Friday, June 26, 2009

How To Throw a Forehand

Today I'm going to give some basic tips for beginner's trying to learn forehand. I have taught dozens of players how to throw forehand and I find there are usually a few simple things holding brand new players back from success.

First, a preface. Every successful throw in Ultimate is a compilation of three factors: spin, force and angle. The angle of the disc upon release dictates its flight path. The force dictates its distance. The spin dictates its speed, steadiness and, usually, it's completion.

New players focus on force. "How hard can I whip my arm around?" You can forget it, because it's not important for 90% of the throws you will make in a game. When learning the game, all you really need to know is spin, spin, spin.


The hardest thing about learning forehands is how awkward the grip feels in your hand. If you are being taught by a college or club player, they may teach you the "power grip," designed for maximum spin. However, I encourage all first year players to use the beginner's grip.

In this picture, the index finger is pointed straight to the center of the disc and your middle finger is flush to the inside rim. Your thumb grips the top of the disc. You need to understand what each finger is doing here: Your thumb is just holding the disc. Your index finger is supporting the disc so it doesn't fall limp against your side. Your middle finger is the only one really doing any work. Therefore, it is very important to have it in the right position. You must have the pad of your fingertip pushed flush to the inside rim of the disc. This is a common, overlooked point among beginners.

Your stance is simple, you always set yourself in the same position: Face downfield with squared shoulders, keep your feet a little wider than shoulder length apart. Knees bent a little in an "active position." To throw a forehand, you will step straight out horizontally with your non-pivot foot. Do not practice throwing by stepping forward, because in a game you would be stepping straight into a defender.

Since it's already late June, I'll assume anyone reading this has already been practicing forehands for at least a few weeks. Therefore, I'll jump into some tips for players who are still struggling to keep the disc flat and accurate.

1. Only practice short (10 yard) throws. I know that when throwing with a friend or before a game, it's much more fun to practice long throws. I'm also sure a baby would rather go ride a bike or drive a car before he learns how to walk, but there is unfortunately an order to these things. You must first master a simple, short throw.

2. Take your arm (force) out of the equation. The reason your forehands are not working is almost always because you are not putting enough spin on the disc. When you shorten your distance to ten yards, even the weakest arms should be able to complete that distance by only using their wrist to throw the disc. Even though it is not ideal in a game, try keeping your arm close to your body so you are only throwing with your wrist and fingers. These are two things that impart spin. Once you can whip the disc with a lot of spin, then you can take your arm out and put force back into your throws.

3. Your middle finger throws forehands. Spin, spin, spin. Your middle finger is the last point of contact on the disc, which is why it is so important that the pad of your finger be flush with the inside rim. Your final action is to curl your finger in, putting as much spin with that pad as possible.

Think of your body like a whip. Why does a whip crack? When thrown, the large force begins at the top of the whip and travels down to the tip like a wave crashing on the beach. Just like that wave, as it gets closer to the tip it focuses that energy and gets faster and faster. Finally, all that energy hits the tip of the whip, which snaps it so fast it breaks the sound barrier, creating that "pop."

The exact same physics apply to a forehand throw. Your body is the whip, with the pad of your middle finger being the tip. Your entire throw is a force flowing through your sweeping arm, into your rotating wrist down to your curling finger. The disc snaps out of your hand with more spin than a presidential press conference. This is the action you want to practice - creating spin.

* * *

Hope this helps you on the field. Remember, not having a good forehand does not mean you shouldn't throw forehands. Always make the right throw depending on where your cutter is moving, even if you don't think you'll make it. Turnovers are inevitable, and the only way you'll get better. Keep practicing and throwing for fun, and you'll be better than BK in no time.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Common Ultimate Rules Explained

Today I'm going to go over some of the most common rule calls in a game, and oftentimes some of the most confusing calls for beginners (and even veterans). If you have additional questions or corrections to anything in this post, please use the comment section to share the answers with everyone. I will start with the official UPA rule and then repeat in layman's terms.

1. Picks

1. A pick occurs whenever an offensive player moves in a manner that causes a defensive player guarding (II.G) an offensive player to be obstructed by another player. Obstruction may result from contact with, or the need to avoid, the obstructing player.
2. A pick can be called only by the obstructed player and must be announced by loudly calling “pick” immediately after it occurs.
3. If play stops according to XVI.C, players reposition according to XVI.C.4. In addition, the obstructed player is then allowed to move to recover the relative position lost because of the pick.

Ok. You cannot run your defender into somebody, whether intentionally or not. If your defender (or yourself on defense) has to slow down in anyway, even if they don't hit somebody, it's still a pick. The person who got picked has to shout "Pick!" as loud as humanly possible, many times in a row until everyone on the field has stopped. A little known rule is that if you don't yell it loudly enough, everyone throws water bottles at you and kicks you in the shin.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. So the pick is called and everybody stops. If the disc is in the air, though, the play is still going on for whoever is involved (the person and defender thrown to). Never stop catching the disc/defending the disc if it's coming your way! If the disc is thrown to the person who picked somebody, and they don't catch it, that's a turnover. If they catch it, it will go back to the thrower because they only got open by picking somebody. However, if the pick happened away from the play and did not affect it at all, the disc will stay with the new catcher. The picked player catches up with the offender while play is stopped, and then the new thrower checks the disc in.

One more thing! You can't call a pick if you weren't ten feet from your person to begin with. Sorry, the rule doesn't allow you to catch up for your own slowness.

2. Stall Count
The UPA rules are very long, and since you're American and have almost no attention span, I'm going to summarize for you. You can start your mark when you are within 3 meters (ten feet) of the thrower. A stall count is ten seconds and you have to speak loudly enough for the thrower to hear. People stall in different ways, ie. "stall one, stall two..." or "one...two...three..."

Ok, so you got to ten, that's a stall, right? It is a stall and turnover the millisecond you utter the first syllable in your tenth count. Got that? Your time is up at the beginning of that final count, not at the end. So, really, a thrower should consider "9" to be the end all emergency of getting rid of the disc.

Just like many other calls, if the thrower disagrees and thinks he got rid of the disc in time, he yells "Contest!" Then the disc goes back to stall 8 (restarts with "Stalling 8...9...Ten!")

If you think your mark is stalling you to fast, call "Fast Count!" and he has to go back one count before the count you called it on. If this happens after stall 5 it goes back to "stall 6". If the bastard does it twice in a row it goes back to 1. Don't count fast!

3. Fouls
This is a very complex area of rules, so I'm going to break it down into two of the most common fouls. First, as an overview, Ultimate is non-contact in the same way high school basketball is non-contact, if you're familiar enough with basketball for that help. Incidental contact happens and should not be called, so long as two people are honestly just trying to get to the disc. That said...

Jump Discs:
I'm going to speak from the view of the offense. If you think somebody physically impedes your catching of the disc, it's a foul. With jump disc situations, this usually means they box you out with their arms/elbows or they push off of you when jumping to catch the disc. Body position is very important here, because if somebody has the right angle on where the disc is falling, it's OK to box you out with their body, like a rebound in basketball. Basically, if they are in front and the disc is coming down into their lap, that's your problem. But when they start crowding you out with their arms or swinging their hips around, that's a problem.

Likewise, when you both go up, they can't knock your arms out of the way as they reach for the disc, or put their other hand on your shoulder as they go up. It's up to you to decide what's incidental or not, so don't let other people tell you what you should call. If two people are running hard and trip each other, or if two people have equal position and their hands brush up as they jump and vie for the disc, that's incidental. That stuff happens. Don't call every little bump. Be assertive and aggressive when you go for the disc, both on offense and on defense, and make the loud call when you think something was unfair.

Obviously, if the call is made against you and you disagree, yell "Contest." Don't ever get angry about calls, just contest if you disagree or say "No Contest" if you agree. It's pretty simple.

Another common foul is when you're making an in-cut, and somebody tears through you from behind trying to get the disc. A lof of times this only feels like a foul because you are so embarrassed that you did not run to the disc, and somebody who was behind you got there first. You should be embarrassed, that was lazy on your part. Tsk-tsk.

Still, other times the defender gets too excited. They cannot bowl you over or knock your arms out of the way as they rush/dive to that disc. It can be a dangerous play, and if you feel like you would have had at least a shot at getting to that disc before them if they hadn't physically impeded you, make the call. However, if they just brush you with more of that "incidental contact" as they whoosh past you at a hundred miles an hour, chances are you just weren't running hard. Take the incidental contact on the chin and give that one to the defender who was running his/her ass off.

What if you have your hand on the disc when the defender comes rushing through to knock it away? Insert witty lead-in here...

3. Strip Calls

It is illegal to strip the disc out of your hands. However, you are not in the clear the moment your pinky's fingernail touches plastic. The line is drawn when you stop rotation of the disc. This is easiest to determine when you catch the disc with both hands, alligator style, like EVERY SINGLE ULTIMATE PLAYER SHOULD DO 95% OF THE TIME. It's your call to make, so if you think you had that disc in your grip, shout "Strip!" and possession will be returned to you.

If, however, your hand was on the disc, maybe bobbling it a little, and somebody tore that thing into the ground, let it go. They made a great play.

* * *

This is a long post, and I doubt any of you have made it this far, so I'm going to stop. I will look to continue explaining common rules in this blog throughout the summer, so check back often and let me know through the comments section if you have any specific questions. If you'd like to review the UPA rules, they are easily accessible at the link to the right.

Remember, no call is worth your self respect. Don't get dragged down into arguments, even if you are right. It really is just a game. I remember all the little people I've played throughout the years who couldn't follow that simple advice, and they are annoying, petty people. Don't be like them. That's not to say you should be passive aggressive and roll your eyes when you let something go, but remember that in every game, of every sport, there will be bad calls that don't go your way. Ask for clarification from an older player if you need to, make the calls you are confident making and walk away from the battles not worth fighting.