How far apart should your hands be when lining up a clap-catch?
This sounds like a question with no single answer. It clearly depends on all sorts of factors like how windy it is, and of course how far away the disc currently is – players don’t generally hold their hands way apart and then suddenly slam them together just as the disc arrives.
And therein lies my answer – the hands should be far enough apart that the disc won’t go outside that area. In a sense, the hands represent your best guess about the upper and lower limits of where the disc might go – like the error bars on a scientific graph.
And that means that as the disc gets closer, your hands get closer and closer together as you’re more and more sure of where it will be, until eventually they close on it.
Some beginners (and some who should know better) try to catch by keeping their hands really wide apart and then slamming them together at the last minute, even on still days, which causes all sorts of unnecessary drops. (We’ve probably all seen someone showboating a huck catch in the endzone with straight arms extended wide – and then dropping it…)
The best time to see whether your hands are lined up with each other properly is when they’re close together, so if you’re slamming them together from a distance you won’t have much chance to adjust their alignment. Similarly, if there is any misalignment of the hands, then it will be much more of a problem when they slam together than if they meet more gently.
So instead of clapping the disc hard, new players should be encouraged to practice ‘quiet catches’ (see for example Ben Wiggins’ Zen Throwing Routine) where the hands come together much more gently but do a better job of tracking the likely final location of the disc. As the hands close up, you’ll have plenty of time to (sub-consciously) adjust the alignment of the hands as well as tracking the disc.
You wouldn’t actually catch with a super-exaggerated quiet style in a game, of course, but many players would benefit from moving towards the ‘quiet’ end of the spectrum rather than the ‘slam together hard’ end, and so drilling it will most likely help them to improve.
Keeping the hands wide until the last minute is a sign of nervousness about a player’s own ability to predict the path of the disc, but actually it hinders learning that same ability. They’re playing it too safe with their estimate of where the disc will go, and so they’re never wrong, and so they never get any useful feedback.
Even when the disc is nowhere near the height they thought it was, so that one hand hits significantly before the other, the time gap is too short for them to meaningfully understand how far wrong they were – the hands are slamming together so fast that they’ve no clue where they contacted the disc. They might not even notice that the timing was off at all! And when they drop the disc, it’s as likely to be from misaligned hands as from a mis-read, so nothing much is learned there either. ‘Quiet’ catching will help them to learn, as they will really feel when the top hand or bottom hand hits first and whether they had correctly ‘read’ the disc.
Of course, in gusty wind, your hands will start a bit wider, and close in a bit less far, and to some extent crash together more firmly, because the risk of the disc deviating is much higher than the risk of your hands being slightly misaligned. But still, they should track the (now wider) error bars of your estimated catching position and move closer together as the disc approaches so that the final grabbing motion is as small as it can be given the conditions. Unless the disc is utterly unpredictable, in a vicious storm, the style of ‘wait… wait… wait… SLAM!’ catching is not going to be optimal.
A large majority of your players will work this out for themselves, of course. But if you look closely at some of those who don’t catch well, you might see exactly this problem. Encourage them to catch quieter.