Editors note: Sarah Hokom is a guest co-author for this post.
The disc golf throwing technique that goes by the names ‘sidearm’, ‘forehand’, ‘flick’ and ‘two-finger’ is the primary (or only) driving method for some players, a useful tool for others, and an enigma for many. Personally I fall into the second group, and before that spent many years with zero confidence in my sidearm shot. Sarah Hokom, on the other hand, is the poster child for the forehand throw, so between us we should be able to speak to the perspective of pretty much everyone who wants to add this shot to her or his arsenal.
We’ll start with Sarah’s detailed breakdown of all the components of proper sidearm technique, followed by some great miscellaneous tips she throws in as afterthoughts. I’ll then add a few of the ‘aha’ moments I recall having when my forehand finally began to improve.
Sidearm grip according to Sarah
Place your palm up and make a “gun” with your middle finger, pointer finger and thumb. Tuck the disc into the space between the pointer and thumb (pointer/middle on bottom, thumb on top). Feel the inner rim on the underside of the disc with the side of your middle finger. Secure your grip with your thumb on the top of the disc, near where your pointer finger knuckle is on the underside. The other two fingers can simply rest on the edge of the disc or be tucked underneath- whichever feels more natural. The grip should be firm but wrist should be flexible in order to create the “whip” during your stroke.
Footwork/Hips according to Sarah
For a right handed player, line up the left side of your body with your intended trajectory (you will be standing sideways on the tee with the right side of your body closest to the back of the tee). Take a step with your left to initiate the footwork, then replace the left foot with the right foot in a low sliding motion, exploding forward off the right foot onto the left foot, rotating your hips forward to face your target as you throw the shot. Finish the shot by releasing your right foot during your follow through. If possible, get low during the release point to maximize the use of your lower muscle groups and create added power.
Arm Motion/Hips according to Sarah
Grab the disc with a sidearm grip and cock your wrist back as far as possible. Reach your arm back with the disc slightly wing-down and your forearm as flat as possible. Bring your arm through in a straight line with the disc flat in a whip-like fashion slightly leading with your elbow. As your arm comes through, your hips should rotate to face your target. It’s very important that your elbow be tucked close to your body in the middle of your stroke to avoid injury, but as you release the elbow should extend and arm should follow through toward your target. Finish the shot by pointing your throwing hand at your target.
Sarah’s miscellaneous tips
- The motion is difficult to break down into words but sometimes visualizing a similar motion that is familiar to you can help you find your sidearm. Try to tap into memories of hitting a forehand shot in tennis, fielding a ground ball and throwing a sidearm to first base in baseball, or even skipping a rock on a lake.
- Video yourself trying to throw sidearm and notice how your body positioning and arm-swing vary from experienced sidearm throwers and the techniques outlined here.
- Typically sidearm throwers prefer more stable discs, so start with a stable driver and adjust the disc choice as your technique improves.
- Start without footwork, and get comfortable with the disc coming through your body flat and snapping your wrist to your target. Then, incorporate your hips/core and adjust your swing so the disc comes through your body flat. Finally, add the footwork, adjust your swing again and develop a rhythm that works for you.
- As you develop more snap and learn to increase power from your feet and through your hips and core, your stroke will naturally change and you will have to constantly adjust the angles your throw and disc stabilities you choose.
Jack’s breakthrough moments
After years of having a forehand shot that I used only in situations where there was absolutely no other option – due to my lack of confidence in it – I finally asked my friend Alan for advice. Like most other former Ultimate players he has a refined and accurate sidearm. Two of the things he pointed out immediately resonated with me, and when put into action produced instant results. They are the reason I don’t hesitate to throw sidearm when makes the most sense and even off the tee occasionally, so hopefully they help readers who have the same chronic flaws I had.
First of all, my friend Alan reminded me of how much harder it is to get a smooth, clean release (as opposed to wobbly) compared to the backhand shot. This is a problem as a wobbly disc is more likely to turn over, especially into a headwind when the wind will magnify the effect. Also, we have a natural tendency to turn the wrist over after release rather than keeping the palm facing up. This is especially true of those who have played baseball or softball. Due to both these factors a common flaw is to turn the disc over too much and/or too soon.
The most important correction to minimize this problem is to focus on keeping the palm facing upward upon release of the disc rather than rolling it over (rotating counter-clockwise for a right-handed player). I find that tilting both my torso and head inward (see photos above) helps to reinforce this as I am trying to keep the disc on the same angle.
And speaking of angle, I will often do two things to compensate for the increased likelihood of the disc turning over: First, I still throw a more overstable disc than I would for the same shot thrown backhand (although for expert sidearm throwers this may not be necessary); and second, I will increase the hyzer angle. These are both crutches that can be reduced or removed as technique and form improves. As Sarah notes above you’ll find yourself continually fine-tuning, which is a sign of progress.
The other major flaw my friend helped me correct is something common to many players, and is likely the biggest reason for a wobbly vs. clean release. When I pulled the disc back I would curl it to the point where the edge of the disc was perpendicular (opposite of parallel) to the ground and the line on which I wanted to ultimately throw. The problem with that habit is that it is very difficult to get the disc back on the correct line in the short burst required for a sidearm throw. The result is a loss of power, loss of aim and accuracy, and that wobbly flight.
To correct this I now focus on keeping the disc on the correct line and angle as I reach back, performing a couple slow practice strokes to reinforce the importance of this aspect of the throw. Also, by keeping my elbow tucked in close to my body (as Sarah instructs) the amount of reach-back I can get is limited- which is a good thing. It’s easier to keep the line and angle correct with a shorter reach-back, and since most of the power in generated from the snap, little if any distance is sacrificed.
There is one more thing I usually have to point out when giving lessons to those who struggle with the forehand shot. The hand should be holding the front edge of the disc, not the side of the disc closest to the body. This is important as it helps generate much-needed snap and spin. If the hand holds the side of the disc it will either come out with minimal spin, at a wildly incorrect trajectory, or both.
A big thanks to Sarah for sharing her tips with us. Be sure to check our her website at SarahHokom.com.
Any evidence of the sidearm throw producing more spin? I have been under the impression that sidearm throws have more armspeed and less spin. As spin stabilizes the flight of a disc, a more over stable disc is needed to compensate for the arm speed.
I believe the article says forearm produces more spin. Very directly spelled out actually.
The article is wrong. Sidearm generates a lesser spin vs speed ratio. Johnny is correct about spin stabilizing the flight.
I didn’t want to be putting false info out there (and will update the post itself as soon as I am able) but Johnny and Trey were right. It isn’t increased spin that makes forehand shots more likely to turn over but rather the wobbles that result from it being harder to get a smooth, clean release. Overstable discs act as a crutch to counterbalance the wobbly flight.
The basic fact that most players throw more overstable discs sidearm than backhand is true, but not because of increased spin. Sorry!
Great article guys! Thanks for putting this together and sharing. I’m going to see what I can do to learn and adopt this technique. This is totally an aspect of my game that I am missing and have wanted to develop. Until now, I have compensated by learning to throw similar throws with an under stable RHBH throw which is often still not sufficient for what I needed.
I too only use the forehand shot when absolutely necessary, because I just don’t have the confidence in the shot that I do with either a backhand or hammer throw. I never seem to get the distance with forehand that I can with the backhand, and I definitely don’t get the accuracy of a backhand with my forehand shots.
Some great tips in this article though. i’m gonna practice them this afternoon. Keep the disc parallel to the ground on the wind up and keeping the elbow close to the body are two great pointers.
I get really great distance with backhand throws. Just hope I can someday throw accurate forehanders as well.
Thanks for putting this up. I have been throwing the sidearm for years but always used one finger under the disc instead of two. I find that I can get some pretty good accuracy but have a lot less power than my backhand. Does the two finger under the lip style grip really yield that much more power?
All I throw is side arm or forehand and I use two fingers to throw. It helps stabilize the snap and keep that wobble out. It is hard to perfect. I did on my own out of lack of anyone to learn from. Can be really accurate 400 ft and under
Patrick, I don’t think using two fingers vs. one yields a great deal more power so much as some of the other tips outlined by Sarah. In general, most players cannot throw sidearm as far as backhand but by incorporating the various elements listed there should at least be some increase in power in addition to the improved accuracy. Thanks for the comment!
Great article with many useful tips. As an average athlete with 15 years of Ultimate and DG forehands under the belt, I hope I can offer a couple of things for beginners and other ‘Frustrated Flickers’. There are several parts to a full driver flick and it is VERY hard to get them all together right from the start. I would completely ignore the power tips until you just get it flying flat and true.
First of all, grab a disc while reading this before going out to throw. Start by standing still, mostly sideways, but with your front foot turned so can flex forward. Focus on just your forearm and the wrist flick. Most of the power is in just those 2 moving parts, and even top pros like Sarah keep that elbow near their side. As Jack emphasizes, do NOT turn your hand over. Follow through with the hand still under the disc.
BTW: While most DG players do prefer the grip shown above, with 2 fingers pressed forward for power, you might try the Ultimate grip too. (The middle finger is split away from the rim, like a peace sign, and the thumb presses down between the 2 fingers from the top.) There is a little loss of power there as you can’t cock your wrist as far back. But this very average 56 year old throws it 350′, so it’ll get the job done and may be easier to control.
Now go outside and lets throw. Use a fairly flat disk: correcting with a super stable or understable disc just reinforces bad technique. Watch your results. If it won’t spin, or wobbles a lot, focus on just the wrist flick at first. Next up, is it diving hard right or left? Just like a backhand, you can hyzer more by lowering your arm angle. Raise your arm a bit for more anhyzer. But the worst habit is ‘throwing’ with your shoulder instead of flicking with your forearm. This is usually from trying to throw it into the next county. The main deadly clue is if you turn hard left/anhyzer into the dirt.
I hope some of this helps, especially those who have found it hard to get any flick going at all. At the least, you should find yourself with an answer when a backhand just won’t work. Once you get those little flick recoveries ‘in the bag’, adding power will be much easier.
I love the accuracy I achieve with the forehand, but I have to use it judiciously – only for shorter shots- since I get the equivalent of bone bruising (sore fingers) when I try to use it frequently – including powered driving.
Any tips on avoiding fatigue and/or bruising from the side-arm?
Thanks for the tips, will be trying these for sure, certainly would like to have a reliable flick , thanks again