There’s much, much more to catching a disc than you probably thought when you started playing ultimate. I started writing an article about catching, which quickly became 4 articles, and then I realised that the piece on clap catching alone ran to 3,000 words…
That’s too much of an essay for anyone to bother with. So I’ll release them as bite-size chunks, with just one small point of focus each time, over the coming days and weeks. As usual, I’ll talk about the things I find interesting, and not necessarily try to cover every single aspect of catching that you might teach a beginner.
But first, the basics. If your only goal is to make sure you don’t drop the disc, what style would you prefer to use?
The clap catch is always your default catch, and the safest way to make sure you secure possession. I’ve heard some coaches recommending the rim catch as the default, but unless you always play indoors in literally zero wind, the additional safety of the clap catch should always make it your default choice. If you watch high level games and keep count, you’ll see that as many as 80-90% of catches are clapped. You wouldn’t think that, if you only watched highlight reels, but you might be surprised if you watch a whole game and keep count properly.
I just did exactly this for the first 5 points of the most recent World Games final – not an especially windy day, with extremely high level players – and counted 53 clap, 1 thumbs up, and 6 thumbs down (there are also a couple I’m not sure on from the footage). I think only one disc at chest height was caught in any other way, and we even saw Jorgensen clapping a highish disc while under serious defensive pressure.
Most top players clap catch when they can ¹. Most people will jump or crouch to make a clap catch even when the disc isn’t in a normal clapping position, such is the consistency of that catching style.
Every other catch is situational – something about the circumstances has caused you to not use your default. High discs will often be taken with a thumbs down rim grab, and low discs with the thumbs up. These two situations are so common that we tend to lump these throws in with the clap as the three basic catches you need in ultimate (plus the one-handed grab, discussed elsewhere – we’ll mostly ignore one hand catches for this series of articles).
You also might use a rim catch for additional reach, even if the disc is at chest height, to catch further out in front of your body when a defender is close. This is the reason a few coaches recommend catching like this all the time. But in general the risk and reward is not right, because the rim catch is much less able to deal with wind-induced fluctuations. Unless there’s a real chance of a defender making a play, the vast majority of top players stick to the clap catch for security.
When you think about it, there aren’t that many situations where an elite player is clearly better to go for the two-handed rim grab on a medium-height disc without also laying out. If the defender is right there, you’ll likely need to lay out to take it as early as physically possible. If she’s not, then clap catch.
Similarly, if you react late to the disc, or realise only late on that a defender is about to apply pressure, it will often be a one-handed grab that is needed at short notice.
Obviously, I’m not saying that the two-handed running rim grab on a chest high pass never happens. It should, sometimes, and it does. But I would argue that the relatively small gap between discs that are safe to clap, and those that require a layout or a one handed reaction catch, means we should mostly be coaching the rim grab only for high or low catches ². Those players who prefer the rim grab as a first choice on the majority of catches are not playing optimally ³.