Incorrect throwing mechanics will impact a player’s ability to execute the skills of attacking and serving correctly. The absence of proper form will also impact the athlete’s long-term health by placing undue stress on the shoulder. In my book, A Game Plan for Better Practices, we explore the mechanics of throwing and teaching suggestions.
It is essential that younger athletes (ages 8-11) learn to throw correctly, as I have found the older the athlete, the more challenging it is to change improper throwing mechanics. Dr. Robert Pangrazi, from the University of Minnesota, supplied the following tips when developing throwing mechanics with younger age athletes.
- Provide various objects to throw so students learn how varying weight and diameter impact throwing distance and speed.
- When children are learning to throw, stress distance and velocity, not accuracy. Throwing for accuracy hampers the development of a mature throwing form. Tell students to “throw as hard and far as possible.”
- Avoid practicing throwing and catching at the same time. Many children’s throws will be inaccurate and hard for a partner to catch. Have them practice throwing against a wall (velocity) or on a large field (distance).
- Carpet squares or circles are drawn on the floor to teach children proper foot movement (stepping forward and off the square or out of the circle).
- Beanbags are excellent for developing throwing velocity because they do not roll and travel as far as other objects.
Specific to volleyball, when I’m working with an athlete on armswing mechanics, I emphasize the “T-position” and the “Yes position.”
The T-position is essential to encourage upper body rotation into the armswing. I hear so many coaches tell their spikers to “get your elbow up.” Using this verbal cue, the player will raise their hand above their head in the effort to “get their elbow up. I consider this type of cue to be incorrect.
Examine the two pictures above of the arm preparation for an attack. The photo on the left has the elbow back (T-Position), while the photo on the right has the elbow up. Notice the difference in the upper body position. What coaches should be saying is get to the elbow back or in the “T-position.” Some coaches refer to this motion as a “bow and arrow” arm action. The T-position will open the hips and shoulders to the ball and encourage the athlete to incorporate the upper body’s rotational motion into the throwing or attacking arm motion. Also, notice how the left shoulder is above the right shoulder. Using the entire upper body in the attack will increase arm and hand velocity and reduce the strain on the shoulder muscles.
The Yes-position will teach the athlete how to coordinate their non-throwing arm into the throwing motion. It is not unusual for athletes, especially at young ages, to leave the non-throwing arm dangling to the side of the body. I like to have the athlete bring the non-throwing arm to the body midline as the throwing arm comes forward. As you can see by these pictures, when a throwing motion is an aspect of skill in many sports, you will see the Yes position. The non-attacking arm comes to the body midline.
You will see in the picture sequence to the right the athlete executing a standing topspin serve. Notice the T-position as the elbow is drawn back. Also, notice the tilt in the shoulders as the left shoulder is above the right shoulder. The Yes position is being successfully executed. As the right arm elevates to the ball, the left hand is drawn to the body midline.
When first teaching attacking skills, the coach should start the athlete well off the net, so the focus is throwing the hand up and over the ball. Notice in pics #2 and #3 how the elbow goes from low to high. So when the coach says, “get your elbow up,” the intent should be to rotate the elbow from low to high, not starting with the elbow up.
There are several points that I emphasize when working with athletes on proper armswing or throwing technique.
- Use a ball the athlete can easily hold (softball). A light ball (tennis ball) will make it challenging for the athlete to feel how the arm moves. With these factors in mind, I encourage using a softball, baseball, or a small, slightly weighted ball. I avoid using a volleyball to teach throwing unless they are actually hitting the ball. For most players, the ball is too large to hold, so the throwing form is compromised.
- Throw for distance or velocity; throwing accuracy is not a focus. Both of these aspects will encourage using the upper body rotational muscles and develop arm strength.
- Since accuracy is not a focus at this point, avoid throwing to a partner for them to catch. The emphasis on accuracy will negatively impact the throwing mechanics. When indoors, I’ll have the athlete throw to a wall.
- The hips initiate and lead the throwing action.
Below are some activities I will use with athletes when teaching throwing form.
The athlete will face the wall with toes of both feet. The emphasis is on T-position, rotate the hips, throw with velocity to the wall. The feet will not move, but the athlete should incorporate lots of upper body rotation! The left arm is drawn to the body midline (Yes Position). Again, the emphasis is on distance or velocity, not accuracy. We want to develop a “big” armswing.
The athlete will have the left foot in front of the right, execute correct throwing mechanics. There is not step taken into the throw. The emphasis is weight transfer from the right foot to the left foot and the hips leading the throwing action.
We now add a step into the throw. Throw with velocity! The athlete should execute one step into the throw or add a shuffle step and throw. Points of emphasis, T-position, hips lead the throw, weight transfer from the back to the front foot, Yes position, and throw with velocity or distance.
The last sequence I’ll present has the athlete throw as hard as possible into the wall. The athlete runs into the throw, uses lots of upper body rotation, and throws hard!! A suggestion is to monitor the speed of the throw with a radar gun!
Activities to work on armswing mechanics can easily be accomplished as a pre-practice warmup. The coach can monitor progress using a radar gun to monitor velocity. Again, have the athletes throw for distance and velocity. We want to develop correct habits without throwing accuracy being a concern. Make sure these mechanics are reinforced when the athlete is attacking and serving! Good luck!!