The Thrower’s Eye

by | February 15, 2012, 4:56am 0

Between the reality of technical skill and the black-and-white world of good and bad decisions lies an ocean of space.  This space is defined by possibility; a possibility that is accessible if you can find it; a possibility where everyone is open all the time.  To see this possibility you need the thrower’s eye.

I remember my first moment of using the thrower’s eye to throw someone open.  It was 1993 and we (Carleton) had traveled to Ann Arbor for a club tournament in late April.  It was a break-out year for the CUT and somehow we played our way into the semifinals against Night Train, the Michigan club team, who was coming off of a multi-year run at Club Nationals.  We were still running 80s offense with its signature long, vertical stack and no dump, so all the resets came hooking off of the front of the stack.  I was near the sideline, forced forehand into the middle of the field.  The reset came down out of the stack and then J-ed away from me, toward the center of the field.  Initially he was open, but the defender, reading the cut and the stall count, came flying down on the inside of the handler, completely flooding the throwing lane.  It was a perfect opportunity for me to serve up the lay-out block.  Instead, something strange and non-verbal and unthought happened.  I rocked down into my pivot and threw a soft little blade that danced just out of reach of the charging defender before hooking back to wait for the handler.

What I threw was a forehand, but it wasn’t a Forehand.  The idea that there is only one Forehand and you have it or don’t drastically over simplifies the situation.  There are many, many, many forehands and which one you throw depends greatly on the situation.  Also with this is the idea that there are Good Decisions and Bad Decisions.  The question is more complicated that simply good or bad.  Really, it is a question of choosing the right throw for the circumstance.  Also, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this isn’t a thinking decision.  You don’t have time in a game to think and decide, you must simply see and throw.  The challenge is what you see and training your eye to see.  You must look beyond open or covered and see all kinds of things: the space, the match-up, the wind, the mark.

Finding that vision is a matter of experience and practice.  You are trying to train your eye and body to read and react in an instant; to recognize and correct for a multitude of factors and then select from a multitude of options.  When practicing, there are two pieces to work on: the technical and the vision.  I separated the idea of the thrower’s eye from the technical, but without actually having the skill, there isn’t much you can do to take advantage of seeing the possibilities.  How do you get the skill?   You throw.  Both Kung Fu Throwing and Wiggins’ Zen Throwing routines are great places to start because they push you out of your initial comfort zone and into areas you haven’t explored before.  One piece that is in Wiggins’ routine that is really important and can be greatly expanded on is visualizing while throwing.  When you are working on a particular throw, especially a more esoteric one like a push or lefty backhand, the circumstances of use are pretty limited.  (But like any specialized tool, the best tool for the job when the circumstances demand!)  Hold these circumstances in your head while you are working.  To use the lefty backhand as an example: when you throw it, you should feel the marker leaning in, the mistake of his arm too low, see the cutter flashing across in front of you, defender on his hip and the open space just out in front and upfield and then…throw it.  You are training your eye to see and your body to react together.  Without the visualization, you are only working the physical half of the equation.

The experience required to develop the thrower’s eye comes through a huge number of repetitions and a huge amount of trial and error.  There are three pretty good places to get these opportunities.  The first and best is Mini.  I can’t say enough about Mini and its ability to help you improve your individual skills of marking, throwing, defending and winning.  In a typical scrimmage of 7-on-7, even your top handlers are getting ~25 throws and your cutters far less.  You’ll get to 25 throws in 2 games of Mini.  The statistics on marking and defending are similar.  For our discussion, Mini provides a huge number of low-consequence repetitions to try out different throws and spaces.  To maximize the effectiveness, prepare with the throwing visualization described above.  The second best place is the summer fun tournament.  Onion Fest (Walla-Walla) and Ho-Down (Calgary) were huge for my development as a thrower.  I played them six or seven times apiece over my decade with Sockeye.  That’s almost 100 games to go out and play and experiment and create.  Don’t get me wrong; I played my ass off and played to win every time, but when I threw away a lefty-backhand trying to reach a 30-yard comeback cut, it wasn’t a mistake of the same magnitude as a similar turnover while wearing a Sockeye jersey.  The final opportunity to experiment is scrimmaging in practice.  The consequences here are higher than the other two, but still not as high as in a real game.  Think of practice as a dress rehearsal; it should look like just like a game, but if you flub, no one is watching.

The cutter is always open, if only you knew what to throw them.

Feature photo by Scobel Wiggins

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at]