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Tuesday Tips: Questions, Comments, and Criticisms of Catching

Photo: Jolie J. Lang  --  UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Jolie J. Lang — UltiPhotos.com

Catching is the most important skill of the game. Period.

So often overlooked because it is also the simplest skill, you need to be able to catch effectively and consistently to have any chance at success, both at the individual and team level.

To be a great player, you need to be able to catch the hard throws, catch in tough conditions, and catch at a consistently high level—above 95% of the time.

Questions on Catching

  1. What’s the best way to catch the disc?

This answer is the most basic. The best way to catch the disc is with two hands, one on top, one on bottom, in a pancake-style, regardless of the situation. There are some conditions, for example when attempting to beat a laying out defender to the disc, where another catching style is faster or more optimal, but if the goal is to simply decrease the likelihood of a drop, the pancake style is always the best. Remember that.

  1. How can I improve my catching consistency?

Using the pancake style as often as possible will greatly help, but there are still other ways to improve consistency.

  • Get your body behind the disc and pull the disc to you, getting it away from defenders and making it easier to hold on to if you contact something like the ground or another player.
  • If at all possible, keep the disc level with your chest. On a low pass, slide to get down rather than just reaching with your arm. On a high pass, jump—if possible—so you minimize the need to reach up and out with just the arms.
  • Keep your eyes on the disc all the way into your hands and actively focus on the catch.
  • Give full effort to catching, at times that means making the “uglier” catch by sliding to pancake rather than reaching down to snag one-handed. Most drops come either from lazy reaching or taking your eyes off the disc at the last minute.
  • Take a breath in the process of catching, allowing your body to complete the catch before you begin the next throw.
  1. Are there any ways I can improve my catching besides just throwing around with friends/playing catch?

Actually catching live throws is still the best way to improve consistency. You have to give full effort and focus in practice, mentally challenging yourself to attack and catch everything as you would in a game. It’s the same reason the best professional baseball catchers block every pitch, even during practice: they want to have their body locked into giving full effort to the task.

Here are a few things you can do outside of playing “normal” catch to improve catching skills.

  • Carry the disc around and hold it in your hands as much as possible; your hands will become more comfortable holding on to the disc in any position or conditions, improving throwing and catching.
  • Transfer the disc into different catching and throwing styles while sitting or walking around.
  • Toss the disc up to yourself and catch it.
  • Practice catching in a variety of different ways, but specifically both iterations of the pancake, alternating which hand is on top of the disc.
  • Strengthen your grip by squeezing tennis balls or hand-strengthening balls (can be done while studying/surfing the web/watching videos, etc).
  • Play flutter guts and work on catching strange passes in strange situations.
  • To challenge yourself and improve your one-handed catching, put one hand behind your back when tossing with a friend.
  • Turn your back to a partner and then have him yell “Up!” so you have to turn, find the disc, and catch.
  1. Where do most drops come from?

Most drops happen because of a mental lapse, especially from players worrying about something during the catching process (such as a defender laying out, toeing a line, skying a defender, or looking to the next pass).

To combat this, actively recognize these situations and train yourself to stop your attention from straying. Mentally, focus on catching first. That is easy to say and hard to do, so practice it! Simulate game situations. How often do we play catch? A ton! How often do we play catch toeing a line or purposefully trying to sky at the highest point? Not often. In your throwing sessions, artificially create these situations. Just like regular catching, you can improve consistency by having your body run on muscle-memory. If catching and throwing-and-going is instinctive, then you don’t have to think about it, hence you won’t take your attention away from the catch.

Compartmentalize and break these actions into separate steps so you’re always sure to do each one right.

Comments on Catching

On drops: Drops are frequently a mental mistake more than a physical one. They most often start due to a lack of focus or effort. Catch ugly if you have to, but catch the disc first and think about the throw second. That being said, drops will happen. Just refocus and say “not again.”

On drop yips (a dropping problem): Sometimes a team or individual can get into a downward spiral of, “We’ve been dropping it a lot lately,” or, “I can’t catch today,” which leads to only more drops. Some players have games where they start to mentally doubt their catching ability…this is a major trap. When the disc is flying to you, you don’t want to be thinking about dropping it or second-guessing your catching style. On the sideline between points, pick up a disc and toss with a teammate while talking about something else. Don’t talk through or overthink the problem. Just get back into the habit of doing each part of the catching process correctly and seeing the disc into your hands and you’ll fix the problem mentally.

On cold and/or windy/ wet conditions: In tough weather conditions, focusing on the catch is even more important, which means using two-hands as often as possible. A glove, a towel, a wristband, climbing powder or chalk, or even dirt can keep your hands dry to help catch, but mostly this is still a mental obstacle. Double your focus to ensure you can hold on to the disc even if it is bouncing in the wind or soaking wet.

On skying or laying out: These are unique instances where a player can specifically focus on catching with one hand, as two-handed attempts are less effective and more likely to result in a drop. For skying, pick a hand, take approach steps, drive off the opposite leg, and again concentrate on snagging that disc and bringing it down close to your body. Keep head and eyes on the disc at all times.

While the mechanics of the jump are different, similar principles apply when laying out, just on a horizontal axis.

Criticisms of Catching

On jumping on under catches: Players are often told to “go-to” the disc, but don’t always do it properly. Frequently, it means they either jump when about to catch an under cut or simply extend the hands to try to catch with a double-handed rib catch while slowing down. These can lead to drops or Ds, when a defender is close enough to layout. Extend your hands toward the disc, sure, but more importantly keep the legs moving as fast as possible. “Speed up” is what should be yelled and going through your head. Get your shoulders wide and try to body out to protect the disc. Then catch and keep running away from your defender. Attack the disc and grab it away from you, then pull it to your chest to secure the catch.

On the “faster-grip”/ underhand catching: Many players explain that they want to catch with two hands on the rim, especially with their hands under the disc, because it makes it faster to grip and easier to throw and/or throw-and-go. Even if there is some logic to this, it can lead to more drops than are necessary. Unless you are really attacking a disc in front of a defender, catch pancake style. The best players in the game still do this. Then practice transferring from that catch to a proper throwing grip so that you can throw-and-go quickly.

On inconsistent, unfocused practice: Every throw and catch matters. Players say “I only dropped it five times in a hundred throws. That’s 95%!” Well, while that’s true, think about what that means: one catching session with five drops? That could be five turnovers on drops over the course of one day of a tournament, which is a terrible statistic. In practice, strive for a completion percentage of 100%. This should be an achievable goal with no defense and ideal conditions. Let that 5% happen over the course of the season—everyone makes mistakes, especially in tough conditions. For now, go for perfection. Focus focus focus.

Final Thoughts

To reemphasize: many, many drops come from players who wait on a disc to come to them or reach down to catch underhand on a low pass. Catching pancake style, even if it means getting low or sliding, can be a slightly slower process, but leads to higher percentage for catching—and that is still the most important goal.

Catch first and catch with consistent effort. No matter what.

  1. Alex Rummelhart
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    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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