when a youth pitcher should learn how to throw a curveball. The fact is that there is no magical age to start teaching the pitch. Here is my take on youth pitchers who learn how to throw a curveball .

First and foremost, a pitcher should not mess around with any other pitch until they learn proper fastball mechanics.  When one of my pitchers can throw a decent fastball, the first pitch I will teach them is an effective changeup.  Change of speed and location (hitting your spots) is important and before a pitcher reaches the high school level he can be very successful with just two pitches; if they are great pitches of course.

There are many dangers if youth pitchers don’t understand a few key points about throwing the curveball .  Here are a few of them:

  • They don’t know how to throw a curveball properly.
  • They fall in love with the pitch, because they have found success with it and they tend to overuse it.  A curveball, even at the major league level, should not be thrown more than 20% of the time.
  • The curveball, regardless if it is thrown correctly, will put more stress on your throwing arm than a fastball because of wrist and forearm angle at the release of the pitch.
  • Youth pitchers who have not hit puberty haven’t developed enough in their bones and connective tissues like tendons and ligaments that help support larger muscle groups; therefore, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Youth pitchers hands and fingers are short so most of them have problems with the pitching grip affecting the proper release of the baseball which can also lead to injury.

What is the solution?  Educate yourself on the proper mechanics of the curveball.  Understand the risks that are associated with the curve.  Also, don’t be too hesitant to teach the curveball; it is a very effective pitch to have in your arsenal.  If you wait too long to learn the curveball, you may not have time to throw a “great” curveball. Teach the proper pitching grip first, then wrist and forearm angle at release of the baseball.  It is important not to teach a pitcher that they have to snap or twist their wrist a certain way at release of the baseball.

I have all of my pitchers practice gripping and throwing the curveball on their knees, throwing the pitch to a net much closer than they would off a mound.  You reduce the risk of injury this way because you have taken the momentum out of the pitch (they are not exploding to foot strike).  This way, with the knee drill, they will be able to throw more curveballs, learning the pitch much faster than they would throwing off a mound or on their feet on flat ground. In conclusion, before you learn how to throw a curveball, learn proper pitching mechanics first.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

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