All photos courtesy of Simon Wadle of Hägar Schindhard.
My friends at the 1. Hägar-Club Schindhard e.V. kubb club in Germany have started a campaign trying to get more players to throw with what they refer to as the real kubb throw. Their definition of a real kubb throw is a baton with vertical rotation that has zero degrees of variation. They refer to this as the “Be Like Tom” campaign and have had some humorous cartoon and meme’s that encourage players to throw a baton by the spirit of the rule. They recognize that it keeps the game fun for everyone when players work towards this goal of not forcing the opposing team and a thrower’s own teammates in the role of referee.
Keep it Vertical
For those of you that have attended tournaments or leagues that I have directed, you probably have heard me use the phrase “keep it vertical” during the opening introduction of the tournament. “Keep it vertical” is in reference to throwing your baton vertically while throwing it across the pitch in an attempt to knock down your target kubb(s). When I first started playing kubb in 2011, Eric Anderson explained to us before the start of the tournament that a baton should be thrown underhanded and travel vertically (straight up and down) as possible. He explained that the rule was that if you exceeded more than 10 degrees variation from center, then the throw was considered illegal and any kubbs knocked down were set back up and the throw was forfeited. When teaching new players the game, I am amused how many catch on quickly that there is a potential advantage to throwing the baton horizontally similar to the path of a helicopter blade. Hence, the popular reference of throwing a helicopter is illegal. This is where we have to stop them and give further lessons on expectations for throwing a vertical baton. In a blog post Eric Anderson wrote in April of 2015, he suggested that it may be easier for people to understand the term horizontal versus helicopter as it is more descriptive. I agree with Eric and will use the term horizontal in this article versus helicopter throw.
History of the 45 Degree Rule
Back to the 10 degree rule that was used when I first was introduced to kubb. If you do the math, 10 degrees off center for a baton that is approximately one foot in length means that we were allowed a little bit more than one inch off center and only gives you about a two inches of range for a legal throw. During the course of the 2012 season, the only rule that seemed to be causing any conflicts at this tournament was enforcement of this 10 degree rule. Traditionally, there had been an expectation that the player throwing the baton should make the call on themselves. When I travelled to the Fox Valley Kubb tournament in 2012, Ryan Accetta (my teammate and fellow engineer on the Goofy Kubbers) and I discussed this rule in depth and the technical difficulties of trying to keep the throw in that range for newer players. We had played in three or four tournaments by that time and we noticed that we had never seen a player actually call themselves even though many throws could (or should) have been called. When it was called, it was usually by a frustrated opponent. We decided that day to try to watch each of our throws and call it on ourselves if we felt like we violated the rule. We ended up calling me on three throws that day that believed were between 20 and 30 degrees off center. After the game against the Swedish Sons, Eric Anderson thanked us for making a call and we discussed the barriers of why more people won’t make that call. He explained that he had been getting a lot of feedback on changing the rule to 45 degrees. Players were not really pushing the limits of 45 degrees at the time and this would hopefully decrease the conflicts that we were starting to see at tournaments and in the kubb forums on Planet Kubb and Facebook. He said his fear was that players would start trying to take advantage of the rule and bending throws towards 45 degrees versus trying to continue to work towards throwing a baton that was in the spirit of a vertically thrown baton.
45 Degree Rule Introduced
Starting in 2013, it was announced that the rule was being changed to 45 degrees and we hoped that would put the controversy to rest. With a 45 degree throw, you basically are saying that the throw needs to be thrown more vertical than it is horizontal. If a player practices enough with the intent of keeping their throws vertical with enough rotation to visually determine that the throw is rotating, then it is reasonable to expect that you can keep your throws within 20 to 25 degrees variation with at least getting the tip to rotate a quarter turn vertically to make it easier to adjudicate that the throw is legal. If you are having trouble managing this, then you may want to consider a backhanded delivery or work with an experienced player to help develop your throw.
If my memory serves me well, the 2013 season was reasonably drama free from the perspective of keeping batons within the new rule. As time has progressed since the introduction of the rule, the issue is still the most debated topic that has led to frustration in the kubb community.
Reasons for the Frustration
There are a few reasons that I believe this issue hasn’t been resolved. First reason is that the concern about thrower’s playing towards the technical rule and trying to throw off center versus the spirit of the rule of zero degrees has forced opponents and teams to have to take a more active role in judging throws. Whether you are in the camp that the offense makes the call, the defense makes the call, a referee makes the call or it is a group decision, I think we can all agree that playing against players that push the limits and gets upset when they are challenged is not a player that we look forward to playing against. John Oman’s article and video shows that it is difficult to determine if a throw is legal if the baton is not thrown closer to zero degrees and this challenge becomes very difficult the closer that the throw edges to 45 degrees. By working towards keeping the throw closer to zero degrees, it takes a lot of pressure off of opponents and teammates and makes the game much more enjoyable for everyone. Now that baseball uses hi-tech cameras to determine if a call was a ball or strike, we see that even an umpire in an ideal position can still make errors in calls. That is the risk a player takes when they push the limits of the rules.
The second concern is when people throw with no vertical rotation or what some people refer to as the missile, bowling, or spear throw. A couple years ago, the U.S. National Kubb Championship created a rule that says that a baton with no rotation must be thrown perfectly straight. I agree with this rule, but in reality that is almost impossible with a throw that is made behind the baseline versus a very short range advantage line blast. If a player attempts to not throw a baton with rotation, they are opening themselves up to being challenged as an illegal throw. Newer players seem to gravitate towards this shot without knowing the rules. Because many players are polite, they don’t call them until the player becomes good enough to be able to win with that shot and that can be a bad experience for that player when they are finally challenged. I know of several cases where a newer player gets called on a shot that they have been using for a long time, because they have now become good at the shot and are a threat to win. In reality, we should be working with them sooner to prevent them from controversial calls (and maybe losing them as players).
Be Like Tom
I side with my friends in Germany that are trying to promote that players should work towards throwing zero degree variation. It doesn’t do us any good to argue about the best way for your opponents to stand to make a call when you are regularly putting them in an undesirable position of having to make a judgment call. That is on you as a player and should be encouraged by teammates to try to correct that. We have to accept as players that an opponent will challenge the call when you push the limits. Personally, I have always accepted the defense can make the call as long as I don’t believe they are making it with ill intent. I realize bogus calls have been done in the past and shame on any player that has made a bogus retaliation call, but I haven’t made a call that I didn’t think was accurate nor would I back a teammate that did. Tom is smart. Tom throws straight. Be like Tom.