On Catching (Part III) – Clap Catch Hand Position

Here’s something I never really thought about until after I started writing this series of articles. I always enjoy finding new questions to ask, particularly when I find that experienced coaches disagree but there’s never been much discussion of it (that I’ve seen).

Where do your hands point in a clap catch?

Perhaps surprisingly, there isn’t complete agreement about even this simple question.

Brodie demonstrates having both hands pointing in the direction the disc is coming from.

Brummie seems to suggest the same in this clip and, in a similar way to Brodie (though not quite as as exaggerated), he demonstrates clap catching a reasonable distance away from the body. Having the hands pointing forwards makes some sense to me when catching way out in front of you, since the arms are pointing that way too.


Felix, though, seems to like the idea of pointing the hands the same way, but he strongly believes in the concept of using the body as a backboard, and so he catches it close in to the body when he can. That’s a somewhat contorted way to catch, with the arms at 90 degrees to each other but still trying to get the fingers of both hands to point forwards.

But here’s something that looks very different:

This player has the hands at around 90° to each other as he lines up the catch. He wants to use the body as a backboard, and moving his arms that close in means they aren’t parallel – so why should the hands be? This is much more natural, in my opinion, for discs caught very close in to the chest. There’s no need to do anything difficult with the wrists when we could just bring the hands together at whatever angle they happen to be comfortable.


I don’t imagine that hands at 90° to each other are more likely to cause misalignment drops (to avoid confusion, by misalignment I mean the hands nearly miss each other when they clap together – I’m not referring to whether they are pointing the same way but rather whether they’re meeting each other properly.).

If anything, my gut instinct is the opposite. I can see that it might possibly be easier to judge the alignment of the hands (one exactly on top of the other) accurately if they’re pointing the same way. But I also think that the consequences of being misaligned are less severe when the hands are at 90° to each other.

Try it – toss a disc to yourself, catching with your hands either pointing in the same direction or at 90° to each other, and see how far away from centre you have to move one hand before there’s a significant twisting feeling.

Additionally, the way your wrists bend means you can’t accidentally flip the hands all the way over – the classic catch-dropping motion – when the arms are at 90°, in the way that you can when the hands are aligned. Try it yourself.

So why might Felix (and others) be keen to keep the hands forwards, even when it’s awkward to do so? I suspect it might be to do with creating a ‘mouth’ for the catch. When you’re clap-catching, you wouldn’t want a disc to hit you on the finger-ends if you slightly mis-read the height, and so you’d want the hands to be somewhat angled, opening towards the disc like a crocodile’s mouth.

It’s worth noting that you don’t want a large angle on that ‘mouth’. If the hands are up near 45° or more then the disc will most likely bounce off them, probably also spinning off to one side – which is useless. You need the angle to be shallow enough that the disc will slide along the hand for a fraction of a second, decelerating through friction, and being pushed toward the other hand, while that other hand closes on it. It’s actually not an uncommon error to see people whose ‘mouth’ is angled too much such that the disc often bounces off their top hand on in-cuts.

So, it seems like there could be an advantage in having the fingers point forwards. The hand is longer than it is wide, and so you can get a wider mouth with a shallower angle if you point the fingers at the disc ¹.

This could certainly be helpful on those reaching-forward catches, where the hand itself is the only insurance on mistimed catches – but the hands are naturally pointing at the disc anyway in those circumstances. When you’re catching close in to the chest, and it’s awkward to point the fingers forward, I would argue that we also have much less need for the hands to form a mouth as the chest is right there to stop any mistimed discs.

You would want to form a slight mouth still, of course, as you still don’t want to get hit on the finger ends, but any shrinking of that mouth caused by the hands pointing in different directions can easily be compensated for by having the hands an inch or so further apart. There’s a very effective backboard if the disc were to go straight through your hands, and so the disc will still be in roughly the same place if you close on it a fraction late.

For me, the awkwardness of pointing the hands forward in a close-to-the-chest clap catch outweighs any possible advantages I can think of. When you’re reaching right out in front ², you might want the advantage of a wider mouth (or rather, the same size mouth but with less of a gap between your palms) and it’s also the most comfortable position, so overall that may or may not override the additional risk of twisting when misaligned.

But when you’re catching closer in to the body, get the hands at 90° or so – it’s both the most comfortable and the most effective. It’s also what the majority of top players naturally do, and we should be coaching it that way.

Or maybe there’s something I didn’t think of. Thoughts?


1 It’s not clear that this is true when the fingers are fully spread – I reckon the gap from little finger to thumb is roughly the same as from the wrist to the middle fingertip, and perhaps even longer. Still though, if the disc is hitting a spread hand sideways on, there are gaps in the fingers that it could slip through or get caught on, which are not there when all the fingers are pointing roughly towards the disc. It will definitely slide down the hand into the catching area better if the fingers are pointing forwards.
2 Which you probably shouldn’t be unless you really need to – see a future article.
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5 Responses to On Catching (Part III) – Clap Catch Hand Position

  1. Mark says:

    Surely you just want your wrists to be aligned with (to be an extension of) your arms (i.e. not snapped wrists)?
    This means:
    Close to body clap catches: arms are 90 degrees to one another so hands are too.
    Far clap catches: arms are closer to same direction so hands are too.
    To visualise, put your hands 1 on top of the other and move arms closer and further. Hands will naturally follow the arms and change angle.
    (Note that if you try to keep your hands stuck in either position, the other extreme is uncomfortable/unnatural and actually impossible)


  2. Hildo Bijl says:

    What I teach my players is the following:
    – Catch with (near-)straight arms. (Both for rim-catches as pancake-catches.) It gives you an extra range without any additional effort. (Only exception: when catching a pull.)
    – For pancake catches: keep the tip of the thumb of your lower hand touching the thumb of your upper hand (anywhere along the latter thumb). By doing so, you form a “wall” behind the disc, ensuring that the disc never shoots through your hands. At the end of the catch, the thumb of your lower hand is on TOP of the disc.
    – For pancake catches: make sure that your thumbs are always behind the disc. When a disc comes in on your left side, have your left hand under. When a disc comes in on your right side, have your right hand under.
    I think every player should be able to perform a pancake catch with either hand under, just like I think every player should be able to do a one-handed catch with either hand.

    Fun fact 1: when I study new players, and the way they catch, then the first one or two trainings most of them actually instinctively do this. They use the proper hand under in their pancake catches! But after a few trainings, every single one of them develops a preference for one hand under. This preference is not connected to whatever throwing hand they prefer. It’s mostly random, as far as I have seen. Then I encourage players to consciously think about which hand they have under when they catch the disc using a pancake catch, and most of them redevelop the habit.

    Another fun fact is that, when you see a player drop a pancake catch, most of the time they have the wrong hand under. (I guess it’s about 80% of the drops.) That even happens in pro matches. So I’m amazed why they don’t teach pro players about this. It could save multiple drops in pro leagues.


  3. It’s still possible to make a mouth when you have hands a 90 degree angles to each other, just requires a bit of a wrist twist, but as you say this still can’t match the fingers-forward mouth size.

    I agree that, when catching close to chest, fingers shouldn’t be pointing forwards. It’s hard to tell if I’m really doing what you say in the video – I’m certainly not thinking about it and it looks like I’m somewhere in-between from the other clips later on – but I’ve been aware of the angles you’re talking about for a while. Will Foster, who has always thought two or more steps ahead, has been talking about this for a long time, and goes further by saying “The straighter your arms are when clapping [as in forearm-wrist straightness], the more your biceps become ‘sideboards’ and create that basket. Always jump and clap when you can. Use a knee below your clapping basket.”

    Here’s video of myself and Will exchanging a few passes in an indoor match: https://gfycat.com/FrankDifficultFireant


  4. Pingback: On Catching (Part IV) – Where to Clap? | Understanding Ultimate

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