Prep track: The art of throwing shot and disc
Throwing the discus or shot put is the most technique-heavy event in track and field. Thowers have to be perfect in every motion from their feet to their arms to excel.
Prescott junior Westy Bartsch and coach Carl Calabrese emphasized there are too many intricacies to count. Todd Levos, the throwing coach for the Hastings High School track and field team, has been throwing and coaching the discipline for much of his life. He threw both shot put and discus at North Dakota State University. After graduating from NDSU, he coached there and at Fargo North High School; he has been at Hastings most of the past 17 years.
Like with anything, Calabrese said it helps have a lot of strength and power behind the throws, but the most overlooked trait needed to be a good thrower is athleticism.
"Everyone develops habits when they're competing," Calabrese said. "Now we're trying to break some of those habits. When a kid like Westy or Ty (Sanford) is so athletic, you only have to tell them one thing and they can make an adjustment."
The adjustments they make to maximize the distance they can throw translates into other sports, such as football and wrestling.
"Momentum-wise, you need to use your hips (in football and throwing)," Bartsch said. "You have to get your hips through to be more explosive.
"I enjoy practicing it to make sure my technique is right, my footwork is right, because everything has to be right and it really helps with the other sports."
Specifically for Bartsch, a guard on the Prescott football team, the leverage, rotation and momentum are all valuable skills to use in the offensive line.
With any new or returning thrower, Levos starts each season the same way.
"The first thing we do is some real basic stuff, like having the implement come off your hand correctly," Levos explained. "Some people initially will throw it (the discus) and try to have it come off their pinky, but it needs to come off your pointer finger.
"So we start with bowling. We roll the disc like a bowling ball and have it come off your hand correctly. If you do it wrong it won't go anywhere."
Discus throwers focus on the disc flying flat, not angled up into the air or down toward the ground. Shot put throwers work on holding the ball correctly on the pads of their hands; they must get used to pushing the ball rather than throwing it like a baseball or football.
The next step is foot position. Levos said that every throw is "built from the ground up." Throwers learn the power position first, the most basic of the discus and shot throws. After that, they practice just plain throwing and getting used to holding and how to properly throw the disc or shot.
The athletes then "play catch," throwing the shot or disc to their partners who pick it up and throw it back.
It's at this point that Levos said his throwers become unique to athletes in other sports or even other track and field participants.
"Early on I just have them throw a lot, we get into throwing shape," Levos said. "Our bodies aren't used to throwing implements over and over and over. You actually do get fatigued early in the season because your body's not used to doing that. When you're throwing something numerous times, you're going to get tired."
The shot put and discus weights are as prescribed by the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS). For boys, the shot weighs 12 pounds and the disc 3.8 pounds, while girls use an almost 9-pound shot and just over 2-pound discus.
Throwers work throughout the season to gain strength and improve stamina.
"The big thing (with throwing) is a lot of repetition," he said. "I think we're a unique sport in that we are trying to get stronger throughout the year. I know in basketball we're not in the weight room very much, football if we got in there once a week that was good because we're trying to maintain, but it's not a strength-building type of thing. So not only do we have the technique of learning the events, for some of the kids we have the learning in the weight room as well."
Levos said that his throwers focus on developing explosiveness and strength in the weight room through Olympic lifts twice or three times a week, as well as some plyometrics.
Putting it all together
Once all the basics have been covered and the kids are comfortable throwing and are getting stronger, they begin to learn more advanced techniques.
"We'll stay with that power throw, you're just in your stance and throwing it," Levos said. "Then we'll start getting the off-arm involved. What does it do? Everything has its purpose.
"There are significant distance killers if you do the wrong thing with your off-arm, your feet are wrong or you don't have your legs bent. We'll get kids in the right position, then we'll start working that off-arm."
The little motions are important to focus on because they can be the difference of a few feet in a throw.
"First meet of the year, we noticed that (Westy) was so open through the chest, which creates a stretch reflex and allows him to get behind the shot more," Calabrese said. "When I first saw it full speed, I thought he did something wrong with his front shoulder. When we looked at the video of it, we realized, he had done it perfectly and that gave him more lift on his throw."
The timing of Bartsch's front shoulder opening has been an important aspect of his mechanics this spring.
"When we've worked on other things, he has changed the way he uses that front shoulder," Calabrese said. "Then he adds it back in and he gets a couple more feet on his throws."
Bartsch uses the glide technique for shot put, which is the most common because throwers have a better time retaining control of their bodies when using it.
Spinning is a more advanced technique used in competitions you might see on TV.
Levos said a full-out spinning throw in shot put is difficult; he only has one athlete who has committed to spinning, as opposed to several who spin in discus. Where in the discus the disc revolves around the thrower, in shot put the thrower revolves around the shot, a fundamental difference.
He also encourages his athletes to compete in both events, even if they prefer one or the other.
"I always like to have athletes do both events because we might fix something in disc, in a release or a power position, and then when we get back over to shot maybe it fixes something over there," Levos said. "That happened with Jacob Bacon last year. Jacob was not a discus thrower, but I had him kind of mess with it every once in awhile. We actually fixed something in discus and when we went back over to shot it stuck. What he was doing wrong in shot we couldn't fix, but we fixed it in disc and it carried back over."
Bacon went on to set the Hastings school record in the shot put.
Editor's note: Jalen Knuteson contributed to this story.