Drills for Throwers

As a college coach I am often asked by many groups of people for ‘Drills for Throwing’, whether it be shot put, discus, hammer, weight or javelin, students, teachers and fans alike are looking to increase their wealth of knowledge of the throwing disciplines to better teach their craft.

I often ask myself ‘what is a drill?’, ‘why does everybody want them?’, ‘how do they make us better?' I did plenty of ‘drills’ in high school but throughout my college career I can probably count on a hand how many times I did a ‘drill’ but then, other times, I think I did them everyday.

The question that should be asked before ‘what drills can I do’ should be 'what are drills?' and then to the expert level, ‘what are your classification systems for movements and where do these exercises fit?’ Classifications come hand-in-hand with definitions, so, before we construct we must deconstruct; there are many systems that we can look at to analyze the throws whether it be by location or locomotion, load or dynamic, selection or shape.

  • Location-Where the movement is occurring.

  • Locomotion-What movement is occurring.

  • Dynamic-speed of the movement.

  • Load-Sets, Reps, Kilos, time active, time passive of the movement.

  • Selection-the collaborative group of movements selected in a workout.

  • Shape-the order and methodology of the movements throughout a cycle(s).

I am going to synthesize the first three of those into one general categorization used and created by Dr. Bondarchuk, they are:

  • Competitive Exercise-The throw

  • Special Development Exercise-One part of the throw removed (South African, half turn, etc.)

  • Special Preparation Exercise-Two parts of the throw removed (Press, Pull, Twist, etc.)

  • General Preparation Exercise-Three parts of the throw removed (Jumps, Running, etc.)

The final three of the systems listed above (load, selection, shape) are used with Bondarchuk’s systems to create a training program for an athlete. Through observations and results throughout a training cycle evaluations can be made towards the emphasis necessary on the above systems to create the next training program to optimize growth and development in selected areas of the training athlete. All of the above categorizations have slight variations between athlete and event groups and one of the journeys of the coach is appropriately classifying exercises, means and methods for those unique situations.

So where does the ‘drill’ fit into all of this? The term ‘drill’ comes from the classroom ‘fire drill’; a rehearsal used to prepare students for emergencies, to make it a habit. The word ‘drill’ actually comes from the word for ‘throw’ and is cognate with ‘tool’, ‘turn’, ‘twist’ and ‘rub’. So, for our purposes the ‘drill’ is a tool to better create good habits in the athlete.

So, now, I think before we ask what ‘good drills’ are we must ask ‘what are tools that are used to create good habits in the athlete?’ Personally, tools I use to better my athletes are competitive exercises, special development exercises, special preparation exercises, general preparation exercises, different loads, sets, reps and rests for these exercises. I use logs, videos, personal interaction, cues, lack of cues, I use trainers, massage therapists, rewards, punishments and team building, among others.

But, are all of those considered ‘drills’? Probably not by the definition that most are looking for, most of the time when asking for drills individuals are looking for quick and easy repetitious non weight movements done in between, before, after or in place of competitive exercises. These are put in place often due to the lack of infrastructure available to the program whether it is at the club, high school or collegiate level. I believe that in an environment with ample infrastructure that drills are less than necessary for improving physical performance when all of the resources are properly utilized and the athletes’ emotional and psychological states are on point.

That becomes one of the greatest issues for athletes in transition from one program to the next as on one hand their body has adapted to one system of development and must transition to a new method of stimulus and on the other hand they have grown mentally comfortable with the structures in place and have certain protocols for dealing with adversity, valleys or downs in training. When the athlete enters the new systems and reaches similar or new challenges they may not be able to go back to old tools of recovery and may have to find confidence in the new structures in place and this can be scary for young athletes.

So, in my mind, now the question moves from ‘what are good drills for throwing’ to ‘how can I best implement drills for throwing?’ Because, there are only so many exercises, they are only so many words and what it comes down to is the interpretation and implementation of these means and methods. And, not just that but also, ensuring that athletes’ are appropriately taking advantage of these things and being made aware of a bigger picture.

We must be balanced in the prescription of means and methods of improving habits of our throwers as not to create a crutch or dependency when they are weak. We must teach our athletes that when they are weak, when they are failing when they don’t know what else to do the thing that will make them better is…time, clear thinking, confidence and the best and most direct way to improve a throw is by throwing. Easier said than done.

Countless times in history an athlete has been able to make a certain move without an inplement only to fail at doing so when the implement is added in and the coach responds 'well I guess we need to drill it more!' Taking 1o's of 1,000s of drill movements could engrain improper patterns in an athlete's technique that may take years to repair. Taking 1/10th of the reps with actual real throws can quicken the learning, give a more true feel to the execution necessities and allow for better ability to change in the future.

Finally, what I believe we must look at when asking ‘what are good drills for throwing?’ is ‘what can I do to become a better coach?’ And that is, when athletes are struggling, there is not a single drill we can do to fix them instantly but a series of active and passive support that must be practiced, consistently and with balance to ensure the proper psychological and physical development of our youth athletes. Those are the best habits to ingrain, those are the best tools to use during practice and in life and that is why we throw and do sport to begin with; to improve our life.