The Search for My Perfect Swing — Part 21

Singles Tournaments

My First Tournament — When I decided to enter my first tournament I contacted the tournament director to establish a ringer average. I was advised to get there about 1 hour prior to the event. I arrived at 8:00 a.m. and was assigned one of the tournament officials. I was to warmup and throw 50 horseshoes for my ringer average. I threw 11 ringers for a 22% ringer average. The ringer average would be used to make the appropriate class assignment. Next was to join the NHPA and pay the tournament fee.

Subsequent Tournaments — Participating in tournaments is the best way to validate your progress. There are basically two different registration processes. Some tournaments are walk-up registration and others are pre-registration. It is important to know the difference. There are pros and cons to each for the tournament director. If you are required to pre-register you may or may not have to include your registration fee with your registration. You will be notified when to report for the tournament. That’s good for you, but, sometimes means that registrants don’t show up. That’s bad for the director, meaning he must sometimes reset classes at the last minute. Walk-up registration allows the director to establish classes and participant based on actual registrants who sign up. That’s good for the director, but, sometimes bad for you. If there are too many signups you may have to wait until a later session. On accasion I have arrived at 8:00 a.m. and not started pitching until about 2:00 p.m. Makes for a long day. However, you can always keep score, make a couple of bucks for paying for your scorekeeper when you pitch later. Speaking of paying for your scorekeeper…the fee is usually established by the director and varies between $.50 and $1.00 per pitcher per game. In general, it is up to the scorekeeper if he keeps the money, but, each pitcher should offer it.

Tournament Preliminaries — When all registrants are known the tournament director will assign classes based on ringer average. He will complete individual scorecards for the various classes. In general, Class A pitchers have the highest ringer averages. If there are too many pitchers for the available pits, the director will hold a draw to determine the classes pitching the first session. The remainder will have to wait until the first session is finished. Prior to the distribution of scorecards, the director will broadcast the number of points and number of horseshoes pitched for each class. Typically, Class A and B matches will be based on 40 points and unlimited shoes. Classes C and below are usually restricted to 40 points or 50 shoes whichever comes first. Ties after 50 shoes are usually resolved by a “up and back” frame until a winner is determined. Below is the front and back of the individual player scorecard. In this case, mine. Select either for a larger view.

Front and Back of Tournament Scorecard

Front and Back of Tournament Scorecard


Scorecard inside Left and Right

Scorecard inside Left and Right

The scorecard above contains the results of the session. The thing to note are the pit assignments (1 thru 4) and the number of competitors (9). You then go to the 9 competitor chart, mark pits 1 thru 4 over each column and circle your player number (1). You may have noticed that the scorecard says “Use the 7 Player Schedule.” After scorecard distribution, a change required a switch to the 9 Player Schedule. After each match the scorekeeper records the results on each competitors scorecard. I have blurred the competitors names on my last tournament scorecard. Individual scorecards are retained by each competitor for personal records. The scorekeeper then turns in the score sheet to the director for posting the results.

Score Keeping — It is important to learn how to keep score. Additionally, you will need to learn the local lingo. In general, the competitor winning the points will call them to the scorekeeper. Typical lingo might be something like this…”4 dead” — two ringers each, no points; “3 ringers 3” — cancelled ringer for each player and 3 point ringer for the caller; “ringer each penny” — cancelled ringer each player and 1 point for the caller; “draw a line” — no points for either player. In addition to keeping the scoresheet, you will need to add points to the score board so that each competitor and the audience can follow the score. There are many occasions when there is no scorekeeper available. It will be up to you and your competitor to decide who keeps score. By tradition, one keeps score and the other calls the score and picks up the shoes. Below is an example of the NHPA approved scoring along with rules pertaining to scorekeeping…

Click for NHPA Score Sheet.

Competing in a Tournament — My tournament competition begins the previous day. On hot summer days I usually purchase two bottles of Gatorade. One goes into the refrigerator and one to the freezer. I get up early enough to get a good breakfast and don’t want to rush doing anything. In the morning I transfer the refrigerated bottle to my thermos and the frozen bottle to my carry along bag. I throw in my sun block and bug repellant. Before I start pitching I spray under the bill of my cap to keep the pesky bugs away. I make sure I lather on the sunblock when I arrive. I also carry along a folding chair with a cover if the location is predominantly in the sun. In my bag, I also include a metal file for burrs, along with a towel, a pair of horseshoes with a spare (you’ll be in trouble if you break a shoe without a spare), pitching gloves if you use them, a measuring device for ringers and points, my shoe retriever, and finally, a baster. Yep, a baster, sometimes you will find too much water in the pit from overnight rains. It’s about the only thing I’ve found to rapidly empty rain water. You simply channel all the water into a hole and suck out the water.

Maintaining Your Pits — If you are a flipper, you must maintain the clay properly. First, paint the stake. Next, water down each pit and bring the clay up to level. You never want to leave a depression in front of the stake. Your shoe will sometimes flip over backwards when you hit the base of the stake, if you leave the depression. After turning the clay, sprinkle a little additional water on the clay. I make it a point to check how solid the stake is. A loose stake will reject lots of shoes. If that is the case, concentrate on hitting the stake low, no higher than 7 inches above the ground. The photo below is an attempt to show an unwanted depression in front of the stake.

Depression in Front

Depression in Front

The Match Begins — Once you’ve worked the clay and painted the stake, you’re ready to begin. Traditionally, each pitcher will do a “down and back.” This involves pitching two shoes down and pitching two shoes back, for practice. The match will begin after you decide who goes first. This usually involves flipping a shoe and have the competitor call “up or down”, or “head or tails”, or maybe “I’ll match you”, and each flip. The winner pitches first. Rules state you must wait behind the backboard while your competitor is pitching. Even there, make sure your shadow does not encroach into your competitors vision. Be courteous at all times. If you are pitching from 30 feet on the left approach, don’t step to the approach if a 40 foot pitcher is pitching to your immediate left. On many occasions it will be necessary to measure for a ringer. The tips of the horseshoe must be beyond the stake. If a straight edge touches each tip and the stake, it is NOT a ringer. It must be beyond the stake. Points are measured as non-ringers that are within 6 inches of the stake and closer than your competitors. Don’t make the mistake of measuring with the width of the horseshoe. NHPA rules state 6 inches. Single points are extremely important and may make the difference in a win or loss. Complement your competitor when called for. Shake hands to start and when finished.

Your Day Is Done — After you’re done, make sure you take the time to thank the volunteers. It takes tremendous effort on the part of the tournament committee to get everything ready. Complement them on the condition of the facility if appropriate. If you’ve collected a few extra bucks for scorekeeping, tip the refreshment folks. Consider buying items sponsored by the venue, i.e., shirts, shoe retriever, scorecards, horseshoes, etc. Finally, enjoy the experience.

Doubles Tournaments

There are two categories of doubles tournaments, “Walking” and “Stationary.” The most common is stationary, meaning that partners pitch from opposite ends and do not change ends after each frame. However, it means that the same pair of horseshoes is used by each partner. In walking doubles, each partner uses their own horseshoes and switches ends after each frame. The scoresheet is slightly different having columns for each participant and columns for the combined partner score. By tradition, the two highest ringer average pitchers will pitch against each other at the same end and will be known as the Class A competitors. The two other lower average competitors will be Class B. The Class A competitors start the match.

Continue to Part 22

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The Search for My Perfect Swing — Part 20

My Current Pitching Method

If you have read any of my previous parts, you know that I am a strong advocate of the pendulum swing. I believe it offers the best chance of a repeating swing directly at the stake. So, below I describe each aspect of my setup, swing and release. During the 2009 pitching season I was forced to make a major swing change because of a knee problem. Actually, this was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to eliminate the deep knee bend that I was previously using. I will describe the change below.

The Setup

As I have mentioned before, there are some fixed locations which you can take advantage of. Fairly constant from site to site is the width of the approach. I use this fact for foot alignment purposes.

Placement of Feet

Placement of Feet

Starting Position — The photo is of my backyard approach. My left heel is placed at the edge of the approach with my left toe pointing directly at the end-up location. Note the string to the right that follows the center of gravity of the horseshoe as it hangs down at my side. The location of the line of flight string is derived by the location the horseshoe as it rests against my leg. I will explain why this is important a little later. Also note the red line that is parallel to the line of flight. This red line represents the direction of my step forward. This location insures that my right shoulder follows the line of flight. The toe outline at the end of the red line is where I want my left foot to end up, which is directly in line with right foot and insures balance during release.

Location of My Left Foot at Release

Location of My Left Foot at Release

Left Foot at Release — It is imperative that my left foot end up precisely in line with my right foot. When I release the horseshoe, I always check the location of my left foot on the approach. Without fail, when I miss a bit right my left foot will have crossed over the end point. If my left foot goes too far to the right, my shoulder is sure to follow, thus, missing right.

Using the shoe retriever for distance.

Using the shoe retriever for distance.

Distance from Foul Line — Determining the left foot relationship to the foul line is easily determined with my shoe retriever. The photo below shows how I can measure my forward step using the retriever. My shoe retriever is NHPA approved and is 33″ long. Some tournament directors do not disapprove of marking your foot position with a chalk line. So, carry one in your bag in case you can mark the line. Otherwise, you’ll have to use some method to find your spot and use some point of reference on the approach or the grass. Eventually, you’ll have a feel for the proper distance and can easily pace it off. It’s a bit easier if you’re pitching from 40 feet. The stake is usually halfway between the backboard and foul line. So, use the stake or backboard as your reference point. Some tournament sites will mark the assumed stake location for 30 foot pitchers.

Shoe resting against my right leg

Shoe resting against my right leg

Settling In — Once I have taken my grip, positioned my feet, I extend my right arm until I feel a slight tightening of my tricep and rest the shoe against my right leg. I will sometimes tap the shoe against my leg to establish the mental relationship between the shoe and my right leg. This is an important aspect of my swing. Even though the photo doesn’t show it properly, the center of gravity of the shoe and my left thumb are directly over the line of flight. If I swing the shoe up to my visual alignment location to the right of the stake and pass it as close as possible to my right leg on the downswing, I know that I am swinging on the line of flight. This setup and swing virtually eliminates a shoe going to the right of the stake.

The Swing Cadence — When I am ready I begin a mental cadence or rhythm — 1 and 2 and 3 and 1 and 2 and 3… I swing up to my visual alignment point and without stopping start the downswing, passing the shoe close to my right leg, and hit my backswing stop point. To this point I have not moved anything other than my arm. When I hit my backswing stop point, I step forward as I begin the forward swing, hit my end-point and release the shoe. When I start my step forward I try to move directly at the stake. I hold my release position until the shoe reaches the stake, look down and make a mental note of my left foot position. During the entire swing I am trying to remain in rhythm. I want the upswing, backswing and forward swing to be in time with the cadence. If the speed of the cadence is correct, the horseshoe will travel the correct distance.

Troubleshooting — I never want to think “What am I doing?”, when I miss a ringer. With the technique I have described I can immediately determine what caused the problem. Granted, it may be a couple of things, but, I will know which couple. Let’s assume the shoe arrives short and left. If my left foot is at the correct end-point at release, the “left” problem is the shoe passed too far to the right of my leg going back. If my cadence was normal, the “short” problem implies I released the shoe too early. If my cadence was too slow, I need to speed it up a bit. I have developed a little “flowchart” to indicate a problem and possible cause. Select the link below for a simple flowchart.

Flowchart for Troubleshooting

Swing Change (Old Method) — I mentioned above about making a major swing change. Prior to my knee problem I would swing my arm up to a stationary position parallel to the ground and pointing at my visual alignment point. I would start the backswing by bending my upper body forward directly the stake. That move would drop my arm downward and begin the backswing. That would also drop my body into a lower release position and cause the shoe to come in very low. What was disconcerting was when I held the arm stationary I could see how nervous I was. In addition, it would place a lot of pressure and weight on my left knee as I bent forward. I had to make a change.

Swing Change (New Method) — I decided if I wanted to emulate the pendulum then why not swing like one. I also wanted to eliminate the deep knee bend. After I have taken my stance and rested the horseshoe on my leg, I begin my mental rhythmic cadence. I swing the shoe up to my visual alignment point to the right of the stake and slightly higher than the top of the stake. Without pause I allow the shoe to drop into the downswing and carry it to my backswing stop point. Up to this point I have not moved anything except my arm…up, down, back. When I hit my backswing stop point I begin the step forward trying to remain in cadence. At the end of my forward swing I simply let the shoe go. It is important that when I start the forward swing I have not moved my right leg from it’s setup location. This insures that I can use my right leg as a directional aid both during downswing and forward swing. In the end, I want my arm to swing exactly as the pendulum of a clock, everything in time. So that’s it for now…I hope to make Part 21 my preparation for a tournament, the preparation of the pit between matches and keeping score.

Continue to Part 21

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The Search for My Perfect Swing — Part 19

The 2009 Season — A Critique

This has been a very interesting 2009 pitching season. I had set my goal for the year to finish with a 60% ringer average. I didn’t quite make it, but, I’m happy with a 55.67% ringer average. I participated in every tournament in Maryland, with one more this coming Saturday.

I’ve had a great tournament season, with some ups and some downs. As of this date, I have accumulated the most points in the Maryland Points Challenge, based on tournament finishing placement. This is a nice award developed by the Maryland Horseshoes Pitchers Association to encourage participation in sanctioned Maryland tournaments.

Three New Horseshoe Designs Ready for Production

I’ve spent a fair amount of time working on my horseshoe designs. Lots of testing, refining, retesting and I’ve finally completed three (3) additional designs. I’m hoping to send off the new designs to the NHPA for approval within the week. Presently, they will be called the “GrabIt”, “GrabIt PB” and “Cyclops”. All designs are going forward with copyright protection. I have recorded all three shoes with high speed video. The GrabIt and GrabIt PB have the same basic inner design as the Viking, but the outer perimeter is different. The Cyclops is unique, as it has absolutely no location on the inside of the shoe that is square to the line of flight and thus, cannot bounceback.

My goal has always been to provide a horseshoe that will reduce bounceback. However, I’ve always had the Elder, Youth and Woman pitcher in mind as I design. That’s where the “Grabit PB” comes in. I wanted to design a shoe that was light, less than 2 pounds 6 ounces, easily gripped with small fingers and perfectly balanced. The “PB” stands for “Perfect Balance”. The shoe is a little smaller, approximately the size of the Magnet, but, is perfectly balanced front to back. It looks like the smaller sibling to the GrabIt. As soon as I have the copyrights, I’ll publish the photos and the high speed video taken at 420 frames per second of all three.

Designing horseshoes is the easy part. Going into production is much more difficult and expensive. Each time I create a pattern and have it cast as a prototype it costs me $80. To bring the price down to an amount that the pitching public will pay is a much more difficult task. It starts with a master mold for the caster, which is created by a patternmaker, which costs about $1,000 per model. The caster than casts, cleans up, paints, boxes and ships to the customer. Factor in order taking, taxes, web development, etc. and you’ve just about eaten up any profit. Finally, the issue of liability comes into play. The only way you can protect yourself is by incorporating. Now you have to factor in the cost of incorporating, probably Subchapter S, business license, collecting and paying taxes, etc. I forgot to mention the $300 licensing fee paid to the NHPA for each design, for the first calendar year, for each design. Subsequent, years are $100 per design.

So, what to do is up in the air. I’m still trying to decide which way to go. Naturally, selling enough horseshoes to recoup expenses is the goal, in order to go into production. I may simply pay the $300 licensing fee, choose the design that best suits me and use my prototype pair. I’ve already had a number of requests for purchasing the Viking when available, but, I just don’t know. If I do decide to go into production, it will be to make one or more shoes available for the coming year. Thus, the licensing fee will cover 2010.

A Laser Based Pitching Aid

When practicing with the Viking, I noticed that my grip was a bit different over the Imperial Stingers. I had a tendency to exert too much influence by the middle, ring and little finger of my pitching hand. I needed an aid that would show what was happening during the swing. I also needed to insure that I was swinging down the target line directly at the stake. I want to find a laser that would generate a line that was horizontal and vertical. A web search for an inexpensive laser pointer that created a line directed me to a small laser distributed by PSI Woodworking. Amazon carried it for $15.95, plus shipping. It is identified as the PSI LLINEMS2 Laser Line/Dot Cutting Guide. I was not interested in the dot beam. I made a holder for it and mounted it on one of my Vikings. Works perfect. It has two mounting screws on the top that can be loosened and the laser beam can be projected either horizontal or vertical. A few minutes of practice and I could see what was happening. I was not keeping the horseshoe square to the line of flight. Secondly, moving to the vertical line, I was able to see exactly where the shoe should be aligned at address and how to make sure that I remained on the line of flight. I’ll be using this simple device during the winter months for indoor practice. Picture below.

Horizontal/Vertical Line Laser

Horizontal/Vertical Line Laser

Continue to Part 20

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