CFA Basketball Throw Event -- tips for improving your distance

Discussion in 'Military Academy - USMA' started by patentesq, Jan 16, 2011.

  1. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    I am posting this thread with the aim of helping future service academy candidates who might be having trouble with the basketball throw event on the Candidate Fitness Assessment. As you prepare for the CFA, be sure to follow the CFA instructions TO THE LETTER because you don’t want your basketball throw to be disqualified for, say, not having the proper parallel knee placement. Also, the CFA instructions are clear that you have to use the heavier, MEN’s basketball (even if you are a female candidate).

    More important, note that the photos in the CFA instructions do not show the best technique to successfully pass this event – the USMA CFA instructions depict an image of a candidate throwing the ball much like a shot-put contestant (with the ball touching the right cheek of the candidate) and depict a female candidate with the ball in the same plane as her head with the elbow pointing straight down (a position from which you will obtain ZERO leverage from your torso). The USAFA CFA instruction photo is even worse, with the ball appearing to rest on TOP of the candidate’s head! The side-angle-view in the USNA CFA instruction photo is the best, although it doesn’t show the candidate leaning back at all, which as described below, is really important in obtaining maximum throwing distance in this event.

    Remember, if you do not pass the basketball throw event, you will fail the entire CFA!!

    My DS initially had trouble with the basketball throw event and found very little on this website or elsewhere on how to help improve his throwing distance. The one source that was very helpful was the CFA video that can be purchased at www.stewsmith.com (I am not affiliated with this website in any way, other than being a satisfied customer). The CFA video is available for purchase at http://store.stewsmithptclub.com/phfiteclondv.html, there are some really helpful tips for passing each of the CFA-related events. There is also a workout schedule that you can purchase specifically designed to help with each of the CFA events (this is available at http://store.stewsmithptclub.com/miofphfipr.html).

    GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
    The basketball throw event appears to be more of a test of athletic ability than shear arm strength. In the words of the CFA instructions, “The basketball throw measures ability to generate shoulder girdle power and total body coordination and balance from a stationary position.” When you dig into the details of the basketball throw, there seem to be at least five components in play: (1) knee placement, (2) left-arm movement, (3) body torso movement, (4) right-arm movement, and (5) basketball release. The real trick is not ONLY to master each component, but also to get each component moving seamlessly in concert with the other. To do this, you need to build muscle memory, and the only way to do that is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I would think that soccer goalies and javelin throwers would have the easiest time with the basketball throw event, because they have already mastered the combination of these various components to maximize their throwing distance. Baseball, football, or even BASKETBALL players, on the other hand, might have a more difficult time because they have learned to throw a ball differently over the years. And throwing a basketball for the CFA is NOT like throwing a baseball or a football (or even a basketball in a real basketball game). If you try to throw the basketball like a baseball or football, it won’t go as far as it potentially can.

    Also, note that all of your movements have to be EXPLOSIVE. Some of the posters on this board have suggested that screaming during the release of the ball has helped them obtain a higher explosive yield. My DS is not a “screamer,” so he didn’t really do that. But make no mistake that this is NOT a delicate free-throw shot where you are simply trying to get the basketball to land in the basket! It is all about explosive force applied to a basketball in less than a second to make the ball travel the maximum distance possible.

    The other thing to point out is that physics really plays an important role in this event. Your body not only has to take advantage of its muscle and strength, but it also has to use your body frame/skeleton in a way to serve as a fulcrum as the ball is transitioning from one state to another. You should definitely experiment with a variety of techniques and go with whatever works for you. Here’s what worked for my DS.

    (Note: Everything that follows is written from the perspective of a right-handed thrower; if you are left-handed, simply reverse everything concerning right and left arm movements).

    KNEE PLACEMENT
    This is pretty straight forward. You have to spread your knees apart to provide a stable base for everything else you are doing with the rest of your body. You should position your knees a comfortable distance apart. If you use a 1-inch mat to cushion your knees, which is permitted, be sure to have the mat under your feet as well because if your knees are higher in relation to your feet, it will be more difficult to bend your torso backward as far as possible. Or you can simply tough it out and don’t use a mat at all.

    LEFT ARM MOVEMENT
    In this event, put your left arm to work (don’t let it just dangle on your side)! The left arm helps to rotate your body radially as well as forward. Place your left hand (my DS made a fist) over your right clavicle and, in a violent jerking motion, move your left elbow down and to the left to twist your body to the left and to bring your upper torso forward. At first, my DS just used his left elbow to twist his body to the left (with his elbow moving horizontally in relation to the ground). But then he figured out that he could gain a few more feet by jerking the left elbow slightly downward as well, so that the left elbow was not only helping twist his torso to the left but was also helping move the upper torso forward.

    BODY TORSO MOVEMENT
    You must also utilize your torso to master this event – it is NOT simply about arm and shoulder strength. Exercises should be incorporated in your workout routine that are specifically aimed at strengthening your abdominal muscles as well as your lower back muscles (these muscles, surprisingly, will also help enormously with pull-ups). As you arc your body backward, you have to bend back as far as possible – WAY BACK – to provide as much forward movement as possible (it is sort of like an airport runway – the longer the runway, the bigger the plane that can take off on it). As you bring your torso forward, you have to simultaneously twist your torso to the left so that your right shoulder is not only moving forward but also gaining additional speed because you are twisting your body to the left.

    The other thing that has apparently worked for many, including my DS, is to twist your torso from left to right a few times before you throw. This helps build up “rotational energy” that can be released when you actually throw the basketball.

    Here is an important point: My DS improved his distance by no less than 15 feet by simply delaying bringing his right arm forward a split fraction of a second so that his torso was 2/3 of the way twisted to the left and was 2/3 of the way forward before setting the right arm in motion (the final 1/3 happens in both the forward and radial motion when the right arm is actually set into motion). This is a motion that javelin throwers and soccer goalies understand well. Do a search on YouTube for tips designed to help javelin and shot-put throwers and soccer goalies improve their distance. Also check out the video below related to “trebuchet catapulting” action.

    RIGHT ARM MOVEMENT
    First off, the basketball should rest on your wrist and NOT your right palm. Use the fingers of your right throwing arm to balance the ball on your right wrist. If it rests on your palm, then there is a higher likelihood that (1) you won’t be able to bend back as far without having the ball fall out of your hand, and (2) as you release the ball, your palm and fingertips will cause the ball to spin, thereby transferring some of the forward energy that makes the ball go farther to a spinning action which adds nothing to the distance of your throw – even this simple tip can add seven inches to your throw, which can mean the difference between passing or failing the basketball event (distance is recorded to the nearest FOOT, not inch).

    Also, while there is debate about this, my DS figured out that the throwing arm should be fully extended because this will give you the maximum arc possible as you bring the ball forward (if you bend your elbow, the ball will actually be closer to your shoulder and thus will have a tighter arc when you ultimately release the ball – physics informs us that if you have a wider arc in relation to your right shoulder, less force is needed to throw the ball farther when ultimately released). Also, you should delay setting your arm in motion until AFTER you have set your torso in motion (i.e., twisting left and moving forward). This will produce a “trebuchet catapulting” action such as that depicted here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfnJ2Zah8Kg

    The right arm will feel like you are attempting to throw the ball underhanded (sort of like a softball throw, but not quite because you will have your arm extended behind you and you’re facing to the right). As you twist your body to the left, your arm will transition into an overhand throw (it’s just mechanics of how your upper frame rotates).

    BASKETBALL RELEASE
    As mentioned above, you should avoid wasting energy by having the ball spin when you release it. For football quarterbacks, the spin serves a useful purpose because it keeps the odd-shaped football from tumbling, thus increasing both the distance and the accuracy of the throw (much like “rifling” action in a rifle or cannon). But a basketball is round, so the rotation adds nothing.

    The second thing that this really important is that the ball should be released AT A 45 DEGREE ANGLE relative to the ground surface. If you release the ball at a lower angle, gravity will bring the ball into contact with the ground sooner. Similarly, if you exceed the 45 degree angle, while you may obtain greater height, the CFA does not measure height at all and you will obtain a shorter distance than you otherwise could have.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2011
  2. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    CFA Basketball Throw Event -- tips for improving your distance (continued)

    There are some posters who have suggested that horizontal velocity is more important than getting the right angle to maximize distance. I suspect that they are NOT physics majors. Rather, 45 degrees is the way to go, and if you don’t believe me, check out the “Punkin Chunkin” cannons on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjv18oaFYy8. They are ALL aimed at 45 degrees to maximize distance. Of course, you do have to obtain as much velocity as possible when you release the basketball at that angle.

    In the above-mentioned video from Stew Smith (who I understand is actually a USNA graduate and a fitness instructor at USNA), you will see that he uses his left arm to help provide an “aiming point” that is at 45 degrees. The one thing that I can tell you is that what “feels” like 45 degrees is actually 30 degrees! It’s weird. As you practice, you should have a partner stand beside you and observe the angle at which you are actually releasing the ball – you will be surprised to learn how low the angle is with which you really are releasing the ball. As you build muscle memory by throwing the ball over and over again, you will soon learn exactly what 45 degrees feels like. Again, practice is key to mastering the basketball throw event.

    CLOSING THOUGHTS
    As I mentioned above, these are the techniques that my DS used to figure out this event, but others may have other useful tips. If any of the readers on this board has a tip that might help other candidates in the future, I urge you to post them. Hopefully, future candidates won’t find the same dearth of information about this event that exists now and can find this thread with all its follow-on comments.

    Finally, I do have to say that DETERMINATION is very key to passing this event. Throwing a basketball from your knees is incredibly awkward. My DS threw the basketball throw every day for a month and didn’t improve an inch at first (not once in the entire month). In the month that followed, things started to improve because he was simultaneously working out on pull-ups, sit-ups, etc. But it wasn’t until he actually figured out the physics behind the basketball throw event that he saw HUGE improvements in his distance in very rapid succession – first it was two feet, then four feet, then an amazing jump in a single day of sixteen feet (by incorporating the simple technique of delaying his right arm movement until his torso was well in motion)!! I am not going to lie and say he did not get very discouraged along the way – he was. He is only 73” tall and 150 pounds and doesn’t have a football player’s physique (he is more of a track runner than a weight lifter). But his example is proof-positive that if you stick with practicing this event long enough, ANYONE can master it.

    Hopefully, reading this post will cut down the time considerably to make improvements in your basketball throw. Good luck with your candidacy to the service academy and rest assured that you will be serving in a very noble profession on behalf of a very, very grateful nation!

    NOTE TO MODERATORS OF WWW.SERVICEACADEMYFORUMS.COM: I think there really should be a separate board on this website that is specifically devoted to physical fitness issues, and I urge the moderators to take a look at the various possibilities that have been discussed in the “Community Information and Feedback” section of this website. Physical fitness is important for each of the SAs, as well as each of the various ROTC options (AROTC, AFROTC, and NROTC) that members may pursuing on the path to becoming a commissioned officer. After all, DoDMERB has its own board – why not CFA/PFT/PFE?
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2011
  3. oldcorpsdad

    oldcorpsdad Member

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    Practice, Practice, Practice

    I could not agree with this more. DO NOT under estimate the basketball throw. My son breezed through all of the other CFA events and maxed some of them. He assumed the basketball throw would be easy and he failed it and the CFA. He was crushed. Luckily his other scores convinced them to give him another chance. He practiced everyday for weeks. At first he had zero progress and was very frustrated. He tried so many different techniques that his arm was strained and he had to take time off from practicing. He visited every website and forum he could find for tips. Still no progress. He was on the verge of giving up when out of the blue one weekend; he suddenly threw a few feet more. A few days later he threw almost 20 feet further. He had found his perfect combination of twisting, holding, leaning and releasing. You might almost think this part of the test is designed to find the candidates who are motivated and smart enough to practice and figure it out ahead of time. While there are some who will have the natural skill to do this on the first try, do not assume it will be you. Practice, practice, practice. He now has his acceptance letter sitting next to his basketball.
     
  4. 2015USMA

    2015USMA Member

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    Something like this post would have been a TREMENDOUS help for me a year ago when I began training for the CFA. I also hope that a separate forum would be created for the fitness aspects of the SA. The way it is now, the same questions (i.e. how to improve basketball throw) are posted everywhere, why not consolidate it in one forum for future users?
     
  5. jake s

    jake s USMA Cadet

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    the moderators are currently considering a separate CFA/PT forum. there's a thread about it being discussed in the community feedback forum
     
  6. RyWalk

    RyWalk Candidate-2015

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    Thanks for the tips! I can't wait to practice :smile:
     
  7. Derrick

    Derrick USAFA Class of 2015

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    Thoughts before the basketball throw.
    Standing up: "Oh, that's not too far. I should be alright."
    Then I knelt down: "Oh crap, when did the end of the tape measure get so far?"

    As said before, the basketball throw was no joke.
     
  8. goarmytm

    goarmytm USMA 2015

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    I had the same experience. The first time I attempted it I could only throw about 40 something feet. I keep practicing and saw no improvement for about a month. Then out of the blue I picked up 5 feet one day and kept adding more every week. Just keep practicing, eventually your strength and coordination come together. I found best success picturing my body as a trebuchet: maximize the amount of speed I got through rotating my torso while pulling the ball as straight over my head as I could manage. In the end I got 60'.
     
  9. Stealth

    Stealth Warrior from the Start

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    Thank you Patentesq for this extremely informational and well written article about an event that I, and I am sure the majority of candidates out there struggle with. If you do not mind sharing, what did your son end up with for his distance on the CFA? Thanks again!
     
  10. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    First, thank you for your service in Afghanistan. Your road to USMA appears to be MUCH longer than most!

    My DS ultimately threw the ball 56 feet on the CFA. He could have thrown if farther if given more time, but because the CFA accounts for only 10% of the candidate's WCS, he thought he would get a bigger bang out of it by submitting a lower passing score earlier (when more seats are open in the Class) than submitting a higher passing score later (when the Class is almost full). If you do a search on SAF, candidates have passed with even shorter distances.

    For your benefit and others, let me just give you a brief timeline of my DS's "basketball throw experience".

    In the first month, he threw the basketball around 34-36 feet. There was no improvement really at all even though he was working on it every day.

    In the second month, as he gained more strength in his torso, lower back, and arms, he managed to throw the ball 41 feet. Hardly amazing, albeit improved.

    It was at that point when he decided to figure out the physics of the throw and the best technique to use. I kid you not, by applying the technique above, he improved his distance by another 15 feet in less than two weeks! The two points that my DS found most important is (1) delaying the movement of the arm until the rest of the body is in full swing (to produce the "catapulting action"), and (2) keeping the arm straight to maximize the arc while minimizing the amount of pivotal force needed at the right shoulder (this feels a bit like a "hook shot" and makes you feel like you have no control over the ball). The key is to have all of these components in "muscle memory"; once the moves are memorized, then each time you practice you can apply more and more explosive force and thus obtain a maximum distance. The trick is to learn the technique first and then practice it over and over again.

    By reading this post, you could conceivably skip the first two months where my DS was spinning his wheels and improve your scores dramatically in 1-2 weeks (depending how strong you are). No guarantees, though -- this is simply a technique that my DS used.

    Candidly, my DS was a bit surprised that he was having so much trouble with the basketball throw, because he had only slightly lower than average upper-body strength when he started. Since then, he has seen the technique used in many other sports. For example, he was watching professional tennis a few days ago and observed that the tennis pros use this technique of twisting their bodies BEFORE coming forward with the swing to produce this catapulting action and thus hammer the ball much harder. As I mentioned in my OP, soccer goalies and javelin throwers have known this technique for some time.

    Good luck. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!!

    And keep your head down.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2011
  11. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    How can you be certain that a throw of only 56 feet (11 feet shorter than the AVERAGE male applicant throw of 67 ft, or almost 20% shorter) is a passing score?

    :confused:
     
  12. Casey

    Casey USMA 2015

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    I have to agree with patentesq on the kind of throw that's will max out your distance. I am a goalkeeper for soccer so I guess it came more naturally (got 56' the first time, ended up getting over 60' the second time I took the test). The trick for me was to figure out how to stay balanced as the cadets who ran our test were stricter on rules then I would assume your PE teacher would be, especially when it came to that no other part of your body could touch the ground before the ball did. Just a few things that I figured out:

    1) Make sure you have a wide stable base. It'll help when you come over hard with your arm in the rotation to keep you from falling.
    2) I also, slightly angled my body in the direction of my throwing arm as this gives you more rotational room to come through. This went back to the goalkeeping. The max distances you get when throwing a ball are the ones where you can get the max amount of force behind it which is a great part due to your rotation
    3) Keep you arm stiffer; its not a baseball throw or a push out so your elbow should be as straight as you are allowed otherwise A. you may pull something in your back/arm and B. you're losing energy to throw the ball
    4) Snap your wrist at the end, not for rotation but to continue the motion. You'll see a lot of goalkeepers do something similar when they're throwing a ball crossfield

    Anyways, I ended up very happy with my throw as was my cadre when I took it at WP's SLS. I second the taking the CFA as soon as possible that patentesq talks about. Looking back at my scores, I had not prepped for the CFA at SLS and my scores are lower then they would've been otherwise but I had my file completed quickly so that admissions with my passing CFA gave me an appointment. All those people who tell you to finish your file as fast as possible (July for me with one rec that didn't get done til Aug), it'll help you in the long run if just that you'll get seen by the most possible boards
     
  13. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    Because he passed.

    Again, do a search on SAF and you will see that others have passed with even LOWER scores (I think someone passed with 51 feet as I recall). Once you have mastered the technique, you will then have to decide whether waiting another 10 days to gain another 10 feet is worth it. If you are currently having trouble with the basketball throw, you might think you can't improve 10 feet in 10 days, but I will tell you that the improvement is dramatic once you get the technique down.

    I don't know how the whole WCS thing works. But say if the best score a candidate could hope to accrue is 100 points, and the CFA accounts for 10 of those points. Then improving your basketball throw an extra 10 feet could add LESS than ONE POINT to your overall WCS. If your academic record and other credentials are strong enough, then you may conclude that one point won't make that much difference to your WCS, so it might be better to send in the scores earlier when more openings are available in the Class. However, if your other credentials are weaker, then one point can mean all the difference between getting in and not getting in. Each candidate will have a different situation and therefore has to evaluate this on his or her own. I think most will conclude that it is better to get all of your application materials in early than to hold off until you obtain a maximum score on, say, the CFA, because my impression is that the competition gets stiffer and stiffer as the number of available openings get smaller and smaller (this is just my impression -- I have no inside knowledge of this).

    But the big message that I am trying to send here is this: (1) you MUST pass the CFA (but once you do, the actual score will affect some candidates more than others), and (2) start working on the CFA EARLY, get the technique down, and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2011
  14. Some Guy

    Some Guy New Member

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    I definitely would like to second, or third, the importance of practice. I started out at about 30 feet and ended up throwing about 76' for the CFA. I am not some beast either. I only got 46 push ups. I would say that practice is the single most important aspect of this event. You have to coordinate every movement efficiently to get a good distance. I went out at least 3-4 times a week and threw the ball ~20 times. After a week or two I started improving, and after a little over a month I really started doing well.

    All that to say this...
    If you want to improve: go throw. Practice your technique. All you need is a basketball (though having someone to bring the ball back to you is nice too:wink:) and somewhere to throw.

    Also, I recommend doing a few easier "warm up" throws before you practice/workout with the basketball throw, so you don't hurt your shoulder.
     
  15. Some Guy

    Some Guy New Member

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    I second this as well. When I first started the ball had crazy spin, because my hand would slip to the side, or under, the ball. Make sure you maximize your throwing potential by keeping your hand squarely behind the ball and by "snapping your wrist forward" at the end, so you do not trade velocity for spin.
     
  16. goarmytm

    goarmytm USMA 2015

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    From asking people and reading around, the 'unofficial minimums' are approximately as follows for males:

    BB Throw: 50'
    Pull Up: 5
    Shuttle: 11.0s
    Push Up: 46
    Sit Up: 56
    1MR: 7:45

    The average score is well above these, so if you're even close to average, you're good.
     
  17. patentesq

    patentesq Parent

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    The snappping of the wrist is something that my DS didn't try, although he probably should have.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2011
  18. danusna

    danusna Member

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    So what is the min throw my DS threw it 60' will that dissqualify him?
     
  19. freedomtruck

    freedomtruck Member

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    Minimum scores are not known and are not released.
     
  20. BigBear

    BigBear Class of 2015

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    one key thing that has not been mentioned is to stretch! work of stretches that will allow you to open your hips, rotate your core, and explode with power. strecth daily!
    if anyone wants, i will list the stretches that i used to get a pr of 94 feet
     

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