Title:
Mobile practice target
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A mobile practice target is described, wherein the target includes (a) a framework comprising a base support and at least one substantially vertical support extending above said base support and an angled support associated with said substantially vertical support, wherein said angled support is at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support, (b) a means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target, and (c) a mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. The practice target is movable to simulate dynamic training conditions such as encountered by athletes under game conditions.



Inventors:
Barber, Gregory Warren (Palo Alto, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/078008
Publication Date:
09/15/2005
Filing Date:
03/11/2005
Assignee:
BARBER GREGORY W.
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
473/422, 473/438, 473/462, 473/476, 473/477, 473/478, 273/407
International Classes:
A63B69/00; F41J1/00; F41J7/00; (IPC1-7): A63B69/00; F41J1/00; F41J7/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
GRAHAM, MARK S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MOORE PATENTS (Soquel, CA, US)
Claims:
1. A mobile practice target, comprising (a) a framework comprising a base support and at least one substantially vertical support extending above said base support and an angled support associated with said substantially vertical support, wherein said angled support is at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support, (b) a means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target, and (c) a mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target.

2. The mobile practice target of claim 1, wherein the framework comprises a base support of one or more spaced apart members and two substantially vertical supports extending above said base support.

3. The mobile practice target of claim 2, wherein said substantially vertical supports have a bend at the upper ends thereby forming the angled support associated with the substantially vertical support.

4. The mobile practice target of claim 1, wherein the framework comprises a base support of one or more spaced apart members connected via a connecting member, and a single substantially vertical support extending above said connecting member and having an angled support associated therewith via a two pronged crossmember attached to the vertical support and oriented at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support.

5. The mobile practice target of claim 1, wherein the means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target is a pocket formed from a resilient material for containing the propelled object and having at least one opening for receiving the propelled object into the pocket, wherein the resilient material is removably attached to the vertical support and the angled support.

6. The mobile practice target of claim 5, wherein the pocket formed from a resilient material comprises an opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction and further comprises an opening for receiving a propelled object from above.

7. The mobile practice target of claim 6, wherein the pocket formed from a resilient material further comprises a vertical panel having an opening formed therein for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction.

8. The mobile practice target of claim 6, wherein the pocket formed from a resilient material further comprises a baffle.

9. The mobile practice target of claim 1, wherein the length of the vertical support is adjustable.

10. The mobile practice target of claim 1, wherein said framework comprises metal, wood, plastic, graphite, glass, ceramic, resin, or composites thereof.

11. The mobile practice target of claim 5, wherein said resilient material comprises cloth, mesh or netting, or combinations thereof.

12. The mobile practice target of claim 1, wherein said mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target comprises wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air.

13. The mobile practice target of claim 1, further comprising targeting lines or a target image placed to guide a user in targeting the propelled object to one or more precise targets.

14. A mobile practice target comprising: (a) a substantially vertical panel comprising a resilient material and having a support means secured to a base and at least one opening located within the panel for receiving a propelled object; (b) an angled panel comprising a resilient material and capable of receiving a propelled object and having support means securing the angled panel at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical panel; and (c) mobility means to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target.

15. The mobile practice target of claim 14, wherein said support means comprises a framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof extending above a base support of two spaced apart members, wherein the angle of the bend is between about 15 degrees and 90 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members.

16. The mobile practice target of claim 14, further comprising an additional framework element connecting the two uppermost ends of the framework.

17. The mobile practice target of claim 14, further comprising one or more additional framework elements connecting the two substantially vertical members of the framework to the base support.

18. The mobile practice target of claim 15, wherein said framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof is provided in separate pieces that can be assembled or disassembled into the framework.

19. The mobile practice target of claim 15, wherein said framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof is a telescoping framework.

20. A method of improving the ball placement skills of an individual utilizing the mobile practice target of claim 1, comprising propelling a ball into the opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction or the opening for receiving a propelled object from above.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/552,597, filed Mar. 12, 2004, which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to training equipment useful in the practice of sports, the development of throwing skills and the like.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Many devices are known for the purpose of teaching basic throwing, hitting, kicking skills and the like for beginners or for more advanced players, typically under static conditions. Such devices include golf ball targets, devices for pitching practice, tennis training, football kicking practice and the like. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,679,795 to Ouimette discloses a portable target for baseball or softball pitchers. U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,516,115 to McLain, 5,037,095 to Nedwick and 5,333,856, to Gery describe devices having pockets provided in netting. U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,718,668, Schipske and 4,836,542 to Crawley describe the use of netting. U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,718,668 Schipske and 4,836,542 to Crawley describe the use of portable frames. U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,807,193 to Talarico and 5,516,115 to McLain describe adjustable sections of a framework. U.S. Pat. No. 6,277,039 to Kleinschrodt describes capturing an object such as a tennis ball. U.S. Pat. No. 5,516,115 to McLain describes an adjustable member that allows the angle of the vertical member to be adjusted.

Further, prior art devices are not designed to be specifically useful for the development of ball placement skills under simulated game conditions. For example, the apparatus described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,252,076 to Kelleher is intended for the development of receiving skills in games such as of football or baseball, where the athlete is trained to handle or catch balls under unpredictable conditions simulating the presence of a defender or obstructions in the line of sight to the quarterback or the ball. However, the device described in Kelleher acts as an obstacle to a live receiver, and thus does not describe a simulated moving target.

While the structural arrangements of the above described devices, at first appearance, have similarities with the present invention, they differ in material respects. These differences, which will be described in more detail hereinafter, are essential for the effective use of the invention and which admit of the advantages that are not available with the prior devices.

Accordingly, there is a need in the art for a practice target that is mobile, useful in the teaching of multiple skills across multiple sports under simulated playing conditions, useful indoors or out, and economical. In none of the devices mentioned above is there described a target capable of receiving driven, tossed, kicked or lofted propelled objects having the mobility and versatility needed for the intensive training of athletes. Similarly, none of these devices allows for the effective training of ball placement skills for driven versus lofted throws or for the development and accuracy of place kicking, punting, centering, and quarterbacking skills in the game of football.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the mobile practice target of the invention addresses the aforementioned deficiencies and needs in the art by providing novel devices and methods for training an athlete.

Accordingly, in one embodiment a mobile practice target is provided comprising: (a) a framework comprising a base support and at least one substantially vertical support extending above said base support and an angled support associated with said substantially vertical support, wherein said angled support is at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support, (b) a means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target, and (c) a mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. In preferred embodiments, the angle of the angled support is between about 30 degrees and 75 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support.

In other embodiments, the framework can comprise a base support of one or two spaced apart members, for example, forming an H-shaped, U-shaped or O-shaped base support, optionally connected via a connecting member. In yet other embodiments, the framework can further comprise two substantially vertical supports extending above said base support, and having a bend at the upper ends thereby forming the angled support associated with the substantially vertical support.

In an additional embodiment, the framework can comprise a base support of one or two spaced apart members connected via a connecting member, and a single substantially vertical support extending above said connecting member and having an angled support associated therewith via a two pronged crossmember attached to the vertical support and oriented at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support.

The means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target is provided by utilizing a pocket formed from a resilient material for containing the propelled object and having at least one opening for receiving the propelled object into the pocket. The resilient material is removably attached to the vertical support and the angled support, meaning that the material can be secured or removed from the supporting framework as desired. In preferred embodiments, the pocket formed from the resilient material comprises an opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction and further comprises an opening for receiving a propelled object from above.

In additional embodiments, the means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target further comprises resilient material in the form of a vertical panel having an opening formed therein for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction. In further embodiments, the means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target further comprises a baffle, which can serve to absorb the momentum of the propelled object or deflect the object downward into the pocket.

In preferred embodiments, the mobile practice target can be adjusted in height, by for example, providing a vertical support with adjustable length dimension, e.g., telescoping tubing. The framework can constructed from a material selected from metal, wood, plastic, graphite or carbon fiber or the like, ceramic, resin, or composites thereof, and includes such materials as Plexiglas, resins, or fiberglass.

In an additional embodiment, the framework further comprises an additional framework element connecting the two distal ends of the framework. In yet another embodiment, the framework further comprises at least two additional framework elements connecting the two distal ends of the framework to the base support, or combinations of these additional frame elements.

The resilient material can be any material suitable for forming mesh, netting or cloth, and can be comprised of string, cord or wire comprising a manmade or natural material such as a natural polymer, a synthetic polymer, glass, ceramic, graphite or carbon fiber or the like, or metal, or mixtures or composites thereof. Synthetic polymers that can be used include any polymers known in the art, and typically include nylon, vinyl, polyester, and the like.

In another embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided, comprising: a framework comprising a base support and a substantially vertical support extending above said base support and an angled support attached to said vertical support, a target panel comprising at least one pocket for receiving a propelled object attached to the vertical support and the angled support, and a means for decreasing the friction between the framework and the underlying surface.

The mobile practice target further comprises mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport. The mobility means can comprise any mechanism or device that provides freedom of movement with respect to the supporting surface, typically horizontal movement. Preferred mobility means include wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air. Preferably, the mobility means comprises three or more wheels rotationally mounted to the base support.

In another embodiment, the mobile practice target further comprises targeting lines or a target image placed to guide a user in targeting the propelled object to one or more precise targets.

In yet another embodiment, the mobile practice target further comprises an additional opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction. It is preferred that the additional opening be located at a location convenient for a football center to practice the center snap.

In an additional embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided comprising (a) a substantially vertical panel comprising a resilient material and having a support means secured to a base and at least one opening located within the panel for receiving a propelled object; (b) an angled panel comprising a resilient material and capable of receiving a propelled object and having support means securing the angled panel at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical panel; and (c) mobility means to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. The substantially vertical panel and the angled panel can have any suitable shape, such as a circular or oval shape or a shape in the form of a polygon having at least three sides, and more preferably having four sides. The substantially vertical panel is oriented at an angle varying by no more than about 20 degrees from the vertical.

The support means can be constructed from any suitable construction material, and generally comprises metal, wood or wood containing construction material (e.g., a wood laminate), plastic, graphite or carbon fiber or the like, glass, ceramic, resin, or composites thereof. The substantially vertical and angled panels preferably comprise cloth, mesh or netting, or combinations thereof. The mobility means preferably comprises wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air. The panels can be of a unitary construction with a front or vertical panel and an angled panel that are integral with each other, or can be separate. The panels can be integral with or attached to a vertical support means using any means known in the art (e.g., rope, ties, Velcro, elastomeric connectors, hooks, snaps, and the like). The front panel can be provided with a centrally located pocket and the angled panel can be provided with a centrally located pocket or the angled panel can itself function as a pocket, providing a pocket with the maximum sized opening. The vertical and/or angled panels can be made elastic or resilient to rebound any ball or game object that does not enter the pocket, and preferably absorb the kinetic energy of the thrown or propelled object so that on rebounding, the object falls near the mobile practice target.

The resilient material comprises at least one pocket or forms at least one pocket that is generally centrally located on the target panel, or in the space between the two substantially vertical members. However, two or more pockets can be present if desired. In a more preferred embodiment, the pocket formed by the resilient material is smaller in area than the space across the two substantially vertical members and the pocket in the angled portion of the two substantially vertical members encompasses the entire width of the space between the angled panel support means or the vertical members forming an angled portion at the upper end of the vertical members. In a particular embodiment, the substantially vertical panel and the angled panel are constructed of one piece and placed across the two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof, forming the panels thereon, and can be secured using any means known in the art (e.g., rope, ties, Velcro, elastomeric connectors, hooks, snaps, and the like). In a preferred embodiment, the panels can be secured using anchor points and rope, for example.

In another embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided comprising: a framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof extending above a base support of two spaced apart members, wherein the angle of the bend is between about 15 degrees and 90 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members; a resilient material placed across the two substantially vertical members having at least one pocket located therein for receiving a propelled object, a resilient material placed across the angled portion of the two substantially vertical members having at least one pocket located therein for receiving a propelled object; and means for mobility. In certain embodiments, the angle of the bend is between about 30 degrees and 75 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. In a preferred embodiment, the angle is about 55 to 65 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. Typically, the angle is bent to the rear with respect to the opening provided for the pocket on the substantially vertical panel. The means for mobility typically comprises wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air, and when the mobility means comprises wheels, at least two wheels are rotationally mounted to the base support.

In a preferred embodiment, the support means comprises a framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof extending above a base support of one or two spaced apart members, wherein the angle of the bend is between about 15 degrees and 90 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. In more preferred embodiments, the angle of the bend is between about 30 degrees and 75 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members.

The framework can include an additional framework element connecting the two uppermost ends of the vertical members of the framework. In additional embodiments, the framework can further comprise additional framework elements connecting the two substantially vertical members of the framework to the base support. The framework can be provided in separate pieces that can be assembled or disassembled into the framework.

It is preferred that the framework be adjustable in height, for example, by adjusting the length of the substantially vertical members. In a preferred embodiment, the adjustable framework is a telescoping framework. However, the entire framework can be of unitary construction if desired. The framework can include rectangular, round and/or elliptical members formed so as to be press fit together, and can be anchored in place where necessary using conventional means. In another embodiment, the framework can be connected together using rectangular, round or elliptical members that can be joined together using any means known in the art (e.g., L-shaped pieces). The framework can also be formed in sections with the intersections of the target framework being structured so as to be joined together and removed by pressing and pulling. Elastomeric connectors can be provided through openings in the framework to facilitate assembly and disassembly, such as are commonly used in the framework of portable tents.

In an additional embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided comprising a base of two spaced apart members supporting at least one vertical member forming a front and having a bend towards the back at the upper ends thereof forming an angled portion with respect to the vertical member, and means for capturing a propelled object entering the angled portion or the front of the practice target. Preferably, the means for capturing the propelled object is a portion of resilient material in the form of a funnel, a flat sheet, a flat sheet with an opening, a pocket contained within the resilient material, or combinations thereof.

Also provided is a method of improving the ball placement skills of an individual utilizing the mobile practice target. The ball placement skills can be improved by the practice of propelling a ball or other game object into the pocket of the substantially vertical panel and/or the pocket of the angled panel. In alternative embodiments, the individual propels a ball into the opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction or the opening for receiving a propelled object from above. The mobile practice target can be used with optional target lines and/or target image(s) for honing particular ball placement skills. In addition, the mobile practice target can be used in motion or at rest.

The use of the practice target facilitates training and refinement of ball placement skills and allows for more facile observation and input from coaches or other observers. The practice target improves on practice devices of the prior art by providing devices and methods for training individuals such as quarterbacks in the game of football for quick decision making as well as throwing accuracy, and is useful for training under simulated game conditions requiring rapid adjustment in throwing strategy, distance, aim and power to an intended target capable of motion. The practice target is also useful for facilitating repetitive throwing, kicking or other propulsion techniques, as the ball or other game object is captured without the assistance of additional players. The practice target is also particularly useful for coaches who are able to closely watch the individual to be trained from any angle without being distracted by having to catch the ball or other object propelled toward them, while simultaneously being able to judge the accuracy of the throw by its presence inside or outside the intended target pocket, passage by the targeting lines (without hitting the lines) or passage through the intended target image.

The mobile practice target is also useful in a method for practicing game skills under simulated game conditions. The mobile practice target can be used when in motion or at rest, and allows an individual to practice game skills under simulated game conditions, in which the individual propels a game object into the pocket of the substantially vertical panel, the pocket of the angled panel, or both pockets of the mobile practice target while the mobile practice target is in motion or at rest. In an alternative embodiment, the method for practicing game skills comprises propelling a game object into the opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction, the opening for receiving a propelled object from above, or both, while the mobile practice target is in motion or at rest. The mobile practice target can be used with the participation of at least one additional game player, and can be used to simulate game conditions.

In particular embodiments, the mobile practice target offers the following advantages over the prior art: rapid assembly and/or breakdown, easy transportation from home to vehicle to practice field, adjustable to different heights for different sizes of players or different uses, useful for teaching different targeting and/or ball placement skills, facilitates coaching and evaluation of a player's form, and utilization indoors or out. In addition, the practice target is easily assembled and disassembled. The practice target can be formed from a frame constructed from metal or light-weight plastic that can be easily press fit together for easy assembly and disassembly. The panels or netting can be formed of a unitary construction if desired with a front or vertical panel and angled panels that are integral with each other, or can be separate. Any additional forms of the resilient materials, such as the funnel or pocket shaped embodiments, can also be made of unitary construction. The resilient material can be integral with or attached to a vertical support means using anchor points and rope. The front panel can be provided with a centrally located pocket and the angled panel can be provided with a centrally located pocket or the angled panel can itself function as a pocket, providing a pocket with the maximum sized opening. The vertical or angled panels can be made elastic or resilient to rebound any ball that does not enter the pocket, and preferably absorb the kinetic energy of the thrown or propelled object so that on rebounding, the object falls near the mobile practice target.

The device improves on practice devices of the prior art by providing devices and methods for training individuals such as quarterbacks in the game of football for quick decision making as well as throwing accuracy, and is useful for training under simulated game conditions requiring rapid adjustment in throwing strategy, distance, aim and power to an intended target capable of motion. The practice target is also particularly useful for coaches who are able to closely watch the individual to be trained from any angle without being distracted by having to catch the ball or other object propelled toward them, while simultaneously being able to measure the velocity of the throw or judge its accuracy, as indicated by its presence inside or outside the intended target pocket.

Additional objects, advantages and novel features of the invention will be set forth in part in the description which follows, and in part will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon examination of the following, or may be learned by practice of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates one embodiment of the mobile practice target.

FIG. 2 illustrates one embodiment of a frame of the mobile practice target.

FIG. 3 illustrates schematically how the mobile practice target is used in the training of an athlete.

FIG. 4 illustrates an alternative embodiment of the mobile practice target.

FIG. 5 illustrates schematically how the mobile practice target is used in the training of an athlete.

FIG. 6 illustrates an alternative embodiment of a frame of the mobile practice target.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

I. Definitions and Overview

Before the present invention is described in detail, it is to be understood that unless otherwise indicated this invention is not limited to specific construction materials, netting, or the like, as such may vary. It is also to be understood that the terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only and is not intended to limit the scope of the present invention.

It must be noted that as used herein and in the claims, the singular forms “a,” “and” and “the” include plural referents unless the context clearly dictates otherwise. Thus, for example, reference to “a pocket” includes two or more pockets; reference to “a panel” includes two or more panels, and so forth.

Where a range of values is provided, it is understood that each intervening value, to the tenth of the unit of the lower limit unless the context clearly dictates otherwise, between the upper and lower limit of that range, and any other stated or intervening value in that stated range, is encompassed within the invention. The upper and lower limits of these smaller ranges may independently be included in the smaller ranges, and are also encompassed within the invention, subject to any specifically excluded limit in the stated range. Where the stated range includes one or both of the limits, ranges excluding either or both of those included limits are also included in the invention.

As used herein, the term “substantially vertical” refers to an orientation with respective to the vertical of an angle varying by no more than about 20 degrees. The terms “substantially vertical” and “vertical” will be used interchangeably, unless clearly indicated otherwise.

As used herein, the term “angled” refers to an acute angle 0 of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to vertical, unless otherwise specified.

As used herein the term “mesh” refers to a material made of a network of wire or thread, having a spacing small enough to prevent passage of a propelled object at least one inch in diameter.

As used herein, the term “netting” refers to an open-meshed material made by weaving, tying, or knotting together twine, rope, wire, thread or the like.

As used herein, the term “unitary construction” refers to the property of being formed all in one piece.

As used herein, the term “rotationally mounted” refers to the attachment of wheels or ball rollers such that the wheels or rollers are free to rotate to facilitate movement in any desired horizontal direction.

The invention includes a mobile practice target for thrown, hit, kicked or otherwise propelled objects, and methods of using the same. The mobile practice target improves on practice devices of the prior art by using a construction configuration that more usefully approximates target zones used in actual play and allows the practice and development of skills that are faithful to the skills required in actual play.

The mobile practice target generally comprises (a) a framework comprising a base support and at least one substantially vertical support extending above said base support and an angled support associated with said substantially vertical support, wherein said angled support is at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support, (b) a means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target, and (c) a mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. In preferred embodiments, the angle of the angled support is between about 30 degrees and 75 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support.

The framework can comprise a base support of any suitable shape, such as one or two spaced apart members, for example, an H-shaped, U-shaped or O-shaped base support, optionally connected via a connecting member. In yet other embodiments, the framework can further comprise two substantially vertical supports extending above said base support, and having a bend at the upper ends thereby forming the angled support associated with the substantially vertical support. Preferably the angled support is securely associated with the vertical support, and can be formed as one unitary piece or bolted together, for example.

In an additional embodiment, the framework can comprise a base support of one or two spaced apart members connected via a connecting member, and a single substantially vertical support extending above said connecting member and having an angled support associated therewith via a two pronged crossmember attached to the vertical support and oriented at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical support.

The means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target is provided by utilizing a pocket formed from a resilient material for containing the propelled object and having at least one opening for receiving the propelled object into the pocket. The resilient material preferably can be removably attached to the vertical support and the angled support, meaning that the material can be secured or removed from the supporting framework as desired. In preferred embodiments, the pocket formed from the resilient material comprises an opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction and further comprises an opening for receiving a propelled object from above. In particular embodiments, the opening can be provided from above via the angled support, and can further comprise an opening from the front of the target, wherein the front is completely open, e.g., there is no vertical panel of resilient material. In this embodiment, the target could be more useful for beginners whose throwing or kicking accuracy is poor, while additional targeting lines or target images used in the front would be helpful to improve the usefulness of the target for more advanced players.

In additional embodiments, the means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target further comprises resilient material in the form of a vertical panel having an opening formed therein for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction. In further embodiments, the means for capturing an object propelled at the mobile practice target further comprises a baffle, which can serve to absorb the momentum of the propelled object or deflect the object downward into the pocket.

In preferred embodiments, the mobile practice target can be adjusted in height, by for example, providing a vertical support with adjustable length dimension, e.g., telescoping tubing or movable frames. The framework can be constructed from a material selected from metal, wood, plastic, graphite or carbon fiber or the like, ceramic, resin, or composites thereof, and includes such materials as Plexiglas, resins, or fiberglass. Preferably, the construction materials used for the framework are no heavier than necessary to provide sufficient structural strength to withstand the repetitive practice of the user(s). In some instances, it may be desirable to include perforations in framework materials to reduce weight and enhance the mobility of the practice target.

In an additional embodiment, the framework further comprises an additional framework element connecting the two distal ends of the framework. In yet another embodiment, the framework further comprises at least two additional framework elements connecting the two distal ends of the framework to the base support, or combinations of these additional frame elements.

The resilient material can be any material suitable for forming mesh, netting or cloth, and can be comprised of string, cord or wire comprising a manmade or natural material such as a natural polymer, a synthetic polymer, glass, ceramic, graphite or carbon fiber or the like, or metal, or mixtures or composites thereof. Synthetic polymers that can be used include any polymers known in the art, and typically include nylon, vinyl, polyester, and the like.

In another embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided, comprising: a framework comprising a base support and a substantially vertical support extending above said base support and an angled support attached to said vertical support, a target panel comprising at least one pocket for receiving a propelled object attached to the vertical support and the angled support, and a mobility means.

The mobile practice target further comprises mobility means associated with the base support to facilitate transport, and so that the target can be easily moved about to change the position of the target relative to the individual for whom the practice is intended, and to simulate play conditions. The mobility means typically includes a means for decreasing the friction between the framework and the underlying surface, or enhancing the horizontal movement of the target. The mobility means can comprise any mechanism or device that provides freedom of movement with respect to the supporting surface, typically horizontal movement. Preferred mobility means include wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air. Preferably, the mobility means comprises three or more wheels rotationally mounted to the base support. Additional aspects are discussed below.

In another embodiment, the mobile practice target further comprises targeting lines or a target image placed to guide a user in targeting the propelled object to one or more precise targets.

In yet another embodiment, the mobile practice target further comprises an additional opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction. It is preferred that the additional opening be located at a location convenient for a football center to practice the center snap. However, other alternative openings will be readily envisioned by the user and are included within the scope of the invention.

In an additional embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided comprising (a) a substantially vertical panel comprising a resilient material and having a support means secured to a base and at least one opening located within the panel for receiving a propelled object; (b) an angled panel comprising a resilient material and capable of receiving a propelled object and having support means securing the angled panel at an angle of from about 15 degrees to about 90 degrees relative to the substantially vertical panel; and (c) mobility means to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. The substantially vertical panel and the angled panel can have any suitable shape, such as a circular or oval shape or a shape in the form of a polygon having at least three sides, and more preferably having four sides. The substantially vertical panel is oriented at an angle varying by no more than about 20 degrees from the vertical.

As described above, the support means can be constructed from any suitable construction material, and generally comprises metal, wood or wood containing construction material (e.g., a wood laminate), plastic, graphite or carbon fiber or the like, glass, ceramic, resin, or composites thereof. The substantially vertical and angled panels preferably comprise cloth, mesh or netting, or combinations thereof. The mobility means preferably comprises wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air. The panels can be of a unitary construction with a front or vertical panel and an angled panel that are integral with each other, or can be separate. The panels can be integral with or attached to the support means using any means known in the art (e.g., rope, ties, Velcro, elastomeric connectors, hooks, snaps, and the like). The front panel can be provided with a centrally located pocket and the angled panel can be provided with a centrally located pocket or the angled panel can itself function as a pocket, providing a pocket with the maximum sized opening. The vertical and/or angled panels can be made elastic or resilient to rebound any ball or game object that does not enter the pocket, and preferably absorb the kinetic energy of the thrown or propelled object so that on rebounding, the object falls near the mobile practice target.

The resilient material comprises at least one pocket or forms at least one pocket that is generally centrally located on the target panel, or in the space between the two substantially vertical members. However, two or more pockets can be present if desired.

In a more preferred embodiment, the pocket formed by the resilient material is smaller in area than the space across the two substantially vertical members and the pocket in the angled portion of the two substantially vertical members encompasses the entire width of the space between the angled panel support means or the vertical members forming an angled portion at the upper end of the vertical members. In a particular embodiment, the substantially vertical panel and the angled panel are constructed of one piece and placed 30 across the two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof, forming the panels thereon, and can be secured using any means known in the art (e.g., rope, ties, Velcro, elastomeric connectors, hooks, snaps, and the like). In a preferred embodiment, the panels can be secured using anchor points and rope, for example.

In another embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided comprising: a framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof extending above a base support of two spaced apart members, wherein the angle of the bend is between about 15 degrees and 90 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members; a resilient material placed across the two substantially vertical members having at least one pocket located therein for receiving a propelled object, a resilient material placed across or around the angled portion of the two substantially vertical members having at least one pocket located therein for receiving a propelled object; and means for mobility. In certain embodiments, the angle of the bend is between about 30 degrees and 75 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. The means for mobility typically comprises wheels, runners, ball rollers, or compressed air, and when the mobility means comprises wheels, at least two wheels are rotationally mounted to the base support.

In a preferred embodiment, the support means comprises a framework of two substantially vertical members having a bend and forming an angled portion at the upper end thereof extending above a base support of one or two spaced apart members, wherein the angle of the bend is between about 15 degrees and 90 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. In more preferred embodiments, the angle of the bend is between about 30 degrees and 75 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. In another preferred embodiment, the angle is about 55 to 65 degrees relative to the two substantially vertical members. Typically, the angle is bent to the rear with respect to the opening provided for the pocket on the substantially vertical panel.

The framework can include an additional framework element connecting the two uppermost ends of the vertical members of the framework. In additional embodiments, the framework can further comprise additional framework elements connecting the two substantially vertical members of the framework to the base support. The framework can be provided in separate pieces that can be assembled or disassembled into the framework.

In an additional embodiment, a mobile practice target is provided comprising a base of two spaced apart members supporting at least one vertical member forming a front and having a bend towards the back at the upper ends thereof forming an angled portion with respect to the vertical member, and means for capturing a propelled object entering the angled portion or the front of the practice target. Preferably, the means for capturing the propelled object is a portion of resilient material in the form of a funnel, a flat sheet, a flat sheet with an opening, a pocket contained within the resilient material, or combinations thereof.

In any of the above described embodiments, it is preferred that the framework be adjustable in height, for example, by adjusting the length of the substantially vertical members. In a preferred embodiment, the adjustable framework is a telescoping framework. However, the entire framework can be of unitary construction if desired. The framework can include rectangular, L-shaped, round and/or elliptical members formed so as to be press fit together, and can be anchored in place where necessary using conventional means. In another embodiment, the framework can be connected together using rectangular, L-shaped, round or elliptical members that can be joined together using any means known in the art (e.g., L-shaped pieces). The framework can also be formed in sections with the intersections of the target framework being structured so as to be joined together and removed by pressing and pulling. Elastomeric connectors can be provided through openings in the framework to facilitate assembly and disassembly, such as are commonly used in the framework of portable tents.

In any of the above described embodiments, the mobility means can include any device or apparatus that can be used to reduce the friction of movement between the practice target and the ground or floor or other substantially horizontal surface on which it is being used. Typical mobility means include wheels, but can also include other members capable of sliding or rolling across a surface such as runners or ball rollers, etc. The mobility means can also include compressed air to elevate the practice target off of the direct contact surface. When the mobility means is provided using wheels, generally at least two wheels and preferably three wheels are utilized and the wheels are rotationally mounted to the portion of the mobile practice target in contact with the ground so as to provide greater directional freedom of movement for the mobile practice target. There is no particular limit to the number of wheels that can be included as the mobility means for the practice target, and the number of wheels is determined by the particular needs of the user, the type of surface on which the target is to be used, the amount of mobility and speed that is desired, and so forth.

When the mobility means is provided by compressed air, an air compressor can be remotely located and compressed air supplied by means of a tube to the compressed air outlets placed between the bottom surface of the practice target and the direct contact surface (the ground or floor). Alternatively, the mobile practice target can further comprise an air compressor and battery or fuel cell (or a power cord to a source of electricity) to provide compressed air to the compressed air outlets placed between the bottom surface of the practice target and the direct contact surface.

The motion of the mobile practice target can be provided by a vehicle, a motorized assembly, or by an animal, including a human, assistant. In a typical use, a team member or coach or other assistant can grasp the practice target and move it about a playing field or floor of a practice room (e.g., a gymnasium) to provide the motion necessary to simulate dynamic play. The mobile practice target can further comprise graspable appendages or handles to facilitate the grasping and manual movement of the target by the human assistant. In addition, a rope or chain can be attached, and the mobile practice target can be moved about by an animal or vehicle pulling on the rope or chain.

In one embodiment, the mobility means can comprise two wheels, and a third leg optionally provided with a slidable member (e.g., a runner) is provided for stability and balance. In use, the human assistant lifts the third leg from contact with the ground and rolls the mobile practice target about as desired, while the individual for whom targeting practice is provided throws, lofts, kicks or otherwise propels the desired objects toward the target pockets.

A motorized assembly can also be included as a portion of the mobile practice target, providing for motion of the target using a simple or complex algorithm describing that motion. Thus, the motorized assembly can provide for a linear motion of the mobile practice target, such as traversing the playing field at a steady rate of speed for a defined amount of time or distance. The motorized assembly can also include a programmed set of motions approximating the movements of a game participant. The movements can be simple or complex movements, such as running a play.

In an additional embodiment, mobility of the practice target can be provided by other external means, such as by placing the practice target on a cart pulled about by a vehicle, or directly on a vehicle, preferably a small vehicle such as a golf cart. In certain embodiments, the practice target can be stably mountable on the cart or vehicle, using conventional means such as clamps or bolts, for example.

Also provided is a method of improving the ball placement skills of an individual utilizing the mobile practice target. The ball placement skills can be improved by the practice of propelling a ball or other game object into the pocket of the substantially vertical panel and/or the pocket of the angled panel. In alternative embodiments, the individual propels a ball into the opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction or the opening for receiving a propelled object from above. The mobile practice target can be used with optional target lines and/or target image(s) for honing particular ball placement skills. In addition, the mobile practice target can be used in motion or at rest.

The mobile practice target is also useful in a method for practicing game skills under simulated game conditions. The mobile practice target can be used when in motion or at rest, and allows an individual to practice game skills under simulated game conditions, in which the individual propels a game object into the pocket of the substantially vertical panel, the pocket of the angled panel, or both pockets of the mobile practice target while the mobile practice target is in motion or at rest. In an alternative embodiment, the method for practicing game skills comprises propelling a game object into the opening for receiving a propelled object from the horizontal direction, the opening for receiving a propelled object from above, or both, while the mobile practice target is in motion or at rest. The mobile practice target can be used with the participation of at least one additional game player, and can be used to simulate game conditions.

The use of the practice target facilitates training and refinement of ball placement skills and allows for more facile observation and input from coaches or other observers. The practice target improves on practice devices of the prior art by providing devices and methods for training individuals such as quarterbacks in the game of football for quick decision making as well as throwing accuracy, and is useful for training under simulated game conditions requiring rapid adjustment in throwing strategy, distance, aim and power to an intended target capable of motion. The practice target is also useful for facilitating repetitive throwing, kicking or other propulsion techniques, as the ball or other game object is captured without the assistance of additional players. The practice target is also particularly useful for coaches who are able to closely watch the individual to be trained from any angle without being distracted by having to catch the ball or other object propelled toward them, while simultaneously being able to judge the accuracy of the throw by its presence inside or outside the intended target pocket, its location within the pocket (e.g., left side, right side or center), passage by the targeting lines (without hitting the lines) or passage through the intended target image.

In particular embodiments, the mobile practice target offers the following advantages over the prior art: rapid assembly and/or breakdown, easy transportation from home to vehicle to practice field, adjustable to different heights for different sizes of players or different uses, useful for teaching different targeting and/or ball placement skills, facilitates coaching and evaluation of a player's form, and utilization indoors or out. In addition, the practice target is easily assembled and disassembled. The practice target can be formed from a frame constructed from metal or light-weight plastic that can be easily press fit together for easy assembly and disassembly. The panels or netting can be formed of a unitary construction if desired with a front or vertical panel and angled panels that are integral with each other, or can be separate. Any additional forms of the resilient materials, such as the funnel or pocket shaped embodiments, can also be made of unitary construction. The resilient material can be integral with or attached to a vertical support means using anchor points and rope.

Referring now to the drawings, FIG. 1 illustrates an embodiment of the invention, where 11 and 12 refer to the substantially vertical panel and angled panel, respectively. Base 16 provides support for the support means 13. The vertical panel 11 has a top 19 and an opening 26 to at least one pocket 18 located within the panel for receiving a propelled object, an angled panel 12 having angled support means 14 securing the angled panel at a bend 15 and at least one pocket, here shown as coextensive with the panel itself 12, for receiving a propelled object; and mobility means 20 to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. The opening 26 can include markings or structural support 17, and includes netting or mesh or cloth forming the pocket 18 and capturing the propelled object therein.

FIG. 2 illustrates a representative frame useful in an embodiment of the invention. Base 16 provides support for the support means 13 and 14 securing the angled panel at bend 15 and mobility means 20 to facilitate transport of the mobile practice target. The frame can further comprise optional cross supporting members 25 and 28, and can comprise optional additional supporting means extending from support means 14 to base support 16. A telescoping frame is indicated at 27, providing adjustability to the length of the vertical support, and thus the overall height of the practice target. The frame can further comprise optional structural support 21, and optional anchor points 22, 23 and 24 for securing the panels onto the frame. Additional anchor points can be disposed about the frame in convenient locations as desired.

With reference to FIG. 3, a player is shown in training using one embodiment of the mobile practice target. Base support 16 having wheels for mobility is shown with vertical panel 11 and opening 26 to pocket 18, and angled panel 12 having an integral pocket. The angled panel is shown gathered and attached to the angled support using an anchor point to form the pocket. The player is shown in the process of throwing a football with intended horizontal and arcing trajectories into the pocket integral with the vertical panel and the angled pocket, respectively.

FIG. 4 shows a preferred embodiment for the mobile practice target, illustrating a preferred means for capturing an object (e.g., a football or soccer ball) propelled at the mobile practice target. The resilient material is shown forming vertical panel 11 having an opening 26 in the front of the target leading to pocket 18. Opening 29 for receiving propelled objects from above (e.g., from an arcing or lofting throw or kick) is shown between the angled support members leading to pocket 18. Baffle 30 is shown formed from the three sided cut in the resilient material of vertical panel 11 forming the opening 26. The baffle is preferably secured (e.g., using ties or snaps) at the comers to the back surface of the pocket 18, and allows the ball to fall in the unsecured space between the corners. The baffle acts to slow the ball and direct its movement into the bottom of the capturing pocket 18. Pocket 18 preferably further comprises sides (not shown) for more effectively capturing the propelled object. The framework is shown formed from H- shaped base support 16, vertical support 13 and angled support 14, having bend 15 forming an acute angle between 15 and 90 degrees relative to the vertical, and having crossmembers 25 and 28 and additional support members 21 for added strength and stability, which are optional. The joint between telescoping frame members is indicated at 27 as an exemplary method of adjusting the overall height of the target. Additional optional anchor points 22, 23 and 24 for attaching the resilient material used for capturing the propelled object are indicated, and can be present at any suitable location on the frame if desired. Optional targeting lines (not shown) can be placed (e.g., tied or hooked) onto crossmember 28 so as to hang at the desired sites within the opening 26. For example, two targeting lines can be hung over the opening 26 to simulate dividing the opening into thirds for targeting precise locations within the opening. Another option is to place a target image (not shown) (e.g., a fabric having cutouts of desired ball placement targets, or showing the silhouette of a game player to receive the object) over the front of the vertical panel 11. A player can practice more precise targeting skills by throwing or kicking the ball at precise locations on the targeting image or between specific targeting lines to hone ball placement skills.

FIG. 5 illustrates a player training using an alternative embodiment of the mobile practice target. Base support 16 having wheels as mobility means 20 is shown with optional structural support 21. The practice target is shown with vertical panel 11 having an opening formed therein for a propelled object 26 and for receiving the object, pocket 18, and an opening for receiving a propelled object from above 29. Targeting lines or a target image can be present if desired, and will usually be placed in front of the opening 26 formed therein for a propelled object. A portion of resilient material is shown forming pocket 18 for capturing the ball, and a baffle 30 is shown formed from the opening cut in the vertical panel 11. An optional left and right side are not shown, but serve to capture the propelled object more securely. The baffle is secured at the corners to the back surface of the pocket 18, and allows the ball to fall in the unsecured space between the corners. The baffle acts to slow the ball and direct its movement into the bottom of the capturing pocket. The player is shown in the process of throwing a football with intended horizontal and arcing trajectories into openings 26 and 29, respectively. However, it will be understood that the practice target can be utilized for other methods of practice, for example, center snaps and place kicking in football, heading and passing in soccer, spiking and passing in volleyball, passing and shooting on goal in lacrosse, and the like.

FIG. 6 illustrates an alternative embodiment of a frame useful in constructing the mobile practice target. The base support 16 is shown in the form of a U-shape having as mobility means 20 four wheels. Base support 16 can be of one piece or unitary, or can be formed of separate pieces and assembled. The angle between the vertical support and angled support is shown as θ. Optional additional supporting members 21, 25 and 28 can be used to provide additional stability. A cross member 28 is shown at the junction of the angled support 14 and the vertical support 13, and cross member 25 is shown across the uppermost ends of the angled supports 14.

In a preferred embodiment, the width of the base can be from about 36″ to about 44″, and the height of the vertical support can be from about 74″ to about 90″, though smaller or greater heights are possible. The angled support can be about 30″ in length, and as shown is placed at an angle of between about 55 degrees and about 75 degrees from the vertical. The dimensions can be chosen (shorter or taller, wider or narrower) so as to fit the size of the player and/or use intended. In addition, the particular angles for the angled support can be chosen to suit the intended purpose for the practice target. Mobility means can be chosen to suit the environment of use. Wheels or ball rollers typically will be the preferred mobility means, but for use in snow, the wheels could be replaced with a sliding mobility means such as sled runners.

The mobile practice target can be used when in motion or at rest, and allows an individual to practice game skills under simulated game conditions, in which the individual propels a game object into the pocket of the substantially vertical panel, the pocket of the angled panel, or both pockets of the mobile practice target. The mobile practice target can be used with the participation of at least one additional game player, and can be used to simulate game conditions.

The mobile practice target can also be used under immobile conditions, and can include a means for anchoring the practice target to a stationary position, for use in circumstances where mobility is to be minimized or for use in a permanent or semi-permanent location. Such means for anchoring can include ties, hooks, or the like to attach the target to an anchoring point on or in the ground or stakes for providing immobility.

The practice target can be conveniently manufactured and assembled from a light-weight round or rectangular or elliptical tubing of metal or plastic, for example, having round or rectangular or elliptical inserts. The framework supports a panel in an essentially vertical position for receiving objects from a substantially horizontal direction and an angled panel for receiving objects having an arcing trajectory or from above. The edges of the panels can be attached to the framework by means of removable or releasable fasteners. The target can be used from the front or from the rear as well, and the pockets can be inverted if desired to receive objects propelled from the rearward side of the practice target.

The mobile practice target can be colored to provide greater visibility for the individual to be trained. The pocket region and/or the area abutting the opening to the pocket can be similarly colored or contrastingly colored so as to highlight the target area. In addition, a target image can be included, such as a facsimile resembling a team-mate or other game participant. The pocket can be constructed so as to be transparent to the eye or opaque.

Use in Training of Athletes

The mobile practice target of the invention is particularly useful in training athletes to improve their throwing, kicking, passing skills, and the like, and allows the trainer to focus his attention and instruction on the athlete's style and form outside the dynamic conditions of play, while simulating the dynamic conditions of play. The mobile practice target can be used by a player alone, or with a trainer, or in combination with additional players simulating game conditions. For example, the mobile practice target can be used to improve the kicking and passing skills of athletes playing soccer, football, rugby, lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey, basketball, tennis, Frisbee, as well as any other sport involving the propulsion of an object into either a goal or a team member's possession.

The mobile practice target is particularly useful for training athletes in the skills required for effective passing or shots on goal in soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey or football. For example, the mobile practice target is useful for training soccer players in throw-in, short pass or long pass techniques by kicking or throwing the ball into the pocket of the vertical panel, or “heading” the ball (striking the ball with by contacting the ball with the player's head) over an opposing team player, causing the ball to enter the pocket of the angled panel. Similarly, the mobile practice target is useful for training athletes in the passing or shots on goal of a smaller object such as a lacrosse ball.

The mobile practice target can be used from either the front, i.e., facing the substantially vertical panel, or from the back, i.e., facing the back side of the pocket contained within the substantially vertical panel. When used from the back, the vertical and angled panels provide a useful arresting mechanism for objects propelled forward and/or upward, such as when practicing kicks.

The mobile practice target is also mobile and thus capable of motion while the player propels an object at the target. The player can use the mobile practice target alone in a static mode, and practice propelling objects at the target while it is stationary. The player can also use the target alone in a dynamic mode by setting the practice target on an incline for spontaneous movement, allowing the player to practice propelling objects at the target while it is in motion. A motorized assembly can also be included on the mobile practice target, providing for motion of the target using a simple or complex algorithm describing the movement

The player can also use the mobile practice target while practicing with others in a static mode, or in a dynamic mode. The mobile practice target can be placed on an incline for spontaneous movement or can be propelled about or pulled with the aid of an assistant. In a motorized form, the mobile practice target can provide movement, simulating play conditions. Thus the mobile practice target allows for the training of quick decision making as well as accuracy in throwing, kicking or otherwise propelling objects during simulated playing conditions.

The practice target is also useful when used in multiples of two or more. When used in this manner, the player can propel game objects at one target and move switch to the other targets without having to retrieve the game objects and move back to the playing position, thereby improving the efficiency of practice time.

The practice target is also useful when used in the home or back yard environment.

Use in Football

The mobile practice target is useful in the training of all members of a football team, including the center, kickers, receivers, defensive and offensive linemen, as well as the quarterback. As shown in FIGS. 3 and 5, the opening 26 (e.g., using the pocket or opening in the vertical panel) can be used for targeting and capture of objects thrown horizontally or “driven,” while the opening 29 (e.g., to the angled panel pocket 12 or pocket 18) can be used for targeting and capture of objects following an arcing path, or “lofted,” first traveling upward and then downward into the target pocket. For improving the skills of the athlete playing center position, the center can be trained to throw into pocket 18 on vertical panel 11, or an optional center pocket (not shown), or target indicated on a target image placed over opening 26 (not shown). An assistant or team member can move the mobile practice target to simulate the movement of the player receiving the center's pass at the initiation of a play, thereby facilitating the training of the center to adapt to the dynamic conditions of play.

Training a Quarterback

In a preferred embodiment, the mobile practice target can be used as a training device to refine and hone the throwing skills of a quarterback in the game of football. As indicated in FIGS. 3 and 5, in operation, the quarterback in training is instructed to throw the football into opening 26 to practice driven (horizontally thrown) throwing techniques and to throw the football over an imaginary or actual obstacle such as a blocker into opening 29 to practice lofted or arcing throwing techniques. Two practice targets can be advantageously used to practice “spot throwing” and to simulate training in choice of target, i.e., which receiver to throw to when one or more receivers are being put into play. The use of multiple practice targets is also very helpful to a quarterback in learning passing patterns in football.

In addition, using the mobility means, an assistant or team member can propel or move the mobile practice target, with or without warning, forcing the quarterback to rapidly reassess the target distance, angle of attack, throwing speed, etc., and make necessary adjustments to throwing technique or choice of target based on the changed conditions, thus simulating the rapidly changing conditions encountered on the field of play.

It is to be understood that while the invention has been described in conjunction with the preferred specific embodiments thereof, the description above is intended to illustrate and not limit the scope of the invention, and that various omissions, substitutions, equivalents and changes in the forms and details of the device illustrated and in its operation can be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit of the invention as defined by the following claims.

The practice of the present invention will employ, unless otherwise indicated, conventional construction techniques and the like, which are within the skill of the art. Other aspects, advantages and modifications within the scope of the invention will be apparent to those skilled in the art to which the invention pertains. Such techniques are explained fully in the literature.

All patents, patent applications, and publications mentioned herein, both supra and infra, are hereby incorporated by reference.