I’ve been coaching high school discus throwers for nearly 25 years, and I’ve spent a great deal of that time trying to figure out how to get them out of the back of the ring on balance.
We all know what it looks like when they fail at this. The head leading the way . The right foot stomping down in the middle of the ring so hard as to nearly crack the concrete. The discus whanging off the right support post. The embarrassment. The shame. The utter futility of it all.
The “American” approach to dealing with this matter has been to get the right foot off the ground as soon as possible when setting up to run the ring. Here is Casey Malone demonstrating that concept:
Notice that when his left foot is turned 90 degrees to the direction of the throw, his right toes are off the ground. His right leg then leads him to the middle of the ring with the disc trailing behind:
By getting his right foot off the ground quickly (before the left has rotated past 90 degrees) Casey has set himself up to run the ring on balance.
Here is the fine American rotational shot putter Joe Kovacs demonstrating the same approach:
The logic here (and it has worked quite well for these two gentlemen) is that getting the right foot moving as early as possible prevents the upper body from getting ahead and pulling the thrower off balance.
I have come to understand, however, that the Germans (who have done quite well for themselves in the discus over the past 30+ years) have a different philosophy regarding getting out of the back of the ring.
They emphasize keeping the right foot grounded at the back as long as possible. Take a look at these photos of Robert Harting:
See how far his left foot has turned while his right toes are still in contact with the ground?
By the time his right foot leaves the concrete, his left foot is nearly facing the direction of the throw.
He is perfectly on balance then as the right leg sweeps around…
…and leads him into the throw:
The intention here is to use the “late” push-off of the right foot to create a stretch in the hips and thighs that will lend momentum to the right leg so that it may more easily sweep ahead coming out of the back.
Here is Sandra Perkovic using a similar approach:
Look how far her left heel has turned while her right toes maintain contact with the ground.
When the right foot finally leaves the concrete…
…it carries a lot of force…
…which can be transferred into the throw.
It seems to me, that this “leave the right foot down and turn the crap out of the left” approach can also be used in the rotational shot. Take a look at these photos of Stipe Zunic:
Unlike Kovacs, Stipe’s right foot is still on the ground as his left foot turns 90 degrees from the direction of the throw.
It is only when the left foot has turned past that 90-degree point that the right foot pushes off. Notice the distance between Stipe’s knees here. He has created a lot of tension in his hips/thighs that will lend impetus to that right leg when it sweeps ahead out of the back.
The question here is can a young thrower be trusted to leave the right foot in place long enough to develop a significant stretch in the hips and thighs without letting the upper body pull ahead and bollix up the throw?
The answer is yes, provided that you teach that young thrower to push his/her hips forward and to the left as they begin their entry, and to keep their head calm.
Take a look at this still from a vid of Jurgen Schult giving a clinic somewhere in France. When demonstrating the proper method of getting out of the back of the ring, Jurgen emphasizes that the hips must be pushed forward…
…and not allowed to slide back:
This keeps the thrower on balance and creates the desired tension in the hips and thighs.
…all do an excellent job of pushing their hips forward prior to entry as a way of staying on balance and creating that powerful hip/thigh stretch.
In working with my athletes on this, I have found that putting an emphasis on pushing the hips forward and keeping the right foot grounded until the left heel has turned as far as it possibly can has solved a lot of the head-yanking problems that typically plague young throwers.
Keeping the right foot down is certainly no cure-all for the many problems that can arise during the entry phase. Last winter I asked Robert’s coach, Torsten Schmidt, how they chose which discus ring to use when throwing at the Berlin training center (they have half-a-dozen or so from which to choose). He said that he and Robert liked to throw from a certain ring from which a tree is visible when setting up at the back of the ring. Robert uses this tree as a focal point to try to keep his head slow and calm during the entry phase.
My advice to throwing coaches at all levels? Tree or no tree, teach your throwers to push their hips forward as they unwind and to leave that right foot down until their left foot has turned until it can turn no more.
Can the current men’s and women’s Olympic discus gold medalists and the newly crowned indoor NCAA men’s shot champion be wrong?