The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 38

2012 Maryland State Doubles

Last Saturday arrived as a beautiful day in Maryland, warm, a bit muggy and sunny. A perfect day for the Maryland State Doubles Championship in Essex, Maryland. I awoke early as usual before a tournament. Pitching was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. An easy ride to Essex and found the pits in excellent shape, grass cut and crew busy removing the overnight rain from each pit. Had great practice session, knees felt great and felt I was ready to go. At 10:00 a.m., a few moments of silence for our troops and pledge to the flag and we settled in to pitch.

Just before we started, I checked all of the clipboards for emergency instructions, hoping of course, they would not be needed. My partner is the best 30 foot Elder pitcher in Maryland and we started our first match. I felt great, threw 22 ringers of 30 shoes for a 73.33% ringer average, for our first win. Second game, another win, threw 19 of 30 for a 63.3% average. It looked like a good day. Little did I know what was about to unfold.

Emergency! Pit 11

Shortly after beginning game 3, talk began to circulate about an Elder pitcher with a possible problem on Pit 11. The pitcher had been experiencing dry lips and mouth and was beginning to develop a stomach ache. I decided to monitor the situation and reviewed my emergency information and what I should do, since I’m the guy with CPR certification. By the end of the third game the pitcher was feeling nauseated and headed to the restroom. He made it just in time before losing his breakfast. He returned looking pale, but, insisted on continuing his match. A female pitcher gave him a cold compress and he continued pitching. One of the pitchers during the 5th match, said that he was looking pale and ought to sit down, which he did. He sat for a couple of minutes and returned. It was obvious that the guy was badly dehydrated, a potentially dangerous condition. He had tried to replace his fluid with a quart of Gatorade, a couple of Cokes to settle his stomach and bottles of water. Nothing seemed to work. Lips still dry and mouth full of cotton. This guy was not using his head, but, it was for the Maryland Doubles Championship. He couldn’t pull out on his partner. Each game a little worse than the previous one, but, he finished the tournament with a 50% ringer average and headed to his truck to cool off. He and his partner had won 1st Place, Elders Class. The tournament director gave him his trophy and he left.

Well, the guy with all of these problems was me! What in the world had happened? A meal the night before had not agreed with me. I gulped down a little antacid and was good as new, so I thought. A fretful night, up and down several times. Nerves, I thought. Well, it caught up with me the next day and I’m still feeling the after effects 4 days later.

What, if anything, did I learn from this experience? Tell someone you’re having a problem. Don’t make a big deal of it, just to make sure someone knows you may be having a concern. You might want to mention something to the tournament director. If you’re one of the league officers, you might want to make sure there are emergency instructions handy and someone knows the actual address of the facility. Don’t be foolish. If you drop on the court without anyone having a clue about a potential problem they won’t know what to tell the EMT’s when they arrive. At least I was smart about that. It was a rough ride home and kept my eyes for convenient pull off spot. Thankfully, not needed, but a rough night to come. I’m on the mend and looking forward to the Maryland State Singles and the Maryland Senior Olympics in September.

Added June 19th, 2016. With the high temperatures being reported in the mid west, I thought it was the best time to add to Part 38 “Emergency Pit 11”. If you’ve read this part, you will know that the emergency was mine. What I have discovered recently is that my situation was a life threatening one. I should have called 911 immediately. Why? What I didn’t mention at the time was that I threw up what appeared to me as coffee grounds. They were not coffee grounds, but, “blood clots”, a sure sign of heat stroke. So, don’t make the same stupid mistake that I made. If you ever see coffee grounds, call 911 immediately. It may save your life. I was lucky.

Continue to Part 39 for a discussion of what to expect when pitching from 30 feet.

E-mail me if you have questions.

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The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 37

Accurate Alignment

My target is 27 feet away and I have 4 degrees to work with. How can I possibly hope to hit a 1 inch target that far away, consistently? I prepare properly! Watch a professional bowler set his feet on the approach, take his grip, align his body, start his swing and release the ball with their dialed up rotation and throw at their target. Absolutely nothing left to chance. However, he will need to deal with the oiling pattern applied on the lane and how it changes.

The horseshoe pitcher has an advantage at any given NHPA sanctioned site. They don’t have to worry about changes in lane conditions. The NHPA provides some latitude in the shape and material of the pit, as well as the approach width. However, 40 feet from stake to stake, and a 37 and 27 foot foul line is required and the pits are level. In general, most NHPA sanctioned horseshoe pits are clay, some with sand, 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, stake angled properly, 15″ high and approaches 18 inches wide. The backstop is usually 36 inches wide and 12 inches high at the back of the pit. So, where possible, we’ll use these constants to our advantage.

Practice Pit Setup

Here are the constants we’ll work with from the left approach.

1. Foul line on the approach you are standing on is 27 feet from the distant stake.

2. Somehow mark the location of where the 30 foot stake would be located relative to the left approach. Some NHPA sanctioned sites will have a locator placed on the approach to show the 30 foot stake location. In the photos below I’ve placed a stake at the 30 foot location for reference purposes. The right edge of the left approach I am standing on is 18″ to the left of the 30 foot stake.

3. The 30 foot stake adjacent to the left approach is 36″ behind the 27 foot foul line.

4. Looking at the distant stake. The left edge of the distant approach to the right of the stake, is 18″ to the right.

5. Looking at the distant stake. The right edge of the distant approach to the right of the stake, is 36″ to the right. This is important, as the far right edge of the distance approach has become my Visual Alignment Point, located 33 inches horizontally and at eye level vertically from the distant stake, when I swing the shoe up to eye level.

This location is not arbitrary. The Visual Alignment Point (VAP) is automatically determined for me when I swing the shoe up to eye level while the center of gravity of the shoe is vertically directly over the Line of Flight cord. It is where the left shank of the shoe points. I determine this location while a plumb is directly over the LOF cord. This location is determined after you take your stance on the approach. I only had to do this one time. After that, it is my VAP constant and I swing up to this point for every shoe thrown. Previous parts of this blog show how to personally determine your VAP.

6. The Line of Flight (LofF) cord stretches from the distant stake to a position 3-1/2″ to the right of the left approach adjacent to my right leg. So, when the left shank of the horseshoes is directly over the edge of the approach, the center of gravity of the horseshoe is directly over the Line of Flight cord.

7. Place a piece of PVC pipe or old stake directly behind the primary stake or whatever you can find to make sure your head does not move to the left or right. As you stride forward make sure the relationship between the primary and secondary stake does not change. In other words, make sure your head moves directly at the primary stake during your stride forward.

The photo below shows the location of the 30 foot stake relative to the right edge of the left approach 18″ to the right and 36″ from the foul line.

Right edge 18″ from 30 foot stake

The photo below shows the location of the 30 foot stake from the 27 foot foul line.

Foul line 36″ from 30 foot stake

Taking My Stance

The photo below shows my stance relative to the right edge of the approach. My right foot is rotated approximately 35 degrees rightward and my left foot is rotated about 10 degrees and pointing directly at the right corner of the approach. From this position, I have already taken my grip, verified that the left shank of the shoe is aligned with the edge of the approach and the center of the shoe is directly over the LofF cord. I have also placed my left hand on the front of my left thigh (see below). Using this setup establishes my repeatable pitching posture. From this position I am ready to begin my swing upward to my Visual Alignment Point (VAP).

Here is a tip I have found useful for aligning my body correctly. I pitch with a sports shirt that has a centered vertical line that I use to align my shoulders properly relative to my left foot and my VAP.

Stance relative to the right edge

Forward Swing

From the stationary stance position, I swing my arm up to my Visual Align Point (VAP). I have covered the VAP in many previous parts, but, in a nutshell, it is the location of the left shank of the horseshoe when horizontal to the ground while the center of gravity of the horseshoe is still directly over the LofF cord. My personal VAP is at the right corner of the distant approach 36″ to the right of the stake, one of the constants mentioned above. I make sure that my right arm is fully extended without any break at the elbow.

From the VAP, I smoothly swing back as close as possible past my right leg, trying to return the shoe to it’s original setup location and to my Backswing Stop Point (BSP). I’ve also covered the BSP in previous parts. In brief, it is the location of where your arm stops moving backwards naturally. It is imperative that you hit this spot every time on the backswing. For some reason, I feel that hitting this location on the backswing sometimes puts me back on the LofF if I’m slightly off. From the time you start your forward swing to your VAP all the way to the BSP you have only moved your arm and nothing more.

When you hit your BSP, you start the forward swing and stride forward simultaneously, keeping your left hand firmly planted on your left leg and your right toes firmly planted on the approach. Make sure your head and eyes move directly at the distant stake. I will explain all three below.

Stride forward. Right foot remains planted.

You must move your body in a straight line to the stake, your shoulders don’t rotate and your body remains balanced.

As you stride forward keep your head and eyes directly at the stake and don’t allow your head, which controls the rest of your body, to move to the left or right. The secondary stake is your monitor.

Keeping your left hand on your left thigh is an important aspect of this method. When we stride forward with the left foot our normal tendency as humans is to rotate the shoulders counter-clockwise. This is what we do as we normally walk, right arm and left foot and left arm and right foot. Keeping your left hand on your left leg restricts the normal tendency to rotate the right shoulder leftward, throwing the horseshoe offline to the left.

Keeping the right toes planted does a number of important things. It controls the length of your stride forward. It acts as a rudder to maintain your stride direction, and; it maintains your balance when releasing the shoe. Don’t try to keep your right foot flat on the approach, allow your heel to rise up. If you have done this correctly, I can simply return to my stance and my right foot does not need to be reset, ready to throw the second shoe.

Left hand resting on left leg. With or without shoe.

In the photo below I have placed the shoe on the ground to define the relationship with the left shank and the center of gravity over the Line of Flight cord. Naturally, you would be holding the shoe in this position when taking your stance.

Horseshoes left shank on edge of approach, center over LofF cord.

Odds and Ends

I don’t believe in the old adage “close only counts in horseshoes”. My goal is a ringer every time. However, if I miss, I want to try to salvage a point. I’ve covered that topic which describes “Drop Angle” in a previous part. If you want to add an additional pitching aid, simply find a 15″ used tire and place it over the stake while practicing.

Good Luck to anyone using these tips. Your goal is to “Pitch Like a Machine”. Eliminate the variables and concentrate on the constants. My belief is… “If I don’t move it, I don’t have to un-move it”

Continue to Part 38 for a description of the Maryland State Doubles and an Emergency on Pit 11

E-mail me if you have questions.

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