Like hitting in baseball or kicking in soccer, throwing the football is an undeniably necessary skill for any aspiring quarterback. For many just starting their path to football greatness, tossing the pigskin can be a frustrating endeavor -- especially if your hands aren’t comfortably big enough for the ball. But, there are ways around this obstacle, of course, it just takes some concentration and training.
However, before you can truly learn the art of throwing, it’s equally as important to understand the science and ideas behind it as well. Here you’ll learn about how to manipulate gravity to your advantage, what exactly the Sagittal Plane is, and some key fundamentals towards becoming the best QB you can be.
The accuracy of a throw comes down to the path taken by the arm as it extends to the target. Since projectiles go straight with only gravity pulling them downward as they go, you should release the ball with a vertical arm path make gravity a deliberate factor in the throw -- this will help you to avoid missing targets to the left or right. The arm essentially uses centrifugal force to accelerate the ball, and if that path is out horizontally, like a merry-go-round, you’ll create 89 degrees of error on both sides of the target -- hence using the "over the top" release people talk about.
The Sagittal Plane
By definition: “the sagittal plane is a vertical plane that passes from anterior to posterior, dividing the body into right and left halves.” Or, in simpler terms: it is a vertical plane that passes through the front and back of your body, dividing it into right and left halves. In this, there are a couple key steps a quarterback must unconsciously check off before every throw. Firstly, create a 90 degree angle at your elbow and armpit. This applies to most of your common throws as a quarterback as, ideally, you want your arm and elbow to work in symphony to provide a straight and accurate pass. Your elbow should rise up over your head during the throwing motion.
This is similar to throwing a baseball -- so in order to be as accurate as possible, throwing straight over the top and down is the way to go. Additionally, the less you throw sidearm, the better. It’s less accurate and more harmful to your arm as a motion in general. Step to your target -- you wouldn’t step towards the dugout while hitting, right? Well, the same concepts apply here also.
Don't forget to follow through! The best way to practice good, healthy throwing attempts is to wrap it all up with a nice follow through. Just like a free throw, hold it until the ball is out and away from your body. It’s a good habit to get into while making sure your throws are as accurate as possible.
Take a look at this gif of Packers’ quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Even though he’s under pressure and flushed out of the pocket, Rodgers is still looking for a target downfield. As he eventually scrambles towards the right sideline, it would be easy for Rodgers to throw some off-balance, sidearm junk of a throw into coverage, an attempt that would, most likely, be intercepted.
Instead, Rodgers, to the best of his ability given the oncoming pass rush, sets his feet and goes through the motions outlined above. Zoom in and focus on Rodgers’ arm. Even though it’s lightning quick, you can still see that 90 degree angle, or close to, formed in his armpit and elbow. The ball then comes up over his head and is released out as a straight and linear throw even though he’s on the run.
Additionally, you can see Rodgers’ attempting to get in line with his receiver as best as possible before releasing. That way, he isn’t throwing across his body or with a sidearm, but is working towards naturally stepping at his target in order to create the best possible end result.
Simply put, a horizontal/sidearm delivery, of any degree, creates a timing problem. If you let go just a little early or late, then the QB likely misses his target laterally. A vertical/overhead delivery has the same timing variables, but letting go early or late only affects the ball's vertical trajectory. Thus, the ball’s movement will mostly deal in going higher or lower, a much larger window of opportunity for a receiver to make a completion. A high or low ball is not ideal or pretty, but still can move the chains or put points on the board, while a ball that misses just a few inches behind or in front of a receiver will be an incompletion or worse, a turnover.
If you don't think a few degrees left or right makes a difference, think again about the nature of angles. A throw at ten yards that is left or right of the target by 1 degree will be off by 1.7 yards, or about 5 feet. However, take the distance of a throw of 20 yards, and the QB will miss it by 10 feet. From 40 yards away, the QB will miss his target by 20 feet, or almost 7 yards. Considering a throw from the middle of the field to the sideline is over 25 yards alone and a QB will usually throw about 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, a simple 10-yard curl becomes a 30 yard throw -- just 4 degrees off, and you miss badly.
(Related: Read about quarterbacks and their fancy footwork here.)
Once you get used to throwing that way, it will eventually become second nature and you won’t even think about it. But, until then, mentally check it off your list before every attempt. It may seem arbitrary and inefficient in the interim, however, it’ll greatly benefit you in the long run. There's tons of science and understanding behind an accurate throw, so try to work through these steps before you develop any bad habits.
However, if you still often struggle while throwing the football, consider hiring one of CoachUp's private trainers to help take your game to another level. Our team excels in teaching the principles that younger players need to succeed. Soon enough, you'll have the confidence and prowess to dominate any throw and situation. What are you waiting for?
Be prepared for the biggest moments by mastering the small ones off the field.