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.⁴
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.