Tuesday Tips: Why You Should Be Throwing Alone

You can get better while social distancing.

This article was written by Ian Whitman, a captain of Denver Sweet Action.

Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate

We’ve all been there before.

It’s the closing minutes of a big game. You cut hard out, then come underneath and get the disc. As you turn, you see it: a perfect away shot to a streaking teammate with a step on their mark. In the space of a second, you line up your throw, pull your arm back, and release.

And then you watch your hypothetically beautiful flick huck become an actually heartbreaking turfed throw. From the sideline, a teammate yells, “Don’t worry about it! Just go get it back!” But you’re not worried about it – you’re furious about it! Because you know you have that throw.

At least hypothetically.

* * *

When looking to improve, many ultimate players will seek to push their ceiling higher. They will work on throwing with more distance and trying to hit tougher angles, hoping to make the needed throw in a big moment, because those big moments are what stick out when they watch great players. However, what truly separates great players from good players is the floor of their abilities, more than their ceiling. When it comes to being exceptional in any sport, consistency in high level play is what matters most.

With that in mind, this Tuesday Tips article is focused on improving your throwing consistency with a recommendation tailor made for our current moment: if you want to be great, you need to throw alone.

There is nothing glamorous about going to a park with a stack of discs and throwing by yourself (in which you become the embodiment of the Millhouse meme above), but, for most mid-level players, especially those who play on a team without a coach, it is the best way to work on your form. Performing in a sport is just like performing on a musical instrument. You could sit down at a piano for an hour a day, poking at the keys, and you’ll slowly figure out some chords and melodies. Without more dedication to form and fundamentals, however, your peak level of skill will always be artificially lowered, and you will be working your way towards even that point inefficiently.

Beyond the fundamentals, every skilled musician knows the importance of working through pieces measure by measure, so that every note can be hit with consistency and every beat can be anticipated. Because the goal isn’t just to be able to play the music; the goal is to have mastery over the music.

In much the same way, if you want to be a master of the sport of ultimate, it isn’t enough to just play on a team and to throw with friends. At some point, you need to spend time pulling apart those individual measures; you need to understand your mechanics for every throw. For example, you need to know not just your forehand, but your inside, straight, and outside forehands. And then not just those, but your inside-out, flat, and outside-in versions of each. With all this said, here is an example of what such practicing should look like:

  • Go to a park with a stack of discs (10-20 would be ideal). Position yourself near a net, typically something like a soccer or lacrosse goal – if there isn’t one available, bring your own. You should also bring a small tripod for your phone so that you can record yourself, because many flaws that are hidden in real-time are much more obvious on video.
  • Be thoughtful about every step of the process, knowing that your overarching goals are:
    • Hitting as close to a target on the net as possible (some nets have built in targets – if not, a cone stuck into the net works in a pinch)
    • Being highly intentional about how you want your throw to travel through the air
    • Having consistency in your form.
  •  To start, decide what throw you want to replicate (e.g. a short under, a long around, a mid-range huck, etc) and how far away that throw needs to be in paces from the net (again, the goal here is to be able to recreate this task repeatedly, which means being specific). Once you’ve decided which throw you want to work on…
    • Starting from the front of the net, pace off the distance needed for your throw
    • As needed, adjust your positioning so that the net is either straight-on, on your inside, or on your outside.
    • Grab a disc and step out into your lunge like you’re about to throw. Note things like:
      • Where is your center of gravity?
      • Are you well balanced?
      • Are you at full extension or could you lunge further?
      • Is your pivot foot on the tip of the toe or are you on the forefoot?
      • What is the flight path you envision for the disc?
      • At what angle will the disc need to come out of your hand?
      • How tightly are you gripping the disc?
      • At what height do you plan to release the disc?

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but illustrates the mindset you need to have as you work through different throws. The purpose of this isn’t that you will perform flawlessly, but that you will be able to identify why you make mistakes, and then what needs to be adjusted to correct them. The eventual goal is to get to a place where you don’t have to think about these things anymore, just as a pianist doesn’t think about their fingers movements as they play through scales, but without losing the quality of your form while in that flow state.

As for regimented routines, for each session I would suggest picking three specific throws that you want to work on, defining each throw by its distance, angle, release point, and pivot position (e.g. a 15 pace, flat, low release, full extension pivot flick). Be patient as you work through your reps – the temptation will be to pivot quickly and gets discs in the air, but every step that you expedite is potential information missed. Throw 20-30 throws, then switch to the next throw you’re working on. Go through this set of your three types of throws, then repeat that set 2-3 times, depending on the amount of time you have available (which is likely a lot, currently).

If you’re working on hucks in particular, keep three things in mind:

  1. You should be envisioning your target as the end of a cutter’s route, including thinking about from where they’d be ideally starting that cut
  2. 2. Your internal acceptable margin of error should be larger and your focus should be more on if a throw traveled the way you intended, i.e. a throw that moves through the air the way you want but lands five yards short is better than a longer throw that lands 15 yards left of your target due to your mechanics being drastically off
  3. It will take longer, both because of extra pacing needed and more spread in where discs land – don’t start rushing to try to get more throws in!

Now, you may be thinking “but couldn’t I do this at practice or when throwing with a friend?”

  1. Practice should be about working on skills with a focus on how those skills fit into the
    team’s performance, not your individual performance.
  2. You can certainly be more intentional when throwing with friends, but friends also A) move when your throw is close but a little off, B) ask interesting and distracting questions, and C) oronavirus.

Being on an ultimate team is much like being a member of an orchestra – if you only perform when with others, you can find ways to let them cover your mistakes and let yourself take credit for their successes. If you want to be one of the drivers of that success, you need to be honing your craft on your own time. It isn’t enough to be able to do something if you can’t replicate that ability with consistency.

If you don’t think you know enough about what good form looks and feels like, Ultiworld has a wealth of resources. If you’ve found yourself in the position outlined at the start of this article, you may want to start here.

This article was submitted as a part of our new Tuesday Tip Jar program! Submit your own Tuesday Tips to our Tip Jar to win a free subscription and even become an Ultiworld writer.

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