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?