Friday, June 26, 2009

How To Throw a Forehand

Today I'm going to give some basic tips for beginner's trying to learn forehand. I have taught dozens of players how to throw forehand and I find there are usually a few simple things holding brand new players back from success.

First, a preface. Every successful throw in Ultimate is a compilation of three factors: spin, force and angle. The angle of the disc upon release dictates its flight path. The force dictates its distance. The spin dictates its speed, steadiness and, usually, it's completion.

New players focus on force. "How hard can I whip my arm around?" You can forget it, because it's not important for 90% of the throws you will make in a game. When learning the game, all you really need to know is spin, spin, spin.


The hardest thing about learning forehands is how awkward the grip feels in your hand. If you are being taught by a college or club player, they may teach you the "power grip," designed for maximum spin. However, I encourage all first year players to use the beginner's grip.

In this picture, the index finger is pointed straight to the center of the disc and your middle finger is flush to the inside rim. Your thumb grips the top of the disc. You need to understand what each finger is doing here: Your thumb is just holding the disc. Your index finger is supporting the disc so it doesn't fall limp against your side. Your middle finger is the only one really doing any work. Therefore, it is very important to have it in the right position. You must have the pad of your fingertip pushed flush to the inside rim of the disc. This is a common, overlooked point among beginners.

Your stance is simple, you always set yourself in the same position: Face downfield with squared shoulders, keep your feet a little wider than shoulder length apart. Knees bent a little in an "active position." To throw a forehand, you will step straight out horizontally with your non-pivot foot. Do not practice throwing by stepping forward, because in a game you would be stepping straight into a defender.

Since it's already late June, I'll assume anyone reading this has already been practicing forehands for at least a few weeks. Therefore, I'll jump into some tips for players who are still struggling to keep the disc flat and accurate.

1. Only practice short (10 yard) throws. I know that when throwing with a friend or before a game, it's much more fun to practice long throws. I'm also sure a baby would rather go ride a bike or drive a car before he learns how to walk, but there is unfortunately an order to these things. You must first master a simple, short throw.

2. Take your arm (force) out of the equation. The reason your forehands are not working is almost always because you are not putting enough spin on the disc. When you shorten your distance to ten yards, even the weakest arms should be able to complete that distance by only using their wrist to throw the disc. Even though it is not ideal in a game, try keeping your arm close to your body so you are only throwing with your wrist and fingers. These are two things that impart spin. Once you can whip the disc with a lot of spin, then you can take your arm out and put force back into your throws.

3. Your middle finger throws forehands. Spin, spin, spin. Your middle finger is the last point of contact on the disc, which is why it is so important that the pad of your finger be flush with the inside rim. Your final action is to curl your finger in, putting as much spin with that pad as possible.

Think of your body like a whip. Why does a whip crack? When thrown, the large force begins at the top of the whip and travels down to the tip like a wave crashing on the beach. Just like that wave, as it gets closer to the tip it focuses that energy and gets faster and faster. Finally, all that energy hits the tip of the whip, which snaps it so fast it breaks the sound barrier, creating that "pop."

The exact same physics apply to a forehand throw. Your body is the whip, with the pad of your middle finger being the tip. Your entire throw is a force flowing through your sweeping arm, into your rotating wrist down to your curling finger. The disc snaps out of your hand with more spin than a presidential press conference. This is the action you want to practice - creating spin.

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Hope this helps you on the field. Remember, not having a good forehand does not mean you shouldn't throw forehands. Always make the right throw depending on where your cutter is moving, even if you don't think you'll make it. Turnovers are inevitable, and the only way you'll get better. Keep practicing and throwing for fun, and you'll be better than BK in no time.


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