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.