One of the greatest coaches of all-time, Vince Lombardi, said “…if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Chasing perfection is a very fitting description of the effort one must put in to truly excel at horseshoe pitching. Chasing perfection is born in the desire to see every horseshoe pitched encircle the stake as a ringer. However, attention should be first placed on mastering the fundamentals, not making ringers. Fundamentals bring about ringers.
As a coach you need to instill into all the participants the importance of practice. But not just any practice, it should be quality practice. It is helpful to share some experiences of your own, or perhaps a famous athlete, on how practice directly correlates to success. Sport statisticians have determined that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of “deliberate” practice to become an expert and achieve mastery in a sport (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Alan Francis) . Fortunately, it does not take nearly that long to have some good success in horseshoes, and with intentional practice during the short Horseshoe America program all youth see improvement and experience success.
Direct the kids so that when they practice, they have one or more of the key components of horseshoe pitching in mind (Swing, Step, Distance, height, etc.) so that their practice is always deliberate. Most kids are new enough to the sport that these major areas are what they should be focused on. Over time as they improve, they will begin refining their practice to improve in smaller and smaller ways which will bring more and more improvement and success. Don’t hesitate to remind more experienced youth that they too should practice the basics from time to time to ensure they are not developing bad habits that could undermine their game.
Practice at Home
When you send kids home from the clinic you should have a practice assignment that goes with them. Remind them that “Short is Sweet” and to not over do it.
Drill: Air Toss & Catch: Have the kids lightly toss a horseshoe in the air vertically in front of them about 1 foot up then catch it as it comes back down. They should try to get the horseshoe to flip once or turn once (depending on if they Flip or Turn) while it is in the air. This simple exercise will help them gain hand-eye coordination while envisioning a flip or turn. In short order they should master this drill. The long term benefits are seen when they start pitching distances.
Drill: Imaginary Stake: One of the most critical keys to starting out a kid is to get rid of the stake for the first week of the clinic. The mechanics of horseshoe pitching are better learned without the distraction of trying to make ringers. If the mechanics are learned and mastered, success at making ringers will come in short order. For this drill, the kids should mark out the correct distance from where they pitch from to where the stake would be. This could be on their lawn or other unobstructed outdoor site. The kids pitch their horseshoe to the designated stake location. This drill allows the youth to work on many components (Swing, Step, Distance, Height, Open Shoe, etc.) depending on the focus area they need to work on. For some basic skills, this drill can also be accomplished without using horseshoes but instead using balls, bean bags, water balloons, etc)
Drill: Temporary Stake: Once youth have started pitching at stakes in the clinic they may do as at home as well. They should be provided a diagram of how to properly set up a temporary horseshoe court in the yard or other open space. The Imaginary stake drill can be repeated here. If a kid finds that they regress when a stake is added, they should spend more time polishing their skills without the stake until the change to a stake does not cause havoc on their pitching.