Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Ultimate Frisbee Strategy/Coaching Blog Comprehensive Throwing Guide!

Ok, well maybe I’m not quite there yet….but I think that’s going to be my project for the next few weeks - I’m going to try to put together a big guide to teaching new players how to throw. I kind of have this somewhat scary vision of creating waves and waves of the identical perfect thrower. Has anyone ever seen that commercial for the Tom Lemanski baseball thing? I think the tag line is “winner of AAU back to back to back national titles!” and then they flash up the newspaper headlines. Then it cuts to 10 kids out there swinging a baseball bat and they look like clones? That’s what I’m aiming for….well maybe not exactly…but I do believe that while they’re maybe some variation from individual to individual as to what throwing form works best, there’s also probably some underlying fundamental techniques that all great throwers possess. The point of this “guide to throwing” is to identify what good fundamentals really are, and then explain how to teach them to someone who doesn’t know how to throw.

The difficulty here is that I’m a pretty mediocre thrower myself…this is where YOU come in. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably spent an inordinate amount of time teaching new players how to throw. I want to know what’s worked for you. Here are some of the things I want to know 1)what’s the ideal position to have your feet in when you throw your flick/backhand? Does this position change depending on what type of flick or backhand your throwing (IO vs OI etc)? How does this change depending on how the defender is marking (mugging vs. taking a step back)? 2) what’s the best way to hold the flick/backhand? Is it better to just let people hold it how it feels comfortable? Should your grip change based on how far you’re trying to throw it? 3) where does power/distance come from? 4) Once we’ve identifed these things, what’s the best way to teach them? 5) Anything else that strikes your fancy when it comes to throwing.


Noah said...

Miscellaneous tips that I've given or been given that seemed to help, in no particular order:

-stay balanced
-keep your "trunk" vertical, especially your head (esp. when throwing inverts)
-snap your wrist, as spin is important
-snap your wrist harder
-(the grip is hard to explain in text...)
-two fingers on the rim for a flick, regardless of the distance
-for backhand hucks, four fingers inside the rim is generally best
-for backhand non-hucks, do what's comfortable as long as you get enough spin on it. if you want to stick your index finger on the rim, it's not the end of the world.
-obviously, depending on how the person's throws look and what they do, different suggestions might be appropriate... it seems that some players just have a knack for recognizing ways to help a developing thrower, so find one of these if you yourself are not one
-generally, grip the disc tightly
-try to figure out the difference between spin and directional velocity. spin keeps the disc in the air and stabilizes it, directional velocity makes the disc get to its destination
-try to get enough spin on your throws so the throw will just "sit" in the air for a receiver
-teaching people how to throw is mostly about watching them individually and being able to suggest tips which may or may not work
-often as people try to throw hucks (esp. backhands) they tend to a) step into their throws (i.e. move the non-pivot foot straight forward) or b) put too much elbow into it (esp. for flick hucks). in my experience, it is preferable to step to the side to maintain balance and to focus on getting enough spin and the appropriate angle on hucks, rather than just cranking them as hard as possible
-for hucks, start the throw slightly inverted and it will turn over as it moves downfield
-it is harder to throw inverts than outside-in, especially with the flick... so it can be helpful to work on bending the wrist in that way to get a clean release
-practice throwing as flat as possible
-practice throwing inverts and outside-in passes too
-throw more
-throw even more

Hopefully I didn't say just the obvious stuff. Pulling is an entirely different issue, maybe we can dissect that in a future chapter of the Comprehensive Throwing Guide. Oh yeah, pivoting (and breaking the mark) is an entirely different chapter as well... might ask Josh Markette about that.


Tarr said...

This is something I've thought about a lot this year. I feel like I didn't really understand how to teach throwing until this year.

1)what’s the ideal position to have your feet in when you throw your flick/backhand?

I think one thing that's important to recognize when it comes to throw against a mark is that there are fundamentally two approaches (three if you count overheads, which I'm not for the moment):

1) A quick throw that the defender can't react to in time.

2) A pivoted throw that is released from a spot the defender can't get to.

Examples of the first would be a quick high backhand or a invert flick where you drop straight down and throw under the hands. For these throws, foot position is something of an afterthrought.

But for the second sort (and I would lump regular open-side throws into this category as well) I have developed a simple piece of advice: your lower leg on your non-pivot side should be vertical. This applies whether you are throwing a simple uncontested throw standing straight up, or whether you are pivoting all the way around a mark. The other thing I harp on is to not bend at the waist to throw low. Get your butt down. Bend your back knee.

OK, so that's "lower body position" as oppose to "foot position". As far as actual foot position, the above advice leads naturally to pointing your non-pivot foot away from your center of mass, and pivoting on the front of your toe box as oppose to the side. I thonk that makes sense.

Does this position change depending on what type of flick or backhand your throwing (IO vs OI etc)? How does this change depending on how the defender is marking (mugging vs. taking a step back)?

As long as I am sticking to a "pivoted throw", as oppose to a "quick throw", then no on all counts. Certain marks take away certain throws, for sure, but this doesn't change my fundamental throwing technique too much.

2) what’s the best way to hold the flick/backhand? Is it better to just let people hold it how it feels comfortable? Should your grip change based on how far you’re trying to throw it?

People's hands are different, so people need to do different things to get enough flesh on plastic. But there are fundamentals that are immutable.

On the backhand side, power or hybrid grip. Don't let them even think about the finger on the rim. It just hurts them down the line when they have to re-learn. If someone feels more comfortable letting their middle or ring finger drift toward the center of the disc, that's OK, as long as the index finger is curled around that rim.

Flick side, it's really more about how that person's hand fits in the disc. Joel Wooten had (still has?) the one finger flick, and that worked for his monster hands. I've taught some folks with smaller hands to throw a three-finger flick (middle and ring finger in the groove, index finger out under the disc).

When teaching someone a grip, try to grab the disc out of their hand by twisting clockwise or counterclockwise; make sure they have a strong grip. I didn't fully switch to the power grip until about two years ago, and now it blows my mind that I used the "v" grip for so long. I have so much less power that way.

The only time I would suggest departing from your "optimal" grip is if you are throwing a high-release and you want more support under the disc than your normal grip allows.

3) where does power/distance come from?

Wow, big question. You could say legs, hips, trunk, shoulder, arm, or even wrist, right? The right answer, I suppose, is that it comes from having a smooth motion that allows you to transfer momentum to the throw. If you videotape an inexperienced thrower who can't get anything on long throws, I bet you will find a "hitch" in their motion that keeps them from bringing core body power into the throw.

Obviously it's not nearly that simple, but that's a start.

4) Once we’ve identifed these things, what’s the best way to teach them?

I think the most important thing is to start them out the right way, and start them out throwing something they can manage. Don't give them a a throw that allows them to "get by" in a difficult situation, if it means you will have to re-teach them later.

I think the single worst piece of throwing advice out there (if you consider quantity as well as quality, anyway) is "hold your elbow against your side as you throw the flick". This is a crutch to keep people from trying to throw the disc like a ball. But it prevents you from learning to extend away from your body, and moreover it prevents you from using your tricep in your throw.

In stead, I teach people to lead with their eilbow on the forehand. This puts the arm at the right angle for a flick (some people use the towel-snapping analogy; I prefer a karate chop analogy). Like Miriam said earlier, hold people's arms in the right position if necessary.

OK, practice time. Good topic.

parinella said...

I've noticed that you can't really identify the good game-throwers by watching them throw. (You can identify bad ones, though.) Until teaching becomes more a part of ultimate, there will be precious little instruction given to anyone who has the least bit of proficiency, so they will be on their own to figure out the mechanics.

So value as a thrower comes from their ability to recognize the situation and find a way to deliver the disc to the right spot, avoiding obstacles in the way.

To that end, I would recommend the following:
Use some curve on most of your throws; you can control it a little better and the disc will avoid defenders
Every time you throw a pass warming up, pretend that you're in a game throwing a particular pass

aj said...

I think it’s worth making a distinction here between someone who has great form and someone who can make reads quickly and accurately. We’d probably all rather have someone who can make the correct read quickly and deliver the frisbee to the correct place rather than a player with perfect form and beautiful warm-up throws. However, assuming that there is an ideal, Most Efficient Technique to throwing the frisbee, it seems like a player would gain a tactical advantage in utilizing that technique. For instance, let’s say you could speed up your pivot by a half a second by putting orienting your body in a certain way, or speed up your release by a quarter of a second by changing your grip – it certainly seems like you’d be able to break the mark more effectively. So I guess the point of the Comprehensive Throwing Guide, is that I don’t really know what the Most Efficient Technique is, but I’m interested to hear thoughts on it.

In terms of making reads quickly and accurately, right now, I think the only way to develop that is to play, play, play. However, I do think it’s conceivable that there will come a time when there’s enough high quality video footage available that you could work on “game throws” or at least game decisions in the film room. Maybe that’s a trend for the next 20 years?

Tarr said...

I thought I should put in a link to Ben Wiggins's rsd post about hucking. Lots of good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Backhands (my forte):

1. Four fingers under the rim. No exceptions. Changes of grip are a waste of time and sacrifice economy of motion. It is one more thing that you need to change depending on where you are throwing. One more thing that can go wrong. This is similar to people who change the angle of the disc when pivoting from backhand to forehand. Keep it parallel to the ground; keep it simple.

2. When stepping out to throw a backhand, step parallel to the direction that you mean to throw. There are small exceptions to this based on where the mark is, but for the most part, this gives you the optimal amount of torque to deliver the disc wherever you please. You can also step out parallel and keep your eyes on the target.

3. Never take your eyes off of the target. Many new players and some experienced players look down at the disc or look away from the target just prior to release. This is a horrible thing to do.

4. Use your off-arm to balance and enhance your throwing motion. It gives you counterweight and allows you to generate more power. That is, when you follow through, both your left and right arms should be going in the direction of your throw during and after your release.

5. Stop airbouncing. The plane that your wrist snaps in and that your arm travels in should be one and the same. If they are not the same, your throw will either airbounce or wobble on release. Picture two rails between which your arm and the disc will travel. There is jsut enough space for both, but if you change the angle of the disc relative to your arm, you will hit the rails. The rails will tilt with your arm's motion, but not witht he disc's angle. (This is easier to explain in person.)

6. "Throw out, not up." That is to say, many beginners try to increase their distance by increasing the height of their throws. Your momentum should lead you forward after you release. Think of the first step that you would take if you were running from your backhand stance. That is where you should go after you release. This will focus your energy in a lateral direction instead of vertically. It will also help you in running immediately after the throw.

7. Not bending the waist to throw low is a crucial piece of advice from Tarr.

8. When throwing a low backhand, don't airbounce it in order to get it to your receiver, throw on a straight line from your release point to the receiver's hands. (As you improve as a thrower, and as you get comfortable with OI and IO throwrs, maintaining one plane becomes less significant, but not airbouncing is still vital-- the wind destroys throwers who rely on an airbounce.)

9. Tarr answerd the power question best-- it is convincing your entire body to work in concert toward one goal. That being said, I find that most of my power on backhands comes from my trunk/hips. The rest of my body just does what my trunk/hips dictate.

10. The best way to teach is to observe your students throwing and provide small tips and things to focus on. Then, brainwash them into working on those things when throwing with friends or when throwing alone. Give them goals to achieve (small ones, like snapping your wrist as hard as possible on every throw) and then check their progress when you next work with them. The link to the post by BLW has some great ways to work on those things.

JB said...

I've found that training the off hand (ie. left hand if you are right-handed, and right hand if you are left-handed) is really helpful for people just learning the flick. Try 10 or 20 throws with the off hand and then switch back to the good hand. You should notice marked improvement in the good hand.