Improving a quarterback’s throwing motion

[The following is from noted quarterback guru Darin Slack. Check out his site and find out about his camps, materials, and the like.]

tombrady1There’s an old coaching adage that “you can’t change a throwing motion! A quarterback either can throw or he can’t. Period.”

You hear this all the time, this idea that a quarterback’s mechanics can’t be changed. Commentators, football dads, and coaches proclaim, “It’s impossible to change a quarterback’s throwing motion. Just coach his footwork.” Older quarterbacks in particular get subjected to this tunnel vision.

It says more about the coaches than it does the kid. The message it sends, however, is that, “We don’t have time to improve a kid’s throwing mechanics. Or we don’t know how — we don’t have the technical skills needed to coach them up. Why bother if we can just go find another kid who can already throw it better, without coaching”?

But what is passing talent? The mentality that some kids “have it” while others don’t shouldn’t apply to throwing in the same way it might to raw speed or quickness. Yet it comes up so often. There are many high-profile “athlete-quarterbacks” who are world-class athletes but aren’t very accurate. They can throw a spiral and an accurate pass or two, but because of their latent talent the theory is that the best thing to do is just to “let them play” and the last thing you should do is “overcoach” them. The old myth comes back: Just coach their feet; ignore the upper body.

But that’s only the most high-profile example. There are thousands of high school kids that receive almost no coaching of their passing mechanics. At best they get a few throwing drills. The result is thousands of young players who are given no the opportunity to develop. For the great-athlete quarterbacks, the lack of coaching puts a cap on their success and hurts their team’s passing games. For the less talented kids, they simply never see the field or get moved to new positions. If they ask for help, it’s that same refrain again: “Let’s work on your footwork.” Yet aren’t the feet are the farthest appendage from where you throw a ball from? Don’t you throw it with your arm?

Lack of coaching or not, the expectations remain: Perform at a high level or face criticism or the bench. The “can’t coach a throwing motion” myth prejudices the careers of many young men. Not all quarterbacks make it to the NFL but all want to succeed. Ignoring the upper body is like only coaching half the kid.

Ironically, the same coaches who preach a “footwork only” gospel also throw out plenty of meaningless buzz-phrases in lieu of actual coaching: “Follow through,” “Come over the top more,” “Raise your elbow,” “Turn your shoulders more.” This double standard of non-coaching and coaching-via-cliché is confusing — for both the coach and the kid.

If all you know are the same old cliches then you’re insulting your players’ intelligences, and if you’re insulting their intelligences then, over time, you will prove yourself to know very little. Because the stuff you’re saying won’t work. It might work a time or two, but you won’t have all the answers, as so much of it will be guessing on your part. And once that happens the players will start just fiddling with it themselves, drawing their own ad hoc conclusions about what works best. The result is typically not pretty.

Can you improve a quarterback’s throwing motion? Yes, but it’s important to use the right methods. As stated above, the old way is to focus on footwork only and then sprinkle in clichés throughout practice. Our way is different. We teach quarterbacks to “self-correct, not self-destruct,” through a central focus on the arm. We do this by teaching simple biomechanics concepts that are universal and non-negotiable, and yet provide powerful results that inform the footwork to support the entire process.

Here are two simple biomechanical examples to improve a throwing motion in the wrist and elbow. The wrist should be pronated, or turned over, on the release (see the images below), yet there are countless ways the wrist can move and only some are correct — the bad variations can create problems.

1_slack

If we reduce the wrist’s ability to “change” position, we make it more efficient on the throw. How is this done? The adjustment is simple. Hold the ball at the pre-pass pass position and cock the bottom end of the ball outward at a 45 degree angle off the body (see the image below), making sure that the point away from you doesn’t go above parallel to the ground. This “cocking of the wrist” reduces joint movement, presets wrist pronation, increases the ball’s spin rate when thrown, and increases ball control with the fingers.

12_slack

The second aspect we’ll look at is the elbow. This is the joint that can cause the most problems for the throwing motion. The elbow must “lead” the throw. Most coaching suggests that if the elbow is simply above the shoulder — or “comes over the top” — as it comes forward in the motion, then it is sufficient. Yet in their effort to keep it simple coaches are missing a significant opportunity. We throw with muscles, not joints.

For the torque of the body (i.e. the force created when a passer twists as he releases the ball) to pass through the arm it is necessary to align the joints in the best possible position, at the right moment, to use the arm’s muscles properly. If the elbow is merely “above the shoulder” there is no guarantee that the thrower will achieve proper bio-mechanical position. But what is this “best position”?

Take your arm and, as if you had a dumbbell in your hand, do an over-the-shoulder tricep extension. Did you notice where your elbow ends up? Roughly six inches forward of your shoulder in a slot called the angle of the scapula (or in line with your shoulder blade curving around from the back — see the image below).

13_slack14_slack

The name we use for this position has orthopedic foundations. We call it “zero” because it is “muscular neutral.” It is the safest, strongest position for the arm to be in, as there is no stress on the shoulder joint muscles, the front or the back. It is the perfect “middle point” in the throwing motion. This should be the location of your elbow at the exact moment your chest and hips are square to the throwing target. Everything in the turn up to achieving this position is about generating torque from the body and storing it, and everything after it is about releasing that stored energy through the tricep. Simply put, it is the lead position of the elbow on a throw.

During the motion, if your arm is too low or not far enough forward of the shoulder to be able to achieve the “zero” position then there are a series of adjustments your brain will make automatically to compensate for your poor arm alignment. None are really optimal. The brain “locks” the shoulder to protect itself from the lower angle, which also forces the wrist outward around the elbow (sidearm delivery) to reduce exposure to injury. If your elbow is too high your wrist elevates too quickly; this creates the same effect, only higher. This side arm or slashing” release widens, or elongates, the intended target hallway. Of course that reduces accuracy but it also, more importantly, reduces the power you can generate with your throw.

Imagine trying to bench press a full set of weights over your belly button. You couldn’t do it because the angle is wrong: you can’t get your chest muscles involved properly. In the same way, if the tricep misses “zero” your arm muscles won’t fire efficiently and your power will be reduced. Understanding this feedback concept is a key part of self-correcting your throwing motion.

If the elbow hits “zero” at the right time then the tricep can release all the torque from the body. And the results can often be remarkable, because so few get there. It’s like a two people jumping on a trampoline together. When they hit at the same time, the smaller one flies much higher. The tricep is the smaller person that goes much farther with the help of our much larger body.

Just by changing two simple things in the mind, the feel, and with the timing of the quarterback’s motion, we can increase his consistency, power, and accuracy dramatically – and this says nothing about the feet. The feet will support everything I’m saying, but if the arm misses the “sweet spot” of “zero” on the release path, the footwork is irrelevant.

Here are a few images of some guys who understand this concept. They may not call it “zero” but they certainly demonstrate it.

15_slack16_slack17_slack

We just applied two universal, non-negotiable, biomechanical standards to a throwing motion that will never change for any quarterback. An awareness of these standards will hold them accountable, not only in his motion, but in applying more complicated techniques on his own. Indeed just having these standards provides many benefits: they are useful because they are easy to follow and, when followed, they produce results that open the young man up to even more coaching because he sees that they work and becomes hungry for more. These, rather than empty phrases, equip athletes with the tools that can make them better, and they can understand that. The older alternative reduces confidence and increases over-thinking and hence confusion and hesitant play.

“Self-correction” is the lodestar of my system. This is what I aim to do with the throwing mechanics — show you how to apply clear standards like “zero” and the wrist to throwing the ball that produce measureable results. Yet there is very little quarterback coaching available to players on this level. I dream of a point where every team has a number of well coached kids who could all throw the ball all over the field if asked to.

Young quarterbacks, their fathers, and even quarterback coaches must do their homework on the quality of instruction offered by schools and camps, and whether they are capable of producing positive, sustainable changes. Just because a high school or camp coach worked with an already talented athlete doesn’t prove anything — it’s the same old approach with a new coat of paint. It’s time to dispel the myths; there’s a better way. You can’t start by talking about what can’t be done.

– Darin Slack

[Darin Slack runs the Darin Slack Quarterback Academy. Also check out his site, “Get-2-0.” Do check them out if you’re at all interested in coaching better quarterbacks, or becoming a better one yourself.]

  • Bob Collins

    Wow…very interesting read. I have always been puzzled at some of the rational behind the teaching of throwing the football. It is nice to find someone who backs up teaching with science and biomechanics! Thanks for the post Chris!

  • http://www.terrierfootball.com Chip Wludyga

    Since getting Darin’s C4 videos we have seen vast improvement in our QB’s motion and delivery. We are just now beginning to devour the R4 methods.

    Good stuff, Chris!

  • http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com brophy

    Darin Slack’s materials are bar none the best in athletic instruction.period
    http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com/search/label/Darin%20Slack

    What is interesting to note about his method(s) is not that it is shocking or surprising (yes, the biomechanics are sound), but that there are generations of coaches who teach methods COUNTER-productive to consistent throwing. The “old guard” culture rages against Slack and his “revolutionary” style simply because it isn’t what they were taught (without acknowledging or examining what actually makes sense).

  • Deaux

    Darin Slack makes me feel stupid everytime I read something from him. I have just about every video of his I could afford. Great stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jcboice JC Boice

    Chris:

    Great article! I really enjoy your stuff and to have you and the boss (Darin) working together to bring light to the throwing mechanics issue is great! I have worked with Darin as a certified coach for years and Zero position works!

  • Tyler

    Very interesting stuff. I’m having some difficulty reconciling this view with some of the great offensive minds of the game, though. I’ve read numerous Norm Chow lectures where he rails against tinkering with a quarterback’s motion. And I know that Bill Walsh only worked with his quarterback’s footwork. Did he truly believe that you could only improve footwork or was it simply a matter of not having time to change a quarterback’s delivery?

  • Staubach12

    I know that Sean Payton changed Tony Romo’s throwing motion when he came to Dallas. Romo had used a sidearm delivery in college, and the Cowboys changed it to a 3/4 delivery. Maybe not the ideal throwing motion, but certainly a better one. This demonstrates that you can change the motion even of an adult player.

  • Homyrrh

    Mr. Slack is pretty loud. Ron Jenkins also has some great stuff from his Top Gun Academy. I think there are multiple videos on YouTube.

  • http://www.quarterbackacademy.com Darin Slack

    Thanks for the feedback gentlemen, I appreciate it very much. Homyrrh, when you have no mike and you are talking to 200 people, you have to raise your voice a bit, not yelling just to yell. Not like that all the time, I assure you. LOL

    To the issue of leaving Norm Chow and leaving mechanics alone, I would agree that messing with something that isn’t broken is foolish, or if you aren’t comfortable with what you are doing, it can be dangerous, and due to the limited time they had, they really don’t see any point – at their level they believe that shouldn’t be an issue. I am merely offering a more substantive argument that not only can it be done, but it will generate a level of control that is a lot of fun for guys to play with. I have worked with a number of NFL and former NFL guys that really loved it, and wished they would have had it when they played, or are using it now. Matt Flynn at Green Bay, Tim Couch when he came back, to name a few. It does work, even for the adults, actually it works faster, because they can process so quickly. Just thoughts.

    Thanks again.

  • Homyrrh

    Hah, yeah, I just watched the videos and appreciated the intensity and wanted to point it out. I think we all appreciate you dropping some knowledge on the site.

  • JP – Chicago

    Appreciate the post, I am an avid FB fan for 52 years and have never learn so much in so little time. Thanks.

  • MK – FLA

    The C4 mechanics(bio/movement) work, period. It’s preservation of the shoulder joint that increases velocity AND accuracy. Excellent attention paid to the thing that actually throws the football. If you really want to start straining your brain look at the rest of C4 and how it relates to throwing a baseball, hitting a baseball and even a golf ball. The hips, core and shoulders are almost exactly the sames.

    It’s not all a mystery… you just have to open your eyes a bit.

  • Orangeman

    I met Coach Slack down in Baltimore last year and took what I learned and began applying it to my QBs with great results. I’ve been able to help a kid who couldn’t throw a simple Stop Screen to a WR into a 1000 yd passer (who threw a perfect wheel route with 4 seconds left to win a playoff game). Before the game, he was feeling nervous so we went off to the side and just reinforced zero by doing a few drills. We did the same at half time. He’s not perfect but he’s 1000 x’s better than he was. He’s only a Jr. so he’s got another offseason to work. I started with the JV QB late in the summer and a kid who is 5’5″ and a terrific athlete can now zip the ball around. He probably threw for 2000 yds.

    Coach Slack, thank you for putting in the time to make those who want to teach kids better. I’m a better coach for it!

  • Pete

    Darin. I think there’s a man named Tebow that would benefit greatly from you. At least to get all the Media Heads of his back

  • http://www.orthopedicspecialistsofseattle.com/ Aarone

    Here are some useful pieces advice for improving your throwing motion as well as avoiding knee pain, hip impingement, sports injuries, arthritis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and more.

  • Michael Schuttke

    Tyler: I noticed you stated that “Bill Walsh only worked on a quarterback’s footwork.” Not true; in fact, I remember the year that Kerry Collins entered the NFL Draft (1995), he had a very odd hitch at the top of his throwing motion related to his wrist position. Walsh actually worked with him extensively before the draft to correct this element of his throwing.

    What I think cannot be ignored in Walsh emphasizing footwork is how intricate his offense was and how the intricacy was built primarily around the timing of the quarterback’s footwork to the breaks of the receivers. So, for him, this was more getting a quarterback to understand his system and to function at peak efficiency within it than to per say ignore other elements of throwing the football outside of footwork.

    The fact is, in teaching any athlete anything, a key is developing fundamental consistency. Yes, improvisation will be needed at times but to have sustainable long-term performance, one must be as consistent as possible in all elements of execution of a maneuver, whether it be dropping back and throwing a football, running a 5-yard quick out pattern, shooting a free-throw, etc.

  • Mr.Murder

    Our QB got hurt into week three doing “Bull in the Ring” drills(there is a reason they’re illegal in some places). He comes back, from a bruised non throwing shoulder, about five weeks later. All of his mechanics were gone.

    He was throwing with his arm locked straight, practically pushing the ball out of his hand, it would lose spiral or go straight to the ground when it did spiral.

    Had to remind him of leading with the elbow, find that comfort zone where it comes over as an extension of the body(Darin’s “Zero” position terminology is the best way I’ve ever heard it described).

    Took two passes to correct it, he had his accuracy back. His release point rolled off in a spiral, no more locking the arm to where the joint locked to push a ball through the air, good follow through. He’s a 5th grader so he will be back to pass another year. By then he’ll have more velocity and mature past only throwing quicks or slants.

    It was scary to see a player lose mechanics so quickly not getting regular reps. Finding ways to reinforce what is learned gives the player command of his mechanics(you have to ‘re-learn’ players a lot in early stages of the game). Finding concise ways to install passing mechanics is what makes the Slack system such a value. From there he goes over a system of system of accelerators in the R4 that helps a passer see through windows to throw, go through reads quickly, and anticipate open receivers.

  • http://spreadoffense.com Whajonahle

    Too many HS coaches just see the QB as the guy who sticks his hands under center and hands off, then when it comes time to throw, wonder why he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. It is the most labor intensive position regarding training and mechanics; oddly, every baseball coach seems to understand that the mechanics of the baseball throw are important. As both a baseball and football coach, I’ve always taught the difference between the baseball throw and football throw. Does the C4 illustrate this and would it assist in baseball as well as football? I’m debating whether to sink the money into it. It seems as if he’s teaching a few different concepts regarding release from what I can tell on the teaser videos. At least it seems different from my experiences learning from Jim Tressel, Andy Talley, Jim Morretti, to name a few, as a high school QB at their camps in the 80s. And what’s the difference between the C$ and R4?

  • http://www.quarterbackacademy.com Darin Slack

    We don’t focus on the differences between baseball and football, we highlight the specific requirements for throwing a football, but you will be able to see the application. I know of a few baseball coaches who have applied zero position and had some incredible success with the concepts. They have seen longevity increase, velocity increase, and reduced rest required.

    Coach, its not a sinking of money, I believe you’ll find it to be a very helpful investment.

    By the way, we are a great deal different than what has been taught in the past.

  • Jason

    Mr. Slack, thank you for this posting. I develop Junior High/ Freshman players and plan to check out your R4 series. I have never heard anyone lay out the rationale for proper throwing mechanics as well as you do.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to coach upper body fundamentals in our QBs. When we don’t, it can be a huge disservice to our team (poor mechanics= turnovers), and quite possibly the kid (potential for injury/ not coaching to our kids’ needs).

  • Mark

    This was a great read! Its good to hear all this because I taught most of this from more of an intuitive approach. Its good confirmation, aside from the players’ performance, from professionals that I have been doing the right thing.

  • Denzel Connelly

    The thing is that the most questions come from beginners. They just haven’t had time to feel all the different exercises. For example, you need a certain mass of muscle just to be able to feel a “pump” or a strain – so that you need time before your body can speak to you.

  • Maple Dials

    nice. Thanks

  • Dean Poirier

    The info on here is Awesome.. Thank you very much Darin.. I have been coaching youth football for 7 years with great sucess, and have just applied for an asst.coach position with our Varsity program. So I am looking to Step up my game.. I believe your system is exactly what I need to do that.. My youngest son is a QB.. Very football smart on the field, but is lacking in arm . But after reading your info, believe I was right, it is just his mechanics. And I need to learn how to fix it.. Thank you for those tools.. I will right back when We win state helped by your coaching technices..

    sincerly, Dean A. Poirier, AKA, Coach poirier

  • Brad Maendler

    Michael Schuttke, here’s an interesting, if not fascinating, quote from Bill Walsh’s 1985 Stanford QB Manual regarding the chances of a coach successfully changing his QB’s passing mechanics:

    “Don’t talk to the QB about his throwing motion. You can spend two years trying to change his throwing motion and it won’t make a difference. He’s going to have a natural throwing motion…”

    Bill Walsh may have changed his opinion on this later in his career (i.e., your Kerry Collins example) but for me, this is a stunning quote because here we have one of the all-time great HOF coaches telling us that trying to change a QB’s passing mechanics is a lost cause.

    I know it’s possible because I have utilized Darin Slack’s C4 methodology to do just that with oustanding results.

    I’ve spent a good deal of time over the past few years researching various approaches to effective QB play and throwing the football and I came to the conclusion that while almost every other facet of playing the position is well documented in great detail (run game mechanics, drops, coverage reads, etc.), there is a dearth of information about effective passing mechanics. Lots of old ‘sacred cow’ tips such as “stick the ball in your ear”…”come over the top”…”finish w/ your passing hand to the opposite pocket”…but, very little in the way of a meaningful approach to changing and optimizing a QB’s passing mechanics. Until QBA that is!

    Chris…great website!

    PS…if anyone wants a copy of the Walsh QB manual I referenced above, leave me your email address or if Chris gives me permission, I’ll post the link to the website that I downloaded it from.

  • Janina Kapinos

    Hello! First let me thank you for your post and all the conversations (minus the spam) that it initiated. If you would allow me to ask a question, I discovered a joint supplement review site that is pitching a new vitamin that might be the cure to all my joint pains and stiffness. I was wondering if anyone has any more information regarding it, or has tried it and can give some testemonial.

  • Mr.Murder

    Walsh seems to have a found a way to recognize the zero thrower, the natural passer, without codifying the term. He knows it when he sees it(term familiar to refs in sports,etc.) and that is enough to move forward on. He knew the pure passer on sight, he never really compared them.

    His most interesting case study would be Steve Young. Lefties always have some unique item in their throw motion, it seems. The man was shot for mechanics coming from Tampa. Look closely at the ways he groomed Steve Young, what was the culture like that helped him gain command of his game again?

    That is where coach Slack comes into the picture. He has a measurable approach to making passers better. He combines it with a way to accelerate reads and match it to those mechanics at the core of good quarterback passing.

  • http://everythingfreebies4you.blogspot.com Mac Price

    thanks for the great info

  • McCoy

    I think this is Bull crap. I am a quarterback and my throwing motion has improved by COACHING.

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  • Shomari bratchett

    doug flutie has great teaching methods look him up made me great

  • Scrattymicmuffin

    Im a 13 year old backup, and this has helped a lot. my throwing motions are as good, if not better that our starter. I might even flip the depth chart, from 3rd string to starter. Thanks a lot!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1811555160 Gryphon Blaze

    hi i wana ask if when i lead with my elbow do or should i feel the motion to lead my elbow consciously? and does my wirst have to flick at the end of the release? cause when consciously i flick it it doesn’t spiral and i would like to have the extra power to throw cause im just 139 lbs and want to throw 60 is this possible??? or do i need to get up to 160 for more kinetic energy? also in weekends im throwing for 2-3 hrs straight with little rest and i get sore arms what should i do to prevent sore arms. but i haven’t tried the zero position so that might be it any more ideals while next time i’ll try the zero position?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1811555160 Gryphon Blaze

    also in the pronation do i do it before the release or during i mean is it at the tip of the release when i have already extended my arms or before i semi extend my arm?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1811555160 Gryphon Blaze

    with the zero position do i consciously lead to throw with my elbow does i think it would feel like a wiping motion im guessing cause i haven’t tried it out.