Almost all scores and turnovers in well-matched Ultimate games are down to throws & catches. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the years throwing around, and yet I still learn something new every time I go out for a chuck around. For the purposes of improving your throwing and catching, the most important things I’ve learnt are:
(1) make throwing around a habit,
(2) have an idea of what ‘ideal’ technique is,
(3) know how to learn & improve effectively.
Even if just for a minute or two, even if you just throw to yourself in your bedroom – get some hand-on-disc time every day, and make a mental note if you miss a day. You can throw casually or intensely, work on something new or practice something learnt, throw with randoms or with team mates, so long as you make throwing around a habit, you will have taken the first big step to becoming a much improved thrower & catcher. Find out what motivates you and run with it – perhaps meeting up with someone in particular to throw, perhaps getting some sun towards the end of the day – whatever will be sustainable motivation for you.
Once you’re out and throwing around regularly, the second step is to give yourself purpose – are you trying to throw & catch with perfect technique, or are you pushing your limits / experimenting with variety? Are you still weaker catching with your non-dominant hand? Can you clap catch equally well with either hand on top of the disc?
Train for what will be best in a game, including practicing faking before throwing
“Perfect practice makes perfect”, so your ‘ideal’ technique must be as balanced and efficient as possible. Variety can help shore up your technique and make you better at adapting to non-standard situations – as defenders always create these – but you should always be aware of what the ideal technique is in a standard situation, and aim to be able to replicate it flawlessly, both for catching and throwing. Practicing faking before throwing is important too – faking different throws to different places before executing a variety of throws will get your body familiar with making game-like movements.
Start every fake or throw from the power stance / neutral stance
The power stance is where you stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, disc held flat at your waist, with hands at 11 and 1’o’clock, and all fingers on both hands tucked under the rim. This means you are already coiled to throw quick lefty or righty backhands, and ready to pivot / set up your body for regular backhands / flicks / hammers / off-hand backhands in a balanced manner.
By training to throw every throw from the power stance, and conditioning yourself to get into the power stance whenever you catch the disc in a game, you are normalising game situations (bringing them as close to throw-around situations) as much as possible whilst also maximising your options on the field.
Finish throws in a balanced stance
After releasing the disc, hold your final stance for three seconds, to emphasise balance. If you are releasing the disc from a balanced position then your consistency and ability to adapt or turn the throw into a fake goes way up. Make sure you can perform every type of throw finishing in a balanced position. Once you’ve got the hang of this, practice doing the opposite – practice pushing off and running as soon & as fast as you can after each release.
Throwing motion technique
4 consecutive stages to work on, whether you’re a beginner or experienced – it’s always worth revisiting these stages one by one:
Footwork: for both backhand and flick – step perpendicular to your target, point both feet towards the direction of your step (or slightly towards the side of your throwing hand), and bend your knees to get your hips / centre of mass close to the floor. Stay balanced.
Grip: for backhand, all fingertips should be under the rim, resting in the crease between the rim and the underside of the disc. When changing to flick, it is most efficient if the tips of the index and middle fingers do not move – so when the disc is cocked back, the tips of the index and middle finger are still resting in the crease, the thumb stays clamped down on the top of the disc, and the ring and pinky shift to clamp the outside of the rim for stability. Changing grip from backhand to sidearm & back must be practiced, and can be practiced virtually anywhere*, until it feels smooth and controlled. The forward movement of a flick should begin as soon as the grip has changed – do not hesitate with the disc in a flick grip – this means the ring and pinky finger sometimes do not get involved.
* there are many productive things you can do with a frisbee whilst waiting for food to cook or watching an episode of something: smooth grip changing, clap catching both ways, clap catch transitioning into backhand grip, flick muscle training, and generally becoming familiar with the size, shape, weight, and rigidity of the disc helps with catching.
Release: the meat of a throw comes from the core, with a fairly relaxed arm/wrist only adding fine adjustments – make sure you are rotating your core/shoulders for both flick and backhand. When fully wound up, the disc should be at the same angle and on the same plane you want the release to be, and as you bring it forward, the disc should move in a straight line towards the target & not change angle – this transfers your energy into the velocity in the most efficient manner, and reduces the negative effect of an accidental early or late release. You should wind up as you are stepping, and release just after your foot hits the floor – “step-throw” not “step, throw” or “stepthrow”.
Spin: once you’ve been through the above stages, one remains: Spin. Keep adding more and more spin to your throw. You can’t put too much spin on an accurate throw. “Touch” video.
Technique for a fake should be identical to technique for a throw, as the realism is directly related to how effective the fake is on the field.
The “perfect” area to aim for on your receiver is the neck – this is the mid-way point between the ground and the extent of their reach when they jump, so this is the point which has the highest margin for error, therefore the safest throw.
From your power stance to the furthest back point of your wind-up, the disc should be taking the most direct path, without changing orientation or hesitating at any point. If you rotate the disc on any axis not perpendicular to the ground during your wind-up, hesitate with your flick cocked back, move the disc up and down, hold your backhand far away from your body whilst winding up, or do anything else unnecessary with the disc or your body, you have “baggage” on your throw and you should be working to get rid of it to maximise the efficiency of your throwing technique.
Catching technique: Get your body behind the disc, with shoulders facing the point of catch
The clap catch is the safest way to catch, and Ultimate is a possession game. Different situations require different types of clap catch – you should always provide a ‘backboard’ for the disc, stopping its velocity with your body or your wrist even if it were to continue past your hands – this affects which hand you should place on top. For example, a flat disc which is going to pass at head height a meter to your right should be caught with right hand on top, so your right wrist acts as a backboard. If the disc is passing on your right at thigh height, left hand on top will mean your right wrist acts as a backboard again. Grip transition times are negligible compared to the importance of making sure of the catch.
Another variable which affects the way to clap catch is the angle of the disc. Position your body so the disc will be coming straight towards you (rather than slicing across), and if the disc is tilting to the left, catch left hand on top – if tilting right, catch right hand on top. This avoids you having to twist your arms and wrists awkwardly. Aim for perfection – have both hands contacting the disc at the exact same time, in the centre of the disc, without changing the angle the disc was flying at.
Crab catch with two hands:
Crab catching is the quickest way to catch, so is critical in any pressure situations. If the disc is still above face height when you are at the top of your jump, crab catch with thumbs under the disc. If it is still below hip height when you crouch, crab catch with thumbs on top of the disc.
To make your crab catches safer and easier, align your shoulders with the angle of the disc. For example if a slightly bladey righty hammer comes in high (tilting to the left), you want to rotate at your core so your left shoulder is lower than your right, thus both arms can be at full symmetrical extension with no extra wrist/shoulder rotation needed when you catch. Where possible, get your eyes on the same plane & tilt as the disc too.
Technique, range, variety and reps are key elements to effective throwing & catching practice. Simply working on technique + reps is useful for consistency in ‘perfect’ conditions, but won’t make you a great catcher/thrower. Working on range & variety – developing versatile and well-rounded skills – will make you more consistent in all situations on the Ultimate field. There are so many variables which can affect the situation in a game that ‘perfect’ conditions are not common. “Perfect practice” in this case actually involves preparing yourself for non-standard situations. Here are a few methods for improvement which I’ve found particularly helpful:
This is far and away the best & fastest way to improve your throwing and catching on your own accord. If you tend to do something one way, or if a throw goes wrong in a particular way, overcompensate and make sure you do it to the opposite extreme – do it wrong the other way – and you will quickly find the middle ground. If it goes wrong three times in the same way, get it wrong three times in the opposite way before continuing – try to even out your errors to 50% either way.
The rule of overcompensation applies to pretty much everything, from specific details (if your throws often go outside-in, try extreme inside-out angled throws), to wide-ranging statements (if you don’t clap catch enough, try to clap catch too much – where a crab catch would be appropriate). A list of throwing/catching modifications to experiment with, and ways in which to overcompensate, can be found at the end of this article.
“In the zone” catches
Athletes are able to pull off seemingly impossible moves because they plan and visualise them before they execute them, and then make minor adjustments to their plan dynamically whilst executing them – simplifying the whole process, which has the effect of making it seem like reality is happening in slow-motion in their minds. It’s called being ‘in the zone’ and it’s a fantastic feeling. Here’s how to do it:
As soon as the disc is thrown, read it and make a detailed plan for the catch. Decide (a) exactly how you are going to catch it – what angle it will be at, what type of catch you are going to execute, where on the disc your contact will be, and even what parts of your hands are going to touch it first, (b) exactly where you are going to catch it – are you going as high/early as possible, as safe as possible (chest behind clap catch), as early / late as possible, or something else – this changes how you approach it. Plan out each step you are going to take before the catch and begin to execute that plan immediately.
In the second after the disc is thrown, you will get a better read, and will have to make modifications to your plan – make these changes as early as possible, so that they can be as slight as possible, and the overall plan becomes clearer as it doesn’t have to change very much. These modifications continue right up until the catch, and get smaller and smaller. A benefit of knowing what the ‘ideal’ technique is that you won’t need to abandon your plan if it goes slightly wrong – you’ll just need to make a modification (unless something unexpected happens). By the time your hands contact the disc, you will have subconsciously prepared so well that the catch will look easy.
Throwing for distance
For distance, you either need more inside-out angle on your technique, or you need more power on your throw. If your ‘long’ throws are turning outside-in, change your technique to release the disc more inside-out, focusing on spin, aiming to get the disc landing at an inside-out angle. When your long throws begin landing inside-out, you can then focus on adding power to the throw – until they are turning outside-in again. Add power by dropping your shoulder, rotating your core, and ‘snapping’ your core (rotationally) as powerfully as you can. Repeat this two-stage process indefinitely to increase the distance of your throws.
Expand your range and variety
Push your limits in every way you can think of – for every limit you can think of, there is an overcompensation limit you can also push, and it will all help you be a well-rounded and versatile thrower & catcher. I’ve listed some below (print & take to your throw-around), however this is by no means an exhaustive list and I recommend you come up with your own!
Long throws | Short throws
Outside-in | Inside-out
[extreme inside-out or outside-in throws are hard to read and/or catch for your throwing partner, but are good practice for both]
Neutral balanced | Directionally balanced
Spin | Speed
Spin | No Spin
Speed | No Speed
Release wide as possible | Release close to your body
Release as quick as possible | Release in slow motion
Core only | Arm only | Wrist only
Catcher doesn’t have to move hands | Catcher has to read & sprint instantly
High release | Low release
Forward pivot | Backwards pivot
Quick release | Slow release
As high as possible | As low as possible
RH on top clap | LH on top clap
Clap | Crab
Close to body | Far from body
Early catch | Safe catch
Early move | Late move
Positioning for jump | for chest-high clap | for ankle-high catch
“Correct” catching | “Incorrect” catching
Zero preparation | Excess preparation
Early static positioning | Three-step-approach jump
Three-step-approach jump: Towards disc | Perpendicular to | In the direction the disc is travelling
Work on weaknesses | Work on strengths
Totally sober | Not sober
Exerting maximum energy | Exerting minimum energy
Max number of discs – quick thinking | One disc aiming for perfection – pressure
If you prefer more structure to your throw-around sessions, you can print & follow the “Throwing for Greatness” doc copied below, created by Megan Hurst & Felix Shardlow around 2013:
Comfortable, warming up throws but still focused – ie. proper pivots, moving body to make catches, making EFFORT. No sloppy throwing. No sloppy catching either: use the correct hand, clap catching or two-handed crab when you can.
Platinum 100s – stand 15m apart, circle around each other gradually, and each throw:
10x flat backhands, 10x flat sidearms
10x outside-in (rollcurve) backhands, 10x outside-in sidearms
10x inside-out backhands, 10x inside-out sidearms
Then, at a distance you are comfortable with:
10x pop passes (spread fingers under disc and lift as you throw backhand – also called toss pass)
10x off-hand backhands (do not pivot outwards, throw lefty if you’re right handed & vice versa)
1. FOCUS on: Release points
Your completion rate should drop in this section – it’s about pushing yourself past your limits. Throws are meant to feel awkward. View this as good catching practice as well!
10 sidearms, 10 backhands released…
– as low as you can
– as far away from your body as you can
– as high as you can
2. FOCUS on: Catching the frisbee-disc
10x sidearms to off-hand catches
10x backhands to off-hand catches
10x roll-curves to awkward (but correct) clapcatches
Jump ball – standing slightly less than your hucking distance apart, throw long, high discs to each other. Throw roll-curve and IO, practice attacking these and catching at the peak of your jump, or on your way down.
It’s better to have a few go over your head before you catch one correctly, than to constantly catch them safely. Read the disc early, plan your approach, jump to your max.
20x catch attempts (discount poor throws)
3. FOCUS on: Faking before throwing
Fake on opposite side before each throw. Make sure your fakes are believable – sharp snap of the wrist on fake, wide pivot and low as possible for both, try to remain balanced.
20x sidearms, 20x backhands.
Stretch to warm down afterwards.
If you’re pushed for time, chop out one of the sections, but make sure you don’t always chop the same one.
Optional extras: pulling practice, hucking practice. If you want to huck or pull in games you will need to practice it between trainings. For these bigger throws, make sure you warm up your arms a little more beforehand.