Pre-Pass Mistake

I often reflect back on my coaching evolution and cringe at some of the things I’ve taught. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I can look back and understand some coaching points impacting the throw negatively in ways that I didn’t fully comprehend.  As a private trainer/coach, my offseason goal was to work on my craft (during football season). I needed to match the same expectations I would put on the athletes I trained. The goal was to assess the way I coached everything and try to find a better way to teach it. Although this was not fun for my ego, I quickly learned that if you want to be a great teacher, you must continue to be a student.


Pre-pass is how you hold the ball before the throw. Frequently in the quarterback coaching world, specific areas seem to attract more attention than others. I think this is a function of green/rookie coaches and what might be the perceived most natural adjustment to make your QB better, faster. Pre-pass, long debated and overcoached is always a coach’s favorite spot to start. Ensuring that you sound like a coach, it is a natural place show off your coaching skills. “Get the ball up by your ear Johny, you’ll have a quicker release if you do it” – but mostly the correction is given without reason. It’s just what you have to do. High pre-pass has also become daddy’s go to coaching adjustment. Simply put, the expectation to have a quicker release is falsely achieved by elevating the ball higher starting point.

Before and after.

Aaron Rodgers before and after.

So what are the issues with a high and rigid pre-pass? What most coaches do is instruct the QB to raise the ball past the collarbone level and start with a preloaded position closer to the back shoulder. I’ve seen many with the ball as high as the ear level. By doing this, you create tension, lots of it! The justification from the coach is that the release will be quicker. This assumption is made because the ball is placed higher, that it will fly out of your hand faster.

What happens? You create unnecessary tension and even if the release path is “quicker” you’re going to reduce the optimal release length that you would get with a normal starting position.Think of it like this; you are trading quickness and stiffness for speed and fluidity. Another interesting observation is that athletes who have their pre-pass above their collarbone struggle to move efficiently as an athlete. Try running with your hands by your ears. It won’t feel remotely good. I recommend as a coach you experiment with this one. To understand more about this subject, I asked a question about tension as it regards to throwing to a very well respected coach, James Smith. Below is an excerpt from his answer. You can read more about James here.

“Now consider a baseball pitcher on the mound, if he generates more tension in his body than is necessary to support the optimal kinematic motion going into the wind up, then this ‘more than optimal’ tension is going to disrupt the kinematic sequence not only in terms of position/geometry but also inhibit the fluidity of the movement and ultimately the acceleration of the arm. You can think of relaxation vs tension in terms of ‘slack’. In the context of ballistic contractions, the degree of available ‘slack’ in the muscles is related to their ability to contract and accelerate the limbs at the highest possible rate. By analogy, consider the construction of a whip: if it is made out of materials that are too resistant to deformation (hence too rigid/stiff) the whip loses the ability to accelerate resultant of its deformation and ultimately requires more effort from the user to move it through space (the more rigid it is, the longer the lever).”

Essentially, when you create tension in your pre-pass, you’re preventing an efficient release. You turn a fluid whip into a rigid stick. The mistake of potentially having a quicker release results making your quarterback robotic in their movement. What you’ve done is replaced a fluid naturally timed movement with an over coached action. Length is good, it allows for momentum and speed. Taking this concept one step further, we can talk about length-tension relationships for muscles. When listening to Just Fly Sports Performance Podcast with guest Justin Moore speaking about posture and strength, he explains how this concept affects muscular performance. “A muscle is going to contract optimally and will produce force optimally at its resting length. If it’s too long and too eccentrically, oriented it’s going to have a really hard time contracting.” Mainly, the brain has to work overtime to fire the muscles affecting the stretch reflex. If a muscle is already contracted, then its movement potential restricted because it’s contracted.

I will add this recommendation. When making an athlete change his high pre-pass to a lower more relaxed one he wont like it at all. There will be a feeling of looseness. Change for quarterbacks with a starting position can be tough. Thats why I recommend not messing it up in the first place.

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My goal is to help coaches and athletes get the most out of their potential and training. I think if we (coaches) continually challenge ourselves to improve our coaching techniques, we’ll continue to move the chains in our development and therefore the athlete’s progress. It’s not fun to change; it’s not fun to admit you were wrong. By no means do I think I have all the answers, but I’m sure going to try to find them.