If you have read any of my previous parts, you know that I am a strong advocate of the pendulum swing. I believe it offers the best chance of a repeating swing directly at the stake. So, below I describe each aspect of my setup, swing and release. During the 2009 pitching season I was forced to make a major swing change because of a knee problem. Actually, this was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to eliminate the deep knee bend that I was previously using. I will describe the change below.
As I have mentioned before, there are some fixed locations which you can take advantage of. Fairly constant from site to site is the width of the approach. I use this fact for foot alignment purposes.
Starting Position — The photo is of my backyard approach. My left heel is placed at the edge of the approach with my left toe pointing directly at the end-up location. Note the string to the right that follows the center of gravity of the horseshoe as it hangs down at my side. The location of the line of flight string is derived by the location the horseshoe as it rests against my leg. I will explain why this is important a little later. Also note the red line that is parallel to the line of flight. This red line represents the direction of my step forward. This location insures that my right shoulder follows the line of flight. The toe outline at the end of the red line is where I want my left foot to end up, which is directly in line with right foot and insures balance during release.
Left Foot at Release — It is imperative that my left foot end up precisely in line with my right foot. When I release the horseshoe, I always check the location of my left foot on the approach. Without fail, when I miss a bit right my left foot will have crossed over the end point. If my left foot goes too far to the right, my shoulder is sure to follow, thus, missing right.
Distance from Foul Line — Determining the left foot relationship to the foul line is easily determined with my shoe retriever. The photo below shows how I can measure my forward step using the retriever. My shoe retriever is NHPA approved and is 33″ long. Some tournament directors do not disapprove of marking your foot position with a chalk line. So, carry one in your bag in case you can mark the line. Otherwise, you’ll have to use some method to find your spot and use some point of reference on the approach or the grass. Eventually, you’ll have a feel for the proper distance and can easily pace it off. It’s a bit easier if you’re pitching from 40 feet. The stake is usually halfway between the backboard and foul line. So, use the stake or backboard as your reference point. Some tournament sites will mark the assumed stake location for 30 foot pitchers.
Settling In — Once I have taken my grip, positioned my feet, I extend my right arm until I feel a slight tightening of my tricep and rest the shoe against my right leg. I will sometimes tap the shoe against my leg to establish the mental relationship between the shoe and my right leg. This is an important aspect of my swing. Even though the photo doesn’t show it properly, the center of gravity of the shoe and my left thumb are directly over the line of flight. If I swing the shoe up to my visual alignment location to the right of the stake and pass it as close as possible to my right leg on the downswing, I know that I am swinging on the line of flight. This setup and swing virtually eliminates a shoe going to the right of the stake.
The Swing Cadence — When I am ready I begin a mental cadence or rhythm — 1 and 2 and 3 and 1 and 2 and 3… I swing up to my visual alignment point and without stopping start the downswing, passing the shoe close to my right leg, and hit my backswing stop point. To this point I have not moved anything other than my arm. When I hit my backswing stop point, I step forward as I begin the forward swing, hit my end-point and release the shoe. When I start my step forward I try to move directly at the stake. I hold my release position until the shoe reaches the stake, look down and make a mental note of my left foot position. During the entire swing I am trying to remain in rhythm. I want the upswing, backswing and forward swing to be in time with the cadence. If the speed of the cadence is correct, the horseshoe will travel the correct distance.
Troubleshooting — I never want to think “What am I doing?”, when I miss a ringer. With the technique I have described I can immediately determine what caused the problem. Granted, it may be a couple of things, but, I will know which couple. Let’s assume the shoe arrives short and left. If my left foot is at the correct end-point at release, the “left” problem is the shoe passed too far to the right of my leg going back. If my cadence was normal, the “short” problem implies I released the shoe too early. If my cadence was too slow, I need to speed it up a bit. I have developed a little “flowchart” to indicate a problem and possible cause. Select the link below for a simple flowchart.
Swing Change (Old Method) — I mentioned above about making a major swing change. Prior to my knee problem I would swing my arm up to a stationary position parallel to the ground and pointing at my visual alignment point. I would start the backswing by bending my upper body forward directly the stake. That move would drop my arm downward and begin the backswing. That would also drop my body into a lower release position and cause the shoe to come in very low. What was disconcerting was when I held the arm stationary I could see how nervous I was. In addition, it would place a lot of pressure and weight on my left knee as I bent forward. I had to make a change.
Swing Change (New Method) — I decided if I wanted to emulate the pendulum then why not swing like one. I also wanted to eliminate the deep knee bend. After I have taken my stance and rested the horseshoe on my leg, I begin my mental rhythmic cadence. I swing the shoe up to my visual alignment point to the right of the stake and slightly higher than the top of the stake. Without pause I allow the shoe to drop into the downswing and carry it to my backswing stop point. Up to this point I have not moved anything except my arm…up, down, back. When I hit my backswing stop point I begin the step forward trying to remain in cadence. At the end of my forward swing I simply let the shoe go. It is important that when I start the forward swing I have not moved my right leg from it’s setup location. This insures that I can use my right leg as a directional aid both during downswing and forward swing. In the end, I want my arm to swing exactly as the pendulum of a clock, everything in time. So that’s it for now…I hope to make Part 21 my preparation for a tournament, the preparation of the pit between matches and keeping score.
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