One of the benefits of living in a screen culture is the constant immediate access to photos and videos through a variety of electronic devices. This allows private quarterback coaches like myself to review and evaluate throwing mechanics, not only of the athletes we train, but also those of top-level professional and collegiate quarterbacks.
As a visual learner myself, I’m always reviewing photos and videos to gain a better perspective, insight and understanding on very detailed, specific mechanical efficiencies that makes the top tier QB’s the best in the world. And while I have my own non-negotiable beliefs on what proper throwing mechanics look like, photos and videos allow me to be a better coach by passing on the positive learning’s to our athletes (or by pointing out the negative counter-productive learning’s) to provided added value to our training program.
While privately training quarterbacks over the past several years and using photo and video analysis to provide our first-time QB’s with instant feedback during the evaluation session, what we’ve found is that the common variable among most of them is their release point. Photo after photo shows an ideal over-the-top arm slot. Quarterbacks understand this concept. It’s easy to grasp so they practice it, they self-teach it. Youth coaches with the most elementary knowledge of QB mechanics understand proper release point so they even start teaching it to young QB’s. But how the QB got to that ideal release point is critical to determining greater power and velocity on the throw, which can ultimately determine a great quarterback from a good one.
Power, defined in the scientific sense through physics, is “the rate of doing work.” Or, “the rate which energy is consumed.” What that basically means is the most amount of force generated in the least amount of time produces the most power. When training our Next Level QB’s, we tell them that generating power is much more about physics than physical strength. If the latter were true, then linemen benching 225 lbs. 30+ times at the NFL Combine would be the hardest and farthest throwers. But we all know that’s not the reality.
This article discusses the very critical variable needed to achieving maximum power, velocity and force on the throw – the backstroke (or load position, as it’s referred to by some coaches). It’s also aimed to point out the biggest mechanical must-not - ball lifting - which robs the QB of critical energy needed to create power.
In order to properly address the backstroke function, we have to first discuss the importance of ball carriage. The position of the ball pre-pass is one of the most important variables to achieving a proper backstroke during the throwing process. Therefore, the way you position the football in the ball carriage is non-negotiable.
The ball should be positioned at chest level, right in front of the sternum. It’s the ideal position that allows our QB’s to achieve opposite equal arm positioning during the separation phase from the pre-pass ball carriage. An additional benefit to holding the ball in this area is that it allows the elbows to point downward and relaxed. This then allows the trapezius muscles to be relaxed, which is exactly what we want for the QB. Higher, outward pointed elbows unnecessarily fires the traps early. We'd never want our QB's to fire muscles early before they are needed.
Before we can discuss the critically important backstroke (or loading phase), we must first address the myth behind the “benefits” of ball lifting. First, let’s explain what ball lifting is. Ball lifting is the process of taking the ball from the pre-pass ball carriage and pushing it upward into the 90-degree vertical L position. It promotes a lifting motion, completely eliminating any type of loading or backstroke phase.
As someone who attends some of the main coaching clinics during the off-season, I am continuously alarmed at the lack of awareness from coaches at the youth and High School levels who have been unknowingly duped into thinking this is the correct throwing mechanic for a Quarterback.
The selling point behind this myth is that the ball gets out of the hands of the QB faster… that he has a “quicker release” when ball lifting. But what that coach doesn’t realize it is ball lifting robs the QB of critically important energy that’s created to drive power on the ball, which ultimately equates to added velocity on the ball.
When thinking about the actual process of throwing the football, we have to understand that power on the throw is generated from a rotational movement of hips, core, torso and shoulders. The mechanics behind it are much like swinging a baseball bat, a tennis racket or a golf club. Let’s use golf as an example because, in my experience, many QB’s have fundamentally sound golf swings.
If a golfer stood at the tee box and brought his driver up to hip level, then swung down on the ball, how much energy would he generate by the time the head of club struck the ball? The club head works in a circular motion around a center point – the sternum. Without that circular motion being created by bringing the club head back above his shoulder during the takeaway and backstroke, the golfer has limited power on his swing. That’s exactly what we’re taking about with ball lifting the football.
If your private QB coach tells you to lift the ball and throw it like a dart toward a dart board, you may want to re-evaluate your options.
During the separation phase from the pre-pass ball carriage, the shoulder joint acts like a hinge, allowing the elbow to travel backward and the throwing hand to travel on the chest line. This is the natural backstroke motion, critical to generating proper energy needed for power on the ball. The arm should remain compact and tight to the body when creating this movement. At Next Level, we call this the Horizontal 90. It’s a 90-degree position of the arm right along the chest line. The above image of former Cal and current LA Ram QB Jared Goff is the identical position we want our Quarterbacks to get to prior to the 90-degree vertical L position. As we discussed above, without the backstroke or loading movement occurring, the QB is simply lifting and pushing the ball.
Throwing the football properly is one of the most difficult and complex mechanics in any sport. But fundamental scientific certainties like the backstroke allow Quarterbacks to understand how to throw with more power and repeatable success.