[Skyd] Learning to Throw Both Ways
High-Release Lefty Backhand | Brodie Smith
The best ultimate players are able to put the disc anywhere on the field at any point in time, regardless of the wind or opponents' force. I just watched the semifinals at Nationals, and I was incredibly impressed by Ironside's George Stubbs' ability to throw countless scoobers over the cup, in ridiculous wind conditions, that went straight to his desired targets. There is no one throw that works 100% of time in all conditions against all marks, and so there are millions of different variations on your throws that can be useful in a variety of different game situations. It is your job to practice as many of these variations as often as possible.
You should constantly be practicing your repertoire of throws and adjust them to current wind and (hypothetical) force conditions. Little tweaks in how hard you grip the disc, the angle you release the disc, the height you release the disc, and the amount of snap/power you put behind the throw can all create drastic changes in the flight pattern of your throw. The more you experiment with these little tweaks, the better skilled you will become as a thrower. Think of each throw as a mini science experiment where you have a hypothesis about the flight pattern of the disc, you perform the throw, and then analyze the results to see if you hypothesis was correct, or if you need to tweak some aspect(s) for your next experiment. This allows you to store a mental log of all of your throws in various conditions, which you can subconsciously pull from in game situations if you already successfully completed a similar experiment in practice or pregame warmups.
I encourage newer throwers to spend time throwing with more experienced players and ask questions about what minor adjustments they need to make to their throws to hit their targets. Sometimes 5 minutes with a veteran/alum can result in enough advice to spend the next 3 months perfecting a specific throw (that's all I needed from AJ to spend the rest of the '09 summer on my backhand huck).
Expert Throwing Routines
Throwing workouts can come in any shape or size, and I want to share a couple well known ones with you. I recommend taking your favorite parts from each throwing workout and creating your own remix workout that best suits your current development needs. In addition, I highly encourage you to throw with cleats on whenever possible - this is much closer to simulating in-game situations than just lazily throwing the disc barefoot on the front the lawn.
Ben Wiggins' Zen Throwing Routine focuses on being balanced and incorporating deliberate, focused practice of in-game throws. One of my favorite aspects of the routine is #10 for research and development. This is where your lefty backhand work begins and should follow the logical progression of:
1) Throw occasionally in non-practice throwing
2) Throw in pre-practice warm-ups
3) Throw in game warmups
4) Throw in meaningless games
5) Throw in practice scrimmages
6) Throw in games.
Following this model, I practiced throwing lefty scoobers approximately 1,000 times at the beach this summer in various wind conditions. I threw one lefty scoober at club sectionals against a force flick zone. It was a completion over the cup back to the center handler, and it was absolutely worth all of the time I spent practicing that throw to know that it was game ready when the situation presented itself. It is also useful to have a lefty scoober in your arsenal to trick French Canadian teams on end zone plays.
Lou Burgess teaches us about Kung Fu Throwing. This workout improves the thrower in three specific ways: repetition, challenging the thrower to throw outside their comfort zone, and articulating the different components of a throw (which many throwers have never thought of). Part of the warmup for this workout includes full sets of lefty throws. A series of lefty throws can go a long way to help with the balance discussed in Wiggins' workout. It also helps to create an equilibrium between the muscles in your left and right legs because you get reps stepping out to both sides - you can relate this to doing lunges on both sides with a twist (aka throwing the disc).
Star Athletes Are Ambidextrous
In most sports, there are obvious benefits to being ambidextrous. Baseball has switch hitters. Basketball teaches you to do layups with both hands, attacking the basket from both sides. Lacrosse players cradle, pass, and shoot with both hands. The same is true for ultimate, but it is not put into practice nearly enough by young players.
Throwers who can throw both ways are a significantly larger threat to the defense because there are so many different release points that the mark needs to try and take away. It is easy to get your mark to bite on a low inside flick break (standard throw), and then quickly switch hands as you rise up and throw the lefty backhand right over top of the mark to the break side. It is so easy to do this and hit the front of the stack, who can simply run onto the disc after it is thrown and start attacking up the break side. Very few marks at the college level are trained to take away off hand throws, which makes them much easier to utilize when breaking the mark.
Lefty Backhand Basics
Learning to throw an off-hand backhand is not incredibly difficult if you already know how to throw a backhand. Check out that article from Ultimate Rob for backhand tips, and here is a great video from Brodie Smith. To start practicing a lefty backhand, I recommend standing 10-15 yards away from a friend with your legs stationary. At first, you want to focus on using your hips and core to generate enough torque to get the disc to your teammate. The disc will probably be pretty wobbily for a while, so using your index finger to stabilize the disc is good for starters and shorter throws (see Image 3). As you get more comfortable with the disc in your left hand, you should be able to go use a standard power grip (see Image 1 and 2).
Once you start completing passes, start with a righty flick fake and practice the smooth transfer for rigthy fake to lefty backhand over the mark. You should be aiming to hit your receiver on the outside shoulder away from where his defender at the front of the stack (it's okay if your partner has to take a couple steps to the break side to catch each throw). The next twist you can add is to start looking 90 degrees away from your partner (i.e., engaging the imaginary reset), and then turn and throw the lefty backhand "upfield" simulating a strike cut. This throw in particular can be great for rookies who struggle mightily with their upfield flick throw to strike cuts. There is a TON of value that can added to your game by focusing on just these two lefty backhand throws: 1) break throw to the front of the stack and 2) strike cut against a flick force.
When working out with Brendan Nichols this summer, he encouraged me to change my "rest" position to a balanced stance with both hands on the disc with the disc at chest height. This has had a great impact on my game. From this position, I am now able to throw almost any fake and/or release the disc quickly from almost any position...in either hand. This has been very useful to get me more comfortable with the disc in both of my hands and easily transferring between hands. Having this central rest position made it much easier for me to not set a pivot foot because I could throw realistic, stationary fakes, and then only step out (to either side) when the throw I wanted to make was finally open and I had already moved the mark out of the way.
Injuries Are Opportunities to Learn New Throws
Injuries are a large part of our sport, and I'm confident you will encounter your fair share during the course of your ultimate career. Freddie Tsai taught me how he views injuries as a blessing in disguise because they force him to work on throwing the disc in new ways that are unhindered by his current physical condition. I pulled my groin at College Sectionals with Georgetown in April, and it has been a nagging injury for the past 6 months. There was a 3 month period this summer where it was so bad that I was unable to throw a flick without stepping out and tweaking my groin. As such, this will go down in history as my (first?) left handed summer.
No flick, no problem - especially when you focus on developing your lefty backhands as a primary throw. While living at the beach this summer, I would spend 1-2 hours, 4-5 days a week working on my throws, especially my lefty backhands because stepping out with the opposite pivot foot did not put any strain on my injured groin. I played countless hours of Laws-el-toss (one person catch throwing the disc as high in the air as possible), focusing on getting as much torque, rotation, and power on my lefty backhands as I threw the disc high into the wind and would practice reading it as it came back down.
When I realized stepping out with the opposite pivot foot didn't stress my groin and also helped strengthen my other leg muscles, I started doing something even more out of the ordinary - I no longer set a pivot foot when I catch the disc on an in cut. If a standard mark is forcing you flick, and they know you are right handed, then there is absolutely no way they will be able to reach all the way over and affect your step out lefty backhand. Additionally, when I make a strike cut on a flick force, my instinct is to now wind up for a big lefty backhand huck instead of throwing a standard flick huck (which still doesn't feel great on my groin).
When I explain this to some people, they have brought up issues with travel calls. It did take some time to get the footwork down and prevent pivoting unnecessarily, but I was only called for one legit travel this summer because of double pivoting. And even if people do call travels, you can always just say "hey, I'm left handed. we never travel." However, I encourage you to focus first on perfecting (or at least strengthening) your lefty throws before you think about pivoting ambidextrously, which adds another level of complexity into your throwing arsenal. When you first start doing it, there is a lot of mental effort that goes into fully hashing out the throw in your head and putting all the pieces together to know which side to step out on, which grip to use, what angle to release the disc, etc.
In this post, I discussed some characteristics of elite ultimate athletes, which include the ability to throw the disc to any location on the field, at any point in time, with any mark, in any wind condition. As well as, the added value of consistent throwing routines outside of practice that incorporate tips from the experts and incorporate countless hours spent on research and development efforts for new (lefty) throws. Elite athletes in other sports are ambidextrous, and the same is true for the next generation of ultimate athletes. I covered some basics on how to learn lefty throws, and I included a personal anecdote about how my injury-prone summer led me to develop such strong lefty throws. Throwing both ways is also a great way to make some stellar highlights at pickup, league games, beach ultimate, or random college practices. It is a lot of fun to coach Georgetown's B Team this year to continue developing my lefty throws in low-stress scrimmages with them. When the players see that my off hand throws are better than their primary throws, they know they need to start doing throwing routines outside of practice to continually develop their skills.
I hope you enjoyed this post, which I wrote for a friend at JMU who recently got injured and wanted to learn how to throw lefty. I was able to write the full post in less than two hours following these guidelines. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ultimate related questions this college season, and I will write up a post on the topic to share with the entire ultimate community. And let me know if there's anything I missed in here that should be added to teach new players how to throw both ways.