This blog is likely going to come off more as a rant than a well-constructed series of thoughts. With that said, I have one simple question. Why is it so hard to maintain a serviceable pitching mound on Little League baseball fields?
My kids just finished participating in a tournament where the mound had a crater directly in front of the pitching rubber. Additionally, another crater where the stride foot lands. But even worse, it was a 50-70 tournament and the field is designed to host both 50-70 games as well as 46-60 games. So, flanking the crater at the landing foot are two metal posts sticking out of the ground so that the rubber can easily be moved from 46 feet to 50 feet and back. These metal posts are immoveable and a challenge to cover with dirt. Even if the pitcher had perfect mechanics, there would be no way to execute them given the mound conditions. Unfortunately, this situation is more of the norm than the exception when traveling to tournaments.
When mounds are not properly maintained, kids are altering their mechanics and learning bad habits that will stay with them until they find the right coach to help correct the problems that poor mounds created.
If there is a crater in front of the rubber, it affects a few critical aspects of the pitching delivery. First, depending on the size, shape and location of the hole, it will dictate where the pitcher can set up instead of letting their back foot dragline determine where to set up. Ideally, you want to position yourself on the rubber so that your back foot is in the center of the rubber at ball release. Depending on how the athlete moves, which is unique to each pitcher, that could mean they need to set up to the far right, far left or center of the rubber to ensure their back foot is in the center at the release point.
Second, you ideally want to get a good leap off the mound for a longer stride (and not push off the mound, which is a common misconception). Leaping helps you achieve a longer stride. Stride length combined with timing is one of the most critical aspects to increase your velocity and have an efficient delivery. A crater will reduce your ability to do so, while reducing your ability to get sufficient foot flexion and create a proper dragline, which should finish in the center at release and be at least 2 of the pitcher’s own feet from the front of the rubber.
Having a crater where your landing foot is will also affect the natural movement of the pitcher. It may also dictate where they set up on the mound so that they can avoid the crater when their front foot lands at the end of their stride. The hole can also affect their ability to achieve proper hip-shoulder separation as it will now take longer for the foot to land due to it having to sink in the crater, and their shoulder will start to rotate prematurely. This will affect velocity and accuracy. And most important, it can cause injury. It can cause to pitcher put more stress on their elbow and/or to land awkwardly, injuring an ankle or even their throwing arm due to all the unnatural adjustments needed to deliver the ball.
If you run a youth league, have a couple bags of mound clay on hand. After each game, have the team’s coaches fill in the holes created, tamp it down and cover it with a small tarp. Taking these 5 minutes will preserve good mechanics and reduce injury for young pitchers.
PS – if you use a portable mound, be sure it is long enough to where pitchers are not having to decide whether to stride shorter or longer to miss landing on the edge of the mound. It would be better to go without a mound.