How to Throw a Perfect Football Spiral: An Illustrated Guide

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 19, 2012 · 28 Comments

in Health & Sports, Sports, Visual Guides

Frame 1: The Grip. There isn't a standard grip, so find the one that's comfortable for you. Super Bowl champions Payton and Eli Manning prefer a grip with two fingers -- the ring and pinky -- across the second and fifth laces. Make sure there is a bit of space between the ball and your hand. Frame 2: Hold the ball with both hands at chest level, feet shoulder-width apart. Body is perpendicular to your target.   Frame 3: Step towards your target with your lead leg. Bring your throwing arm straight back. Elbow should be above shoulder. Rotate hand slightly so the point of the ball points towards your head. Frame 4: Quickly rotate forward around your waist and throw the ball overhanded.   Frame 5: The Release. At the point of release, throwing hand and arm should be fully extended toward the target. To achieve the perfect spiral, focus on the fingers. Let your fingertips linger on the ball as long as possible so the ball just rolls out of your hand. Your hand should pronate down and your index finger is the last part of your body that should touch the ball.  Frame 6: When the ball has left your hand, your thumb should be facing down and your palm facing out. Back leg should come forward as you finish the throw.  Frame 7: Throw your fists up in the air and celebrate your perfect spiral.

Thanksgiving is this week. For many men in America, Thanksgiving Day not only means eating turkey and stuffing, it also means playing a pick-up game of football in the morning with friends and family. To help you quarterback your team to a Turkey Bowl victory, we put together this illustrated guide on how to throw a perfect football spiral. Enjoy.

Illustrated by Ted Slampyak.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brian Y November 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Thanks… I never played football, so I was always trying to twist my hand the same way that I wanted the football to spin. I will have to try this out next time.

2 Tanner Lundquist November 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Perfect for the basic Ward turkey bowl.

3 Eddie Engels November 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm

#7 is wrong. A true man would act like he threw a completed spiral everytime without the excessive celebration. OK maybe a fist pump.

4 Grayson November 19, 2012 at 9:18 pm

It is of upmost importance to stay in the pocket and take the hit. You might dislocate a few ribs, but it is worth it if you make the highlight reel.

5 Mick November 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Isn’t that Grid-iron? Football is played with a round ball and has limited hand contact on the ball.
Rugby. Now there’s a game you Americans should try. Lose the pads and helmets and play (and take the hits) like real Men! ;p
Seriously though. Have a good thanks-giving you lot, and all the best.

6 Brian November 19, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Regarding #4, it is of utmost importance that your elbow be past your shoulder as you rotate your hips and begin your throw. This allows your triceps rather than your shoulder to propel the ball forward; it becomes more of a pushing motion than a throw. It is more natural to throw this way,a and your shoulder will thank you tomorrow!

7 Steve November 20, 2012 at 12:04 am

How to THROW a perfect spiral FOOTBALL…

Yea, as an Australian, I can’t wrap my head around that logic. ;)
That being said, definitely gonna see if I can pull if off next time I have a kick about.

8 Dietrich November 20, 2012 at 1:38 am

I agree with Mick, Rugby is unquestionably a more manly game, heck some Americans even wear gloves now when playing American football. I am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw years ago, which read, “Give blood, play Rugby”.

9 Eric Scism November 20, 2012 at 7:20 am

Football and Thanksgiving… I can’t wait!!! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

10 Bill Maxwell November 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

Great tips thanks for the article.
One last thing is to make sure you throw the ball straight and not on an angle. The shape of the ball will make it rotate every time. All five of my kids have been able to throw a perfect spiral as young as 3 by keeping the ball straight.

11 Mark Ruddick November 20, 2012 at 8:36 am

Eddie, he wasn’t celebrating, just getting in an extra stretch.

12 Richard November 20, 2012 at 9:22 am

It seems to me that in figures 5&6 that direction of the wrist is backwards.

13 Simon J. November 20, 2012 at 9:47 am

Thanks Brett, Kate, and Ted! I’ve been trying to learn how to throw a football. Just like Brian, I never knew number 5 – very informative.

14 Kevin November 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

Someone should forward this to Tim Tebow and Jason Campbell.

15 Robbo November 20, 2012 at 10:06 am

I dunno, that ball looks like it’s got some serious hang to it. The receiver is so vertically extended that he doesn’t even see the d-back who’s about to t-bone him.

Happy Thanksgiving!

16 Robert November 20, 2012 at 11:08 am

The thumb doesn’t need to be down at the end of the release always, it depends upon the delivery. I cock my wrist back before the throw, so it actually flips around the other way, and I end up with my thumb pointed up on release. Mick is also right, this is Grid-iron. That said, we in the US (‘MURICA) tend to call it football, because it was a descendant of rugby, and in it’s original form actually involved a significantly greater usage of the feet. We apologize for desecrating the name of your sacred game.

17 BYC November 20, 2012 at 11:25 am
18 Claude November 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

I live in the US and played rugby at a US university nearly 20 years ago. But thanks for the suggestion to try it.

Yeah rugby is a bad ass sport, but no other sport compares to the collisions in American Football.

19 Brad November 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Richard, figures 5 & 6 are both accurate …

20 C.J. November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

If only my brothers were home to play some football. At least I can watch it…

21 Steve F. November 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Not sure why #5 shows the wrist rotating. By rotating the wrist you will actually throw a wobbly ball not a spiral. Keep the wrist straight and let the index finger point at the target in your follow-through

22 Brett McKay November 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm


I’ll let Joe Montana answer. Watch at about 1:53:

23 Troy November 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

My very inquisitive 9 year old has forced me to research why is football soccer and gridiron. I have found that ages ago that football was a generic term given to any sport that involved running around on a field. As many of you know, Association Football is the official name for the game of football outside the US. Soccer was it’s name early on when a play on the word “association” was used in 19th century England. Gridiron football developed from rugby with several rule changes including the line of scrimmage and the down and distance rules.

I love the quote in the movie Invictus when it was said “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s sport played by hooligans and Rugby is a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen.”

My son’s preferred sport is soccer, but he loves to toss the pigskin with me in the backyard. We are both working on throwing the perfect spiral.

24 Tryclyde November 21, 2012 at 10:22 am

@Mick and Dietrich: Although rugby is definitely a manly game, it’s not as brutal as American football. The fact that players wear pads enables them to launch each other like missiles at each other. I have played both sports, and it hurts a lot more when being hit in football, there’s no question.

25 Jonathan November 27, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I read “Peyton Manning’s 3 step guide to throwing a football” in a kids magazine a while ago. It worked amazingly. It assumed you knew how to hold and somewhat throw a football already.

Step 1. “Smack your little brother”. Swing your non throwing arm out and downward as if pushing a little sibling away (the example used Eli).

Step 2. “Limp wrist point” As you release the ball, let your throwing hand very fluidly roll into a point. Also allow the wrist to drop.

Step 3 “Put on the seat belt”. Immediately after step 2, pretend you are putting on a shoulder seat belt with your throwing hand. Start at the point of release and move to opposite hip. Click it in

These steps really helped me to fine tune my spiral.

Another thing I fixed on my own was my awkward crooked spiral. The ball would spin but the X-axis was not straight. It looked as if it almost was moving through the air at a slant. To FIX THIS, point your throwing arm nipple at the receiver/target. I wouldn’t always rotate my shoulders enough. Once I started doing that, my passes were straight, tight spirals.

Good Luck

26 Jackson Blue November 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm

I could have used this in pop warner haha. I think some nfl qb’s today could use it now!

27 Aaron June 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm

One step that makes it very easy to throw a spiral is making sure your wrist is “cocked.” When coaching youth to throw a football the easiest way to accomplish this is to have the football pointing away from you and have the other point almost pressed into your throwing shoulder.

28 James October 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Thank you. A girl I went to the beach with suggested we throw the football. She threw perfect spirals at me while mine were fumbling passes she could barely catch. It was so humiliating, luckily she was cool about it.

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