On Generating Spin


Reading r/ultimate this morning, there’s a question from someone struggling to generate spin on their short throws, and (so far) none of the replies has talked about the first thing I would say to a new player in this situation. So I’ll put it here (much more long-winded than I would say to a player face to face!) and find out if anyone agrees, or if I’m just out on my own on this one…


It’s normal of course to have a little less spin on shorter throws, but obviously if there’s a huge discrepancy and the short throws are unstable then something is wrong.

Here’s part of the solution.

Put your hand flat on the table in front of you. Raise your middle finger, keeping the others down, and try to hit the table as hard as you can with it. Then, instead, while pressing down with that finger, pull it up with your other hand and let go. If that didn’t hit the table harder than the first one, something is wrong somewhere!

Fighting against your other hand stores up a ton of energy, and when you let go, your finger slams down into the table far faster than you could manage without resistance. The same thing applies to your wrist in a throw, or to any other movement of your body – pushing against a resistance that suddenly disappears is a far stronger movement than just pushing against nothing.

What is there to push against in a throw? No matter how fast my arm is travelling during a throwing motion, the wind resistance on the disc is not enough to really push my wrist back.

But it’s not about speed – it’s about acceleration. If I’m accelerating through the throw, then the inertia of the disc will be pulling my wrist back, just like your body pushes back against the aircraft seat as you accelerate down the runway. Objects resist acceleration – that’s what inertia is.

If I fight against that resistance, then suddenly, when I reach the end of the throw and stop accelerating, my wrist will snap extra hard. I don’t need great timing in snapping my wrist – I’m trying to straighten my wrist the whole time, but only when I reach the end of the throwing motion and stop accelerating the disc does it automatically snap out. Expert ‘timing’ in a throw is about the way I accelerate to the point of release, not about trying to consciously snap my wrist at a precise moment.¹

The snap of the wrist comes from two things – from the speed of the throw (so that as I decelerate the arm through release, the disc carries on and drags my wrist around) but also from the acceleration of the throw (so that I store up some ‘springiness’ in my wrist, fighting the inertia of the disc before the deceleration at the release point).²

It’s pretty clear that using both speed and acceleration will result in more spin than just using the speed. If I hit top speed in my throwing motion well before the release point, so that my wrist has nothing to push against as I approach the release, then I simply won’t get as much snap.³


So one answer to getting more spin on shorter throws is that you need to accelerate all the way through the motion. But obviously, for the shorter throws,  I need to do that without throwing it too hard/far. You’ve probably worked out how, but just in case…

When golfers putt, they don’t change how hard they accelerate the club – that is very difficult to judge, and it would be almost impossible for them to consistently control distance. Instead, they change the length of the putting stroke – always the same smooth stroke, but a longer or shorter backswing. That gives a nice visual clue as to how hard they’re about to hit the ball, which helps their judgement of distance, and at the same time ensures they will always accelerate through the contact.

The acceleration in putting isn’t especially powerful, but it’s always the same, and the difference in the speed of the club is determined only by the length of the stroke. If you accelerate at the same rate for a different length of time, you’ll be going at a different speed.

Throwing a disc should be similar – my short throws don’t have a more gentle throwing motion, they have a shorter throwing motion. I still need to attack the release point, but for a shorter throw I don’t want to build up too much speed before I get there, so I need to accelerate for a shorter time, over a shorter distance.

A common mistake you see from newer players is that they take the same backswing but try to throw slower – but that will both reduce spin and make judging distance harder. And what’s worse, it’s also just slower to release, meaning they get point-blocked more, or just can’t get the throw out early enough to hit the cutter.

Attack the release point, rather than pushing hardest at the very beginning of the throw. Take less of a backswing (or none at all). You can even take out whole sections of the throw – maybe you just throw from the shoulder downwards and take the hips and shoulders out of it; maybe you even throw with just the forearm and wrist.

But always you accelerate right through it, with the shortest throwing motion needed to get up to the desired power.


¹It’s just about possible on a very short throw, even when not accelerating, to deliberately snap the wrist at the right time (though as we saw with our fingers it won’t be as powerful as when you fight against a resistance that disappears). But for anything over a couple of yards, as the movements become faster, conscious timing becomes impossible – the only way you can consistently get good snap every time is by accelerating and decelerating properly.
Many players don’t even know they’re doing it on shortish throws – they think they’re consciously snapping the wrist without changing anything else – but you’ll see if you look closely that the trigger for the wrist snap is actually a quick acceleration of the forearm.
² Accelerating right up to the point where you slam the brakes on will significantly increase the spin on all your throws, but proportionally more so on the shorter ones (where the spin you get from the arm slowing down is much less).
³ Many people have this problem on their hucks – they try to muscle their long throws so much that they reach top speed way before the release point and aren’t able to get much snap on the disc. The very best throwers look effortless when they throw at their best, because it’s all about accelerating smoothly all the way through the throw, not about any sudden powerful-looking motion early in the throw. Take your time.
⁴ Yes, when you’re an expert thrower, there may be times when you need to be able to wind up for a huck and then throw it shorter. Sometimes you have to have a different-length throwing motion for various reasons in a game situation. But a) that certainly doesn’t mean a long backswing is a good way to learn to get spin on short throws, and b) really expert throwers will still accelerate the last few inches, even if they’ve done a longer, slower motion to get from their furthest-back point to where they actually need to start this throw.
All good throwers accelerate up to the point where they sharply decelerate, even when the early part of their throw is weird.
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5 Responses to On Generating Spin

  1. Rob McLeod says:

    Don’t agree with you on this. It’s a discussion I’ve had many times and as one of the top throwers who has thrown against the best I do believe that spin and glide are two different motions and that you can throw a decent length throw (~30 yards with only spin). It comes from learning to freestyle where having the ability to throw a throw with zero forward velocity but lots of spin is critical. In disc golf we can treat our wrist like a door or a spring. Slamming the door closed or loading up the spring. I’ve played around with both and I haven’t found much difference between the two. I’ve thrown 712 feet before and that’s partly because I generate a lot of spin and partly because I throw with a high velocity (~85 mph). For short throws in ultimate (and a quick release) you can easily use only wrist. I commented on that Reddit thread btw with a link to 2 separate videos.

    Rob

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    • Hey Rob – hope you’re well!

      I’m not sure which part you disagree with. I’m not at all clear on what you mean by spin and glide in this context – obviously it’s possible to get a lot of spin on short throws, and not a lot of spin on long throws, if you do things differently (like for example, pulling back at the release point so that you hugely increase the ‘deceleration’, taking speed off the throw while getting a lot of spin).

      But I think we need to be talking the same language before we can really discuss it – what does it mean for a disc to travel ~30 yards with only spin? It must have some velocity as well.

      My point in the article is simply that acceleration is important as well as speed; I think it’s pretty clear in that video that Ryan accelerates quickly into the nail-delay release, but also pulls back at the snap so that the disc spins without going anywhere. (Watch where his hand goes after release – pulling back away from where he released it to take the pace off but maintain [well, actually, increase] the spin.)

      Even if you believe a better way to get spin on short throws is to throw with a fast motion but then pull back to scrub off the speed, it’s still the case that accelerating into it will be more effective than going at a constant speed just before release. It’s an addition to the spin you can get, not a replacement for what happens as your arm decelerates.

      As I say, I’ll need to better understand where we disagree before I can really answer!

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      • Maybe we’re talking the same thing but I’m approaching it from another angle. I was also pretty delirious last night (just getting over being sick).

        I agree it’s about acceleration but too often I see people talking about how we don’t have to worry about snapping the wrist, how it’s a natural motion from the acceleration of the arm through the throwing motion (this is taught a lot in disc golf).

        There are really only two parts to a throw though. The velocity at which it flies and the revolutions that the disc is spinning. Regardless of acceleration, it’s the velocity on the release that matters.

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      • I guess to be clear I should put down some fuller thoughts about the pulling-back style of generating spin.

        It’s obviously something that is useful to be able to do, and it obviously does work in getting more spin. Basically, from the disc’s point of view there’s no difference between the arm going really fast and stopping, or going a bit slower and pulling back a bit – the total change in relative speed of arm and disc is the same, so the spin on a pull-back throw is very high even though there’s little velocity.

        But the timing is not so easy, and judging exactly how much velocity you will scrub off is hard. Controlling how far you’ll throw it is tricky. Lots can go wrong.

        In normal conditions, the trade off isn’t worth it – but in situations where you really need lots of spin (e.g. throws in strong wind) it might be the only way to control the disc, even if it does make judging the velocity more difficult.

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        • Oh I agree on that 🙂 It doesn’t matter how you do it….accelerate super fast and decelerate or go slower and pull back a bit.

          I just want to make sure that we don’t discount that there are two parts to the throw – spin & glide – and that best throws are the ones that make them combine seamlessly. Too many people totally ignore snapping the wrist to get spin and their throws will forever be held back because of it.

          I’m not saying people should start throwing short throws in ultimate like freestylers throw high Z throws (with lots of spin) but I do want to make sure that the wrist snap is recognized as being crucial. One of the ways I teach is to preload the wrist by cocking before the throw and then you finish the throw by snapping at the end.

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