Tuesday Tips: Mastering The Art Of Touch, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Washington D.C. Truck Stop's throwing guru breaks down the art of throwing with touch.

Gabby Doran breaking the mark for Pittsburgh Danger at Queen City Tune Up 2018. Photo: Christina Schmidt–Ultiphotos.com

This article was written by Matthew “Rowan” McDonnell, the founder of the American Ultimate Academy, co-coach of American University Dirty Ladies, and captain of Washington DC Truck Stop and DC Breeze. It is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate

When learning to throw a disc, many new players are taught to throw with a lot of spin. It’s great advice: spin is a thrower’s best friend. Spin gives a disc weight. And weight on a disc is a good thing. It helps the disc neutralize and power through wind. It helps lock in edge and shape to prevent discs from fading off their flight paths, helping throws travel farther.

But just having spin on your throws is not enough to become an elite thrower. I challenge players to become intentional about not only the spin but the touch you put on a throw. Touch is the relationship between spin and speed on the disc, and it can have a huge impact on throws you need to make in ultimate.

If you’ve ever seen a full field huck that goes out 20-30 yards in front of the cutter before the disc is suspended in the air at the end of its flight path, you’ve witnessed the power of touch on a throw. While the huck was originally released at a high velocity, the friction and resistance of the air slowed the disc down through its flight until the end when all the disc has left is spin. This is an example of an area we as throwers want touch; the longer we can get that disc to hang up in the air, the bigger the window of catching we have created for our cutter.

Spiva Huck

The importance of touch is magnified during windy conditions. The more spin we put on a disc increases the weight to combat the wind. Additionally, going downwind, if we can keep the spin while reducing speed, it will make for a much easier catch, as discs traveling downwind naturally pick up speed, making them difficult to catch.

The angle and speed of our teammates’ cuts also determine the touch we want to put on our throw. If we are throwing to an in-cut with the defender sealed, we can put a lot of touch (extra spin and decreased speed) onto the disc so it sits for our player to run onto. The longer the disc sits in the catching zone, the greater margin of error we have as a thrower. If we opt for a flat fast throw, we need to hit our player in stride or risk a turnover.

Outside Shoulder

Having a stationary teammate with their defender also stationary is an opportune moment to use a lot of touch. The two common places you’ll see this are at the front of the stack and in the reset space. In the clip below, the cutter at the front of the stack is led to the breakside, where the thrower puts the disc out to space. The offense, with the advantage to react, is able to receive the pass uncontested. Without touch, both of these windows shrink to where the thrower might not be able to complete the throw.

Breakside Throw

Touch is also needed on short throws to make them more catchable. Upline cuts and inside breaks are two areas, in particular, that increased touch will make your life easier. Without touch on the upline cut, you have to hit your handler in stride with a zippy throw that’s difficult to catch. With touch, you are able to lead them to a space and allow for an easier play.

Touch on inside breaks is beneficial since the defense is on the opposite side of where the disc is. By sitting a throw out to the breakside, your teammate has a head start, and the margin of error is greater than if you throw a fastball in stride.

While many situations in ultimate require throwers to add touch to a disc, there are a few instances where you have to take touch off, and get the disc there in a hurry. If the defense is playing the outside shoulder, you cannot throw a disc to space: instead, you have throw a hard pass to the inside shoulder. There are other cases, too: beating a poacher, attacking a zone, or beating a defender that is closing faster than your cutter.

Inside Shoulder

Developing Touch

Since short to medium throws don’t have the help of the wind to apply resistance, turn to your throwing mechanics to help release the disc with less speed while maintaining the spin. For the forehand, we want to continue to apply a strong wrist snap, but we are going to limit the follow-through with our arm. By stopping the arm from following through, or even bringing the forearm backwards upon release, two things are happening. The speed the disc comes out of your hand is decreased, and the pull back on the release will make the disc to spin at a higher rate. Keeping your elbow off your body and using the normal windup will help generate power for the spin and speed of the release. Take a look below at a throw with increased touch and one with more follow through.

More Touch

More Touch

More Follow-Through & Power

More Follow-Through

On the backhand side, we need to stop our upper body rotation, as well as the arm, upon release.

More Touch

More Touch

More Follow-Through

More Follow-Through

Drills & Skills

Mastering control over touch is a learnable skill. Here are some actionable drills and skills to work on to master this craft.

Start at a medium distance with a partner, and work on starting to consciously differentiate the spin and speed of your releases. Throw one fast, with an exaggerated follow through, and alternate by throwing one with the snap back, a slower but heavier spinning disc. In the beginning, you might not be able to tell a major difference, but with some practice, you can almost double the amount of time it takes the disc to get to your partner.

To really work on the mechanics of slowing down your release, throw with a partner inside five yards. Don’t cheat by throwing the disc in an arc shape: work on really pulling back on your release so your partner is able to catch the disc.

Short Forehands

For hucks, challenge yourself to pick a spot where you get the disc to start to helix. Start from 20-30 yards, and see how far you can control the end shape of the huck. It’s important to remember that the further the distance, the more touch will be created naturally, so as the distance starts to increase, you will need to put more and more into your follow through to add speed.

By controlling the touch on your throws, you will be much more effective at throwing to space, increasing margins of error, and making your throws more catchable.

You can use some of the drills above to gauge your progress in applying more touch.The farther you can throw your teammate open into space, the more effective a thrower you are.

You can learn more from Rowan on the American Ultimate Academy Facebook page and YouTube channel.

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