Much of the time in Ultimate, as in most sports, we want to disguise our intentions. A cutter doesn’t want to give away where he’s going next (and will often try to persuade the defender he’s going somewhere else). A thrower wants to persuade the marker that she’s going to throw when she isn’t.
But we tend to pay little attention to incorporating disguise into our throwing motions themselves. Imagine if a tennis player had a completely different ball-toss for the wide serve and the down-the-middle serve – the receiver would be in position early, and there’d be no real advantage in varying where the serve went. In Ultimate, we give away this kind of information all the time – most players’ wind-ups will give you a very strong clue about where and how hard they’re planning to throw.
Why do we give so little thought to – for example – throwing either open or break from the same wind-up? Three major reasons, I’d say. First, unlike the server in tennis (or the bowler in cricket, or lots of others) we don’t just have an incentive to confuse the opponent. We also have an incentive to communicate with our receiver. Our throwing motion often gives the same amount of information to the defender as to the receiver, so it doesn’t really matter how early they both read my intentions because it won’t affect their separation.
Second, time is of the essence. We could make every one of our backhands take a full wind-up, even if we planned only a five yard throw, and thus give away very little information – but of course we’d be point-blocked a lot, and also we’d be hitting our cutters later (meaning either fewer yards gained or a more difficult throw).
Third, the release points for open and break throws are often inevitably different – so different in fact that our pivot needs to be in a different spot and we lose the ability to disguise it. If we pivot out at 90° or more (relative to the direction of play) as if throwing open side, but then release towards the break side, we’re giving our marker a metre or two of flight-time to get the block; instead, our I/O break throws will tend to be released from a more forward-angled pivot, at something closer to 90° relative to the direction of the throw. [Of course, there is and should be a huge variation in the length and direction of our pivots, but the point still stands – we don’t often throw open and break from the same position.]
The first of these objections can be overcome through team practice. If your team-mates are aware that you have an unusual throw in the arsenal, but your opponent is unaware (or only consciously aware, rather than having trained himself to react to it) then you can gain an advantage for your receiver from the element of surprise. That certainly applies to things like the lefty scoober that Dave Pichler talks about in a recent article, but it would apply even more to a throw that looked normal until the last possible moment.
And the other two objections don’t really apply to the hammer – the real ‘master of disguise’ in a thrower’s bag of tricks. It doesn’t take a much longer throwing motion to release a big hammer than a short one, since you have to move it all the way from in front of your body to over your head every time. And you generally don’t pivot at all.
The normal hammer throw (for a right hander) will go to the left of the receiver (from the thrower’s perspective), curving back in towards them to give the best chance of being chased down. The invert hammer is only very subtly different – it’s released just a fraction flatter, meaning it has time to go through the horizontal before reaching the receiver – and curves the other way at the end, making it suitably catchable when thrown to the opposite side of the receiver.
Not only are the two throws virtually identical up to the point of release, but one is far, far more common than the other; any defender with a little experience is liable to shift her bodyweight to cover the ‘normal’ hammer if she sees the throwing motion start. Having been thoroughly defeated by a few of these throws – Steve Giguere of Lookfly has a particularly nice invert hammer – I can vouch for the difficulty a defender faces in coping with the unexpected angle.
Obviously I’m not advocating that we should all throw only hammers, to both sides of the pitch, just because the disguise is so good. But I’d be surprised if we didn’t start to see more of this kind of throw, just as we’re starting to see more high-release forehands (which follow many of the same principles – throwing to surprising areas, and coming from what starts out as a more normal throwing motion/pivot).
Why do most of us have a reasonable high-release backhand, but not a high-release flick? Because it’s hard, that’s why. But that difficulty also increases the value of having such a throw – it becomes that much more unexpected. At some point, it’s so unexpected that it’s worth persevering, even if it takes time to learn.
If a hammer is a good break-side option against a flick force, why not against a backhand force? It might sometimes be a little harder to get your elbow in the right place, if the defender is very tight to your shoulder, but that’s about all. The extreme element of surprise means this is a throw I’d advocate learning, just like I’d advocate the high-release flick or the lefty scoober or many others.
Besides, it’s fun…