Category Archives: Glide Shot

Lots to love about Sophia Rivera’s glide

It has been nice reading the recent glide/spin debate on the Macthrowvideo Chat site, one because it has been civil, and two because it is an issue that all high school coaches have to grapple with.

My two cents? A high school coach has to know how to teach both. A college coach can say “the glide sucks, I’m only going to recruit rotational throwers,” but high school coaches cannot control who enrolls in their school and the fact is that some kids are better suited to the glide, so you have to be ready to teach it.

It just so happens that a month ago at the World Youth Trials at Benedictine University I got to see a young thrower with a technically excellent glide–Sophia Rivera, who ended up finishing second at the World Youth Championships in Colombia.

For my contribution to the glide/spin debate, I’d like to point out some aspects of Sophia’s technique that make her glide so effective.

First, Sophia accelerates the shot through a long, straight path. Think of the barrel of one of those Brown Bess muskets that the British shot my Irish ancestors with back in the day. They were made long and straight to put maximum acceleration on the ball.

See how the shot stays on a straight path from here…

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…through here…

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…to here:

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Even as she drives the shot through the finish…

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…there is very little deviation from it’s original…

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…path.

 

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That there is sound physics, folks.

 

Second, from the power position she drives right-to-left into the throw, javelin style.

There is a persistent myth out there that gliders should land both feet simultaneously in the power position. Think about the way we throw things, though. If you had a rock in your hand and a chance to throw it at an in-law without getting caught, you wouldn’t plant both feet first. Not if you wanted to do some real damage. You would drive from your right foot to your left, the way Sophia does here…

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It’s only natural.

 

Finally, Sophia gets maximum value from the ground. 

Driving hard against it with the right foot here…

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…and here…

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…and here…

 

 

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…still driving, even after the shot has left her hand.

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And by the way, look how solid her block is!  Every ounce of energy she created across the ring has gone into accelerating that shot.

I tip my hat to Sophia’s coach, Ron Eichaker. He has done a superb job of teaching Sophia a biomechanically sound glide.

Let me close by throwing out a question to our glide v. spin debaters. Sophia is about to enter her senior year in high school. As previously mentioned, she finished second at the World Youth Championships, so she is pretty…good. But, if the spin is truly the superior technique, Sophia should  switch to it when she gets to college, right?

But, if she switches, isn’t there a risk that she might not be able to transfer these sound mechanics to the rotational technique?

You’re her college coach. What are you going to do?

 

 

 

The Moment of Truth in the Glide Shot Put (by Dan McQuaid)

Valerie Adams of New Zealand, Christina Schwanitz of Germany, and Lijiao Gong of China finished 1-2-3 in the shot in last summer’s Outdoor World Championships.

Yesterday, they finished in the exact same order at the Indoor World Championships.

Coincidence?

I think not.

All three have mastered a vital aspect of the glide technique: the transition from the glide through the power position into the finish of the throw. This transition requires precise timing, and is fraught with potential difficulties.

The key is to get the right heel up and the right knee and hip turning into the throw before the upper body opens or drifts forward. Basically, the athlete needs to create as much distance as possible between their right knee and right elbow.

Doing so establishes a slingshot effect that greatly accelerates the implement. Failure to do so–usually because the athlete begins the arm strike before the lower body has a chance to fire–results in a weak, upper-body-driven throw.

If you want to see what this transition phase should look like, take a gander at the video of Saturday’s competition. Here are some still photos I took from that video:

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This is Schwanitz just as her right foot touches down following her glide. She’s in great shape here–the shot is back, her eyes are back, her right knee is bent. She is spring-loaded and ready for a powerful finish.

The key will be her ability to create distance between her right knee and right elbow in the instant after the right foot touches down. Let’s see how she did:

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Notice that her left foot is now much closer to the toeboard while her head and right elbow have barely moved. This is because she is driving into the throw from her right toes through her right knee while keeping her upper body back.

This is an important visual cue. Had Schwanitz initiated the throw with her upper body, her left foot would have plopped down immediately in the spot that you see it hovering over in the first photo. Think of  a teeter-totter. One end pops up, the other end drops. What we see instead is an increasingly wide distance between the feet and–though not so obvious from this angle–an increasing distance between her right knee and right elbow.

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Now you can see it. Her right elbow is starting to rotate in the direction of the throw, but look how far ahead she has driven her right knee. The slingshot is stretched, and she is ready to release a powerful throw.

Here is Gong moving through those same positions:

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Like Schwanitz, she hits an excellent power position. The shot is way back (if, hypothetically, she dropped the shot at this moment it would land behind her right foot–this is a good cue when watching film with your throwers especially if there are not 87 officials scattered around the throwing area blocking everyone’s view) and her right leg is loaded and ready to…

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…drive into the throw. As with Schwanitz, we can tell that Gong is driving hard with that right leg because her left foot is now near the toeboard while her right elbow has barely moved. If I may harp on the slingshot analogy a bit more, her right knee is like the hand holding the slingshot while her right hand/elbow/shoulder is like the hand holding the little pouch containing the projectile. Driving forward with the right knee while keeping the right elbow back is like stretching the heck out of the slingshot just before letting go of the projectile. Had Gong’s right elbow turned with her knee, she would create much less tension.

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This is just a couple of frames later.  Her right elbow is still back, her head is still back, her right leg is driving and she is about to knock the crap out of the shot.

With yesterday’s triumph, Valeri Adams has now won 44 consecutive shot competitions including two Olympic gold medals. Let’s see how she transitions from the glide through the power position:

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She is not as low as the other two medalists, nor is the shot quite so far back so you won’t see the distance between her feet changing too much as she drives into the throw.  But, the shot is far enough behind her right hip that she is able to…

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…stretch the slingshot. And you know the rest.

The excellent fixed-feet, short-long glide of Ladislav Prasil

As a high school throws coach, I am a big fan of the fixed-feet, short-long glide. It allows the putter to accelerate the shot over a long, straight path and to work the ground for an extended time during the release.

Currently, Ladislav Prasil, the 23-year-old Czech with a PB of 21.47m, provides a great template for young throwers wanting to learn the short-long.

Here are two views of Prasil as he is about to begin his glide:

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Notice that his upper body is completely limp. His back muscles are relaxed, his left arm passive. This sets Prasil up to accelerate the shot over a long path. He begins with the shot down low and will finish by releasing it high.

As a glide shotputter begins reaching the left leg across the ring, it is vital that they keep the upper body passive as long as possible. Prasil does a fine job of this:

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A key technical point of the short-long glide is to let the left leg finish before pulling the right leg out of the back.  This allows the putter to keep the shot on that long path that is so conducive to fine throws.

Here is Prasil a milisecond or so later:

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His left leg has finished extending and the right foot is about to leave the concrete. Notice that his posture (the rounded upper back) has not changed. His eyes are still looking down and back.  Notice also that Prasil has the shot placed under the right side of his jaw rather than against the the side of his neck (as is common with rotational putters). This placement, combined with his ablility to maintain a relaxed upper body during the glide phase of the put will allow him to accelerate the shot along a straight path as perceived from a vantage point directly behind the ring.

We all know that  a sprinter accelerates best when following a straight route rather than weaving from one side of the lane to the other. The same principal applies to the shotput. Variation of the path of the implement robs the putter of the best chance to accelerate it. Prasil does a great job of keeping the shot on a straight path.

One further comment on that last photo.  Many regard Ulf Timmerman, the 1988 Olympic champion from the DDR, as the greatest glide technician ever, and I agree that he was fantastic.  Watch a video of him at regular speed and you will be awed by his explosiveness. Like Prasil, Ulf was a short-long glider.  One prominent difference between their techniques, though, is that Ulf blasted his left leg hard and low out of the back of the ring as if  trying to shatter the toeboard with the force of that left leg extension, while Prasil reaches his left leg higher and less aggressively.

When introducing the short-long to young throwers, it is best to adopt Prasil’s approach.  Blasting the left leg too hard and too low out of the back of the ring will cause the shoulders of most novice throwers to pop up, thus making it difficult to keep the shot back long enought to let the right hip do its work.  Think of the line connecting the putter’s head to his left heel as a teeter totter.  Push one end of a teeter totter down and the other end must come up.  Timmerman was able to avoid this pitfall by keeping his upper body totally passive even as he lashed his left leg toward the toeboard. Unfortunately, most of us coach athletes who are to Timmerman as a Volkswagon beetle is to a Porshe, and trying to replicate this aspect of his technique is a mistake.

Let’s take a look now at Prasil’s position as his right foot touches  down after his glide.

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This is classic short-long shotputting. Allow me to draw your attention to three technical matters.  First, Prasil’s right foot lands at a 45-degree angle. Some would argue that in order to give the right hip its best chance of firing into the release ahead of the shot the right foot must land at a 90-degree angle. Parallel, in other words, to the toeboard. Remember, though, that we must strive to accelerate the shot along a straight path. Turning his foot to 90 degrees might cause a premature opening of the right hip and shoulder which would yank the shot off of its straight path.  Best to ground the foot at a 45-degree angle to facilitate keeping the shot back. And, as you will see, Prasil has no trouble firing his right hip with his foot at this angle.

Second, notice that when Prasil’s right foot touches down his left foot is still in the air. This allows him to keep the shot way back, and to blast into the throw with a natural right-to-left action. Hand one of your athletes a softball and tell them to throw it as far as they can. Will they hop, land simultaneously on both feet and then jump into the throw? Not likely. My guess is that they will stride into the throw, right-to-left like a javelin thrower. A shotput is obviously a lot heavier than a softball or javelin, but short-long gliders still incorporate this action into their technique, and Prasil provides an excellent example of doing so successfully.

Finally, notice that Prasil’s left arm is beginning to lift as his right foot lands.  This is another sign that he is determined to keep the shot on a straight path.  Many young throwers are taught to reach their left arm back as they glide, in an effort to keep them from opening their shoulders prematurely and allowing their upper body to get ahead of their right hip as they drive into the throw. Keeping the left arm back too long, however, can muck up the timing of the right-to-left throwing action and–you guessed it–cause the shot to deviate from a straight path. Young throwers must be taught to keep the right shoulder back as the left arm opens. This takes a lot of practice and tinkering, as many of them will naturally turn their head and and rotate both shoulders as the left arm sweeps, but…what can I tell you? Anyone looking for a sport at which they can instantly excel should  try boogie-boarding or thumb wrestling.

So, Prasil has done a great job of setting himself up for a big throw. Let’s see how he finishes it.

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It is crucial that the right heel pops up and the right knee and hip fire immediately after the right foot touches down. That, again, is why many argue for the foot to land at 90 degrees. But as can be seen here, Prasil does a magnificent job of blasting his right knee and hip ahead of the shot.

Let’s take a look from the other angle to see how he does with keeping the shot on a straight path.

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Pretty good, huh? By keeping his upper body relaxed throughout the glide, by clearing the left arm while keeping the shot back, and by being an all-around stud-muffin, Prasil succeeds in blasting the shot up and out along a straight path.

Two comments on these final images.

I am a big fan of fixed-feet throwing.  The laws of physics dictate that in order to exert maximum force on the shot, you have to have a solid base to push against. The old cannon-in-a-rowboat analogy.  I know that most successful gliders at the international level reverse. David Storl. Tomasz Majewski. But guess what, brother? You and I are not coaching athletes like that. They are 6’5″ (Storl) and 6’9″ (Majewski) and extremely athletic. You know where the high school versions of those guys end up in this country? On a basketball court twelve months of the year getting screamed at by some 5’8″ guy with slicked back hair. We get the guys with the three-inch verticals that can’t make the basketball team. And for them, fixed feet throwing usually works best.

And by the way, I guarantee you that Storl and Majewski have taken about a million fixed-feet throws in training.

Finally, you might notice that Prasil’s head moves to the left as he releases the shot. This is still another indication of his determination to keep the shot on a straight path. Even though he holds the shot under his jaw, he still has to get his head out of the way at some point if he wants to keep the shot on the straight and narrow. You see the same thing among javelin throwers:

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All I can say about this is that you, as a coach, must monitor this carefully. You absolutely do not want your shotputters yanking their heads to the left as they release the shot.  Train them to remain as upright as possible as they flick the shot away and realize that to some extent, tilting to the left is inevitable. But don’t let it get out of hand.

Finally, finally, I want to acknowledge that Prasil is a magnificent athlete. Normal people do not throw 21 meters. Normal people throw 10 meters and then become coaches. That said, I believe that his technique is more applicable to the average high school thrower than the technique employed by Timmerman, Storl, or Majewski.

Here are the links to the videos from which I stole those photos:

Good luck to everybody out there this indoor season!

 

–Dan McQuaid