Report to the Coaches: Softball Pitching at the 1996 Olympic Games



The research project carried out in Columbus, GA provides benchmark data for future Olympic softball competitions. It is hoped that this pitching analysis contributes a basis for the education of coaches and guidelines for developing young pitchers. In addition, knowledge of joint ranges of motion and speeds of movement, along with joint forces, should provide a scientific basis for improved preventive and rehabilitative protocols for softball pitchers. Investigation of body segment contributions to ball speed may also add to a better understanding of injury mechanisms and performance improvement.

The ultimate significance of this study is an increased pool of information regarding a highly dynamic and potentially harmful skill. An increase in the database on elite windmill pitchers not only permits the current line of research, but also provides a basis for additional studies. Normative ranges for pitching mechanics and joint stress can begin to be established and performance variables can begin to be identified. Data collection at the 1996 Olympic Games will enable continued study into the injury mechanisms and performance factors in windmill pitching. It is hoped that circulation of the results of these studies will also enhance the efforts of countries which are just beginning to develop international-caliber softball teams.


Previous pilot studies indicated that the loads on the shoulder and elbow joints are significant in softball pitching. Preliminary research has also indicated that the prevalence of arm injury is high for windmill pitchers. Therefore, the purposes of the Olympic study were: (a) to add to the existing scientific database on elite windmill pitchers, (b) to investigate the relationship between throwing arm joint stress and pitching mechanics and (c) to make practical application of the research to the international softball community.


Video data were collected on 26 of the 30 pitchers competing at the 1996 Olympic Games. High-speed video cameras were necessary to sufficiently capture the pitching motion for scientific analysis. While a standard camcorder collects data at a rate of 30 pictures per second, the cameras used for the study operated at 120 pictures per second. Cameras were placed in the stands on the first base and third base sides of the pitcher. A third camera was mounted behind home plate above the press area. For a right-handed pitcher, video images were collected with the home plate and third base cameras; and for lefthanders, the home plate and first base views were used.

Video analysis for each pitcher began with a process called "digitizing." Using a computer linked to a VCR, twenty body landmarks were tracked, frame by frame, throughout the pitching motion from both camera views. Data from the two cameras were then synchronized in time and mathematically combined to produce a three-dimensional representation of the pitch. In order to maintain consistency, rise balls were analyzed for the Olympic pitchers. All but two of the pitchers threw a rise ball during the videotaping, and thus, all of the following results are based on 24 elite pitchers.

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