Throwing Mechanics – Coach Maddox


With all of the coverage of quarterbacks and the NFL draft everyone seems to be talking about throwing mechanics.  After Tim Tebow’s 1st round selection the talk still continues.    So the question still remains to be answered….”Is it possible to change a quarterback’s throwing motion?”

While reading the article, The Pursuit of the Perfect Throwing Motion by David Flemming I was intrigued by some of the things he learned from his study.  In particular, he discovered throwing the football is the most complex motor skill in all of sports.  With most exercise scientists and kinesiologists agreeing, more people are finding out what most coaches have known for quite some time.  Changing a quarterbacks throwing motion is challenging and can be flat out intimidating.

Once most people come to this conclusion there tends to be two schools of thought as it relates to changing quarterback throwing mechanics.

1. It’s all about the footwork (the feet are what throw the ball)

2. You can’t change a quarterbacks mechanics (he can either throw or he can’t)

This is the dilemma I found myself in as a coach five years ago after getting upset in the first round of the playoffs.   Having to watch a very talented sophomore quarterback struggle with his mechanics that season pushed me to a path of pursuit on how to teach the perfect throwing motion.  As I began my research through clinics, DVD’s, books, college visits, and local guru’s, I had compiled a list of coaching points like, “Stand tall, step small”; “Flick the booger of the finger”;  “Pick the dollar out of the left pocket”;  “Turn the key”; “Answer the phone with ball”; “Crush pebbles with your feet” ; “Slap the wall”; “ watch how Brady, Montana, or Elway throw” and the list goes on and on.  At the end of it all I was left with a myriad of different philosophies and techniques and the same conclusions that Flemming had in his article.  As a result, I had almost submitted my belief on throwing mechanics to one of the two prevailing schools of thought.  It wasn’t until I came across a 3 DVD set on Passing Mechanics by Darin Slack that I knew that I had finally found someone who had cracked the code on how to teach and train the most complex motor skill in all of sports.   He was explaining the “Why” behind every motion and drill.  He was backing every movement up with science and biomechanics.  I felt like I had just discovered gold.  I no longer had to submit to the two schools of thought on mechanics and what I didn’t believe to be true.  After 5 years of coaching quarterbacks at Jenks High School and working for the Darin Slack Quarterback Academy here is what I have learned as it relates to the two prevailing schools of thought:

1. It’s all about the footwork (the feet are what throw the ball)

It seemed when I first started my pursuit of learning how to throw the football that everywhere I turned most coaches only focused on the feet.  Most of the material I came into contact with stated that the feet are what throw the ball.  My struggle with this concept stemmed from two pictures in my mind…a picture of a man with no arms and another picture of a man with no legs.  If the feet are what throw the ball then how does a man without legs throw?  At the NFL combine, Tim Tebow clocked a 4.7 forty time, 4.17 pro agility time, and a 38.5 inch vertical.  If I submit to the school of thought that footwork is the key to consistent power, accuracy, and velocity then Tebow should be the best pure passer coming out of the draft.   Yet he is the most scrutinized, Why?  In Flemming’s  article he states,  “Throwing the football well is not about doing one or two big things great. Instead, it’s about perfecting a thousand different parts of an intricate, complicated kinetic chain that starts in the toes and ends at the finger tips.” Through Flemmings article I am finding that people are starting to discover what I found through a set of 3 DVD’s 5 years ago.   Throwing a football is more than mastering footwork; it’s about mastering the sequential movements in the kinetic chain through the entire throw.    If I only focus on footwork I am only focusing on half of the kinetic chain. What about the other half?  I go back to the picture with the man with no legs.  What does he use to throw the football?  It is his arm.  If the arm is the mechanism that throws the ball then wouldn’t it be important to understand how this mechanism controls proper ball flight?  To overcome the arm issue a quarterback must understand the 4 key positions of the arm motion in the kinetic chain.  (To demonstrate we will use Peyton Manning on the left and Jenks QB Sawyer Kollmorgen on the right)

1.  Pre Pass Triangle-the kinetic chain in the arm starts in the Pre Pass Triangle position.   With the elbows level at the base and a loaded wrist in the “cocked” position off the back shoulder,  the triangle shape provides for a powerful position to launch the football.  If the body was going to throw a punch it would load the arm instinctually in the same position.  The Pre Pass Triangle position reduces tendency to internally rotate (wind up) on the throw, aligns arm in a power position, and reduces wasted motion for faster a faster release.

2.  “L” Transistion-is the next position in the kinetic chain during the throw.  The move to this position is done by using the 4 rotator cuff muscles that surround the scapula.  The infrasprinatus and teres minor externally rotate the arm back into the “L” position.  When the arm is in the “L” position it elongates the suprasprinatus and subscapularis which allow the muscles to accelerate the elbow to the lead position.

3. Elevate to “Zero”-is the lead position the elbow has to be in to support the wrist. You may have heard coaches say “get the elbow up”.  The elbow only needs to go high enough to get over and ahead of the shoulder on the throw.   The smoothness and efficiency of this move is the key to consistent power and accuracy on a throw.  With the loading of the suprasprinatus and subscapularis muscles in the “L” position the elbow can now elevate and move ahead of the shoulder aided by the deltoid to get to “Zero”.  “Zero” is orthopedic term given to the elbow in the lead position because the rotator cuff muscles are neutral with no strain on them.  The “Zero” position places the elbow 6 inches ahead of the shoulder 45 degrees up and out and loads the tricep in a position to fire the ball down the target hallway.

4. Extension- is the kinetic chain of power that occurs as the tricep fires energy up through arm and out through the wrist/fingers into the ball.  If the wrist fires early before the tricep the kinetic chain is out of order and the ball will sail or wobble.  A quarterback that pulls down on the football does not extend and therefore is not getting the full benefit of the tricep.   When trying to understand the power of extension on a throw, think of the difference between a pistol and a sniper rifle. Which one is more accurate and can shoot the bullet further?  The sniper rifle.   Why?  It has a longer barrel that allows the force and spin to act longer on the bullet which in turn puts more accuracy and velocity in the bullet as it comes out of the barrel.

When a coach and a quarterback get on the same page and understand the (How’s and Why’s) behind the most complex motion in all of sports it provides for a drastic advantage on the playing field.  However, getting your quarterback to understand the concepts of throwing mechanics will not support a change on its own, which leads us to the second school of thought.

2. You can’t change a quarterbacks mechanics (he can either throw or he can’t)

There are many coaches who know way more than I do about football  that have said you can’t change or quarterbacks throwing motion.  I have even heard some say to stay away from the quarterbacks arm entirely.  I have always struggled with this.  If I am in the weight room and I see a kid with 315 pounds on the squat rack and he has he is leaning over at the waist with his chest down and a curved lower back am I going to not try to fix him?  The argument could be made that teaching a proper squat is easier than teaching the most complex motion in all of sports.  But just because teaching a proper throw is more difficult does it mean that I am pardoned of having to teach it at all?  Maybe it just means that I need to put more effort into knowing my craft.   The key to changing any motion (especially the most difficult) is knowing how a quarterback learns to throw.  Most quarterbacks learn to throw by picking up a football at a young age and just chunking it.  This is called implicit learning.  Implicit learning is learning in the absence of proper instruction.  While learning to throw implicitly allows for a fluid motion it tends to produce bad mechanics.  The other type of learning is called explicit learning.  This is learning with proper instruction.  This type of learning focuses on the non-negotiables or rules of the task.  While learning to throw explicitly allows a quarterback to know all the( how’s and why’s) of throwing a football it tends to produce a mechanical and choppy motion.  This is the point where a coach becomes frustrated and gives up submitting to the second school of thought… you can’t change mechanics.  The secret to changing mechanics is in the power of a process and the formula is the hinge pin of The Quarterback Academy by Darin Slack.

In order to produce lasting change you have to take a quarterback and teach

him the non-nogotiables (how’s and why’s).  Next, you build a battery of drills that isolate each mechanic and then build each drill sequentially on the previous mechanics (process).  Then you rep the movements  over and over until you are feeling the move instead of thinking about it.  Instead of muscle memory we call it the power of informed feel.  When a quarterback learns the (how’s and why’s) combined with the feel he now has the ability to Self-Correct, not Self-Destruct….advantage Offense.  To learn more about throwing mechanics and quarterback play come to a camp or visit www.