When Coach Keith Ferrara got his first university strength and conditioning job, he literally had to build his program—and facility—out of a storage closet. Read on to discover the six essential steps he took to successfully build a collegiate sports performance program from scratch.
By Jim Aikens
While coaching the throws for over 35 years, I have had the honor of coaching both successful rotational throwers and successful glide throwers. I have spoken about the glide at several track clinics around the country and, when I do, I seem to spend most of the time speaking about the power throw (stand throw). The actual glide never seems to get the attention it deserves.
I have a story for you. I went to a throws clinic once that was supposed to cover both rotational and glide shot putting, as well as the discus throw. The clinic was nearly seven hours long with a 45-minute lunch break. During this clinic, the speakers talked for five hours and 15 minutes about rotational throwing. Then, with about 45 minutes left, the coaches in charge said, “And now we will talk about the glide.” The talk then pretty much said that you should slide backward into the power position and put the shot. Believe me, there is a little more to it than that.
The rotational technique is an outstanding way to propel a shot put a great distance. But the rotational technique is not for everyone. This is my first year coaching at a new school and the kids haven’t had a real throws coach in forever. They have zero concept of throwing and my job is to try to get them to throw the shot as far as possible, as soon as possible. There are some kids who just take naturally to the rotational technique, but there are a large number who don’t.
I like to teach the glide technique to my athletes because I feel it is an easier technique to master and it helps the athletes develop a good finish on the ball. While I start off teaching my athletes the glide at the beginning, for the reasons I mentioned above, I still do rotational drills with them to see if they have a natural feel for the movement. If they do, I will pursue that with them.
Before I go any further, I want to let you know that I think the most important thing is to develop a solid stand throw from the power position, so we work on that every day. I will continue to work the rotational technique with my athletes every year to see if they have developed the athleticism and rhythm that it takes to be successful with the rotational technique. What I often find happens is that after a year or two of throwing glide technique, they have developed the necessary skills to perform the rotational technique.
I have had numerous throwers switch from glide to rotational and be very successful. I believe that one reason more college and post-collegiate throwers use the rotational technique is that they have all year to do work and develop that technique. As a high school coach with kids playing other sports, you’re lucky if you have five months—maybe more if you can get the kids to throw some over the summer.When I teach each drill, I explain where and how it fits into the larger scheme of the throw, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
When beginning to teach the glide technique, the first thing I like to do is show the kids videos of some gliders and point out some of the key phases of the glide. I think they need to know the big picture of how the glide should look before I can break it down into individual pieces for them. Then, when I teach each individual drill, I can explain where and how it fits into the larger scheme of the throw.
I like to use John Brenner’s technique as a model. I also show them David Storl’s and Al Feurbach’s techniques because I want to expose them to different styles. As a coach, you need to remember that once the basic pattern for the throw is established, it’s OK to let the athlete experiment with some variations that may work better for them. You never know until you try.
Video 1. This is a video of a practice throw done by Ethan, a glider I coached last year. Once an athlete establishes a basic pattern for their throw, it’s OK to let them experiment with variations that may work better for them.
Power Position Shuffles
Recently, I started teaching the glide a little differently. After I taught athletes the power, which they must continue to work on constantly, I taught them what I call the “Power Position Shuffle.”
For this, they simply start in the power position and then move their power foot to their blocking foot. They do this while keeping their knees bent and their weight primarily on their power foot. Then they move their blocking foot back and they are in the power position again. From there, they execute a standing throw. After some practice, they are able to move backwards fairly quickly.
I like this drill because it reinforces several key concepts:
- It helps the athlete become familiar with the feel of moving backwards and doing a stand throw.
- It helps the athlete work on keeping their upper body back and not opening up during the movement, which is a very common mistake for many gliders.
- It is easier for the athlete to get into a good power position and feel what it is like to throw from that with some momentum. Also, the athlete can really work on their power foot drive since the power foot is in a good position.
- If the athlete is not yet ready to glide in a meet, this drill gets better results than just throwing from the power position.
Video 2. After some practice of the Power Position Shuffle drill, athletes can move backwards fairly quickly. The drill helps athletes become familiar with the feel of moving backwards and doing a stand throw, and reinforces other key concepts.
Back of the Ring
In teaching the glide, I feel that it is important to emphasize a couple of key points. First, it is important to start in a balanced position and to load the power leg (the leg that you push and drive off of in the stand throw). To ensure proper loading of the power leg, the athlete’s hips must be directly over the power foot. The athlete must also lower down onto a bent power leg in order to drive effectively off of it.
If the hips are not over the power leg (they usually drift to the front of the ring when the block leg is drawn in), the athlete will not be able to drive properly out of the back of the ring. Then, they will more than likely rise up as they leave the back of the ring or have trouble getting their power foot into the proper position. My beginning gliders perform drills to help them feel this position. The back of the ring, T position, and gather drills help them to align properly and feel the correct alignment of hips over the power foot.
Back of the Ring Drill
The Back of the Ring drill teaches athletes to correctly load their weight over their power foot in the back of the ring. This helps them prepare for proper balance and position in the back of the ring. Their foot should stay flat to help them stay balanced. Notice how the hips are stacked over the power foot.
Video 3. The Back of the Ring drill teaches athletes to correctly load their weight over their power foot in the back of the ring.
T Position Drill
This drill teaches the athlete to load their back leg properly for the glide in the back of the ring. The key points are that the athlete keeps their power foot flat for balance and they should have a long left arm to counterbalance the extended left leg. I want the athletes to raise the block leg parallel to the ground, if possible. This ensures that the hips stay over the power leg.The T Position Drill helps athletes build the strength & balance needed at the start of the throw, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
The drill also helps the athlete build the strength and balance they need at the beginning of the throw. Once the athlete is in the “T” position, they should try to lower and raise themselves on their power leg. This assists the thrower in developing the proper alignment of hips over the power leg foot when they enter the crouch position in the back of the ring.
Remind your athlete to bend at the waist and keep their hips over the power foot. They should also slightly round their back.
Video 4. The T Position Drill teaches the athlete to load their back leg properly for the glide in the back of the ring. It also helps them build the strength and balance they need at the beginning of a throw.
This drill helps teach the athlete the balance and strength needed to gather or bunch the body with the correct alignment before they drive off of the power leg from the back of the ring. This gather is important in order to properly load the power leg so the athlete can drive off of the power leg and get across the ring. Even if you like to teach a more active start to the glide, this is a great beginning drill.
Video 5. The Gather Drill is a great beginning drill. It teaches the balance and strength needed for an athlete to gather their body with the correct alignment before they drive off the power leg from the back of the ring.
Once the athlete develops proper mechanics and strength in the back of the ring, a more advanced technique you can have them do is rise up onto a straighter power leg and extend to the ball of the foot. After they reach this position, the athlete then drops straight down (with hips in alignment with the power foot) onto the power leg foot. This adds even more power, as well as a stretch reflex, to the drive of the power leg.More movement in the back of the ring tends to cause more balance issues that will affect the throw, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
Again, I want to emphasize that this is for more accomplished athletes. I have found that more movement in the back of the ring tends to cause more issues with balance that will affect the throw. Video 6 below shows my glider from last season using this technique.
Video 6. This advanced technique adds even more power, as well as a stretch reflex, to the drive of a power leg. Use it only after an athlete develops proper mechanics and strength in the back of the ring, and only with more accomplished athletes.
Exiting the Back of the Ring
The next key point of the glide is the proper exiting of the back of the ring. Keep in mind that it is called the glide, not the hop. I used to teach that athletes should unseat coming out of the back of the ring. Unseating is the hips falling backward towards the front of the ring. This falling back (unseating) of the hips lets gravity help the athlete get across the ring.
However, I found this to be a very difficult thing to teach. More often than not, the athlete would try to unseat and not have enough weight on their right leg for an effective push from the power leg. Additionally, they would rise up because prematurely dropping their hips would cause them to raise up out of the back of the ring.
Later, I realized that if the power leg was loaded properly and an effective drive was created, the unseating action would happen as a result of that proper drive. This is much like a rotational thrower developing the proper shin and thigh angle out of the back of the ring, as a result of being on balance in the back of the ring, and then going around their left side as they drive in to the center of the ring.
To create proper drive out of the back of the ring so the thrower doesn’t rise up, there should be a correct sequence of events that happen. As discussed above, the thrower should be down on their power leg. Then, the thrower should fully extend their blocking leg. After the full extension of the blocking leg, the thrower drives off the power leg heel, driving the power leg to full extension.
The entire time this is happening, I use a cue for my athlete to tell them to try to keep their stomach on their thigh. This helps to keep their upper body low and back—most early gliders raise up out of the back. Also, I like the athlete to come off their heel. If the athlete drives off of their toe, they usually push up and hop across the ring. Driving off of the toe also makes it harder to get their foot underneath them in a proper power position. It is crucial for them to place their power foot under in the correct position, and get the power heel raised as soon as possible, in order to create the pivot and push necessary for proper power leg drive in the power position.
The following drills will help to develop these skills.
Blocking Leg ‘A’ Drill
This drill helps develop the proper drive and extension angle of the extending blocking leg. The leg kicks down toward the toe board, not up in the air. (Notice the left foot lands facing 9:00—this helps the athlete balance). You must remind the athlete to stay down. I use the cue, “stomach on thigh.”
Finally, this helps the athlete realize that they come off the heel of their foot and not the ball of their foot in the glide. Athletes who come off the ball of their power foot will either hop across the ring or have a difficult time getting their foot into the proper underneath position.
Video 7. The Blocking Leg “A” Drill helps develop the proper drive and extension angle of the extending blocking leg. It also reminds athletes that they should come off the heel of their foot in the glide—not the ball.
Often, the athlete will have difficulty extending their block leg back or kicking it too high. To help rectify this problem, you can place a medicine ball behind the athlete for them to kick out at. Hitting the medicine ball gives the athlete feedback as to whether they extended their leg properly.
Video 8. You can use a medicine ball as feedback on proper leg extension. Place it behind the athlete for them to kick out at.
Power Leg Pull Drill
This drill helps the athlete develop the concept of coming off of the heel of their power foot in the back of the ring, and turning the foot slightly so they land on the ball of the foot. The athlete will try to rise up in order to get their foot underneath them. They must learn to stay low and focus on getting the foot under them in a proper position. It may help for you to place your hand on the thrower’s back to help remind them to stay low.
Video 9. The Power Leg Pull drill helps the athlete develop the concept of coming off the heel of their power foot in the back of the ring, and turning the foot slightly so they land on the ball of the foot.
Working on the Entire Movement
The rhythm and balance of the full throwing movement is just as important as the technique. The Wall Glide #1, Wall Glide #2, Chair Glide, and Glide-Check-Put are designed to blend together the above movements and their timing to help build a fluid movement and proper timing for the whole throw. Athletes should work on these drills in conjunction with the drills in the previous section to properly develop the entire glide throw motion.
To help the athlete improve on specific aspects of the throw, I use the Step Back Power, Banded Glide, Mini Glide and Double Glide drills. Each of these works well in perfecting certain aspects of the glide throw that an athlete may need to improve upon. In the description given for each drill, I have written what piece of the glide I believe the drill helps to improve.
Wall Glide #1
This drill is great for starting to tie it all together. The athlete faces the wall and performs a slight drive with their blocking leg. They then must focus on pushing off the heel of the back (power) foot and landing on the ball of the slightly turned power foot. This drill also helps to reinforce the timing with which the left leg initiates the glide.
The athlete doesn’t move very far off the wall, and they keep their hands on the wall. This helps the athlete feel the “X” tension that is created as the shoulders keep facing back while the hips face sideways, or open up.
Video 10. The Wall Glide #1 drill starts to tie it all together. It also helps reinforce the timing for the left leg to initiate the glide.
Wall Glide #2
This is the same as Wall Glide #1, but this time the hands can leave the wall. The athlete must still keep them facing the wall. The athlete should try to gain some distance from the wall on this drill by producing a more forceful blocking leg drive and a power leg push off the heel.
Video 11. The Wall Glide #2 drill is similar to the Wall Glide #1, except the athlete’s hands can leave the wall. They should also try to gain some distance from the wall with a more forceful blocking leg drive and power leg push off the heel.
This is a nice drill to follow the wall glides. This drill really helps put it all together. Athletes should not lean on the chair—just grab a hold of it to help keep their shoulders back. They can go through the entire set up to the glide and then grab on to the chair and perform a more forceful Wall Glide #2.
Holding on to the chair helps to keep the athlete’s shoulders facing back and the athlete from rising up during the glide (since they are holding on to the chair). A nice variation to this drill is to have the athletes hold on to the chair with their non-throwing hand while holding a shot in the other hand. They can then just glide or even throw from this variation of the chair glide.
Video 12. The Chair Glide drill uses a chair to help the athlete perform a more forceful Wall Glide #2. Holding on to the chair helps keep the athlete’s shoulders facing back and the athlete from rising up during the glide.
Glide, Check, Put
This is a great drill for developing proper form for the entire glide. The athlete goes through the proper sequence of setting up the glide, and then they try to perform a perfect glide landing correctly in the power position. Often, when first starting out, the athlete will let their weight shift too far toward the toe board, which takes their weight off their power leg. This, as we know, is not a good thing.
This drill helps them to feel that and work on hitting the position properly. As the coach, you (or another teammate) will make corrections by moving the athlete into the proper position. Once they achieve the proper position, then the athlete performs a stand throw. Eventually, the athlete’s adjustment time will be smaller and smaller, until there is no adjustment time at all.
Video 13. The Glide, Check, Put drill helps athletes develop proper form for the entire glide. Once they achieve the proper position, they can perform a stand throw.
Step Back Power
This is a great drill in many ways. It helps the athletes feel what it is like to load the power leg in the glide. It also helps them develop a fast-acting power foot, since it is easier to not let the power foot heel hit as it would in an actual glide. The other point of emphasis in this drill is to work the hips around while keeping most of their weight on the power leg.
In this drill, the athlete may also feel what it is like to move backwards and throw. They can work on keeping their shoulders back and not open up during the glide. The drill helps them to learn to stay low and not rise up as they move through the ring. Since this drill develops more momentum than a stand throw, an athlete could perform it for distance in a meet.
Video 14. The Step Back Power drill does many things for the athlete, including helping them feel what it’s like to load the power leg in a glide and develop a fast-acting power foot. Since this drill develops more momentum than a stand throw, an athlete could perform it for distance in a meet.
The Banded Glide drill is great for someone with issues getting their power foot into the proper placement in the glide. Tie a TheraBand (I like to use green) onto each ankle and have the athlete perform the glide. The slight pull of the TheraBand helps the power foot get into a better position. I have also had my athletes throw with the TheraBand on with good success.
You know how drills always look good, but as soon as athletes actually try to do the entire movement, things don’t look quite as good? I usually have them do six with the band and two without the band and then repeat the set. The only issue is that it is a bit of a pain taking the TheraBands off and putting them on again.
Video 15. The Banded Glide drill is great for an athlete having issues getting their power foot into the proper placement in the glide. Tie a TheraBand onto each of their ankles and have them perform the glide. I usually have them do six with the band and two without it, and then repeat the set.
Glide Drills for the More Experienced Thrower
Once the athlete has a handle on the basic glide, this drill helps them develop the power leg drive necessary for the glide. The athlete performs this drill by lining up in the back of the ring position. Instead of curling their leg in and going knee to knee, have them extend the left leg so it doesn’t aid in the movement across the ring. All the work is done by loading (dropping down) and driving off of the power leg. I have also had my athletes throw off of this drill with good success.
Video 16. The Mini Glide drill helps athletes develop the power leg drive necessary for the glide. Instead of curling their leg in and going knee to knee, the athlete extends the left leg so it doesn’t aid in movement across the ring. All the work is done by loading and driving off of the power leg.
Once the athlete has a handle on the basic glide, I feel that the Double Glide is one of the best drills for a glider. It helps work on getting the right foot under the athlete in the proper position to produce force for the throw. Also, this drill will help to ensure the athlete stays back and low on the power leg and doesn’t rise up.
The athlete starts in the back of the ring position and performs a glide, followed immediately by another glide without resetting. If the athlete rises up or doesn’t get their foot in a good position, they will not be able to complete the second glide. It is best to start the athlete on this drill without throwing and then graduate to throwing the shot with the drill.
Video 17. The Double Glide drill helps the athlete work on getting the right foot under and in the proper position to produce force for the throw. Starting in the back of the ring position, the athlete performs a glide, followed immediately by another glide without resetting. If they rise up or don’t get their foot in a good position, they won’t be able to complete the second glide.
Don’t Forget to Practice the Entire Movement
After the athlete has worked with drills and developed some proficiency with them, they should have a passable glide. In drills, I like to use a progression where the athletes first use nothing, then use a med ball, and finally work with the shot. By using med balls, I have found that it helps the athlete focus on proper lower body movements since the upper body is occupied with the med ball.
Early in my career, I was big on drills, and I still am. My mistake was I would practice lots of drills without practicing the entire movement. As a result, my athletes got really good at drills but did not develop as fast as I would have liked with the entire movement. I learned over time that I first needed to teach the drills so the athletes could get better at individual parts of their throw.While drills help athletes improve at single throw parts, they must also practice the full movement, says @JimAikens. Click To Tweet
After that introductory period, it is always better to mix drills with full throws. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time using their right leg properly to drive out of the back, I would do some Banded Leg Glide drills and then some full throws without the bands on. I would continue this process for two or three sets. I now use this recipe with all of my athletes and drills for both my gliders and rotational throwers.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you have further questions, want further explanations, or just want to talk throws, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.