What follows are my thoughts on phases a player might go through as they engage in deliberate throwing practice. These are offered so that you know what to expect and can avoid becoming stagnant.
Beginner Phase: This phase may be characterized by unbridled enthusiasm and complete obsession with throwing practice. During this phase, I’d say just go with the flow and do what feels right. When you first begin, you’re going to have quick gains in throwing capabilities no matter what you do. Just get the disc in your hands as often as possible.
My only word of caution is to be careful practicing hucks, pulls, and hammers. If you’re not giving your body sufficient rest and strengthen itself for the power movements required or if you have bad form, you can injure yourself.
Intermediate Phase: So now you can finally throw a forehand. You even have your inside-outs and outside-in throws. Now what? This is where a lot of players plateau. Throwing more will make you better, but the gains aren’t as rapid as when you were a beginner with so much to learn. This is where deliberate practice is key. If you want to make good use of your time, if you want to be more than a mediocre thrower for the next year, if you want to avoid the boredom of the plateau, you must focus and have a plan. Find a good throwing partner and set up regular times to throw. Practice with your cleats on because you’re taking this as seriously. Follow the deliberate practice model. You have the form, now you’re working on consistency. Learn to control the angles of your inside-outs and outside-ins. Is the throw you visualize in your head the one that comes out of your hand? Does this happen at least 89% of the time?
Intermediate 2.0: Start developing your personal arsenal. How do you intend to destroy the mark? What are the throws your opponents will admire and curse you for? If you intend to be a handler, these throws should be on your list: low release forehand, low release backhand, high release backhand, scoober. I recommend having a general knowledge of each but really focusing on developing one at a time. It will be your priority throw during your deliberate practice sessions. Work on the throw until you really own it and can use it in a game before you move on to work on the next weapon.
Becoming Game Ready: The transition from executing a throw in throwing practice to using it in a game can be bumpy. Deliberate throwing practice between two players is different than throwing in a game with a mark with moving targets and other distractions. It can help to occasionally have a three person throwing practice so that you can practice your throws with a mark. But in the end, at some point you just have to take the plunge. This is what pick up is for. You are allowed to be bad at pickup. Try not to be bad all of the time, but do allow yourself to be bad some of the time. Especially if you are being bad for a reason. Decide that you’re going to attempt 3-5 of your “new” throw at a pick up session. Tell your throwing partner what you are doing so that he can cut for the throw you’re trying to force yourself to make. Expect a few turnovers or that you’ll put up some wobbly garbage. But once you complete the pass your looking for once, it becomes infinitely easier and it won’t be long before you’re throwing it without even thinking about it.
Expert Plateau: This has happened to me (probably several times). If you are becoming stagnant at any time, think about these possible causes:
1. Practice is boring. It’s a constant challenge to keep throwing practice fresh. Adding some esoteric throws (blades, thumbers, whatever) to your regimen can add interest. But if you’re feeling stale don’t be afraid to take a vacation from practice when you need one. Do rotate your priority throws regularly. As you get a handle on your throws, cycle again and take each throw to the next level of perfection or consistency.
2. Now that I’m the expert, I don’t want to show people my bad throws. This sounds stupid, and it is. I’m guilty of it. People who are in leadership or teaching positions may be more susceptible to this problem. If I’m supposed to be teaching people how to play ultimate, I don’t want them to see how bad my high release backhand looks! How will I gain respect if I’m causing turnovers by practicing my scoober? I’m still figuring out how to deal with this one because really, I don’t want people thinking it’s okay to throw crappy scoobers unless they are also practicing them outside of pickup.
3. Can’t find a throwing partner. I’m currently having trouble with this one too. If you are in the role of helping others with their throws it can be difficult to find someone who will let you ignore them to focus on your own stuff. I’m hoping that as I teach people how to practice, they will become better at self evaluation. Or at least they will better understand why I have no idea what their last throw looked like because I was busy evaluating my own. Maybe they will also understand why I am expecting them to catch 55 ridiculous forehand blades.
Maybe you’ve recognized the phase you‘re currently in. Maybe not. I’d love to hear some feedback on this subject. I’d also love to hear about how you practice. What is working for you and what isn’t?
See you on the field!