The Basics of Catching

Catching is a skill that is often taken for granted and so not coached, when in fact it should be a cornerstone of every player’s development: catching is as much about good technique as any other skill. There is a feeling amongst players that if a receiver gets their hand to the disc, they should catch it. Or course this may not always be fair, but a team that can eliminate drops from its game will prosper. Drops are individual errors and more often than not are the result of poor concentration.

The two most important rules of catching are:

  • A catcher must keep their eye on the disc, and:
  • A catcher must  use two hands whenever possible; having to stretch, jump, stoop, fall-over, slide or dive are not good reasons for not attempting to catch with two hands

Obviously a player must be able to read the disc, be able to measure their approach to it and be aware of defenders and sidelines. But once correctly positioned the actual catching of the disc is down to concentration and application.

Using two hands allows a player to make adjustments in the event of a bobble or misjudgement; it also facilitates the ability to adopt the correct grip for the next pass. When the situation demands it, of course, a player must catch with one hand but this should be the exception rather than the rule.

Two handed catches can be divided into three categories, each one using a subtle variation in technique. These are:

  • High catches (above the shoulder) – two-handed rim catch with thumbs underneath
  • Mid catches (between the waist and the shoulder) – pancake catch
  • Low catches (below the waist) – two-handed rim catch with thumbs on top

The pancake catch is the style least prone to error and players (especially inexperienced players) should be encouraged to catch like this whenever possible.

Pancake catch:

  • It is the safest way to catch
  • Receivers should aim to get their stomach behind the disc (this may mean jumping, stooping, sliding on knees or even falling over) and catch the disc between the flats of their palms
  • Catchers must focus on the centre of the disc
  • Their hands should be perpendicular and form a ‘bird’s mouth’, with the heels of the hands about 10-25cm apart
  • Receivers must be wary of fast discs bouncing out before the hands can be closed; to avoid this they should try to wrap their body around it.
  • It is the preferred catch for windy conditions
  • An exception to this catch is when you have a defender close behind you; it’s preferred to catch using the two-handed rim catch in case your defender lays out from behind. The pancake catch makes it easier for your defender to get a hand on the disc since the disc is being caught very close to your body.

Two-handed rim catch (thumbs under):

  • Ideal for when a disc comes above shoulder height
  • The catcher should focus on the leading edge of the disc and should grab it on either side of that leading edge. The catcher should be aware of the angle of the disc and grab the rim accordingly  (angle their hands to make full contact with the rim)
  • Thumbs should be pointing towards each other and the index fingers forming the sides of a pyramid
  • Catches must be aware of the direction of spin and compensate for it; spin can cause the disc to pull itself from the grasp of a catcher
  • it is the preferred choice for when a two handed catch can be made whilst laying out

Two-handed rim catch (thumbs on top)

  • Ideal for when a disc comes below the waist
  • The catcher should focus on the leading edge of the disc and should grab it on either side of that leading edge. The catcher should be aware of the angle of the disc and grab the rim accordingly (angle their hands to make full contact with the rim)
  • Thumbs should be pointing directly towards the disc and the fingers towards the ground and angled inwards towards the other hand
  • Catchers must be aware of the direction of spin and compensate. Spin can cause the disc to pull itself from the grasp of the catcher
  • It is the preferred choice for scooping up discs, which are close to the ground

One handed rim catch:

  • It is the form most prone to error (ie dropping)
  • Ideally it should only be undertaken when, using to hands is unfeasible
  • Catchers must be especially aware of the effects that spin can have and remember that the dangers are much greater than when using two hands

o   The disc should be caught so as to allow the rotation of the disc to spin into the hand rather than out of it. This means knowing which way the disc is spinning and positioning the hand appropriately.

  • It is the preferred catch for anything that cannot be reached with two hands!

Regardless of the type of catch that is being made, players must learn to attack the disc and catch it at the earliest possible juncture. Waiting for the disc to arrive only serves as an invitation for the defence to get a block. To reduce the chances of defensive intervention players should actively seek to catch the disc early. This means players should:

  • Run towards the disc, not wait for it to come to them
  • Stretch their hands out towards the disc
  • Not try to gain extra yards at the expense of permitting a defensive opportunity (i.e. don’t milk it – catch it at the earliest possible opportunity)
  • Ignore field position, i.e. not wait for the disc in the end zone

‘Going-to’ the disc is vital to maintaining possession at game time, so players should be encouraged to practice taking the disc early; they should not get in to the habit of waiting for the disc to arrive, they should always ‘go and get it’ and always stretch for it.

Being able to take the disc early requires players to be able to ‘read’ the disc; be capable of judging its flight and establishing the nearest point at which it can be intercepted. Having done this, players must position themselves suitably so they may execute the catch. These dual skills of reading the disc and positioning are largely the result of experience and practice.

Finally, a catcher must always be aware that the disc will be spinning when they catch it! This is important because the direction and amount of spin that the disc carries will affect the catch and can potentially cause a drop. Spin has little bearing on making a pancake catch and only a small amount on two-handed rim catches, so long as the hands are apart and contact either side of the disc simultaneously. However, for one-handed rim catches players must be wary; the disc should be caught so that the spin rotates the disc into the hand rather than trying to tear it free. This requires players to:

  • Know the direction that the disc is spinning in:

o   Usually this means seeing the how the disc is thrown

  • Know how to position their hands to minimize the potential danger

The spin on the disc can be a positive force as well as a potential hazard. By positioning the hands correctly the spin on the disc can aid rather than hinder a catch.

~ Content adapted from the UKUA Workbook

About Ultimate Rob

Rob McLeod is a disc sports competitor, a 12 time World Record holder (including 6 Guinness World Records), 10-time World Champion, 2 time Quadruped title holder and currently holds the Canadian Distance Record. He created ultimaterob.com in 2009.

5 thoughts on “The Basics of Catching

  1. I don’t like to encourage people to pancake. There are a few reasons for this. The first is the one you pointed out. If someone is hot on your heels, it gives the defender a better chance at making a bid. Secondly, and probably most importantly, in my experience teaching young players transitioning from league into a competitive environment, I found that nearly all of them over-use the pancake catch. They try to do it when the disc is above their shoulders, to the side of their body and generally, dropped the disc ALL THE TIME. It took a while for me to figure out it was the fact that people had been hammering “pancake everything!” into their heads. The two handed catch with thumbs underneath is a better overall way to catch. It works anywhere, where as the pancake doesn’t work outside the “breadbox” area of your chest. The times to pancake are: at league, when it’s windy (but not when it’s wet) and when you’re standing still. Otherwise, man up and claw catch the thing!

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