But learning how to throw a football accurately and consistently is actually one of the most difficult parts of the game. It’s much more than simply tossing around the ole’ pigskin in the backyard. To throw the perfect football, you want to be able to throw a powerful, yet controlled, pass at a moment's notice.
Luckily, NFL FLAG has your back, whether you’re a player or a coach.
To teach you how to throw a football, we put together a step-by-step guide that will help even the most inexperienced player, or coach, become a master quarterback.
Believe it or not, there’s an incorrect way to hold the football. Let’s start our guide with how to properly grip the ball before a pass.
When you pick up or receive the football, spin it so that the laces are on top. Cup your thumb beneath the ball and place your four fingers on top by the laces.
The number of fingers you put on the laces is a personal preference. Quarterbacks vary between two, three, and four fingers on the laces, with the remaining fingers placed behind the laces, closer to your body. Choose how many fingers you want on the laces by the level of comfort and control you want when gripping the football. There is no wrong answer here—just make sure you have the laces on top and are using them to help grip and control the ball.
We recommend trying various grips ahead of time during pre-season practices, so you can figure out what works best for you when throwing a football.
Once you find the perfect football grip, lift it above your shoulder. This height allows for a quick release when it's needed. Putting your arm too low limits your range of motion and makes it easier for defensive players to knock down passes. No one likes an interception, after all.
Pro-tip: When learning how to throw a football, we don’t recommend using a sidearm motion. While it may look snazzy in video games, it’s actually bad for a player’s shoulder and a less accurate throwing technique.
Next, make sure your shoulders are squared and facing your target. Once your shoulders are in the correct position, take a step with the foot opposite of your throwing arm to your intended receiver, building kinetic movement and momentum. Using this foot also acts as a buffer from the defense as you prep your throw.
As you take a step forward, pull the ball behind your head, still keeping the laces on top, and then pull it forward past your head. Continue to follow through until your throwing arm is at around a 90-degree angle before releasing. Remember to follow through all the way—don’t stop the motion of your arm when you release the ball.
As you release, flick or pop your wrist downward, almost like you are shooting a basketball. This motion will help you create the desired, and accurate, spiral effect. Your exact release point, though, will change based on how far you’re throwing the ball. For example, shorter passes require a release point closer to your ear and a greater follow through to gain enough speed. Long, deep passes, on the other hand, are typically released further back behind your head to create an arch and go the distance needed.
Pro-tip: Having a hard time remembering to follow through with your throwing arm? Think of it like a golf swing—it wouldn’t make sense to stop the golf club at the ball. You want the full swing, and full momentum.
Learning how to properly throw a football takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you flop the first go. The process will require trial and error to test out different hand grips, ball release points, and the amount of power you want to put behind the throw. Do you want three fingers on the laces? Are you releasing too far behind your head for short distance throws? It takes time to figure out your pro formula.
Objective: The main objective of the one knee drill is to focus on the fundamental techniques of throwing a football. By grounding yourself on a knee, you can better focus on your grip of the football, as well as posture and release.
Set up: To execute this drill properly, you need two players. Since this drill is about technique rather than throwing distance or speed, the players can be close to each other, about 10 to 15 yards apart. Each player should then assume the position of the drill, kneeling on one knee.
Directions: The two players should throw the football back and forth, while remaining on one knee. During this drill, take extra care on focusing on the fundamentals of how to properly throw a football. You can also test out different grip positions and release angles, so you can find your signature football throw. After 10 or so throws back and forth, you should alternate knees.
Tips: Move your torso back and forth while throwing the football, as to mimic the movement you will experience during the game. This will help you better prepare for executing passes while running or dodging defensive players.
Objective: The objective of the two knee drill is the same as the one knee drill—focus on technique and fundamental skills. However, by grounding both knees, this drill requires you to put more force behind the ball, as your range of motion is limited.
Set up: To run this drill, have two players kneel on both knees 10 to 15 yards apart from each other.
Directions: Like the one knee drill, two players will pass the ball back and forth. But in this drill, you’re grounded on both knees. Remember to focus on football grips, releases, and targeting. Additionally, shift your shoulders and body back and forth during the drill, to mimic some of the movement you will experience during traditional gameplay.
Tips: While this exercise is focused on building the fundamentals of how to throw a football, it also helps your receiving skills as well. Two for one bonus!
If you’re looking to learn how to throw a football farther, perfecting your form is the best place to start. Review our step-by-step guide on how to properly throw a football to revisit proper grip, stance, and release form. By consistently using the same form, you’ll build the core and arm strength you need to throw at a greater distance.
Even more, it helps to have the laws of physics on your side. Practice moving—both stepping and running—into a pass. When you build momentum, more kinetic energy flows into the ball, resulting in a farther throw. And even though you might be limited in your movements during an actual game, you should always try to step into a pass.
At the end of the day, practice makes perfect. Before gametime, make sure to practice all of your playbook routes to build up strength for various field positions. If you’re looking to specifically build throw length, put an emphasis on practicing fly routes.
Throwing the perfect spiral is all about the follow-through. When throwing the football, make sure you aren’t stopping your arm motion as soon as the ball is released. Instead, continue your arm forward in a full swinging motion. Additionally, when you release the ball, make sure to flick your wrist downward. Your fingertips should be the last thing in contact with the ball at release. The combination of these two movements are what create the spiral effect on the ball.
However, it’s important to understand that as much as you may practice, not every throw will be perfect. Learning how to throw a spiral football takes time. Sometimes you will throw lame ducks. And other times you will throw complete bullseyes to win a championship. Don’t let your ability to throw a perfect spiral every time hinder you from your quarterback aspirations. Here are a few quarterback drills to get you started on the right path.
Follow all of our tips and tricks, and you’re sure to be the next Joe Montana. The perfect spiral football awaits you—hike!