There really is such a thing as throwing like a girl
Last week I was handed an article by Larry Ellett, the father of Molly Ellett, one of my students, that is sure to make some people unhappy. He saw it in the Chicago Tribune, but it was originally from the Washington Post. The story was about how boys and girls throw differently — naturally.
We’ve all heard the phrase “You throw like a girl.” It’s never said as a compliment. What’s usually meant is that the person in question drops his/her elbow and pushes the ball out, resulting in an anemic throw that doesn’t go too fast or too far.
Apparently there’s more to this than gender bias. According to the article, in societies all over the world, there are marked differences in the way boys and girls throw when left to their own devices. There’s actually a graphic that shows the differences in the two throwing methods. It also quotes Harvard softball coach Jenny Allard, who agrees that girls don’t come by a proper throwing motion naturally and must be taught.
One of the theories in the article is that in our hunter/gatherer days, males had to learn to throw if the tribe or family was going to eat, and women didn’t. The one exception was the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. There, boys and girls both hunt using throwing methods — and that’s where the gap is least pronounced. (This also backs up my theory that to a boy, rock+duck=throwing practice, whereas that doesn’t occur to a girl.)
There’s lots of data in the article to back up the claims, so give it a read. This is not a case of gender bias or men trying to keep women down. In fact, the study was performed by a female, and females like Allard are quoted saying “Yes, it’s true.”
What does all of this mean to a softball coach? It means no matter what age group you coach, you’d better plan to spend time working on throwing mechanics. Lots of time, because this is a very under-taught part of the game.
Allard says (and I’ve seen other college coaches say as well) that one of the biggest issues for players entering college is they don’t have good throwing mechanics. They may have been good enough athletes to get by with bad mechanics, and as long as the team was winning none of their previous coaches worried about it. But in college, they want them to throw properly, which means the ball goes farther and gets there faster.
Here’s a quick experiment. Set your players an appropriate distance apart (60 feet for 14U and up, perhaps closer for younger players). Then pull out a stopwatch and tell them you want them to make all successful throws and catches for one minute. While they’re working at it, call out the time remaining. You may assume this drill will take a minute to complete. Don’t be surprised if you’re still
at it 20 minutes later. It’s not as easy as it sounds. But it will give you an idea of where your team’s throwing mechanics really are.
Fall is a good time to get a throwing mechanics program started. Winter is even better, especially if you’re going to be indoors for much of that time. But even if you’re continuing to play a full schedule through December make the effort to teach your girls how to throw.
When I’m working with players on throwing I always tell them that poor throwing is an easy way for them to get cut at a tryout. By the same token, if you throw well — especially if your mechanics are better than everyone else’s — you look like a player. It’s your choice how you want to show up in a tryout.
Again, give the article a look. And then make sure you carve out some practice time to teach throwing mechanics and practice them. It’s worth the extra effort.