By P.J. Simmons
It was almost 4 decades ago, but I still remember the sting I felt when someone said it to me for the first time.
I was only 9 years old, which in retrospect seems so young. But back then nine felt “big.” And in the mini-society of 9 year old boys that I lived in, the opinions of other kids meant everything.
My parents had just dropped me off at my very first little league baseball practice. Until that day I hadn’t played any team sports because I was totally focused on music. (Both my parents are natural-born musicians and I had inherited their genes– I was really good and it was what I loved to do most). But by age 9, the urge to fit in and play sports like other boys took over. My dad was resolute against me playing football because he was still dealing with injuries suffered when he played in high school. So we chose baseball.
About 15 minutes into practice, we were practicing throwing and catching. I had no idea what I was doing, but as a 9 year old I was expected by both coaches and other kids to have a clue. Very quickly, some tough kid yelled loudly enough for everyone to hear:
“How come you throw LIKE A GIRL?!”
Riotous laughter ensued. Which, of course, made my pathetic throwing attempts even worse. No one had ever shown me how to throw the right way, so I was clueless. The coach didn’t offer to help, and I was too embarrassed to ask.
I lasted a couple more practices then quit, the fear of future humiliation too great. And never played a “throwing” sport again.
Yes, tennis, it turns out, is a “throwing sport.” Big time.
And if you want to be able to hit serves and overheads with good technique, you better learn how to throw.
I didn’t fully embrace this reality until a couple years ago, when I set out to focus on improving my serve. Since then, I’ve learned that I’m just going to keep hitting walls with my serve until I fix my throwing motion.
(Note: I could write an entire post on the psychological dimension of the “like a girl” put down — for more on that see box below… But the point of this post is to emphasize the parallels between excellent tennis serving and football throwing).
Of course learning how to throw is not easy — and it’s really hard to find people who throw well who can actually explain how.
Two of the tennis world’s best teachers, USTA’s Kirk Anderson and Essential Tennis founder Ian Westermann, are among those who can not only explain how to throw a football properly but also help tennis players understand how that skill translates to the serve. Here’s a link to watch Kirk giving a quick football/tennis lesson and below is a great video from Ian on how to “Serve Like Joe Montana” (you can also view a lesson from Montana himself here):
Here’s me working on the football throw recently (very much a work in progress!):
Working on my throwing motion is opening up a whole new set of possibilities for improvement in my serve. As one would expect, I’m pronating more naturally. But in addition, my arm and shoulder are looser– essential for racquet acceleration and power. My racquet drop is happening more naturally. And even my lower body is working in better sync with my upper body, with better loading and release at the hip that’s translating to more effortless power.
“Throw Like A Girl” Myth Debunked
We’ve been told our entire lives that doing something “like a girl” is bad — something that’s wreaked havoc with self-esteem of countless little girls and boys. It was great to discover while writing this post the tremendous new viral “Like a Girl” campaign that’s helping reverse stereotypes (watch the campaign video).
It was also awesome to discover a recent Mythbusters episode that has been shattering the widespread myth that boys and girls inherently throw differently. Turns out the big factor that accounts for any differences is proper coaching: give a girl the same throwing training as a boy, she’ll learn to throw “like a boy.” Take away training — or ask someone who knows how to throw with their non-dominant hand — and you level the playing field and end up seeing throwing motions that look like mine did at age 9.
The big Mythbuster conclusion: anyone can learn how to throw better with good training and practice!
So whether you’re a guy or gal, if you care about taking your serve to the next level and like me never learned how to throw a football correctly, I can’t recommend more investing the time to learn how.