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April 20, 2009 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I throw like a little kid, and it's embarrassing. Please help me excel at adult dodgeball.

I just joined a dodgeball league. We're playing in elementary school gymnasiums. 10" balls- foam interior, rubber skin.
All hits must be below the shoulders without a prior bounce. If a ball is caught before it bounces, the thrower is out.

I learn best from clear verbal descriptions of how to do sports-related things, as I don't instinctively pick up on applied physics. I need to be told in very specific & descriptive words what to do. For instance, I could never control where I bumped a volleyball until someone said, "Pay attention to the speed of the incoming ball and adjust the force of your bump to compensate- so if the ball's coming in fast, your bump should actually pull *away* from the ball, to absorb some of the energy." Sounds obvious, but I never figured it out in years of casual volleyball games, and until that day, I had no idea why my bumps were so erratic.

So, dodgeball. I'd like to learn:

How to throw fast, long, low balls. My throws need to hit people's shins from 6 yards away without bouncing first, and must be difficult for them to catch. I have decent upper body strength for a girl, but I don't know how to use it. My throws often go higher than I want, and are easy to catch- that's no good.
I tend to throw in arcs, but I've observed that it's better to throw in straight lines... how?
How to catch a fast incoming ball without fumbling it.
What exercises could I do to boost my dodgeball arm?
Any other dodgeball strategies that'll make me look like a champ.

posted by pseudostrabismus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you throw "like a girl*"?

If so, check out this article. It breaks down the differences between that type of throw and (for example) a baseball player's throw, gives a not-unreasonable theory as to why the stereotype seems to hold in many cases, and says what to do about it.

The short answer is (A) Understand what you're doing wrong; (B) Understand that there's no reason you can't fix it; (C) Understand that it's going to take practice; (D) Practice, practice, practice.

*: I apologize for any offense that may have occurred because of my choice of terminology. None was intended; I just don't know of any other concise phrasing for this common throwing problem.
posted by Flunkie at 3:45 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

To throw low, release the ball later. Throwing flat is just a matter of throwing faster.
posted by jefftang at 3:59 PM on April 20, 2009

Try two-handed basketball passes from the chest. ("Think fast!") Aim for the knees.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:00 PM on April 20, 2009

The difference between an arc and a straight line is mainly the speed of the throw, and the angle at which it leaves your arm. All throws will naturally arc because of gravity, but you can throw the ball sidearm or underhand such that it is still in the rising part of the arc before it hits your opponent, or you can throw overhand so that the ball is always moving downward. I am more of a baseball player, but the one time I did play dodgeball (recently), I found a hard sidearm throw to be very effective, since it made it relatively easy to keep the ball moving fast and low, and it also imparts a lot of spin which makes it hard to catch. The motion is similar to skipping a stone. The arm and wrist snap at the release like a whip.

As for catching -- use two hands, not one; don't grab, but rather hold your hands out as you see the ball coming and gather it in; get down low and let the ball hit your chest and then trap it with your arms, like a football player receiving a punt. Have fun.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:01 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: Basketball passes won't work- generally I'm standing at half-court, aiming at a player standing against the other wall- too far for a chest pass. The throws basically need to be one-handed.

I liked this excerpt from Flunkie's article:

Braden says that an effective throw involves connecting a series of links in a "kinetic chain." The kinetic chain, which is Braden's tool for analyzing most sporting activity, operates on a principle like that of crack-the-whip. Momentum builds up in one part of the body. When that part is suddenly stopped, as the end of the "whip" is stopped in crack-the-whip, the momentum is transferred to and concentrated in the next link in the chain. A good throw uses six links of chain, Braden says. The first two links involve the lower body, from feet to waist. The first motion of a throw (after the body has been rotated away from the target) is to rotate the legs and hips back in the direction of the throw, building up momentum as large muscles move body mass. Then those links stop—a pitcher stops turning his hips once they face the plate—and the momentum is transferred to the next link. This is the torso, from waist to shoulders, and since its mass is less than that of the legs, momentum makes it rotate faster than the hips and legs did. The torso stops when it is facing the plate, and the momentum is transferred to the next link—the upper arm. As the upper arm comes past the head, it stops moving forward, and the momentum goes into the final links—the forearm and wrist, which snap forward at tremendous speed.

I don't throw "like a girl" exactly- I do turn sideways and extend my arm before I release. But I'm not sure where to start the ball- should it be beside my ear when I start the throw?

Should I be throwing sideways, out from my body? I think most of the guys throw overhand (straight forwards) but my forwards throws often arc too high and are easy to catch.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:13 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: (Oh thanks, PercPaul, missed you on preview)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Whether you throw like a "girl" or not, the main difference between lobbing and throwing hard tends to be "aiming" vs "throwing." If you're throwing AT the target, you'll end up with the ball going in a big slow arc. If you try to throw it THROUGH the target, as if you were aiming at something ten feet behind, you'll end up with a hard, straight line. This can seem scary at first, because you feel like you have less control, and some of your throws may indeed go wild, but you'll gain control and power if you practice a bit.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:20 PM on April 20, 2009

And yeah, sidearm is a very effective way to throw hard without having it "sail." That's why most baseball infielders throw sidearm or "three-quarters" most of the time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:21 PM on April 20, 2009

This is probably covered in the article, but I didn't read it so here goes: You can generate a lot of throwing power with your legs. If you're right-handed, plant your right foot, step towards your target with your left foot, and as you push off your plant foot visualize the energy moving from your foot up your leg, through all the links in the "kintetic chain" and through your opponent's shins.
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:32 PM on April 20, 2009

One day I'll make a post without a typo in it. "Kinetic chain" of course, just like in the article. But what I meant to emphasize was the act of planting and stepping toward your taget, and feeling the energy transfer. The part of the article you quoted mentioned rotating the hips, and you mentioned turning sideways and extending your arm, so it sounded like maybe there was still a bit of a missing link. Anyway, go get 'em. Let no shins be spared!
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:50 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Flat means fast (in dodgeball that is good because they have less time to deal with it _and_ the ball is harder to catch). Flat doesn't need to mean parallel with the floor by the way, that is not necessary.

If you want to throw fast, you want your body to act like a whip (folks above have likened it to a kinetic chain). The whip starts at your feet; you use your body to transfer that "whip" to the ball. The size of your hand (relative to the ball) can impact this whip. If your hand is not large enough, you will not be able to hold on to it throughout the motion.

Watch this, and think about a whip while you do it.

Hitting shins can be tough. You probably don't want to be fiddling too much with a side arm throw if you are asking this question. It has its purpose but not in the scope of this question. Try to do as folks have described above, and find a patch of floor behind their shins, and try to peg it as hard as you can. Don't worry about needing to throw it parallel to the floor (physics makes that hard) just find your money spot and unleash the whip on it.

Happy hunting!
posted by milqman at 5:14 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: The most important thing to remember is to use your torso.

Prior to the throw, you want to be facing 90 degrees from your target. The way I used to remember this was to imagine a line that goes through both of your shoulders. Pointing that line at your target should orient you so that your target is looking at your left side (if you're right-handed). Even your feet should be at a 90 degree angle from your target.

When you throw with your arm, you also want to twist your body around to face the target. This creates a lot more speed on the ball than the arm alone ever could.
posted by aheckler at 6:27 PM on April 20, 2009

You're not bending your arm enough. Let it whip.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:25 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Assuming you're using rubber balls and not the stupid foam ones... There's a few things that are going to help you. One is learning to grip a dodgeball one handed. Yes, your hands are big enough, but they're probably not strong enough yet. Go get a dodgeball from the toy store, deflate it just a tiny bit softer than your league plays with, and then when you're sitting around watching TV or something else just sit there and squeeeeeeeze it. When you can squeeze a fully inflated ball hard enough to grip it one handed as you spin your arm in a windmill, you have mastered THE IRON GRIP. That, and it's fun to crush "big tough guy"s' hands.

The next thing that you have to understand is that it's important to warm up SLOWLY before you play. Warmups will help your game a ton. Pace off the space between the center line and the back line. Then go outside and pace off the same distance to a wall where you can practice without interruption... put a T-shirt or bag or water bottle to mark the line, then practice running up to it and throwing.

You should throw by extending your arm backwards as far as is comfortable. (Stretching BEFOREHAND helps!! I'm serious!) You don't want to hurt your rotator cuff, but you do want to get it as far as possible. I have a weird style of throwing -- gripping the ball one handed allows me to draw my right arm from behind my head across my chest at about a 45 degree angle while rotating my body so that the right shoulder starts facing the back wall and ends facing the front wall. My throw looks like bowling, but upside down. I use the whole right side of my body, and release the ball at the point of maximum extension with my fingers pointed forwards, like I was flicking water from my fingers.

Aim-wise, we always aimed for the feet. There were only a few girls who could catch well at a ball that hit their feet, and only ONE guy who was good enough. Lots of people could dodge a foot-ball, but that's why you work with your teammates to throw one or two or three balls at once... they can't catch or dodge ALL of them!

Throwing across my body also allows me to put some 'english' (spin) on the ball, which makes it harder to catch. Thrown REALLY hard, I can get some wicked curve... but that's advanced. Don't try that until you have the muscles and tendons to do it!!!

Playing catch with another teammate is also important... it teaches you catches besides the basket catch. The basket catch is by far the most effective. To do it properly you need the correct timing... which is going to happen only with muscle memory and instinct. Ever seen a picture of a modern car with engineered deformation hitting a solid pole? Youtube it, it's fun to watch. ;) Imagine that you're the car and the pole is moving towards you. You want to FOLD around the pole to rob the ball of most of it's energy. Usually this involves using your arms and chest to guide the ball into your pelvis, while at the same time thrusting your ass straight backwards. Most of the energy of the ball is absorbed by friction, and the rest gets robbed when it hits "bottom" because your ass is already moving backwards. Girls get bonus points using the basket catch because they can use their boobs to trap the ball. Boobs for the win!

The third thing is that the worst place to stand in Dodgeball is in the back of the court, cringing on one leg while you try to dodge speedballs. You want to move forward and backwards constantly. Everyone practices for the maximum distance. This screws up the other team's depth perception and they have a harder time hitting you, which gives you opportunities to catch.

It's really important to emphasize that this is a growth process, and not some magic formula that will let you win the next game. You need muscles to do this. I used to practice in the tennis courts in my apartment with my neighbor.

For what it's worth, these tips took a team in Recess Sports Leagues in Portland, OR from "hahahahaha...hopeless" rank to the final four of the league tournament. We lost in the tournament to a team made up completely of high school gym teachers, who ended up winning the whole thing.
posted by SpecialK at 8:01 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Dodgeball rules. I was in an pretty hardcore underground "league" a few years back and have some tips from my time in the trenches.

- Wear comfortable athletic shoes with a sole wider than your feet. I broke my foot because I had a pair of Adidas with a sole narrower than my wide-ass feet and all my weight came down on my foot when it rolled during a dodge. You'll be changing direction quickly, be as safe as possible.

- Try to get comfortable with dropping to the ground quickly, possibly even learning to dive and roll. Agility is important and dodging uses a lot of burst energy. If you can duck under a high ball or jump over a low ball you're in great shape.

- I don't know if your league allows blocking with balls, but practicing that helps, especially if you can absorb the energy of the throw and direct the ball to your side of the court so your teammates can pick them up. We used rubber kickballs when we played so they were pretty bouncy. The foam balls should be a little more forgiving, but practice practice practice.

- Catching is a pain to learn. Never catch straight armed, you'll be out before you know it. Absorb the energy by jumping backwards and catching with your chest while you trap the balls with your forearms. What you need is someone to throw balls at you at high speed for you to catch.

- Throwing gets better with practice. Play catch, or if no one's around, throw against a wall and practice running pickups too. Get a playground kickball and use that to practice. The added weight will build strength and the sound it makes, that sweet, sweet sound lets you know when you're doing it right. Doink!

- Get rid of your fear of the ball. The pain goes away, the glory lasts a lifetime. You're going to take headshots that ring your bell. Even though it's against the rules, it's going to happen. We played headshots count, so it was part of the game. You're at an advantage in that people won't be aiming for the head, but like I said, it's going to happen. Be prepared.

Also, everything else everyone said. Dodgeball is some incredible good times. Have fun!
posted by knowles at 1:34 AM on April 21, 2009

Heh, I may have played against you last night.

I can't make much recommendations about the act of throwing, but in terms of targeting, I'd say that if you're throws are getting caught at lot, it could partially be because you're aiming directly at their torso, dead center. Nothing is easier to catch than a ball thrown directly at you. Even if it's a fast throw, it's so much easier to just open your arms and catch it instead of having to move/reach to catch. I've got a decent arm, but eventually had to change to aim to the sides of people a bit to not give them such an easy opportunity to catch.

Inversely, for catching, try not to reach too much for balls unless you're really comfortable, or it's basically been lobbed at you. The balls we use have a decent bit of bounce to them, especially the new unbroken in ones, so reaching for a throw that's got any speed to it, it will more often than not just bounce in your hands/off your fingers I find. Wait for the dead center throws, or given reaction time, move yourself into dead center of a ball. In terms of how to catch, I'd say you want to hug the ball basically to your chest/body. If you try to catch it with your hands out in front of your body instead, you raise the likelihood of it bouncing off. Let it come inside your reach, and close your arms around it more.

But all in all, it's definitely about practice. We're in our 4th season of playing now, and we won maybe one match in the first two seasons, and any match where we won even a couple games was a victory for us. Now we actually win sometimes. Dodgeball is good times.
posted by nerhael at 6:53 AM on April 21, 2009

Response by poster: This is great advice. My take-aways:

Wear wide-soled shoes
Warm up throwing arm gradually before playing
Throw by stepping into it from 90' and "whipping" entire body, not facing target & flinging one arm ("girl throw")
Aim at a spot well behind the target's shins, and try to throw right through them, to get better speed
Don't hover right at the back wall- vary court position during play- makes you harder to hit
Catch by putting body behind ball, trap with arms & boobs, and stick butt out to absorb impact
Practice throwing, catching, dodging, and grabbing balls off the floor at speed

Thanks, all!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2009

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