Are you a beginner at ultimate frisbee?
If so, this article will help you sharpen up your skills and bring your game to a higher level.
Ultimate frisbee is an awkward game, full of counter-intuitive movements. The forehand throw alone is a great example of this. Apart from hitting a golf ball, I can’t think of another athletic motion more unnatural than the ultimate frisbee forehand.
So, when new players enter the game, often they revert to doing what feels natural. Unfortunately, what feels natural doesn’t always work in ultimate frisbee. Quite often, doing what “feels right” holds new players back – it keeps them in the beginner stage longer.
In this article, let’s look at my top 11 beginner mistakes in ultimate frisbee and how to fix them. I’ve made all of these myself, and probably continue to make them every single time I play.
But it’s in being aware of these common ultimate frisbee mistakes that I get to consciously work on correcting them. Over time, this has kept me on a somewhat consistent path of improvement.
I hope that you spend less time as a beginner in ultimate frisbee than I did. By highlighting mistakes I struggled with, you won’t have to make the same mistakes yourself. If you’re a stronger player in your first year as I was in my fifth, I’ll have done my job.
So, in no particular order, here are 11 of the biggest mistakes beginner ultimate frisbee players make:
Ultimate Frisbee Beginners Throw The Frisbee Like It’s a Ball
Until a person starts throwing a frisbee, all prior experience in throwing probably came from throwing balls. When throwing a ball, we need to aim above our target in order to account for the ball to drop.
Not so when throwing a frisbee! As Rob McLeod puts it:
A frisbee is half airplane wing, half parachute. It flies, and then it floats.Rob McLeod Canadian Distance Throwing Champion
Like an airplane wing, an ultimate frisbee disc generates lift during flight.
Lift makes it possible (and indeed necessary) for frisbee players to adjust the trajectory of their throws. Frisbees require flatter, more direct flight paths when compared to balls (which have no lift).
I still throw too high in games all the time. This results in the disc spending more time in “parachute” mode than I’d like. Usually, these are longer throws that float down slowly from high up.
When the disc is thrown too high, defenders are able cluster around my intended receiver. This makes the catch far more challenging than it needed to be.
So remember to throw flatter, more direct passes to your receivers. Throw less “up” and more “at” your target. While learning, don’t be afraid to throw the disc into the ground a few times. The more power you put into your throw, the more lift the disc will have.
Practice throwing the disc more directly at your target. You want it to fly like an airplane wing, and less like a parachute!
Beginner Ultimate Frisbee Players Don’t Practice Their One-Handed Catches
As a beginning ultimate frisbee player, you will have surely had the two-handed “alligator catch” drilled right into your DNA. Experienced players are always barking at new players to catch with both hands. And for good reason!
Catching with two hands is the best option when the disc is within reach of both hands.
The challenge is that, in actual games, the disc is often just outside your two-handed catching range. And so it really helps a lot to be comfortable catching with one hand.
If you only catch with two hands, your target area is limited. And by “target area”, I mean the space you can successfully catch a disc within. You can draw this target area by making a circle in the air with both hands holding a disc.
As you can see from the photos, my catchable target area is larger when catching with one hand. This helps anyone throwing to me because I’m giving them a larger target to hit, while still making the catch.
A great way to improve your catching is to increase the size of your “target” area. You can do this by experimenting with different one-handed catches during warm-up.
When Should I Catch With One Hand Instead of Two?
How do we know when to make a one-handed catch? Any time the disc is outside your two-handed catch, it’s time to switch to a one-handed catch.
Becoming confident with one-hand catches comes with knowing how to position your hand. Here are 2 basic guidelines for catching a frisbee one-handed:
- catch the disc “overhand” (with your thumb under, and fingers on top) when it’s shoulder-height and above
- catch the disc “underhand” (with your fingers under, and thumb on top) when it’s below shoulder height
For the above guidelines, remember that “shoulder height” is relative to where you are in space.
For example, it’s entirely possible to “overhand” catch while laying out, because your shoulders might be lower than the disc.
It’s good to get used to catching the disc from behind, as well as from the front and sides. As you become more familiar with catching the disc from a variety of positions, you will begin to learn which catch is going to work best for each situation.
So always explore new ways of catching the disc, with both hands, especially during warm-up. Be playful with it. You might discover that your ability to make unbelievable catches suddenly improves through adding to your “unusual catches” repertoire.
Beginner Ultimate Frisbee Players Don’t Practice Enough Short Range Throws
It seems like the new players in my league develop mid-range throws before short range throws. This is because most of the time they spend throwing before games is at roughly the 30 yard range. The trouble is, most new players need to be able to throw short in games because:
- New players generally lack the skill and confidence to make longer throws in games.
- Defenders make a beginner’s mid and long throws much less likely to work during games.
Beginner ultimate frisbee players stand to benefit immensely from perfecting short range throws. I’m talking about throws within 10 feet.
A new player with the ability to catch reliably and make accurate short-range passes will quickly earn the team’s trust. More trust leads to more time with the disc during games, which leads to faster development. So it’s key that new players master short range throws, as well as catching.
The “pop pass” is probably the best throw for a beginner ultimate frisbee player to master. Early on, learning the pop pass should be an even higher priority than learning to throw a backhand or forehand.
TIP: For a winning combination, make a strong upfield fake before your short throw. Telegraphing a big upfield throw will buy you lots of space. This is because your mark will have to adjust position to block the upfield throw. This will give you much more room to make a short, easy pass to a teammate.
Beginners Don’t Know They Need to “Come To” the Disc
We rarely run toward the disc in warm-up, so it’s counter-intuitive to accelerate toward the disc when receiving passes during games.
But if you want to catch more discs, you’ll need to master the “come to”! “Coming to” (the disc) simply means not waiting for the disc to reach you, but instead, running toward it.
“Coming to” does make your catch a little more difficult. It will be coming at you much faster if you’re sprinting toward it.
But by running into the disc, you’re making it difficult for your defender to get between you and the disc. A lot of interceptions happen because a player failed to “come to”.
Handlers like to throw to cutters who consistently “come to” so make sure you are one of those cutters!
TIP: Learn the “V – Catch” when making high-speed catches (running toward the disc) if the disc is at face-level.
When “coming to” you will start to experience much more forceful catches. I’ve seen players fail to close their “alligator” style two-handed catch in time, and the disc passes between their hands and hits them in the face.
So, when running toward a disc that’s also moving quickly toward you, modify your two-handed “alligator” catch by allowing your wrists to come together, making a “venus fly trap” (or Dragonball Z) shape with your hands. I call this a “V-Catch” but there is probably a more official name for it.
The “V Catch” is a precautionary catch that can help you not get hit in the face by high-speed face-height passes. An even better option is to get into the habit of hopping a little bit and making your two-handed alligator catch at chest-height. This way if it comes through, it will hit you in the chest and you will probably still catch it.
Beginners Don’t Make Enough Eye Contact with the Handler, or Create a Target
As a cutter, there are two things you can do to get way more throws from your handlers during games.
The first is to make and maintain eye contact with your handler so they know you’re ready for a pass. The more intensely you make eye-contact, the more likely you will be to get the pass.
Personally, I simply won’t throw to a player who hasn’t made eye contact with me, even if they’re wide open. If they’re not looking at me, I interpret it as: they don’t want the disc.
But if you want the disc, you need to look your handler in the eyes. Scream at them with your eyes that you want it.
You could literally yell “Ya!” as well, to signal to the handler that you’re ready for the pass. Yelling for the disc will dramatically increase the number of throws that come your way.
The other irresistible action a beginner ultimate frisbee player can do is to use hand gestures. By creating an “alligator” target, you’ll get more passes. Again, it’s about showing that you’re ready for the throw. Pointing to open space is another way to show the handler where you want the pass to go.
As a handler, I love when my teammates use hand gestures. They’re making my choice simple by broadcasting what throw they want. There’s an art to pointing to open space. You want to do it when your defender isn’t looking at you, but your handler is.
Beginners Don’t Watch The Opposing Handlers Closely Enough To Predict Plays
My best defensive plays happened because I predicted what was going to happen. Predicting the play comes from watching the other team’s handlers, and seeing when they’re about to make the throw.
If you want to make great defensive plays, you need to become obsessed with watching the opposing team’s handlers. Yes, you still need to cover your player, but keep asking yourself this question:
“Is the player I’m defending likely to get a pass right now?”
Sometimes, it’s clear that your player isn’t really an option for a throw. When this is the case, stay close to them, but instead of exclusively watching your player, focus on what their handler is doing. If the handler is going to make a throw that you might be able to stop, it might be worth ditching your player to bid for an interception. It’s a risky way to play, but it makes the defensive half of the game much more exciting.
Study the body language of the handlers in your league. Notice how their bodies change when they’re about to actually make the throw.
As you absorb this information into your subconscious, you will begin to play more instinctively. You will develop the ability to make better predictions about what’s about to happen.
Actively developing “defensive play reading” as an instinctive ability will make you a lethal defensive player.
So pay a little less attention to the player you’re guarding, when possible. Begin to pay a lot closer attention to what the handler is about to do, and get those interceptions!
Beginners Rush The Throw
Beginner ultimate frisbee players tend to get caught up in the excitement of the game, and they tend rush their throws. Rushed throws are more likely to be unstable and innacurate, making them tricky to catch.
As a new player, it’s better to take as much time as you need to set your grip, establish your pivot, make a decisive upfield fake, and then attempt a controlled throw. Doing these things develops useful skills and will allow you to progress faster as a handler.
I’ve been asked, “How long should I take to make my throw?”
The best answer I can think of is this: take as much time as you need to make a controlled throw to an open player.
Develop Your Fluidity
As you progress, try to decrease the time it takes you to catch, set your grip, and make a controlled throw. Gradually increase your fluidity until you’re making highly controlled throws to open players in the blink of an eye.
Super fluid players are hard to defend against because they can get a pass off before their mark arrives. Teams with many fluid players have that effortless “flow” to them, and are a nightmare to defend against.
Tip: When “faking” a throw: one big, convincing fake is more effective than several small, less convincing fakes.
Take your time with the disc, you have 10 stall counts! Under pressure, this can seem like an uncomfortably long time to have the disc as a beginner.
But that time with the disc, under pressure, in a game, is really good for you. The more time you spend with a disc in hand during games, the better.
Not Pivoting, Not Faking and Only Looking Upfield
Of all the points mentioned in this article, not remembering to pivot, fake, or look around – not being more aware of all of my players – is the biggest mistake I make on a regular basis.
Like me, you want to practice pivoting, faking, and looking all around you for the most viable option. Otherwise, like me, you’ll become predictable and easier to mark.
I mention this above, but it’s worth repeating. The best fake, most of the time, is faking a big upfield throw. Really sell it, exaggerate your wind up and take a big step like you’re about to absolutely launch the disc.
You’ll find the entire defending team bites on it if your upfield fake is strong enough. By doing this big upfield fake, you’re forcing the defenders around you to shift in response – and this usually opens up an easy lateral or backward pass.
Beginner Frisbee Players Forget To Cut Their Fingernails
I notice that when my fingernails haven’t been cut in a week or more, my ability to grip the disc suffers. Once my nails have been cut, a joyous reunion occurs between the tips of my fingers and the plastic of the disc.
Every little bit of traction we’re able to get with our fingertips translates to improved disc handling performance in ultimate frisbee.
Freestyle Frisbee players take this principle in the exact opposite direction, aiming for less traction on the disc with longer fingernails (usually just the index finger). In the freestyle world, keeping the disc spinning is the name of the game. It allows longer
Rob McLeod first introduced me to freestyle, and I was soon addicted to trying to learn the Gitus and the Scarecrow. Be sure to check out his Introduction To Freestyle Disc article, but beware – it’s addictive.
Freestyle disc totally refreshed frisbee for me, because I got to be a complete beginner again. Backhand and forehand throws are only relevant to the extend that you’re able to perform roughly those same motions at extremely close range, yet with obnoxiously high spin.
So, go check out freestyle, blend it into your warmup for ultimate frisbee – but when it’s game time, cut those nails!
New Players Throw With Too Much Power, Not Enough Spin
A disc with very little power, and lots of spin will fly beautifully.
A disc with very little spin, and lots of power won’t fly at all. It will tumble through the air like a pancake ejected from the window of a passing school bus.
If you want to throw better, you need to wind up your wrist more than probably “feels natural” for every throw, until it becomes normal for you. Gripping the disc properly, and having plenty of wrist wind-up will give you the spin you need to build an arsenal of great throws.
Beginner ultimate frisbee players tend to throw too hard when trying to throw far.
Pre-Load Your Wrist To Increase Disc Spin
Until you’ve gotten the hang of really loading up your wrist before each throw, throwing hard simply won’t work the way you want it to. For a disc to fly far, you need to be able to put enough spin on it to account for the increased power.
I promise you, if you put in the work to learn how to put a lot of spin on the disc, you’ll be throwing really far in very little time.
You already have the physical strength to throw far, strength is never the problem. The issue people run into when trying to throw far is not having sufficient spin on the disc to tolerate the added power.
Ultimate Frisbee Beginners Give Up On The Play Too Soon
It makes me sad inside when new players give up on the catch while the disc is still in the air. From what I’ve seen, there are a variety of reasons beginner ultimate frisbee players give up prematurely.
Sometimes they see a really strong player about to make a play on the disc, so they back off. Maybe they bobble the disc on their first attempt. Or maybe the handler leads them a little too much, and instead of sprinting after it, the new player slows down because they think they’ll never get to the disc… only to see a sudden gust of wind give it a little extra lift and keep it in the air a second longer (showing that they probably could have made the catch had they run flat out with no hesitation).
The point is, you just never know in frisbee, so you always want to assume you can make the catch if the disc is still airborne, no matter how unlikely it seems.
What gets me the most fired up is when people believe in themselves and make awesome plays happen.
I’m the guy cheering the loudest when the player I’m guarding gets away from me and looks like they’re about to lay out. I’m screaming for them to lay out because I have front-row tickets to what might be the best catch of the season!
Not giving up on a wobbly, bobbling, or otherwise seemingly uncatchable disc comes with the risk that you’ll probably fail in front of everyone.
But not going for that disc guarantees you won’t catch it.
Stop Caring About How You Look
What we’re really addressing here is our own ego, because nobody likes falling short in front of everyone, myself included.
However, speaking for myself, a big turning point in my ability came when I stopped caring (as much) about how I looked when I played.
The less I worried about what other people were thinking, the more I was able to get out of my own head, get into the moment, and really put forth my best effort.
Actively trying to let go of my ego, and care less about winning, made me more willing to risk frequent failed attempts in front of everyone.
By always trying to make those impossible catches, I started to get the best catches of my life.
These are the moments I keep coming back for – the moment the disc soars way out ahead of me, drifting down mere inches from the turf while I sprint like my depends on it, laying out and only just barely making the catch.
That feeling is what ultimate frisbee is all about. It’s not about beating another team, or being better than another player.
Frisbee is about doing things you didn’t know you could do. It’s about cheering when other players pull off great plays, even (maybe especially) if they’re not on your team.
And when we really get down to it, it’s about having fun.