On One-Handed Catches

You’re going to catch a disc that’s flying quickly past you to your right. It’s a stretch, and definitely will be one handed. Which hand are you going to use?

You might imagine that it’s simply the nearest hand; that the reason you need to be able to catch comfortably with either hand is so that you’re able to use the nearest limb to quickly reach out and grab. And perhaps sometimes that is the case – if someone throws it at you from a couple of yards away you just stick out a hand. But I’m interested in the ones where you have had the time to turn your body, such that neither hand is obviously much nearer to the disc¹.

Perhaps you’re thinking about the spin – that it makes sense to catch with with whichever hand allows you to have it spin into the palm rather than spinning out. There’s an element of truth in that – if you’re catching near the ‘front’ of the disc as it arrives, there is for sure a correct place to put your hand, and if you get it wrong then it may well spin out of your grasp. But I’d argue that 90% of the time, if you have options about where on the rim you grab the disc, then there is little excuse for not going two-handed.

If someone throws it straight at the middle of your chest then there is indeed an easier or harder catch with one hand or the other, depending on the spin. But who cares? Use two hands.

What I’m talking about is those discs where you can only just get a hand to the edge of the disc as it travels past you. You need to snag the edge nearest you as it passes, not somewhere around the front of the disc where spin is important.

As ever, I think there’s a lot going on that most of us haven’t thought about. The shape of the hand is far more relevant than you might have thought.

Reach your right hand out to the right, with the pad of your thumb pointing directly downwards, and then close your fingers to your thumb. You’ll see it’s not some robotic clamp where the pads of the fingers are exactly opposite the pad of your thumb – rather, with your thumb facing directly down your fingers are pointing significantly forwards.

This first picture shows me trying (and not quite succeeding) to get the thumb facing down and the fingers facing up – it’s neither comfortable nor natural. Imagine a disc flying INTO the screen from where you’re sitting – this is NOT how I would catch it.

20160327_173641This next picture shows what happens if I aim my thumb down and just close my fingers naturally – as weird as it might look, this is much more what my hand would look like just before it closes on a fast-moving disc. I’m not looking to have it hit flush in my palm – I’m looking for the edge of it to go between my thumb and fingers, the disc just touching the very edge of my palm between my fingers and thumb, and for the rim to get snagged on my fingers.

20160327_173647If the disc is flying quickly at waist height to your right, and you go to grab the nearest point of the disc with your right hand as it goes past, your fingers will be pointing slightly forwards. If the pad of your thumb tries to catch the top of the disc, the pads of your fingers will be facing forward – and will catch on the rim².

And unless the disc is travelling very slowly and spinning very fast, the forward motion of it will make the direction of spin irrelevant – all you have to do is snag the rim, on the side nearest to you, as the disc goes past. The forward momentum of the disc will ensure it doesn’t spin out backwards, even if it does have the ‘wrong’ spin. It will stick, giving you plenty of time to close your hand properly and complete the catch, even if your timing is a fraction off.

But now imagine that the disc is up over shoulder height, still out to your right, such that you go with the fingers on top. Reach out for an imaginary grab now, and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll have the pads of your fingers pointing basically down.

Just like before, the only way to generate stopping power on the top of the disc is with the flat – and grippy – pad of the digit making maximum contact, so the fingers must point down³. But now, for a high, right-handed catch of a disc to your right, your thumb is pointing away from where the disc is coming – and now it’s your thumb that is under the disc where the rim is.

You won’t usefully snag anything – the disc will just run over the knuckles of the thumb and disappear, unless you happen to time the catch exceptionally well. It looks more like this…

20160327_173833Imagine a disc flying into the screen from where you are sitting – is this thumb going to snag anything? You’d better time the catch; there is no insurance whatsoever here.

Surely we’ve all seen those drops? Reaching out for a high disc, coming past you at pace, and it just doesn’t stick? This is why it’s hard.

Or rather, this is why the ‘correct’ catch is easy – the fingers or thumb will snag the rim, even if your timing isn’t perfect.

So what is ‘correct’ for that high disc out to your right? The left hand! Reach out from where you’re sitting right now, left-handed and high to the right, with your fingers on top. Look at that thumb! Wiggle it and see which way it bends. You could snag anything on that. If the rim of the disc hits the pad of that forward-facing thumb, your chances of making the catch are hugely better than the right handed attempt.

Conclusion – which hand you catch with often depends largely on whether you are thumb on top (lower catches; use the obvious hand) or fingers on top (higher catches; reach across your body with the other hand).

And the secondary point is that some of you might not even have tried snagging the disc at all – it isn’t always taught. People can go for years trying to always manage the spin, or focussing on the middle of the disc. But that rim on the disc is a very useful thing, so why not see if you can’t develop a catching method that makes better use of it?

If that all sounds mad, and wildly different from how you’ve been taught, then go out and try it. You might just catch some things you never believed you could.

There is a best way to catch for every situation, and the ‘snag’ is something you need in your toolbox. It isn’t the only way you will use, or even anywhere near the most common (2 hands, dammit!). But it will get you 90% of your ‘Wow!’ catches.

¹ Of course, if you’ve turned sideways, there is sometimes a slight preference for the hand further away from the thrower as that one will have fractionally more time than the one nearer the thrower – the disc arrives there later – but still, if the disc is travelling quickly, the difference is often minimal.
² The actual angle of your fingers will vary depending on how you tend to catch, but I guarantee that the fingers will be slightly pointing forwards. Some element of a hook shape, with the potential to snag the rim, is basically inevitable.
³ Relative to the disc, of course – if it’s a bladey throw then it won’t necessarily be pointing straight down at the ground.
And what’s worse is you don’t even have the option of a trailing-edge grab. The other way round, with a thumb-on-top grab, the fingers have enough joints and the wrist has enough mobility that you can get in position for a trailing edge ‘hook’ on the disc, even if you go with the ‘wrong’ hand. But hooking the trailing edge of a fast throw with the thumb, in a fingers-on-top grab, can’t be done – try it! You can’t easily reach around far enough for a high disc with the near hand to get your thumb to hook the rim.
⁵ Somewhat weirdly, the advice does NOT invert for catching scoobers/hammers. It’s still, ‘Low catches, near hand; high catches, far hand.’ What you do, without even thinking about it, is turn your wrist so that the ‘thumb on top’ grab of a low fast hammer actually has the thumb pointing forwards to catch the rim, and the pads of the fingers point straight up.
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6 Responses to On One-Handed Catches

  1. felixshardlow says:

    Another aspect is about getting the flat of your palm meeting the front edge of the disc – when reaching for a high & to your right hand side disc, going left handed actually creates a more suitable ‘glove’ for the disc as it nestles into the palm of the left hand.

    It’s always good to experiment with these ideas by switching the side to see if you would, for example, go right handed for a disc high and to your left. This helps counter the natural and extreme bias we all have for catching with our favoured hand (and then justifying why we did it afterwards!)


  2. Yaacov Iland says:

    Further detail (let me know if you agree!)
    If you are catching with the right hand on a disc on the right side, you want the top joint of the thumb horizontal, which will increase the surface area in contact with the underside of the disc (and therefore increase friction) and point the tip of the thumb into the inside of the back rim of the disc, providing a much more solid “hook” than a vertical top thumb joint, though the hook is significantly less deep. If you catch the same disc with the left hand, then you want the top joint of the thumb vertical, which provides less surface area in contact with the disc but creates a deeper hook than the right hand will.
    However, a really key point to either of these catches is that if the thrower threw a righty backhand (or lefty flick) you want to clamp the top of the disc between your thumb and fingers *before* the rim of the disc touches the skin between your thumb and index. That will set your thumb to “hook” the disc before it gets accelerated out of your hand by the spin pushing against the crook between the thumb and forefinger. If it’s a righty flick, you want the disc to hit the crook first (or simultaneously) so that the spin decelerates the disc to help you hook it on the thumb.


  3. Graham says:

    This argument does seem to assume ambidexterity. My right hand is dominant, so generally, if I have time to choose which hand to catch with, my right hand will be a higher percentage choice regardless of positioning.

    It does make me realise I should spend more time practicing catching with my non-dominant hand, both for times when there is time to makle that choice, and for times when I don’t. But until I do, I don’t think I’ll be reaching across with my left hand for a high, right catch in any upcoming tournaments.

    Going off topic, but speaking of non-dominant hands, do you have any thoughts on non-dominant hand throws? Lefty-backhand pop passes for handler resets seem to be becoming a thing, but I’ve never been confident throwing with my left, and I’m not convinced that (after 16+ years of playing)any amount of practicing will make a lefty a better option than throwing with my right.


    • Graham says:

      Should have proof read that, I apologise for the spelling and grammar mistakes!


    • I think it’s true that you need to practice left handed catching. But all things being equal, the left hand is better for some grabs. I’d go so far as to say that even if the less hand is less reliable in general, there will still be situations where it is the better option, just because the right handed catch is so very hard. But for sure, if you’re a complete chump with the off-hand then it won’t help.

      My own left hand is close to useless, and I got grief at beach worlds last year for attempting a trailing edge righty grab when the left was so obviously better. Turns out that people who grow up playing baseball find it amazing that British people can’t catch lefty… 🙂

      Off-hand throws – I’d say they’re pretty close to vital these days. You don’t need a lot, and the flashier ones are largely just showing off (lefty hucks?!). But the 5 yard lefty toss gives you things you simply can’t do on the forehand. It’s a quicker release from a neutral stance, and much easier to step into a give and go, and it’s vastly easier to take the pace off it for a 5 yard upline. It’s a bigger surprise for the mark. It’s also vastly easier to catch, oddly – short backhands are predictable, smooth releases, and the receiver can prepare for the catch even before it leaves the hand, but short flicks are a very quick motion and there’s little info for the receiver about the speed, height or direction of the throw until it is in the air. You often see receivers flinch as someone lines up a 3 yard forehand to them – there’s no way to judge the thrower’s intended pace.

      I played twenty years without a lefty too, but it’s damn useful having one, and doesn’t take that long to get comfortable with over short range.


  4. dusty.rhodes says:

    All of your pictures show very non-separated fingers. Ya gotta get your hands BIG and stretch out your fingers before clamping down! Creates a larger catching sphere at the end of your arm!

    And yes, playing baseball is the best preparation for proper catching in ultimate b/c your catch->throw transition is fastest if you catch with your non-(dominant)-throwing hand.. If you’re a righty, you should tend to catch lefty. If you’re a lefty, you should tend to catch righty.


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