Thursday, April 01, 2010

On Carts and Horses

During my rookie season at UMN, I saw a teammate throw a high-release flick, the first I had ever witnessed. Being the young, bright-eyed frisbee enthusiast I was, my I was soaked in admiration. Naturally, I asked said teammate to show me how he did it.

He laughed at me and said something smug about how I probably shouldn't add another bad throw to the ugly set I already had. I was insulted and dejected and I gave up on the throw at the time. The guy in question was arguably our best offensive handler that year, a presently dying breed of frail, slow and huck-less, but with incredible finesse on both sides. I really wanted his skillset. Ultimately, he didn't really teach me much that season, but that memory has stuck with me.

Now, I find myself playing the opposite role in that situation pretty frequently, both as a coach and as a more veteran player. Lots of times, I'll catch guys with atrocious forehands or backhands trying to summon a big hammer, a thumber, a scoober, or any number of other "special" throws while we're warming up or at throwing practice. I'm pretty inconsistent about how I respond. For some guys, I react pretty much in the way that the condescending handler did in my story. Sometimes I comment on the inadequacy of their other throws, sometimes I don't. For other guys, I'll give them tips about how to throw that "special" throw better.

Jim Parinella has a decent discussion of "junk throws" and whether or not they should be used here. What I'm interested in discussing here, though, is when and whether they should be taught.

To return to the personal anecdote: The following year, my flick was coming along nicely, my backhand had plateaued at mediocre. So I started throwing some hammers, taking a ton of advice from Charlie. Needless to say, I very quickly developed an addiction that haunts me to this day. From the push pass to the behind-the-backhand, I love 'em all. For me, having a very good scoober and a variety of release points and speeds on my backhand is a necessary thing. While my flick is excellent, my step out mid-to-low release ~20 yard backhand just stopped getting better, despite hours and hours of drilling and asking for help. Hence, I compensate for it by throwing weird, but 95% completed stuff.

So,"special throws" have become a very important supplement to my game. For others? Hard to say. Thus far, my opinion is as follows regarding how I approach my players who are experimenting with drugs...I mean unconventional throws:

-Special throws are vaguely tiered, with some (Hammers, scoobers, high-release backhand) sitting at generally nice to have but dumb to use all the time, others that are cool to know how to use but do you really have to? (lefty, push-pass, thumber) and finally absolutelynotImeanNO (corker chicken wing and friends). I encourage a healthy knowledge of upside-down throws SO LONG AS...

-The player can consistently complete a forehand or a backhand to a moving target 15 yards away. This is usually assumed at higher levels of Ultimate, but sometimes that kid was REALLY fast at tryouts.

-Finally, if I feel like there's a lot of room for growth in the basic throws, I'm more likely to encourage experimentation with angle, io/oi, and release point than I am to teach the finer points of the blade.

Still, I lean more toward teaching kids how to throw weird stuff better than chastising them for doing it at all. The jury's still out, though.



TazUltimate said...

I have coached both college and high school kids and while a player myself at UW the assistant coach gave me one piece of advice I take to heart "There should always be a new throw to work on". Now I take this to the point of near perfection and obviously start out with forehands and backhands, but that doesn't mean that a hammer or a thumber is junk throw so much as it should be taught to a lesser extent. Now I continue to learn and perfect throws outside the norm because when you are learning new things it pushes you to focus on the things you should already know.

Gambler said...

Some non-basic throws can actually help make your more standard throws better. For instance, working on blades can help fine-tune your forehand release and wrist snap. It can also help develop a better hammer (which is probably more useful on the field than a blade). Likewise, practicing a high-release backhand can also increase your comfort with the disc on the backhand side, helping to provide more confidence and competence with other backhand release points and angles.

During focused throwing sessions, the throws that I've worked in include: hammers, scoobers, high-release backhands, and lefty backhands. I also like to have the thrower imagine the game situation when each throw would actually be useful. A hammer to the breakside in endzone offense. A scoober to help go over the top of a cup, a high-release to hit a handler cutting upline behind the mark, a lefty to dish the disc on the forehand side, etc. That is all in addition to spending much more time working on inside-out, around, low-release, and wide-release forehand and backhands.

Eli said...

If their coach doesn't teach them, ultivillage will...

J. Becker said...

Yeah, I still squash that stuff. With prejudice. I find that the HS players I coach are just too likely to bust them out in games, especially when we're up. As Parinella noted, you should be using these throws to show off, and you should be able to justify why you chose the junk over a conventional throw. That kind of advanced, in-the-moment decision-making takes time and experience to develop.

I'll let them work on their sky hooks and high-release air bounces in college or in their spare time. My job is teach them the sport.

That being said, we do work on hammers, but I only unlock them when we're facing a 4-person cup or brutal sideline traps.

J. Becker said...

*should NOT be using these throws to show off

The Pulse said...

Before I broke my wrist, I threw these throws in certain situations almost exclusively: quick endzone breaks, tightly pressured dumps, and in zone. After breaking my wrist, I have one more situation: lefty backhand hucks.

It's especially effective when you and your receiver have the confidence to know that the high IO forehand or lefty backhand is the throw I'm looking for, and the mark and downfield defender can't react, or are focused on more conventional throws.

Never in HS, since my throws were not nearly as practiced (and I was a cutter), but all of these throws have gotten better and better over the years, and easier to use in trickier situations. I say, force focus on traditional throws first, but once those are acceptable/good, additional throws open up more options and make people confident throwers.

Jake said...

I am the captain of a small team at a samll college, and I only teach throws like the scubber and thumber until player have at least a steady backhand.

I am a handler and use anything to get the disc where it needs to be. Whether up field or to a dumb doesn't matter get it there so its catchable.

While, I teach these throws and use them some of my other handlers have a "NO HAMMER" rule. They would prefer to throw hammers way up field and hope a fast teammate will catch it rather then dumb backfield 5yds, or what for a decent cut.

kt said...

I hadn't even considered the lefty huck. That's an interesting addition to the arsenal. I've played Stanford/Berkeley alum teams who will switch their pivot foot from throw to throw to make the mark harder.

Also, I'm sorry for forgetting to include Ryan "the pulse" in my young bloggers rollcall. I wish you'd write more.

Mackey said...

As Gwen says, the blade has merits (see Idris' post on the topic)

We have a certain rambunctious sophomore on the team I've been on the fence about. On the one hand, sometimes he makes terrible decisions with his hammers (it's mostly the hammer that's the problem). On the other, he consistently executes it and occasionally uses it really well. I started off offering pointers on when and how to use it more than getting on him for using it in the first place (it should also be noted that he's a budding cutter and not somebody we need making those kinds of throws right now); now that we're getting later in the season my fuse is shorter.

I think there's a TON of value in developing those throws. As others have mentioned, it can make your more conventional throws more reliable...some aspects of throwing carry over regardless of how you're gripping it (mostly body motion, some components of arm action). I'd almost never discourage a guy from practicing his swill - I will encourage them to hammer out their normal repertoire as appropriate.