How to Throw a Football

Four Methods:Basic Passing TechniqueHail Mary PassesBullet PassesThrowing While Being Tackled

Mastering good football throwing technique means your passes will fly farther, land more precisely, and be easier to catch. More importantly, you'll reduce your risk for common throwing injuries.[1] The steps below will help you improve your passing game and be better able to deliver the "perfect spiral."

Method 1
Basic Passing Technique

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    Stretch before throwing. Focus on stretching your whole body - not just your arms. Football throwing is a complex physio-mechanical process that uses multiple muscle groups, including your core, legs, and shoulders.[2] Pay special attention to these areas as these muscles will stabilize your body and add power to your throw.
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    Grip the football. The most common way to hold the football is with your ring and little fingers crossing the laces and your thumb underneath. Your index finger should be over a seam, and your thumb and index fingers should make an "L" shape.
    • Many quarterbacks prefer variations on the common grip on the ball, as described above. For instance, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning lays his middle finger across the laces in addition to his ring and little fingers.[3] Experiment to see which position is most comfortable for you.
    • Don't "palm" the football. Hold it lightly with your fingertips. Some palm contact is OK, but try to keep space between the center of the palm and the ball.
    • Don't grip the ball too tightly. Keep your hold firm but loose - you'll be able to adjust your grip more easily.
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    Position your body in the throwing stance. Face 90 degrees away from your target. If you throw with your right hand, turn to the right, and vice versa if you throw with your left hand. Turn your pivot foot (opposite your throwing arm) so that it's pointing toward your target. Keep your eyes on the target.
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    Hold the ball near your ear. Before you throw the ball, keep it up near your ear, stabilizing it with your non-throwing hand. This allows you to be ready to throw the ball quickly at any time, minimizing the risk of telegraphing your pass to a defender.
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    Wind back. Release your non-throwing hand from the ball. Wind your throwing arm back, stopping just behind your ear.
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    Throw in a half-circular motion. Quickly swing your throwing arm forward in a circular arc. Release the ball mid-way through the circle. Your empty hand should then head toward your non-dominant hip, palm facing away from you. Practice this motion a few times before you let go of the ball.
    • Use the rest of your body to build momentum for your throw. The hips, legs and shoulders can add great power to a pass.[4] Step forward with your non-dominant (or pivot) foot, and move your non-dominant elbow down toward your back. Rotate your hips and shoulders in the direction of the pass.
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    Release the ball with your fingertips. As the football leaves your hand, it should roll off of your fingertips. Your index finger will be the last part of your body touching the ball. This provides the spin that creates the desired "spiral" effect.
    • A proper throw will feel like it's only utilizing the thumb, index, and middle finger. The other two fingers on your hand stabilize the ball as it's being flung. They are not generally used to impart spin on the ball.
    • To impart more spin on the pass, you may snap your wrist forward as you follow through to the hip.
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    Practice, practice, practice. Persistent, dedicated practice will improve your accuracy and distance. While practicing, experiment with small adjustments in your stance and grip. Once you have mastered the basics, these small changes allow you to fine-tune your technique to maximize comfort and results.

Method 2
Hail Mary Passes

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    Know when to attempt a Hail Mary. Hail Mary passes are high-risk and long-range. They originally gained their name from Catholic university football teams that would say a prayer before especially desperate plays[5]. Hail Mary passes are typically only thrown when the offensive team needs to gain substantial yards (usually with little play time remaining) and is unable to attempt a conventional play. Consider throwing a Hail Mary in situations like the following:
    • You possess the ball for the last play of the half and are a long way from the end zone.
    • You have to complete a long fourth-down play and punting isn't advisable (for instance, if the game will end during the next possession and you are behind.)
    • You possess the ball for the last play of the game and can potentially prevent the game going into overtime by scoring.
    • Caution: Long passes are risky - it's difficult for even the best quarterbacks to throw accurately at extremely long distances, and because these passes typically travel in a higher arc, they are easier for the defense to intercept. Also, because the receivers require more time to get into position for the pass, the quarterback is open to a sack for more time. For these reasons, use caution when throwing Hail Mary Passes.
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    Assume the passing stance. Grip the back of the football with your index finger, middle finger and thumb, laying whichever fingers are comfortable (including your ring finger and pinky) over the ball's laces. Keep a slight bend in your knees. Face ninety degrees away from your target with your throwing hand away from him and your forward foot pointed forward.
    • Because you will need to wait longer than usual before throwing the pass, drop back especially far after receiving the snap - you'll be more able to avoid rushers. If you are tackled while throwing, see Method Four below.
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    Right before you throw the ball, step backwards. Keep the ball in the "ready to throw" position near your ear. By stepping back, you are positioning yourself to push forward as you throw, giving your throw greater momentum.
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    Lean backwards slightly as you begin to throw the ball. Cock your arm backward behind your head in a wind-up motion. Bend your knees slightly as you push off of the ground with your back foot and begin to step forward.
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    Throw the ball in a high, fast arc over your head. Lean forward as you throw the ball. Rotate your hips and shoulders through the throw as you continue to step forward. By stepping forward, rotating, and leaning into the pass, you impart additional momentum on the ball, sending it farther down the field.
    • Allow the ball to roll off your fingers as in Method One above. Follow through the motion by continuing to step forward until you naturally slow down. Don't lose focus now - if your Hail Mary is intercepted, you may need to try to tackle the ball carrier!
    • For best results, try to arc the ball high enough that it reaches your receiver's hands while passing over his defender's head. To arc the ball higher, release it a split-second earlier in your throw.

Method 3
Bullet Passes

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    Know when to attempt a bullet pass. Bullet passes are short-range, high-speed passes. The goal when throwing a bullet is to make the ball travel as fast and in as flat of an arc as possible. Bullets are thrown during quick, short-range plays - because they are fast, they are harder to intercept, so they are especially useful when the ball needs to be thrown near a defender to reach a receiver. Bullet passes can be useful for:
    • Gaining several yards to convert a first down.
    • Scoring a touchdown on a goal line play.
    • Quickly getting the ball to a fast, maneuverable runner.
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    Assume the passing stance. Grip the back of the football comfortably over the ball's laces. Face ninety degrees away from your receiver (with throwing hand away from him). Stay light on your feet, with your forward foot pointing forward.
    • Don't drop back as far as you would for a Hail Mary pass. Your goal is to execute the pass as quickly as possible - look for your receiver immediately.
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    Cock your arm back to the side of your head. Don't cock your arm behind your head, as you would for a Hail Mary - throwing the ball over your head will send it too high. Stay light on your feet, with your knees slightly bent.
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    Step forward hard as you begin to throw. Stepping forward hard is a good, quick way to put additional momentum on the throw, since you won't usually have time or space to perform the backward-then-forward footwork like you would with a Hail Mary.
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    Snap your arm forward in a tight, controlled arc. Throwing a bullet pass should feel like throwing a punch - it's a short, powerful motion done all at once. Put lots of power into the throw to make the ball fly as quickly as possible. Throw the ball in as flat of an arc as possible - release it a split-second later than you normally would for a flatter arc.
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    Follow through with your shoulders and hips as normal. Because the motions involved with a bullet pass are tighter and quicker than those of other passes, you may not need to rotate your body as far as you would for a normal pass. Allow the ball to roll off of your fingers for a spiral.

Method 4
Throwing While Being Tackled

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    Know your options. The best option of all, of course, is to avoid situations where you have to make a split-second decision or be sacked. Unfortunately, every quarterback finds himself in this situation eventually. If a sack is imminent, throwing the ball is only one of your options. Based on the circumstances on the field, you may also choose to do one of the following:
    • Run the ball. If your linemen have made an opening for you, you may want to dodge any rushers and run forward for a possible gain of several yards. If there's no openings, you should run up the side of the field. In both situations, you may still be tackled for a loss of yards, but you still avoid an especially damaging sack.
    • Execute a lateral. If there is an open and attentive offensive player (usually a running back), you can toss the ball to him as long as he is behind or to the side of you. This is called a "lateral." If an attempted lateral goes forward, it is usually illegal and will receive a penalty.
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    Know your field position. Intentionally throwing the ball away to avoid a sack can be illegal based on where you are on the field. In the NFL, throwing the ball away while you are within the "pocket" formed by your offensive tackles results in an Intentional Grounding penalty. However, if you are outside the pocket, you may throw the ball away.
    • An intentional grounding penalty results in a loss of 10 yards (9.1 m) - worse than many sacks. Because of this, it may be better to take a small loss of yards if you are in the pocket.
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    If you're about to be tackled, act sooner rather than later. In the NFL, a pass begins when the passer begins to bring his hand forward. Thus, the quicker you initiate the pass, the more likely you are to have an incomplete pass called (which will result in no lost yards.)
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    Try to take a tackle in the lower body. It's difficult to maneuver in the instant before being tackled, but, if possible, try to ensure the tackler grabs your lower body. If he wraps your arms up, you won't be able to throw and may even risk a fumble.
    • Keep your arms free, but if you can't throw before you're tackled, tuck the ball in as you fall. This way, you're less likely to lose control of it and fumble.
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    Concentrate on your receiver as you're tackled, throwing to him only if he is open. If you're feeling lucky and you can't see any receivers as you're being tackled, you can try passing the ball so that it is blocked by part of a defender's body but is not caught. This is risky, but will result in an incomplete pass.
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    Use as much of your body as you can to generate momentum. This will vary based on which parts of your body the tackler has a hold on. If you have a free leg, step into the pass. If your upper body is free, roll your shoulders through the pass.
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    Throw over defenders' heads. The only outcome worse than a sack is an interception, so make sure the pass is out of reach of any defenders between you and the receiver. This may require throwing over the body of your tackler if you are being tackled from the front.


  • When you throw, flick your hand.
  • Release and follow through are just as important as the throwing motion - they make the difference between a wobbly "duck" pass and a bullet pass that hits the receiver square in the chest. Try to "throw" your shoulders when you throw, using your torso to rotate your shoulders to give you more power on your throws. Your hand should touch your opposite hip on the follow through.
  • Never underestimate the impact of whether you twist/rotate your shoulders enough, or not. Rotating your shoulders (before and after the throw) affects the power of your throw, its momentum and accuracy.
  • Incorporate your skills into the game. Throwing a perfect pass is much harder when you are under the pressure of an aggressive defense. Playing against defensive players requires you to make on-the-fly changes in your positioning and technique to avoid a sack or interception - great for improving your skill and intuition.
  • To increase power and endurance, practice an effective exercise regimen. An all-over workout with an emphasis on core, shoulder, and leg strength will improve passing performance along with overall athleticism. Consult our wikiHow on how to build core strength.
  • When releasing the football, make sure to drop your index finger and middle finger downwards. This helps improve the accuracy of the throw, and this technique was used by Super Bowl winning quarterback, Joe Montana.


  • Do not hurl the ball with the palm of your hand. Instead of spiraling, the ball will flop end-over-end in the air. Out-of control passes like this are much less accurate.
  • Avoid throwing with your non-dominant arm unless you are in danger of being sacked and are dumping the ball for a short completion. Most receivers need time to adjust to the opposite spiral on the ball.
  • Take care of your throwing shoulder. Overuse injuries are common for quarterbacks - they have been shown to account for about 14% of all quarterback injuries, with the rotator cuff the most common site of injury.[6] If you experience shoulder pain, stop throwing the football. If pain persists, make an appointment with a sports medicine expert.
  • Avoid the following bad habits, as they can lead to injury:
    • Throwing with only one foot on the ground.
    • Throwing while leaning back.
    • Throwing across your body (i.e. throwing to the left when facing right).

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