Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Bolshoi Dancer
This article will take a deep look into what true technique means. A lot of us forget how truly musical and rhythmic our techniques should all be. Think about your favorite song when you throw and you will be as rhythmic as the ballerina above. But looses the tutu.


By Joil Bergeron, University of New Hampshire


Defined in a dictionary rhythm is "the proper relation of parts producing a harmonious whole." I think a slightly less euphoric and more relevant definition for the throwing community would be "the proper timing of movements to produce the longest throw. " The thrower who utilizes good rhythm will have the most efficient performance with his or her own specific technique. Proper timing (rhythm) causes a summation of forces, creates the greatest speed at the release point, and thus the most distance to the throw.

The general rhythm of every throwing event is the same; slow to fast. Therefore, a constant acceleration is applied to the implement allowing for a smooth transfer of power. When the athlete breaks away from this rhythm, the results ( or lack of) can be dramatic. Various elements of the throw are compromised and power (and consequently distance) is lost. Each throwing event carries this common thread along with having to relax the upper body, allowing the legs to work first. Unfortunately, learning to do this is easier said than done.

Increased body awareness is the first step towards improved rhythm. Body awareness is the athlete's ability to perceive and control where his body is during movement. Exposing an athlete to a variety of movements will increase his body awareness. This is why "all-around" or "natural" athletes also tend to be the same people who have played several different sports throughout their life. These individuals have been exposed to a variety of movement types, thus they learned how to control their body through self-awareness of position. Also as a result of this heightened body awareness athletes can pick up new movements more quickly.

Another common method to improve awareness is repetition. Initially, when the movement is first unfamiliar, the athlete must pay close attention to specific details in order to perform them. With each attempt the amount of reminder for the movement becomes less, and the process becomes easier to do. Eventually, the entire action becomes automatic, and the athlete no longer has to pay close attention to this detail. Now is when something new starts to be learned again and the process starts over. This familiarity with the movement can be accredited to, in lay terms, "muscle memory." When the process becomes automatic and less concentration on details is required, a higher level of mental focus can be obtained. This increased mental focus can be used to improve the greater picture of rhythm and timing.

An example of this in discus throwing would be waiting for the right leg to drive the upper body around when performing a standing throw. What does the novice athlete always do when he first picks up a discus or shot? The athlete will throw with his upper body.

After the coach shows that the legs produce the most drive, the athlete must pay special attention to driving the right leg around first. After many attempts the athlete learns to be more patient and relax the upper body to set up a good hip drive. When the athlete can automatically do this, he gains a higher level of mental focus so that perhaps he can now work on timing the block for a maximal transfer of power; the process begins again when a new element is added. This heightened awareness leads to greater mental focus, and from the greater mental focus an athlete can now concentrate on timing the parts of the throw together correctly to create better rhythm.

Mental imagery is another way to increase focus and more importantly rhythm. There are three ways of practicing imagery: external, where the athlete watches a throw; internally, where visualization of a perfect throw takes place in the mind; and also by setting the movement to a sound sequence. Whatever the method used, the goal is to try and "feel" the movement without actually performing it.

Scientific research has proven that motor neurons involved in the action actually show excitation in the same sequence as the movement being visualized. Using visualization can help to overcome pre-competition jitters. It can also help to overcome being overloaded with too many small details (a sure sign of this is when the movement is "choppy" and un- smooth). Using mental imagery is an integral part of success.

Conclusion: it is important for both coach and athlete to realize there is a connection between technique and rhythm. Good technique helps to create good rhythm and vice versa. What happens when a thrower rushes the beginning of the throw in any of the events? In the discus most commonly this results in a narrow base, being off balance, and fouling. In the shot the results will vary depending on the technique being used, but with either glide or spin the athlete will land at the power position with the shoulders already unwound. But no matter which event you look at, rushing the rhythm will cost the thrower distance.

Once again, this exemplifies that the single common thread between great throwers is great rhythm. By combining sound (not necessarily perfect) technique with good rhythm these throwers can get away with certain mechanical errors.

Many coaches would argue that the narrow leg sweep by John Powell was mechanically inefficient. He still threw far! Powell knew his own rhythm for his technique. He was able to get the most out of his own style of discus throwing.

To throw far the athlete must combine sound technique and good rhythm. The trick to doing this is to realize that as technique is changed in a throw, the rhythm will also change. This is why many coaches tell their athletes not to make any dramatic changes to their technique near the end of the season. This is the time of year that the best performances are needed.

By changing technique a new rhythm must be learned in order to maximize the potential offered by that movement. Initially, distance may actually be lost as a result of unfamiliarity with the new movement despite the improved technique. The old adage of "one step back, two steps forward" is seen. As the athlete readjusts to the new rhythm increased distance plus additional gains begin to occur.

The key to success in both technique and rhythm is simply to practice each element together as much as possible. If the athlete does many drills during practice it would be of great benefit to do some full throws at the end of the session to try and work the new components into the bigger picture (the throw). By practicing technique and rhythm on a regular basis athletes will understand these complex throwing movements more clearly, and thus improve more quickly.

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