When someone tosses you a football and says, “Hit me deep,” do you feel confident that you can launch a laser-guided spiral? If you’re like most guys, the answer is yes. But here’s some shocking news: Just because you’ve watched 500 NFL games in high definition doesn’t mean you can throw like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (You’ve looked at a lot of Victoria’s Secret catalogs over the years, and you’re not married to Gisele Bündchen, are you?)
The mechanics of tossing the perfect pigskin are much more complicated than you think, and few of us were taught the right way to do it on all those playgrounds and dusty neighborhood fields. Thankfully, it’s not too late.
Will Hewlett is a former Arena Football League player and is now the director of player development for the Quarterback Academy, which coaches 1,500 to 1,700 high-school, college and even pro quarterbacks a year. “When a guy has a big windup in his mechanics and he throws it like a baseball, it’s a dead giveaway that he is not schooled in the art of the spiral,” Hewlett says. “Throwing a football is a much more compact movement, but also more of an explosive movement.”
Here, Hewlett describes the proper mechanics behind the perfect spiral:
The Grip: Align your hand on the football so the first knuckle of the index finger crosses the stitch line and the first knuckle of the ring finger goes over the second lace. The middle finger will simply rest between your index finger and the ring finger, and the pinkie just slots in. “The goal of the grip is to place as much of your hand on the ball as possible to create friction and achieve maximum control,” Hewlett says. “But you have to keep the nose of the football up. The term is to ‘see daylight’ between the ball and the palm of the hand.”
The Stance: For every throw, your feet should be pointing to the sideline while the left shoulder (of a right-handed QB) will line up down the middle of the target. If the left shoulder is too open and your chest is facing the receiver, it will interfere with the timing of the throw.
The Stride: The lead leg will start moving toward the receiver, but you will actually step to the left of the target. “The average width of a male from armpit to armpit is 18 inches. So you will step to the left nine inches if you are a right-handed quarterback,” Hewlett says. “That part of the process starts prior to the throwing movement.”
The Throw: As you chamber the ball and prepare to throw, your right hand should be about shoulder-level, with your forearm and biceps forming the shape of an L. Here’s the important part: The throwing elbow is going to accelerate ahead of the throwing shoulder. As Hewlett describes it, the elbow is catching a wave of energy from your body: “The elbow has to get to nose height. As the left shoulder opens and your chest is facing the target, the elbow is now ahead of the throw, like you’re doing an overhead triceps extension.”
From there, the triceps is going to fire and drive the football. The forearm begins racing the wrist, as the hand shoots forward as if you’re giving a high-five. The nose of the football should be pointed up and slightly to the right.
“Mechanics is No. 1 and explosive strength is No. 2,” Hewlett says. “The power is generated from the legs, not the shoulders. You have to train your arm to feel the power from your legs.”