The Search For My Perfect Swing — Part 50

My Better Way

Part 50 is available as a PDF download from box.com at URL https://app.box.com/s/h84jw77pfb1zbour84yg

It is my belief that anyone using proper technique from 30 feet should be able to throw a ringer every time.

This was a comment I made in Part 4 of my blog on August 13, 2008. I would like to qualify that statement by saying, “it’s one thing to throw a ringer, it’s another to keep it.”

Constant 6 — The Stride. None! If you are a 30 foot pitcher there should be no reason to stride.

This constant was the toughest to solve. The difficulty was being able to pitch a horseshoe under control, without a stride. It was apparent that I needed to strengthen my shoulder, legs and core to eliminate the stride and maintain my balance throughout the delivery from a stationary stance.

Some History

In 2008 I began this blog. It was an effort to chronicle my struggle to find “My Way”. It started with a frustrating first night of pitching horseshoes in an American Legion league. I had zero ringers in three games with 108 attempts at throwing one. My blog now covers 8 years of the search. It has been a fruitful, yet, sometimes frustrating search. My goal has always been, “constant” improvement. Sometimes there are obstacles that interfere with this goal. I’ll cover those as we proceed through this paper. This article, which will become Part 50 of my blog, will describe a method that I don’t think I can improve on, and eliminates those obstacles.

As a computer programmer for 35 years, I felt the key to success was the establishment of constants, and the reduction of variables by changing them to constants. In simple terms, it would be like taking my left foot position at a precise location on the approach every time. As an example, I cited the use of dots on a bowling approach which are used to set your feet properly, prior to striding forward. This would be considered your constant. You would “constantly” set to this dot every first ball.

So, I set out to change every variable to a constant. I broke down the art of pitching horseshoes into it’s various parts. The result was Part 4 of my blog. I ultimately established the Line of Flight (LOF), Visual Alignment Point (VAP), Pendulum Swing, Drop Angle, Launch Angle, Back Swing Stop Point (BSSP), Alignment Point (AP), High Point of Flight, and the use of the Center of Gravity of the horseshoe. All described and referenced many times in my blog.

At the beginning in 2008, I pitched a single turn from 40 feet. Actually, a single turn or rotation was “natural” for me, as a carryover of my method of bowling as a young duckpin bowler. I would take the typical flip grip and turn the horseshoe one complete revolution. I was not yet pitching from 30 feet, but, the time was coming, sooner than I expected. A knee injury made the decision for me and my 70th birthday in December qualified me to switch to the Elder Class and pitch from 30 feet. This move up to 30 feet became both a blessing and a curse. I caution those considering the move up to 30 feet to understand all that that entails, both pro and con. Women pitching from 30 feet already face some of these challenges. I will cover some of them throughout this paper. A couple of photos later will help to define those obstacles and a little additional information finishes this paper.

I had noted that 40 foot turn pitchers, when moving up to 30 feet, did not move all the way up on the approach. I personally couldn’t see giving up distance just to continue turning the horseshoe. Perhaps if I had been throwing the turn for 10 or 15 years I would have been reluctant to make the change. I tried a variety of flips and turns, i.e., 1/3 turn, 3/4 turn, 3/4 reverse, 1-1/2 flip, flip-turn, and single flip. I settled on the single flip with Snyder EZ Flips and took full advantage of the 30 foot shorter distance. By the end of 2010, my ringer average had reached a tad under 60%. I began pitching in the Pro Tour events along with most of the NHPA tournaments in Maryland.

Continued improvement has always been my goal and I was not continuing to improve. I am basically at the same ringer average as I reached in 2010.

It didn’t take long before I realized that there were many times when I simply could “not” use my normal constants on the approach, such as the positions for my feet, or taking a normal stride. I simply had to find, “My Better Way”. It has been a fruitful, yet, sometimes frustrating search. As mentioned, my goal has always been, “constant” improvement, both literally and figuratively.

The one constant that seemed to elude me, which I mentioned above, was the “no stride” delivery. I tried a variety of stances, left foot forward, martial arts stance, feet parallel to the stake, using the left approach or right approach. I just didn’t seem able to maintain my balance when swinging from address to back swing and forward swing to release. I simply needed the stride to give me the impetus to throw the shoe under control the 27+ feet.

I continued to visit my local gym 2-3 times per week and decided to try to strengthen the muscles of my shoulders, specifically for pitching horseshoes. I threw in a couple of exercises at the cable deck that simulated the swing forward from back to front. During this time I was continuing to design horseshoes, primarily for the flip pitcher. I was able to design horseshoes that had symmetrical hook caulks that permitted the horseshoe to be turned or flipped with thumb caulk up or down. One such horseshoe was the Patriot.

In August this year, I began experimenting again with the 1-1/2 flip with the Patriot and much to my surprise…it worked. I had used the 1-1/2 flip with Snyder EZ Flips in 2008 for a short time. I switched full time to the 1-1/2 flip with the Patriot prior to the Maryland State Singles. I had a couple of games in the 72% percent range and won a second place in the Elder Class. I also used the 1-1/2 flip to win the Maryland Senior Olympics in my age group. My ringer percentage was even better in that event. I was using my normal stride in both events, as they both had permanent concrete approaches.

Recently, I had a case of shin splints, swollen ankles and a bone spur that made it painful to stride forward on the approach. My only option…the no stride or stationary stance. This gave me an opportunity to combine changes in setup, alignment and grip to produce what I consider the “proper technique” for me, which I mentioned in Part 4 written back in 2008, and mentioned in the first sentence of this article above.

There are 3 aspects to this method. They are the grip, stance and body alignment while standing at the 27 foot foul line.

It all starts with the Pendulum Swing which swings down an imaginary line called the “Line Of Flight”. The LOF defines the directional line which the horseshoe needs to follow to insure a straight line flight at the stake at release. When practicing, it is a stretchable cord that goes from the stake to the approach. When I take my stance, I want the Center of Gravity of my horseshoe to be directly over that LOF. The LOF, Pendulum Swing and Center of Gravity are all constants. Let’s start by defining the Pendulum Swing.

The Pendulum Swing

You can think of the Pendulum Swing as swinging your arm like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. In general, the pendulum is a straight shaft without joints and terminated with a weight. It swings in a straight line from left to right without deviation. Further, at rest it hangs straight down vertically and perpendicular to the ground. Can you swing your arm like a pendulum? Absolutely. See Image 1 below. Think of the hub as your shoulder, the shaft as a fully extended arm, and the weight as the horseshoe.

PendulumSwingHorseshoePendulum_6_25

Image 1

It is fairly easy to determine when your arm is hanging vertically downward. First, extend your arm fully without bend at the elbow. Step to a door jamb and touch your shoulder to the jamb and also touch the back of your hand to the same jamb. When they’re both touching, it’s vertical. From this position pay attention to how far the hand is away from the leg. You’ll use this hand location when we discuss the Natural Grip.

The wheel on the right in Image 2 below, demonstrates that a horseshoe released early or late is still on line if your arm swing is down the line. The wheel on the left, which is rotated off line slightly, demonstrates that a horseshoe that is released off line early, may be to the right while a horseshoe released late, may go left. Please note the implication of this graphic. The wheel is turning at a constant rate. A horseshoe released early goes shorter than a shoe released later if the rotational speed is constant. If a horseshoe is blocking your way, it is only necessary to release later, without additional effort using your normal arm speed. There is no need to throw the horseshoe harder to arrive higher.

ReleasePointRailroadTrack

Image 2

The Natural Grip

The Natural Grip begins from a normal stance. Photo 1 below shows my normal stance with right arm relaxed with my thumbs turned in toward the leg. The distance your hands hang naturally relative to your leg, is dependent on the width of your shoulders. The size of your lats and triceps will also play a role in how your arms hang. The Natural Grip is a grip that can be taken that maintains your normal arm hang. The typical flip grip doesn’t do it.

Photo 1

Photo 1

Photo 2 below shows that the relaxed arm when fully extended, continues straight down and does not swing out away from the body. The act of swinging a weight (horseshoe) will cause the arm to straighten slightly by way of centrifugal force. It is important that the swing arc does not deviate by swinging off line. A pendulum swing offers the best method to remain on the Line of Flight and remain close to the body and vertical.

Photo 2

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 3

In Photo 3 above, the horseshoe is gripped with the typical flip grip. Normally, the hand is rotated clockwise and the thumb is about 3-1/2 inches to the right of the leg. The rotation of the palm clockwise causes the right elbow to turn inward toward the body and the hand moves away from the leg. As the arm extends due to centrifugal force the straightening of the arm pushes the horseshoe even further to the right. Your arm is no longer in a straight line and vertical.

It is difficult to keep a horseshoe going straight down the LOF, if your arm is not hanging straight down and vertical. The tilted arc that occurs, will produce erratic results depending on where the horseshoe is when released. Think of how difficult it is to hit a golf ball straight down the middle when swinging the club on a tilted plane. If you hit the ball early, it’s leaving to the right, hitting late leaves to the left, either generally with an unwanted spin.

If your swing arc is vertical and down the LOF, the worst that can happen is the horseshoe will arrive too short or too long. However, your direction will be correct. You only have about 5-3/4 inches to work with, relative to the stake, to throw a ringer. You only need to be about 3” to the left or right to miss a ringer.

If you take the typical flip grip and rotate your hands all the way into the palms up position, it is virtually impossible to dangle your arm in a straight line and vertical. The problem is the rotation into that position causes the elbow to rotate further inward toward the body and causes a larger angle and tilted plane away from the body. Unfortunately, it’s just the way your arms normally work.

The 1-1/2 Flip and Grip

Photo 4

Photo 4

Photo 4 above shows the 1-1/2 flip grip with fully extended arm. Note the similarity between the relaxed and extended arm in Photo 2. Basically, this grip does not alter the location of the hands and horseshoe from the relaxed position without horseshoe. Now, compare this hand position relative to the leg that is shown in Photo 3 when taking the flip grip. There is no unnatural arm rotation with the 1-1/2 flip grip as compared to the arm rotation needed with the normal flip grip.

In Photo 4, I am gripping the Patriot. The Patriot has neutral hook caulks which are symmetrical on both sides. I prefer to use the 1-1/2 grip with the thumb caulk up. This causes the thumb calk to hit the ground first, as I normally over-rotate the shoe slightly and hit the back end first. This tends to slow down the forward movement of the horseshoes as it arrives at the stake. I would rather have the back end hit first and scoot forward rather than hitting the hooks first. It really is a personal choice, you can just as easily grip with the thumb caulk down.

The arrow shown in Photo 4 passes through the Center of Gravity when the horseshoe is dangled from the hook caulk. The horseshoe will try to rotate back to it’s normal rotation, around the center of gravity. This adds a little additional rotational force when it hits the stake. This is similar to a turning shoe. This unsquare and rotational arrival helps reduce the loss of ringers when coming in too square and bouncing straight back.

When I used the traditional flip grip and release, I was always fighting an early release and short shoe as the traditional flip grip is more of a pinch grip between thumb and finger. If you try the hook caulk grip you will immediately feel you have much better control and feedback for the proper release. There is “no” slipping out of the fingers during the forward swing, as happens when the thumb caulk is slippery when pitching in wet clay. You will find that it is much easier to clean off the single hook caulk, as opposed to cleaning the thumb caulk area.

Photo 4 shows the horseshoe perpendicular to the leg at setup, which should continue to horizontal at address, and back to perpendicular to the leg as it passes on the way back to the Back Swing Stop Point. The orientation of the horseshoes should not change throughout the swing back and forward to release. Rotating the horseshoe very slightly clockwise when resting against the leg seems to give me a bit stronger grip feeling, but, I must concentrate to maintain that slight rotation throughout the swing. When I raise the horseshoe to the address position with that slight rotation has the left shank of the shoe slightly higher then the right. This slight rotation seems to extend my arm further and retains the extended arm fully.

Photo 5

Photo 5

Photo 5 above shows the horseshoe dangling from the hook caulk. I pitch with gloves and I am showing the grip positions without gloves for clarity. The grip is taken by simply placing the thumb on top, closing the index finger and wrapping the middle finger behind the hook with the tip of the middle finger locking onto the back of the hook caulk on the underside of the shoe. The point of the hook caulk is supported and locked into the area at the base of the thumb. See Photo 6 and 7.

Photo 6

Photo 6

Photo 6 shows the completed grip. Check out Photo 4 to show the grip taken showing the normal setup position with the horseshoe against the leg.

Resting the horseshoe against the leg is an important constant with this method. Not only is it the starting position, but, it’s the position to be repeated as the horseshoe is returned during the back swing and actually ticks the pant leg going by. This is also an audible constant and confirms that the horseshoe is still over the LOF.

Photo 7

Photo 7

Photo 7 above shows the side view of the completed grip. Note the location of the middle finger behind the back side of the hook caulk. Also note the location of the point of the hook caulk at the base of the thumb. The ring and little finger adds additional support on the underside of the hook.

Photo 8

Photo 8

Photo 8 shows the grip from the backside.

The Stance

The stance for this method is fairly unique. First, the stance is stationary without any stride. The right foot is placed into the right corner of the left approach. The left foot is to the left of the right and slightly behind. Photo 9 below shows the foot positioning for this method.

Photo 9

Photo 9

Photo 9 above shows the positioning of the left and right feet. However, I’m showing this foot positioning on the 37 foot foul line. There is no platform for the 30 foot pitchers at this venue. Photo 10 shows my actual foot positioning at the 27 foot foul line.

Photo 10

Photo 10

This is the 27 foot foul line. How do I know I’m at the right edge of the left approach? Look carefully, you’ll see the head of a nail in front of my right toe, nailed into the board. I put it there last year on each of the 27 foot foul line boards on 8 courts. I also nailed the right approach as well. If you are considering moving up to 30 feet, consider the condition of the courts you pitch on. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to setup constants on an approach when you don’t have a permanent one. This stance helps to deal with the lack of a permanent approach.

Unfortunately, this is not unusual. Many horseshoe pitching facilities suffer from this lack of 30 foot platforms.

Two years ago I pitched in the Maryland Senior Olympics at another location. There was no defined location for the 30 foot pitchers to pitch from. There was nothing. You did the best you could to pace off the 10 feet from the 37 foot foul line and try to visualize where the edges of the approach actually were located. I didn’t pitch at that facility the following year. Fortunately, it was relocated to the Elks facility on Kent Island, Maryland in 2014.

Photo 11

Photo 11

Here is another left hand approach. The foul line disappears underground to the right. It made no sense to have a setup and delivery with a stride for permanent approaches, and one trying to find a setup and stride with the issues cited without an approach. So, based on these approach issues, I decided to go to the stationary stance without a stride for future pitching. Fortunately, it has become an improvement rather than a hindrance.

The Setup and Delivery

From the stance above, I shift “all” of my weight to my right foot. With all of the weight on my right foot, my left foot is raised slightly, so the toe barely touches the ground. Every bit of weight is now resting on my right foot. This causes my body to naturally tilt to the right, placing my head very close to looking straight down the line. While practicing, I use the over and under cords, on and over the Line of Flight.

I have found that I can fine tune my setup by moving my left foot forward or back depending on how my balance feels at setup.

The address starts with the horseshoe resting against my right leg with a fully extended arm. My left arm is resting comfortably inside my left thigh. I swing up to my Visual Alignment Point (VAP). My VAP is correct when the left shank of the horseshoe is visually above the right edge of the stake and when my arm is horizontal to the ground.

When I feel perfectly balanced on the my right foot/leg, I start the downswing, and tick my pant leg going by, and carry the horseshoe to my Back Swing Stop Point (where the horseshoe naturally stops it’s backward swing). I like to start my flip rotation as I begin my forward swing. I concentrate on a nice soft flight and landing, concentrating on maintaining my balance. It really surprises me that it is fairly easy to maintain my balance throughout the entire swing.

The technique is effective because it eliminates the cause of many misses…the stride. Think about all of the things that can go wrong when you are making a stride forward. For example, your arm swing, stride forward and foot plant are not synchronized; or, you move forward too slowly or quickly; or, you stride off line; or dip your head and release too low; or, allow your shoulder to rotate counter-clockwise when you step forward with the opposite leg. The no stride method can eliminate all of these potential problems.

Furthermore, the stationary stance produces a circular swing arc without backward or forward movement. It couldn’t get simpler.

The 30 Foot Pitcher

If you are considering moving up to 30 feet, make sure you have plenty of other 30 foot pitchers to pitch against. If you intend to pitch in NHPA sanctioned tournaments, be aware of the tournament guidelines. The NHPA allows the Tournament Directors the right to set the rules for their local tournaments. If the TD’s set a no Class mixing policy, you may find you have no one to pitch against. This generally means that 30 foot Elder Class A pitchers cannot pitch against Class A 40 foot pitchers, regardless of ringer average. There are a number of informal clubs in my area that will not permit 30 foot pitchers of any kind, either male or female.

Perhaps one day the NHPA will take a good hard look at the issue of 30 foot and 40 foot pitchers competing. It is an issue that needs to be solved for the sake of horseshoe pitching in general.

The horseshoe court images I presented earlier are indicative of the challenges you may face when moving up. Keep in mind, the method I’ve described gives you an option for overcoming poor pit conditions and also gives you an opportunity to improve your ringer average. Eliminating the stride converts one more major variable to a constant. Actually, there are a number of potential errors committed during the stride and release that are eliminated with the stationary stance.

The method described above is an excellent method to try if you’re having leg problems or if wearing a leg brace or prosthesis. If you are able to use a traditional grip for the flip or turn, give the stationary stance a try. However, check out that 1-1/2 flip, it may just work, but, not every horseshoe is a candidate for the 1-1/2 flip grip. Good Luck

I’m looking forward to the 2015 pitching season.

E-mail me if you have questions.

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