One of my all-time favorite movies is the 2011 baseball film ‘Moneyball’. The idea that sporting results can be predicted using statistics and performance variables has always appealed to me. In the throws events however, this practice is more challenging than in baseball, and although many have tried to develop performance prediction tests, the results have not been very successful.
Usually the first performance predictors people will think of (especially in North America with our strong weight room culture) are related to the athlete’s lifting capacity. Youtube is saturated with videos of our throwing heroes moving massive amounts of weight. However, the data shows that past a certain strength level, these weight room results cease to contribute more distance to our throws. An Anatoliy Bondarchuk seminar report written by Harold Connolly provides the strength norms for 80 m (262′ 5″) hammer throwers (270kg (595 lb) squat, 170kg (375 lb) power clean, etc). Throwers who had strength results above these reported values showed no increase on improved performance. Therefore, to predict throwing distances based solely on weight room performance will not work.
It does appear that the closer the predictive tests become to the actual throwers movement, the better the predictions of performance may become. Shot tosses, medicine ball throws and special exercises all have a stronger association to the throwing performance. Coach Don Babbitt has identified a prediction test for Men’s Javelin using a 4kg med ball. The equation is as follows:
overhead forward throw + overhead backward throw + underhand forward throw + 20m = javelin personal record.
Don then provided an example for US javelin thrower Breaux Greer, which did closely predict his personal record:
18.50m (60′ 5″) + 27m (88′ 7″) + 22m (72′ 3″) + 20m (65′ 7″) = 87.50m (287′ 1″) (His personal record at the time was 87.69m (287′ 8″)
Researchers have looked at other aspects of throwers as well in hopes of predicting performance. A research team in the late 1970s attempted to correlate personality traits of US Olympic throwers to the distances they threw (Ward et al. 1979). All four throwing disciplines were analyzed, using a number of different psychological tests. Ultimately, the researchers found very little correlation between the personality characteristics of top-level throwers and how well they performed in competition.
Studies have also been published examining the anthropometric (the field of human body measurement) measures of throwing athletes, in hopes that athletic performance can be predicted based upon body characteristics. One study looked at the body measurements of male junior shot put throwers in India (Abraham). The study examined measures such as: height, weight, arm length, thigh circumference, and so on. The researcher determined that in this group of junior throwers; weight, upper arm circumference and lower arm circumference were the only measures that correlated with the distance thrown. There are also readily available examples in competition today. For example, it is generally accepted that the ‘glide’ technique in shot put is better suited for tall athletes than the ‘rotational’ technique. However, Christian Cantwell at 1.96 m tall has enjoyed a tremendous shot put career using the rotational technique.
Although it is an exciting concept to believe that throwing performance can be accurately predicted using mathematical models, it does not appear that this method is currently feasible. It is my belief that because the throws events are so highly technical, the physical tests are not nearly as important as the ability of the neuromuscular system to learn and refine the movement patterns needed to produce outstanding throws. Perhaps if there was a way to easily test the ability of the neuromotor system to learn and maintain technique, then we could indeed predict throwing results.
Abraham B. Prediction of Performance Ability of Throwers in Relation to Selected Anthropometric Measures. Int J Phys Ed, Health and Social Sci 2(1)
Connolly H. Report on the International Hammer Throwing Seminar and Szombathley Hammer Throw Training Center Program
Ward GR, Morrow JR, Omizo MM (1979) The Prediction of Performance of Olympic Athletes in Discus, Hammer, Javelin and Shotput From Measures of Personality Characteristics. Edu and Psych Measurement 39(1):197-201