In Praise of the Invert Hammer


asdfMuch 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…

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9 Responses to In Praise of the Invert Hammer

  1. jomskylark says:

    So what is the technique for throwing an inverse hammer? Is it kinda like a scoober over your head?

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    • Sort of. The throwing motion is almost identical to the hammer, only the disc is a little less vertical at release (and maybe has the front-edge slightly lifted so it stalls quicker) so that instead of flattening out at the end it actually goes past flat and starts to curve the other way. Then you just throw it further to the right (for a right-handed thrower) and it should sit there for the cutter to chase quite nicely. In a sense the flight path is more like a scoober, though in general a little higher in the air. The average person can generate more power/distance on the invert hammer than the scoober.

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  2. Tom Williams says:

    I understand your point, but is there an advantage for for invert hammer when you have a forehand force put on you? Since if it curves from right to left, it is more useful for open-side cuts and then why not just throw a normal forehand?
    The regular hammer works for the breakside works since there is high risk (difficult throw in wind, smaller room for error since it is fast and harder to catch), but also hight gain (because you’re gaining valuable yards on the breakside).
    But with the invert hammer, there is undeniably risk even if you have the element of surprise, but for not much gain since it is just an open-side throw, where your forehand probably would have been adequate since the mark should respect the open side.

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    • No – sorry; could have been clearer maybe. I’d throw a normal hammer against a flick force and an invert against a backhand force. I wouldn’t normally use the invert hammer on the open side. Whilst technically that means the defender can predict which throw I’m actually using based on the force (and therefore there shouldn’t be any surprise) the invert hammer is so very rare that it will still come as a shock – the defender (in particular the defender’s trained subconscious) will expect an ordinary hammer from that throwing motion every time (unless I do it many times). And if I have done it repeatedly, then the defender’s position will have moved to take it into account, and the open side will have become easier. Maybe I can fake it and cause an enormous over-bid to the break side – the embarrassing nature of being fooled a couple of times will lead to an over-focus on that one throw. A win all round.

      The wider point of the article is very much along the lines of what Pichler was saying in the linked article – variety is king, and surprising throws put the opposition at a disadvantage. I just wanted to draw attention to the extreme surprise of a hammer going to the ‘wrong’ side – I think it’s a really interesting throw.

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  3. John E Corke says:

    YES. Also, the invert hammer has the massive advantage that very few people have read the roll curve of it in ‘normal’ training. The best thing I find about it is that at the end of it’s flight (having just gone past horizontal) is that it bank steeply upwards. So many defenders find this ridiculously difficult to read the first time they are confronted by it, where cutters on your team have been prepared by training with you.

    I call my Invert Hammer ‘Agnes’. A curvaceous beauty that will fall right into your arms given half the chance.

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  4. John E Corke says:

    Also the Invert Hammer works brilliantly well as a big swing pass against a forehand force in a zone. The ‘bank’ towards the end of its flight means that the receiver is given a good amount of time to adjust to any slight inaccuracies.

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  5. ichabod says:

    The problem with the invert hammer (which is a pretty bad name – inverted usually implies upside down, which the hammer is already. I’ve heard it called the wheel) is it loses so much spin at the end of it’s flight. It can become very wobbly and very difficult to catch. I’d argue the scoober against a backhand force is much more useful. Yes, it’s harder to throw it 30 yards, but it is difficult to throw an inverted hammer very far with reasonable end of flight spin as well. And the scoober lends itself to that io curve much more naturally.

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  6. David says:

    I ruddy love the inverted hammer. Receivers do sometimes struggle to figure out where it’s going but that’s ENTIRELY THEIR FAULT! It’s always a great choice no matter what the mark or what’s at stake. Thanks for bigging up this throw.

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