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Discus Coaching Information - Synopsis by Sandy Robertson

Discus throwing goes back to ancient times, when the Greek educational system’s Physical Education courses demanded expertise in sprinting, wrestling, sword fighting, javelin throwing and archery, all for the purposes of the military in the constant inter-tribal wars: a glance at today’s European news broadcasts will show them still. In fact, in reverse, this was the battle order, with archers up first, then javelin throwers at closer quarters. Discus throwers, slinging deadly 2-4 kilogram discs, were next, attempting to kill or at least maim opponents in the front ranks before the sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat began. Teachers tend to frown on this nowadays, so waiting pupils are often asked to stand behind the line of throwing to avoid injury, and groups throw from a diagonal line to avoid striking their immediate neighbour. As an event in the Ancient Olympics, Discus survived to be included in Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s Modern Olympics, based on the Games he watched at Much Wenlock, England, after which a 2012 mascot is named. Illustrations of the Discus event from 1896 will leave you puzzled- why are they throwing from a plinth?- until you see the iconic statue of Discobolus- he’s on a plinth, naturally: some mistake in translation, surely? Nowadays discus throwers sling from a flat, level circle 2.40m in diameter to deliver a 2kg disc over 70 metres: women throw a 1kg version similar distances. The greatest discus thrower of all time is the U. S. A’s Al Oerter who won the Olympic Games’ gold five times. Scotland’s greatest female throwers are Rosie Payne and Meg Ritchie, who both won Commonwealth gold.

What’s involved in the throw?

The idea is to apply as much speed as possible to the implement at the moment of release, using torque, or torsion, and this is done more readily from a moving, rather than a standing, throw. Biomechanics is an issue, and torque is used to give as large a moment of inertia as possible to lever the discus away, hence the long arm at the finish after the accelerated run across. It’s possible to imagine a ‘corkscrew effect’, where the legs turn ahead of the body, and the arm is used fast and last to power the disc away: coaches will tell you to get the hip in first*, whether these coaches specialise in golf, tennis, badminton, squash, table tennis, baseball, cricket or throwing events. Watch Andy Murray’s top-spin forehand as an example*.

The progressions are:-

Standing sideways with feet apart, sling a hoop, palm down, at a large cone for a target to learn control. Wind yourself up into a corkscrew position, and unscrew to sling the hoop as far as possible. Hold the hoop at shoulder height ahead of you, and run past it in a cross-over step before slinging. Stand with your left arm and foot pointing ahead, then cross your right foot ahead of you and turn into a reverse pivot [as in Basketball] to finish in a wide throwing position ready to pull on the hoop- this dance turn is called a ‘South African’ after the nationality of its inventor. Finally, it’s possible to stand, feet apart, at the rear of the circle, and starting a left turn by pivoting both feet before running into a ‘South African’ and slinging the hoop away.

The discus:

The design is based on the original weapon -it’s aerodynamic, which means it’s designed to be stable in flight. It’s difficult to hold, but palming it and placing the edge of your fingers over the rim, then placing it flat against your thigh gives an idea of the grip: to spin it forwards, roll it along the ground to a partner, and feel that the middle and index fingers are giving you control; spinning it in the wrong direction i.e. backwards, causes it to stall, even on the ground: practise spinning it up into the air and catching it in both hands, but mind your nose. Now, standing facing forwards, feet split forwards and backwards, sling the discus up and forwards with spin. Eventually, you’ll be confident enough to let your arm come out sideways to increase the torque – keep the palm flat at shoulder height, and tuck the far rim down a little towards your wrist- about halfway through the flight the discus will start to ‘plane’ i.e., fly flat, before turning over. Use the same practices as you did with the hoop:- In the ‘South African’ lay the back of your wrist across the bottom of your spine to start the running rotation. For the full turn, twist right with a long arm, your palm under the discus, then pivot left, run across the circle onto an active right foot, and sling a long, fast right side against a braced left side.

Common errors include:-

Not gripping and squeezing the discus at release to spin it, or letting it fall below the wrist and wobble away. Not getting the trajectory right, so it dives: to give it lift ‘stand up tall’ on a braced left leg ‘set in concrete’. Not having a wide throwing base, so you don’t get enough transference of weight from back to front. Not bracing the left side, so a soft throw happens from a dropped left arm and shoulder, or a bent leg. Not sequencing in the right order from the ground i.e. turned right heel/ knee/hip/trunk/shoulder/arm/fingers. Not accelerating at each point in this sequence, which puts you back to the start in terms of speed. Failing to get the hip to the front in the torque before the trunk and arm are brought into use*. Overbalancing from the rear of the circle is excellent for initiating momentum: falling over at any other time in the centre or front of the circle reduces your momentum.

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