During my training experience last Sunday, one thing became clear rather quickly: Seeing real people was a big help. (And you can see me in the picture above. I’m in the back with the bright blue shirt.)
As you know, I’ve been working for almost a year now to learn hurling, the Irish sport that’s a little bit lacrosse and a little bit hockey. My effort has been stalled or sidelined time and time again by my inability to figure things out.
Mostly, I had been relying on the Internet to see how things are done, but fuzzy videos and sparse training tips could only get me so far.
But stepping on to the field with people who know what they’re doing had some immediate impact on my skills.
WRIST ACTION – I had read it time and time again, but I didn’t completely get it. The advice often simple says “You don’t speed up through your swing like baseball.”
I thought I understood it, and just by providing a single-speed hit did give me improvement, but the real “A-Ha!” moment on Sunday was someone saying that hitting the ball is all in the wrist.
You don’t twist your trunk like you do in baseball. You just get the stick moving with your wrists in a clock-like rotation. That generates enough velocity to fire the ball a long way.
And even better? It doesn’t leave your hands sore!
After practice on Sunday, I hit a local soccer field and tried it out again and again.
The result: Immediate improvement.
ACCURACY -- In the months of solo work, I could never exactly pinpoint the way I should expect the ball to fly after hitting it. This may seem like an obvious thing, but I was always expecting the ball to launch perpendicular to me, like lacrosse.
A few minutes into the clinic, I found I should expect it to launch more like a baseball, where the ball jets roughly parallel from your body stance.
So at any given time, I had no clue where my ball was going to go. With this knowledge of the “right way,” I tried working it on the soccer field.
The result: Immediate improvement as my hits were landing just about where I expected them.
PICK-UPS & STANCE — I had often clumsily managed to scoop the ball up with the flat of my stick. Sure, I could do it, but it never went super smoothly.
It would hop here or there. Or I’d just nudge it along ahead of me by mistake.
A few simple tips from the Baltimore GAA, and I was doing notably better.
First off, the Internet advised that I keep my hurley level with the ground. But what they didn’t mention is that you should be practically on top of the ball to pop it into your hand.
Also, the ‘Net directions didn’t mention this tidbit: It’s a whole lot easier to pick up the ball when you’re moving than it is when you’re standing still.
The reason? Momentum. You’re chugging along and basically overwhelm the ball’s own forward motion. This all but delivers it right into your hand.
Finally, as I complained about here, you’ve really got to squat down to get possession of the ball.
The result: Immediate improvement.
“FREES” – One thing that always baffled me is the “Free.” This is a penalty-shot like manuever where a player must pick up the ball with the stick and immediately shoot it — without ever touching it by hand.
Quite literally, the player slides the hurley under the grounded ball, balances it for a moment while he gets his bearings, with his target determined, he pops it up in the air from the stick and, with the ball in motion now, draws the stick back strikes the ball.
It looks really hard, but with some simple adjustments of my hand placement on my stick, I gave it a try.
The result: Immediate improvement — scratch that. The result was that I could actually do it.
NEWS ITEM 1: Baltimore is always looking for new players interested in learning hurling. You can find out more about their practice this Sunday by going here. (Unfortunately, I can’t make it this week.)
NEWS ITEM 2: If you’re just intrigued by hurling in general, RTE, an Irish TV network, is again offering match highlights on its video player. You can watch Waterford take on Cork in this video, which is 22 minutes long, but packed with action. The game is only available for a limited time.