On Sideline Catches

It’s time for an apparently unpopular opinion. I guess that’s one way of getting back into this after such a long time of not posting…

Claudia Tajima recently made #1 on ESPNW’s Top 10 Plays, and was rightly lauded for an extremely athletic play. It’s brilliant stuff. But was it the right play? It seems to me likely that there’s an easier way to make this catch.

The gfycat is here – I don’t think I can embed it in this article easily – but here’s a few stills:

As you can see even from the stills, the feet slide through the catching motion, and it takes a pretty expert call from a well-positioned observer to say she was in bounds. Even with slow motion footage like that gif, people on reddit were having to crop stills to prove that the catch was in bounds. It’s not at all obvious in real time. It’s not even about self-officiation – for once, on this blog 🙂 – referees can’t get these calls right every time either. Only freeze-frame video replay decision making would remove the need to emphasise being clearly in bounds.

Of course, if we were playing NFL rules and needed two feet down then this is likely the best way to catch this disc – but I think there’s a much better technique she could use given the rules of Ultimate (though it would look routine and wouldn’t have made any highlight reels). We only need one point of contact in our sport.

Here’s one of our players here in St Andrews, making a catch on a similarly-positioned disc (wonderfully blurry as I forgot to put the camera in slow-motion mode):

It’s not so very different in terms of how far out of the pitch the disc is caught. But Emily in this picture has clearly demonstrated to anyone watching that she was in bounds – her foot was down and stationary waaaay before the catch (look how far her left leg has moved while her right foot is still planted!) and then continued to be stationary after it. The front foot will stamp down not too long after the catch, but both visually and in terms of the sounds you hear there is a very clear catch-stamp progression rather than a slide during which the catch happens. It’s two separate jerky motions and probably two noises too (particularly if it were a clap catch). It’s a relatively easy in-bounds call to make, even if the planted foot is very, very close to the line – it stays still long enough that everyone can see its exact position.

The basic idea is really simple – it’s just Newton’s third law. We’re trying to keep our back foot behind us for as long as possible, and the best way to do this is to throw everything else forward, which definitely includes something as weighty as the other leg.

Kicking forwards and upwards with the off leg will help keep the back leg back and down. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s not that hard a skill. The above pair of stills is Emily doing this literally 3 minutes after having the technique explained. You just run at the sideline, scrub off a little speed on that foot plant, and kick forwards and upwards – reaching your body out over the line while leaving a foot behind.

Could Claudia have made that grab this way? It’s a good height for it*, and nearish the sideline, so it looks possible to me.  What do you think?

* If the disc was to be caught wider and lower, for example where it is in that third still of Tajima (if she hadn’t caught it a few frames before) then a scissors catch would require serious gymnastics. Not all of us are flexible enough for that! A disc that is much higher may require a greatest, and one that is low and far out of bounds may require something like Tajima’s effort, but we should all be able to do a competent scissors catch for those we can reach like that.
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3 Responses to On Sideline Catches

    • Nice. An interesting one – actually jumping rather than planting, but still using the same principle of throwing one leg forward to help throw the other back. I’ve half a feeling Justin did one indoors too at some point – anyone know where that highlight is?


  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve made that catch a few times(back foot down, front foot up) in tournaments and there was almost always a discussion about if the front foot was still in the air when possession was established.
    Vs. a discussion over whether both feet were in bounds. So I’d probably call it a wash on which technique is better. As you mentioned, planting the toe and pivoting the body over that point does provide greater reach. Which she might not have needed for this catch, but I understand wanting to make sure.


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