High discs: One hand or two?

DSC_0296-MWhen you’re jumping for a high disc, how should you aim to take it?

First let’s look at some of the advantages of both one- and two-handed high catches.

One-hand grabs have the obvious advantage that you can reach an inch or two higher, partly because you can twist one shoulder higher than the other, and partly because not fully raising that other arm will slightly reduce the effect of gravity on your centre of mass. Lots of people will tend to go one-handed for maximum height.

But two-handed grabs are not without their advantages – one obvious, one fairly obvious, and another much more long-term.

The obvious advantage is security – two hands make the disc less likely to escape you.

DSC_0378-MA nearly-as-obvious advantage, but one which is often overlooked, is the creation of a barrier. If you go up one-handed, your defender can swing a hand through the disc almost any way they like without contacting your arm. It’s relatively easy for them. But two-handed means you have an arm both sides of the disc, and you probably also have your shoulders and hips squarely blocking the defender too – you won’t be catching high discs two-handed from side-on very often.

Look again at that top picture, and think about what sort of bid that defender has (although on this occasion he doesn’t look close). Now imagine that the offence had gone up with two hands, and think about where the defender could possibly put their arm that would get the disc without fouling.

Your arms blocking the defender’s arms, and your square-on body position preventing them getting around you, are both very significant advantages for a receiver. It’s far, far more likely that they’ll have to foul you to get to the disc if you go up with both hands.

Because of that first advantage (making the catch more secure), you’re perfectly entitled to go up two-handed as a natural way to choose to catch a disc, and if that just happens to impede the defender then that’s neither illegal nor unspirited. It’s just sensible. It’s not at all the same thing as jumping with an arm out to block the defender, which would of course be illegal.

And there’s also another advantage – people who prefer to catch two-handed generally do a much better job of being in the right place. This is because the brain learns from its mistakes, and therefore needs a way to define a mistake.

If you go up one-handed and misread it slightly, then you catch it a bit left or right or forward of where you thought, and no harm done (unless the D gets there, of course). Many people in fact end up learning to catch out to the side of the body, as in the bottom picture below – which gives the defender a route to the disc. You’re very unlikely to register a slight misread and will mentally put it down as ‘good enough’ – right up until that guy skies you in the big game six months from now.

But if you go up two-handed and the disc is a foot or two away from where you expected, chances are you’ll have to grab at it with one arm.

IMG_6255-LThis is already a better situation, because you’re in a much better position to react to a misread since both arms are already up there in the vicinity. [In this picture, there’s been a misread with the right hand, but the left would have been in just the right spot to make the grab. Also note again how the defender has a free swing.]

But it also allows you to register the misread as a mistake. You still caught the disc, but the two-handed catch attempt was a failure. You succeeded as a receiver, while at the same time making an error and learning from it. That’s a fantastic thing to be able to do – make mistakes, learn, and yet still back up your team-mates while doing it. People who use two hands a lot become better, faster, at reading the disc.

So: what does all this tell us about how to attack high discs? Ignoring for now the long-term learning benefits, it tells us that there will always be a trade off between catching at the highest point and keeping the opponent away from the disc.

In situations where you’re competing for a disc with one or more other players, the major determining factor will be your position. The player with position – generally the offence – should usually use two hands, and the defender just one.

DSC_0961-MOn defence, you don’t really care too much about making the catch more secure, so two-hands loses that first advantage. And if you’re out of position – usually, that’ll be the defence – there’s not much point creating a barrier. Instead, you probably want to be more side-on so that you can squeeze past the offensive player more easily. Going two-handed and squaring up the shoulders might actually make life harder for you.

And of course the extra couple of inches from going one-handed still applies. So for the defence it’s a no-brainer to go one-handed.

[A note on this picture. You can see that the defender has gone with one hand, out to the side of his body, in order to get around the offence player. But note that the offence is trying to catch it outside the line of his body also – whereas a two-handed attempt would have necessitated having the disc directly in front of him, putting his body between the defender and the disc.]

And for the offence? I’d say that whenever you have even slightly better position than your opponent, two hands is the better option. Almost all the people I think of as ‘owning the sky’ – certainly all the ones who aren’t 6’6″ or have a 35-inch vertical – prefer to take it with two hands. Unless you can take it genuinely that much higher than your defender, then it’s probably far more important to impede his attempt than to reach your own maximum height.

You might lose two inches by going up two-handed, but chances are your defender will lose a lot more than that.

[All photos pinched from Blockstack Photography under a Creative Commons licence. Go check them out.]

Blockstack Photography – Ultimate Frisbee Photos (Tom Styles and others) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
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5 Responses to High discs: One hand or two?

  1. Pingback: Türkiye – Polonya Maçı İncelemesi – Bölüm 1 | Laff Ultimate

  2. Paul Ramsay says:

    Very interesting, definitely got me thinking. This kind of technique debate is the stuff ultimate typically misses out on due to the emerging nature of the sport. Kids learn how to correctly slide a base before they can even hit a ball, but us ultimate players are writing the text book right now. At least that’s how it feels in the small community in South Africa.

    One question, how do you feel the one hand/ two hand debate goes with regard to personal safety? When going up for a disc I always feel more balanced one handed, knowing if my legs were to take a knock while I’m way up there I can at least control my fall somewhat (It’s happened). Added to that, last year I went up for a disc two handed in a warm up game before our National champs and a rookie on the other team, bless his enthusiasm, fractured my rib with a through-me bid. Maybe this taints my objectivity, but I can’t help but feel that two handed is always the less physically safe grab. Less elbows to hit faces, less mobility and less reaction time to cushion a fall to the ground


    • I’d never really thought about that aspect. I’m not sure I agree that it’s more dangerous, or at least I’m not sure I think it’s *significantly* more dangerous. But maybe other people’s experience is different in that regard.

      In terms of protecting the ribs, the only advantage is if you went up with the arm further *away* from the bidding defender, using the near arm to protect your body somewhat. But in terms of preventing the defender having an easy bid on the disc, you’d want to make sure that the *near* arm was up high blocking any easy D’s. For me, I’d always be more interested in securing the catch, but that’s probably because no-one ever took out my ribs. If there were so many dangerous bids that I felt I had to compromise my catching style to protect myself, I think I’d be having a word with my opponents…

      I wouldn’t have thought that the difference in being able to put a hand out to cushion my fall was particularly significant – you could argue that by catching in 2 hands, I could choose which one to leave the disc in while using the other to cushion landing, whereas if I catch right handed and am about to land awkwardly on my right side I have to either drop the disc or compromise my landing. And anyway, hands are generally a pretty bad thing to land on if you want to avoid injury – maybe having that arm lower would give you more control of your balance in landing, but I’m not sure I want to land on my hand too often. I’ve got stronger body parts than my wrist!

      Either way, interesting point about safety. I’m honestly not sure I’m convinced one way or the other though.


  3. Victor P M says:

    I’ve been reviewing the posts here in your blog because I’m searching for as much material I can to learn how to be a better player and teacher of the game. I play for about 2,5 years now, in Brazil. I guess people already now our level of game is very low compared to other countries so I’m can’t say I’m a good player yet. Anyways, I’m trying to read as much as I can to better understand the game. And as a P.E. teacher I’m certain that your blog is of the best for me. I read Skyd and Ultiworld but yours seems more relevant to my work at school. Thank you very much for all the work you put on this blog. Keep it up!
    I have one simple observation:
    “[In this picture, there’s been a misread with the right hand, but the left would have been in just the right spot to make the grab. Also note again how the defender has a free swing.]”
    My point here is: practice going up one handed but learn how to grab it with both hands because when something like misreading with one hand happens, you will be able to correct with the opposite hand with more ease. Often times people practice only their dominat side. Try everything, practice everything and your body will react to the situation using the best tool it has. Be it one handed left/right grab or two handed.


  4. Pingback: The Grapevine – 21/06 | Show Game

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