Every thrower’s dream. The lights are on, the pressure is on, the competition is tight. Every single throw the feeling of greatness is creeping closer and closer into their hands. Each throw feels better than the one before. But time is running out. There’s one throw left to accomplish one of the greatest feats of their entire career.
The action is like slow motion. The body has been prepared, the movement has been ingrained. It’s time to release the fury of adrenaline into the shot. There is a feeling of floating mentally. The mind is empty, acting as a spectator while the body dominates the technical precision in the circle. The feet are set in the back of the circle, the throw commences and greatness is achieved.
We all saw this happen last year in Doha when Joe Kovacs took the world by storm on his final throw at the World Championships. The result? The third furthest throw of all time and a second world title. But what was Kovacs hitting in training prior to this feat? What did his training throws look like? Fortunately, we have a glimpse into his preparation and it’s time to dig deep into the training preparation that stunned the world!
Coach and Athlete, Husband and Wife
Watching Joe Kovacs in training is a total spectacle. He is one of the more intense athletes when it comes down to practice. As soon as he laces up his boots, it is clearly time to play. His coach, Ashley Kovacs, also happens to be his wife. One of the coolest relationships to witness is what happens when Joe is in practice preparation. Joe and Ashley quickly go from a caring relationship to an intense unity of athlete and coach.
In 2019 in Doha, I was fortunate enough to witness the beast couple in action during a few training sessions, late in the night during the incredible heat of Qatar. Joe would prepare by wrapping his wrist 9,000 times with tape after putting on his shoes and 3 pounds of chalk. Ashley stood to the side, sternly injecting simple cues here and there, clearly showing the couple had established an impressive means of coach/athlete communication pattern.
One of the most important lessons I learned from witnessing their relationship was based on their simplicity and action. One or two word cues, clearly focusing on one or two principles with an occasional physical demonstration. Joe took the cues to heart and each throw, executed as though his life depended on it! The classic Kovacs “BOOOOOOOOOOOO” yell coming out after each solid throw added a unique spice to the training session.
Don’t Sweat the Technique
(shout out to Eric B and Rakim)
As Joe has entered into the later part of his career, something that has been fun to watch from afar is how well he knows his technical precision. Earlier in his post-collegiate career, there were many coaches (I will admit it, I was one) who questioned his technical model and change that had been implemented after his collegiate career (to be fair, I believe his throw at 2012 Trials and the Big Ten Champs is still some of the best technical throwing by a collegiate athlete). Now, it seems as though Joe knows EXACTLY what he is looking for and what he is trying to do on every single throw. His precision might be off by a tiny fraction but he knows and feels what needs to be corrected!
This is truly the sign of a great technician and competitor.
Let’s dive into the actual key aspects behind his movement. It will be fun to breakdown what he does out of the back of the circle, into the middle, and then how he SMASHES the front of the circle with complete aggression and power!
1. The Back
When Joe sets up his position out of the back, he does a few things incredibly well. He sets the shot nice and rigid in line or slightly behind his right hip. This tension in the upper body helps his proprioception and awareness throughout his entire body. He knows precisely where the shot is at all times. He has a long left arm that helps him load weight on and around his left leg.
One aspect that gets glossed over regularly is how well Joe holds double support in the back of the circle. His left foot opens past 90 degrees before he even picks up his right leg. This creates an incredible distance between his right knee and left knee which ultimately leads to a perfect rotational set-up. As his right leg comes around the left, his right leg is lengthened so well that his right foot gets as wide as his LEFT ARM was at the beginning of the set up!
2. The Middle
This might be the bread and butter of Joe’s throw. I have been fortunate enough to discuss this position with him on a few occasions, the 2019 National Championship, and the 2019 World Championship. There are a few things I think EVERY coach must pay attention to. When Kovacs cuts his right leg to the center, his left arm is long and actually CHANGES direction. This creates an incredible stretch-shortening cycle across his trunk.
Another point of his movement that has NEVER been discussed is his left leg and the action it takes. When his right foot grounds, his left foot is PASSED the right foot. That happens in a decent amount of throwers, BUT Joe is different. His left foot is ahead of his left knee!!! Not only is his left leg that fast, the left knee is WIDE and the foot is ahead of the knee. That means the stretch from his left knee to his left arm is absolutely incredible! This explains how Joe described this part of his throw as, “It almost feels like I am throwing the shot with my left side more than anything.”
3. The Front
Finally, this takes us into the front of the circle. Joe has a finish that is absolutely incredible. Violent and aggressive to say the least! I believe it is important to recognize that a lot of what Joe does in the back and the middle is what enables him to hit the front so well! One thing he does in his throws is open up the left arm very aggressively to enable an even more rapid transfer of his right shoulder forward!
One thing I noticed in his BIG training throws was that he tended to stay on the ground a bit longer at the finish than he did on his 22.91. The scary part behind this aspect is that as Kovacs continues to hone in on his perfection, he still has room to increase his movement! I believe that along with 1-2 other world-class throwers, Kovacs has one of the best technical executions in the history of the sport. Finally, one of the keys to watch on his bombs is his right foot. Notice how his right foot basically slides forward into the toeboard as he reverses. He doesn’t pick it up super high and get all over the circle, instead, he lets the right side to its job and get forward into the finish!
I recommend studying Kovacs’ big throws regularly as much as possible. Out of the 40-50 throws from Kovacs that I have on my phone, I have watched each rep over a thousand times (my wife can attest to this). This helps me understand his movement and further my coaching ability. As coaches, we need to learn from the best and then filter that movement into simple terms for our young athletes to comprehend and build upon! Analyze the back of the circle and how the back sets Joe up for an incredible middle position of the throw. As the middle position is executed, take note of the transition to the front! Find the simple ideas and cues that young athletes can relate to and then pass this technical art on to our next generation of throwing!
"Our aim is to provide concise and concrete education and training on the throws, helping coaches and athletes learn what they need to do to succeed and become champions."
- Dane and Trevor