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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Throw like a girl? You can do better.

I thought this was going to be a piece about Johnny Damon.

Around the world, at all ages, boys throw better — a lot better — than girls. Studies of overhand ball throwing across different cultures have found that pre-pubescent girls throw 51 to 69 percent of the distance that boys do, at 51 to 78 percent of the velocity. As they get older, the differences increase; one U.S. study found that girls age 14 to 18 threw only 39 percent as far as boys (an average of about 75 feet vs. about 192 feet). The question is why.

Since boys generally learn to throw young and do more throwing than girls do, it would make sense that they’re better at it, and Thomas acknowledges the nurture component. “The gap is much larger than it should be, and it would be smaller if girls got more practice,” he says.

To try to distinguish nature from nurture, Thomas studied aboriginal Australian children, who grow up in a culture where both men and women hunt, and both sexes throw from childhood. “Our hypothesis was that [the aboriginal] girls would be better throwers and not as different from the boys as in European, Chinese, Australian and all the U.S. cultures.”

The data bore him out. Aboriginal girls threw tennis balls at 78.3 percent of the velocity of boys — closer to boys than in most other cultures, but still significantly slower. (Throwing distance wasn’t measured.)

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 19, 2012 at 12:46 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baseball, gender, science, throwing, women in baseball

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   1. Morty Causa Posted: September 19, 2012 at 02:14 PM (#4240206)
Did you know that War and Peace was originally entitled Girls--What Are They Good for!?
   2. jacjacatk Posted: September 19, 2012 at 02:57 PM (#4240263)
A significant portion of throwing velocity (at least with a baseball/softball throw) comes from core and lower body strength. Even if you fix any "nurture" issues with mechanics, you're not going to get past the point that once puberty kicks in males are going to be substantially stronger on average than females, and I'm not sure why that would be surprising.

Anecdotally, in well-trained pre-pubescent kids I'm not sure there's a huge difference (based on the handful of girls I've seen playing baseball alongside my sons in those ages) and that might be an interesting comparison to look for any actual physiological differences. Good luck finding a large sample of 6-11 year old girls who have been taught reasonably decent mechanics or given the same opportunities to learn on their own alongside the boys, though.
   3. dave h Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:04 PM (#4240270)
If you read the article, they point out that there are large differences in distance and velocity before the strength disparity really kicks in. So much of throwing is technique - I would expect the correlation between strength and velocity for non-baseball players would be pretty weak. It's once everyone is pretty much on the same page for mechanics that strength really shows up. I can throw much harder than lots of people on my softball team who are stronger than me, but that's not true on a reasonable-level baseball team. It's also easy to identify (as the article did) exactly what the mechanical differences are, and why they would produce different results.
   4. SoSH U at work Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:05 PM (#4240274)
Good luck finding a large sample of 6-11 year old girls who have been taught reasonably decent mechanics or given the same opportunities to learn on their own alongside the boys, though.


Considering the popularity of softball, and the age at which girls start playing, I don't think it would be that hard to find girls that age with reasonably decent mechanics.
   5. esseff Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:11 PM (#4240281)
Insert Hunter Pence wisecrack here.
   6. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:11 PM (#4240283)
It's once everyone is pretty much on the same page for mechanics that strength really shows up. I can throw much harder than lots of people on my softball team who are stronger than me, but that's not true on a reasonable-level baseball team. It's also easy to identify (as the article did) exactly what the mechanical differences are, and why they would produce different results.


But there are a lot of pitchers on MLB teams that don't strike me as the strongest guys on the team.
   7. Biscuit_pants Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:24 PM (#4240302)
But there are a lot of pitchers on MLB teams that don't strike me as the strongest guys on the team.
Flexibility and lower body strength play a large role in pitching. Plus I am sure there are some position players who would be the hardest throwers on their team if that is what they concentrated on from a young age. Shawon Dunston would have been hitting 100 if it weren’t for the fact that he couldn’t always throw in the general direction of his target.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:26 PM (#4240305)
But there are a lot of pitchers on MLB teams that don't strike me as the strongest guys on the team.


Are guys like Billy Wagner really strong at other things too, or are they strictly good at throwing a ball?

I would expect that the gap is larger in the US than in most other countries. I have certainly met many European men that throw like a girl.
   9. Random Transaction Generator Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:28 PM (#4240308)
The page isn't coming up for me for some reason, but does the report also measure accuracy?
When I think of the phrase "throw like a girl", it's the idea that the mechanics are so out of whack (elbow gone wild) that the ball goes absolutely nowhere it is supposed to (too short, too far, wide left/right), and often either just spiked directly in front of the thrower (Raul Ibanez!) or 10 feet over the person who is supposed to catch it.
   10. flournoy Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:34 PM (#4240318)
Good luck finding a large sample of 6-11 year old girls who have been taught reasonably decent mechanics or given the same opportunities to learn on their own alongside the boys, though.


I coach youth javelin throwing, for both boys and girls. Will that do? I like to think that I teach reasonably decent mechanics.

Some numbers that I can give you off the top of my head:

7-8 year olds (300 gram mini-javelin):
Boys: Decent throw: 14-17 meters. Good throw: 18-21 meters. Elite throw: 22+ meters.
Girls: Decent: 8-10m. Good: 11-14m. Elite: 15+m.

9-10 year olds (300g):
Boys: Decent: 20-24m. Good: 25-29m. Elite: 30+m.
Girls: Decent: 12-15m. Good: 16-19m. Elite: 20+m.

11-12 year olds (300g):
Boys: Decent: 25-28m. Good: 29-33m. Elite: 34+m.
Girls: Decent: 16-19m. Good: 20-24m. Elite: 25+m.

13-14 year olds (600g javelin):
Boys: Decent: 31-35m. Good: 36-40m. Elite: 41+m.
Girls: Decent: 22-26m. Good: 27-31m. Elite: 32+m.

15-16 year olds (800g for boys, 600g for girls):
Boys: Decent: 34-38m. Good: 39-42m. Elite: 43+m.
Girls: Decent: 24-28m. Good: 29-33m. Elite: 34+m.

17-18 year olds (800g/600g):
Boys: Decent: 37-41m. Good: 42-46m. Elite: 47+m.
Girls: Decent: 26-31m. Good: 32-36m. Elite: 37+m.


Take that for what it's worth. But the spread in throwing ability is pretty wide across all ages.
   11. Athletic Supporter can feel the slow rot Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:37 PM (#4240323)
When I think of the phrase "throw like a girl", it's the idea that the mechanics are so out of whack (elbow gone wild) that the ball goes absolutely nowhere it is supposed to (too short, too far, wide left/right), and often either just spiked directly in front of the thrower (Raul Ibanez!) or 10 feet over the person who is supposed to catch it.


This one. "Throwing like a girl" has a very precise biomechanical meaning (well, I'm sure you can make it precise, I am just in the "you know it when you see it". There are boys that throw like girls and girls that don't throw like girls, but idiomatically that's what it means, not strength. The same thing, by the way, is true in basketball -- even at the WNBA level, most female players have very different mechanics (sort of shotputting the ball), to the extent that it's very noticeable when a female basketball player "plays like a guy" (Candace Parker and Maya Moore both do this). Again, that does not mean that a WNBA player is worse than (say) a high school male player -- it's just different.
   12. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:39 PM (#4240327)
But there are a lot of pitchers on MLB teams that don't strike me as the strongest guys on the team.
Also, Rafael Furcal.
   13. jack the seal clubber (on the sidelines of life) Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:40 PM (#4240330)
I have certainly met many European men that throw like a girl


Several of whom were not even French.
   14. SoSH U at work Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:45 PM (#4240335)
Take that for what it's worth. But the spread in throwing ability is pretty wide across all ages.


That's surprising. I would have expected the gap to narrow in those middle age ranges (11-12, 13-14), as the girls begin to develop faster than the boys. I've found that to be the case in other youth sports.

   15. Biscuit_pants Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:46 PM (#4240338)
Several of whom were not even French.
Belgium?
   16. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:50 PM (#4240343)

The page isn't coming up for me for some reason, but does the report also measure accuracy?
When I think of the phrase "throw like a girl", it's the idea that the mechanics are so out of whack (elbow gone wild) that the ball goes absolutely nowhere it is supposed to (too short, too far, wide left/right), and often either just spiked directly in front of the thrower (Raul Ibanez!) or 10 feet over the person who is supposed to catch it.


No, just velocity and distance, but you raise a good point.

Plus I am sure there are some position players who would be the hardest throwers on their team if that is what they concentrated on from a young age. Shawon Dunston would have been hitting 100 if it weren’t for the fact that he couldn’t always throw in the general direction of his target.


Yea, but Shawon Dunston doesn't strike me as an exceptionally strong athlete either.

I always had a great arm compared to my contemporaries, but I was almost always the weakest member of the team in the weight room. I have to think mechanics and leg strength are the two biggest factors for how well you can throw, while overall strength is not much of a factor. I don't agree with you that everyone at the pro level is on the same level in terms of mechanics. I think it makes a huge difference that a guy like Tim Lincecum has the mechanics that he has.
   17. flournoy Posted: September 19, 2012 at 03:56 PM (#4240348)
That's surprising. I would have expected the gap to narrow in those middle age ranges (11-12, 13-14), as the girls begin to develop faster than the boys. I've found that to be the case in other youth sports.


It narrows a little bit, in terms of girls' percentage of the boys' throws, as I think the number I wrote above would bear out. Most accurately, I think you could say the boys' advantage stagnates for a few years. They start with a big advantage, and then maintain it for a while, and then the advantage starts growing again.

EDIT: And to be clear, I did just come up with those number from the seat of my pants, so if I take a deeper look at them, I may take away a meter here and add a meter there, but they're fairly representative, I think. I have a pretty good handle on relative quality of throws across the age groups.
   18. John DiFool2 Posted: September 19, 2012 at 04:06 PM (#4240357)
Dragging out this old anecdote of mine because it is fully on topic.

I was at Cedar Point, where you get to throw three baseballs and attempt to match your own velocity so as to win a batting helmet or somesuch. Feeling fairly content with myself after hitting 64 on the gun, this little wisp of a teenage girl walks up and starts throwing 87 MPH heat. The jaws of all the males observing this (including mine) had to be scraped up off the pavement.
   19. puck Posted: September 19, 2012 at 04:12 PM (#4240360)
There's a science museum in the Toronto that has a sports section. Lots of (presumably) Canadian men had trouble throwing. They did alright on the slapshot speed gun, though.
   20. Juan Uribe Marching and Chowder Society Posted: September 19, 2012 at 04:26 PM (#4240368)
I'm not sure if this helps at all, but I seem to remember that competitive swimming time standards for 11-12 year old girls were FASTER than those for 11-12 year old boys.
   21. SoSH U at work Posted: September 19, 2012 at 04:31 PM (#4240376)

I'm not sure if this helps at all, but I seem to remember that competitive swimming time standards for 11-12 year old girls were FASTER than those for 11-12 year old boys.


Yes, they are. The swing is pretty dramatic, and more of what I expected to see in flournoy's numbers.

I'm just delighted that 13-year-old SoSHalina can still launch a soccer throw-in farther than any boy or girl in CYO soccer.
   22. thetailor Posted: September 19, 2012 at 04:48 PM (#4240387)
From the article, the part that I felt was most interesting:

“Men threw rocks, and, if you could throw well, you got the women,” Thomas points out. “Women did the gathering, and often brought a baby with them. People have speculated that [one-piece] rotation came from women having to throw while holding a baby.”


One piece rotation referring to the rotation of the hips and shoulders rotating simultaneously ... in contract to the men, who rotate the hips and then shoulders, generating more power.
   23. Cris E Posted: September 19, 2012 at 06:24 PM (#4240475)
Well if it's Throw Like a Girl Day then it must be time to bring out the old James Fallows piece on this very topic.

The challenge, I suppose, is like that of writing a manual on how to ride a bike, or how to kiss. Indeed, the most useful description I've found of the mechanics of throwing comes from a man whose specialty is another sport: Vic Braden made his name as a tennis coach, but he has attempted to analyze the physics of a wide variety of sports so that they all will be easier to teach.

Fallows says that of the many things he's written about in his career this was the single most fun he ever had on a story.

[url="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/08/throwing-like-a-girl/306152"]Throwing Like a Girl
Throwing style is not determined by biology—anyone can learn to throw like an athlete[/url]

   24. Lassus Posted: September 19, 2012 at 06:34 PM (#4240490)
It was always a point of pride for my mom that she had a better arm than over half the loudmouth mopes who coached little league where I grew up.


As far as the physical physical implications of "throwing like a girl", I had a really good (male) friend who did. I think it has a lot to do with being taught. His father had no interest and he basically learned from himself, and I'm seeing this in a good friend's 9-year-old son as well. My dad and mom taught my sister equally as they did me and my brother, and she has a perfectly natural throwing motion indistinguishable from any (athletic) male.
   25. charityslave is thinking about baseball Posted: September 19, 2012 at 07:29 PM (#4240566)
My dad had zero interest in any sport, except boxing. He used to play catch with me sometimes, though, and he threw underhand (with a wind up, a-la a softball pitcher). I can remember working hard in pee wee ball to throw like a boy.
   26. Greg Maddux School of Reflexive Profanity Posted: September 19, 2012 at 08:07 PM (#4240590)
Well if it's Throw Like a Girl Day then it must be time to bring out the old James Fallows piece on this very topic.

It remains as awful as ever.

Even women's tennis is a constant if indirect reminder that men's and women's shoulders are "hinged" the same way. The serving motion in tennis is like a throw—but more difficult, because it must be coordinated with the toss of the tennis ball. The men in professional tennis serve harder than the women, because they are bigger and stronger. But women pros serve harder than most male amateurs have ever done, and the service motion for good players is the same for men and women alike. There is no expectation in college or pro tennis that because of their anatomy female players must "serve like a girl."


Utter horseshit. The most distinct difference between men's and women's tennis is the quality of serving. WTA serves that could be described as good number in the single digits.
   27. with Glavinesque control and Madduxian poise Posted: September 20, 2012 at 12:28 AM (#4240765)
Even women's tennis is a constant if indirect reminder that men's and women's shoulders are "hinged" the same way. The serving motion in tennis is like a throw—but more difficult, because it must be coordinated with the toss of the tennis ball. The men in professional tennis serve harder than the women, because they are bigger and stronger. But women pros serve harder than most male amateurs have ever done, and the service motion for good players is the same for men and women alike. There is no expectation in college or pro tennis that because of their anatomy female players must "serve like a girl."


Utter horseshit. The most distinct difference between men's and women's tennis is the quality of serving. WTA serves that could be described as good number in the single digits.


Look at precisely what he said. The men serve harder because they're bigger and stronger, but women professionals serve harder than most male amateurs have ever done. I was a pretty successful junior competitive tennis player, but my big serve came late with growth. I doubt I've topped 105 mph though; I know at 17 the hardest I got it to register was 102 or so. Most amateurs certainly serve much less hard than I do, and I would imagine that at least 75% of women professionals can serve harder than that.

EDIT: also, the claim about "the most distinct difference between men's and women's tennis" was true pre-Federer and particularly in the late 90s-early 2000s, but I think the most distinct difference now is athleticism and speed. You are seriously underrating the number of hard servers on the WTA tour; it's not just the Williams anymore.
   28. base ball chick Posted: September 20, 2012 at 12:50 AM (#4240773)
i don't understand

IF pre-pubertal children are the same size, why, IF you teach females to throw with the proper hip then shoulder motion are they not able to throw as hard or as far? exactly what is defective?

is there an actual difference in the strength of the exact same muscle of the exact same size and weight?

i know i've asked this before and have not got any answer
   29. with Glavinesque control and Madduxian poise Posted: September 20, 2012 at 01:00 AM (#4240780)
i don't understand

IF pre-pubertal children are the same size, why, IF you teach females to throw with the proper hip then shoulder motion are they not able to throw as hard or as far? exactly what is defective?

is there an actual difference in the strength of the exact same muscle of the exact same size and weight?

i know i've asked this before and have not got any answer

Page two of the article proposes that it's something neurological that actually prevents women from getting proper separation between the hip and shoulder rotations.

Money paragraph:

The power in an overhand throw — and in a golf swing, a tennis serve or a baseball swing — comes from the separate turning of hips and shoulders. The hips rotate forward and the body opens, and then the shoulders snap around. Women tend to rotate their hips and shoulders together, and even expert women throwers don’t get the differential that men get. “The one-piece rotation is the biggest difference,” says Thomas. “It keeps women from creating speed at the hand.” Even when women learn to rotate hips and shoulders separately, they don’t do it as fast as men.
   30. base ball chick Posted: September 20, 2012 at 01:19 AM (#4240795)
you mean the nerves are different? or something is wrong with them so that they are not able to move as fast? how is that possible? do nerves work different in males and females? i don't know much medicine but best i know males and females are given the same kind of nerve medicines and the same doses
   31. RollingWave Posted: September 20, 2012 at 04:17 AM (#4240820)
Belgium?


Well, Belgium was part of Medieval France.

   32. Bhaakon Posted: September 20, 2012 at 05:16 AM (#4240822)
you mean the nerves are different? or something is wrong with them so that they are not able to move as fast? how is that possible? do nerves work different in males and females? i don't know much medicine but best i know males and females are given the same kind of nerve medicines and the same doses


I don't think he means a chemical difference in nerve function on cellular level, just that the nerves that rotate the hips and shoulders are hard-wired to work in tandem in women in a way that's difficult or impossible to completely overcome. Kind of like how your body forces you to close your eyes when you sneeze, except correlated with gender.

But the researcher is spit-balling because he can't find a more obvious physiological cause for the observed effect, so I wouldn't put too much faith in it.

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