Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him

Ian (PDGA #49138) is a good friend of mine - and has one of the best forehands that I've seen in Colorado. He's able to shape shots forehand that I would have said were impossible and his game is pretty much 100% forehand for drives, and backhand for short approach shots.

The last couple years he's played very well in the Open Division - and has cashed in most of the tournaments. He's a very solid player and sadly for anybody who wants to beat him, he wants to develop his backhand. After a round yesterday we spent some time working on some fundamentals.

I really wanted to see if I could share some of the hard fought battles that I had worked out in my own form with Ian.

Now, first off - this was maybe a 45m session. He's incredibly flexible and to be honest I was shocked at the improvement we were able to make, mostly because it took me months to make adjustments that he made in less than an hour!

He's still not hitting, but he's getting into the right positions. By hitting, I mean that when your hip shift weight loads your arm extension properly, your wrist stretches tight and the disc explodes forcefully forward due to this leverage. But to hit, you almost certainly have to be in the right positions.

This term keeps popping up: leverage.

Specifically we are leveraging a round piece of plastic with our body weight. It is much easier to move our hips forward, and then stop them - and let energy move up through our spine, into our arm than it is to stand static and just use our muscles to swing our arm.  The way we hold the disc during this transfer is important, because it can take advantage of the fact that our shoulder, elbow and wrist are all hinged.

We want to get as much of the leverage from our body weight transferred through that series of hinges, so that as the last hinge extends - the force of the previous hinges gets added. By extending our elbow forward of our shoulder, we get to add the weight of our arm into the system as well.

The x-step, backswing, all the motions that we incorporate into throwing are revolving around this key mechanism, and it is one of the best techniques for transferring that leverage of our weight into actual acceleration of the disc: at the very end of those hinges swinging open.

We want to pull a little and accelerate a bunch and the more distance that we get to pull around the disc, the more leverage we can get at the end of the motion, and that's why we keep our hand on the outside as long as possible. All these systems are intertwined.

Once you really start to understand that leverage is the mechanism that lets players throw 400' to 500'- and more, you start to change the way you think about the whole system: whatever parts we add to the system, we must protect our ability to get the elbow leading the shoulder and our hand on the outside of the disc. Arranging our bodies into the best position to multiply the leverage comes next, but the core concept is where we start.

So let's start with leveraging a disc, without an x-step.

Feet: Do you think a javelin thrower, a high jumper or a long jumper is flat footed? Nope. Athletic posture starts with your feet - specifically from getting up into a balanced powerful position on your forefoot and toes. You get to be involved with this post now. Grab something heavy: a gallon of milk, a water bottle, a 5 pound weight.

Stand flat footed and take one foot off the ground and then raise the weight straight out to the side, then out front. I imagine you had a hard time trying to keep that foot in the air. Now try again, but this time get up on the front of your foot. You don't have to have the heal off the ground, but the weight should push into your toes and the ball of your foot. It's more balanced, it's more controlled, right? Find the balance where the control is greatest - too far forward, you get out of balance. Once you find the sweet spot, with a bent knee - you should have substantially better control of your center of balance.

Here's a quick video of this drill:

A quick note on the video: you'll want to release the torque on your knee by pivoting on your heel. I didn't release the pressure in the video, but if I'm throwing I sure do.

Rocking back and forth from the balls of your feet, your weight should feel mobile and accessible. From this position you should be able to shift your hips side to side, while keeping your upper body completely upright. As you rock onto your back foot, compress your leg a bit doing a little 6" squat and push it out into a forward motion.

We are keeping our nose between our toes and just focusing on shifting our weight into the plant foot.

Once you are feeling a good balanced motion, add in a back swing which is simply going to twist your core staying upright and this time you take the plant foot off the ground. As you want to avoid putting the disc directly behind you, make sure you keep the arm out away from your body - this will let you guide the disc back flatly to the right pec without the disc changing directions.

As your weight shifts to the plant foot this time, you are going to move the plant foot about 6" forward and plant your weight on the inside of the plant foot. If you were on skates, you would be engaging the inside part of the blade. Moving the plant foot forward gives your hips some space to shift forward.

Now, I want to share a really cool drill that comes from SlowPlastic on DiscGolfCourseReview:

Keep your wrist loose during this process. Do the first diagram until you feel the disc fling towards your forearm. Once you have that feel (you feel the weight of the disc), then try again, but as the feeling begins then open your elbow. The wrist should bounce open. This drill should automatically get you in an elbow-forward right pec position in order to get the disc to slam your wrist shut.
Keep in mind this is a drill and things are exaggerated a bit. But once you have this feeling, try it in a throw with a smooth follow through. Once you can get this feeling in the throw the disc should fly straighter/glide longer. Then, all other form issues come into play as usual to get real distance.
I think that his drill when added to the elbow-smack/hand-smack drill is a great way to start feeling the loading wrist.

Lastly, the USDGC: what a heart breaker for JohnE McCray. JohnE was such a patient and kind guy when I met him in May and I've been pulling for him ever since. With the benefit of hind sight, we all could play our rounds differently - but we're human and we make mistakes. As I watched with my jaw on the floor, a comment that he made stuck in my head. I had asked him how he decides when to layup vs running it... if for example it was a putt into a basket right in front of water.

He didn't blink: "The chains will stop the disc." JohnE is a full throttle player until the last disc is thrown.

Johne gives me hope because I'm a spring chicken next to him at 39... plenty of time to make my run at the Championship!

(I just gotta stop three putting from inside the circle!)


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