by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
I have had the opportunity to watch dozens of hookers play this season witnessing many different throwing mechanics at the line of touch. A vast range of throwing mechanics at the lineout isn’t an issue as long as the hookers employ efficient throwing mechanics. This should be a must for any player wearing a number 2 on his back.
In my experience, hookers who are developing their throwing mechanics entirely on their own generally lack an understanding of the most important things to be focused on so I thought I would try to share some thoughts on this subject.
When teaching hookers how to throw in at the lineout, I always begin by watching them throw several balls before offering comments. I don’t believe that there is only one way to throw the ball in, but sound throwing mechanics are mandatory if hookers are to be consistent when throwing in the ball. When working with young hookers I encourage them to personalize their throwing mechanics while providing them a checklist of important mechanics to be aware of. With this approach they are able to self-analyze what small changes need to be made if they are off target.
As Americans, we grow up throwing objects such as baseballs and football overhand from a very young age. To many, it is a very natural movement. Watch youngsters throw a ball. When they throw with their right hand, they will slightly shift their bodyweight from the right foot to the left as they throw the ball using a natural weight transfer and subsequent followthrough after the ball is released.
This is a simple example of proper throwing mechanics happening, unconsciously in the example of the child, while throwing a ball. It is interesting to me to find right-handed hookers standing with their right foot forward at the line of touch, or left-handed throwers standing with their left foot forward. In these examples, the only followthrough that can occur is for the opposite leg to come forward after the ball is thrown. It goes against the grain of efficient throwing mechanics.
After observing a hooker’s throwing mechanics, I then begin offering suggestions from the ground up. I begin with the hooker’s stance, including foot position and width of stance. Throwers should maintain a slight flexion in their knees as they begin to lower their heart rate and narrow their focus on the impending throw. We then discuss hand placement on the ball and how moving the dominant hand toward the rear of the football can positively affect the flight of the ball when released by assisting in keeping the nose of the ball down.
Once the ball has been raised above the hooker’s head, the player’s abdominal wall is stretched and therefore activated. Because of this, a significant effort should be placed on building strength in this area. I place a great emphasis on hooker’s working not to use any countermovement with the ball before the throw in, meaning not allowing a “wind up” before the ball begins to move forward toward the jumper. If the hooker needs a bigger range of motion, they should be encouraged to start with the ball farther behind his head. This assures the defensive jumper can’t trigger his jump off the hooker’s throwing mechanics alone.
Once the hooker has begun the throw by extending at the knees and hips, all the power from his lower body is transferred through his core. This power is then transmitted from the upper torso to the extremities (arms and hands) and this energy exits via the ball being thrown.
I always strive to have the hooker release the ball high in the throwing motion to allow for the correct trajectory. What is left, and often over looked, of sound throwing mechanics is the hooker’s followthrough. To release high and not follow through will almost certainly lead to an overthrow, but to release high and follow through creates a greater opportunity for a accurate throw.
A hooker throwing in at the line of touch is a very public act, much like kicking for goal. The notable difference between the two skills is that the hooker isn’t solely responsible for successful execution of the lineout. Hookers need competent lifters and dynamic jumpers to win a lineout.
Another example of why rugby is the greatest team game of them all.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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