There are two somewhat different answers to that, I think. The first is to dispute the validity of the question and say there is no such thing as a preferred release point. You should be able to release it in as many different places as possible – high or low, narrow or wide, and from a variety of postures.
That’s certainly true. A good thrower is consistent in his ability to hit the target, but extremely varied in how he does it. If the defence is set up to take away one option, you need others, and that applies to getting the disc past your marker as much as to any other aspect of the game.
But I’d also say that within each of those various options – releasing high or low or wide – there is usually a preferred release point. You would almost always want to release the disc as far in front of you as possible. (Note – ‘in front’ is defined by the direction you release the disc, not necessarily the direction of play or even the direction in which you expect the receiver to get it at the end of its flight.)
You can’t release as far in front when you release wide, reaching around a mark, as when you release more narrow. But you can still release as far forward as is possible given the width.
Let’s just think about the backhand for a moment, and consider all the places you can reach with your throwing hand – which covers all the places that you could possibly release the disc. If you stand in a backhand stance and swing your (straight) arm from behind you to in front in a half-circle, the area inside that half-circle will contain all your possible release points.
I would argue that you want to be releasing the disc as close to the front edge of that circle as possible, in almost all cases*. If you’re releasing very wide, then it may not be far in front of you at all – but it would still be as far forward as you could reach at that width. There is rarely a purpose in a pass released within that circle:
- When throwing for distance, a longer throwing motion will in general result in a more powerful throw – whatever acceleration your muscles can apply to the disc, applying that acceleration for a longer time, over a longer distance, will result in increased velocity. You want to be releasing the disc as far forward as you’re able in order to get the longest throw – the release may not be on that circle, but it will be as close as possible to it without otherwise compromising your technique. Releasing early for the sake of it will cost you distance (or time – see the third point below).
- When trying to throw past a mark, a throw released less far forward could be point-blocked, whereas the same throw released further forward might result instead in a foul. This can be taken to extremes – good players are often able to release the disc beyond the marker, with zero risk of a block.
- When trying to release the disc quickly (almost always a good thing, for lots of reasons) it’s a big advantage not to take a reach-back (or to take the smallest one possible). Let’s say you require (for example) 18 inches of throwing-motion to generate the necessary power for a given throw, and you’re starting in a neutral position with the disc in two hands in front of you. A player who releases the disc level with their body would need to take it back a couple of feet, and then go through the throwing motion; whereas a player who released it way out in front could simply begin the throw immediately. This is a vast saving of time, and you’ll see almost all expert players are adept at throwing quickly in just this way.†
We’ve used backhands as an example above, and certainly there are many occasions where some players will benefit from learning to release later. But it’s on the forehand that you see this principle most commonly and most egregiously violated.
Lots of people have been taught to throw by holding their elbow in tight to their hip as they learn the basic forehand (aaaargh… not a method I like to use myself). The idea with this coaching tip is that as soon as they have a basic snap they should then be taught to throw properly, but in fact there are a large number of players who have never learned to release a forehand out in front and still try to snap almost level with their hip.
This is a pretty effective way for beginners to get spin on the disc and to keep it relatively flat – which is why many people still coach it, to give a bit of confidence early on. But it’s horrible mechanics for an experienced player to be saddled with, and a meaningful subset of players will struggle – or refuse – to change their throw to something more normal once they have a ‘working’ forehand.
In my experience, even relatively experienced players can often add yardage to their forehand simply by thinking about lengthening the throw and releasing later.
A few years ago, we were measuring people’s throwing distance in preseason so as to be able to track improvement, and we were doing so by throwing five flick hucks and averaging the best three. One of our very best flick throwers initially ignored what we’d been working on that day – lengthening that throwing motion – and threw three consistent flick hucks. Only then, once he had his three ‘in the bank’, did he gamble on trying to release the disc later – and immediately gained 10 metres. Anecdotes are not data, but that made a big impression on me.
Getting people to change their style is tough, as many are afraid of being worse in the short term. They will quickly give up if improvements aren’t immediate. But I’d argue that if you aren’t releasing your throws as late as you can, you’re missing a huge chance to get more distance, release quicker, and avoid point-blocks. Surely that’s worth an hour or two of throwing practice to try it out?