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The Backhand (Training)

This is the throw that you have probably tried already. It follows a similar motion to a tennis-backhand. It is called a backhand because the back of your hand leads the way.

Let’s break the throw down to its elements. Once these are understood, we will put them together to form the complete throw.

Grip the disc with your thumb on the top and your fingers bent underneath with the tips pressing against the inside of the rim. If the disc wasn’t there, your hand would be in the hitchhiking position. Squeeze it tight.

Below are three common methods of gripping the disc:

Single-Finger

(Provides more control than the power grip but potentially less power - best for high releases and dump passes)

Split-Fingers

(Provides the most control at the cost of more power.)

Power Grip

(Provides the most power but less accuracy - best for hucks)

There is no golden rule about which grip to use as you'll most likely change grips as your skills mature. Some players use particular grips for certain throws but it's simply a matter of preference.

Start by standing sideways with your right hip in the direction of the person you’re throwing to. Everything- your toes, knees, and chest- is pointed sideways. Only your eyes, right shoulder, and right hip are pointed at the receiver. This is the “set” position. When your body is in this position, you are ready to throw a backhand.

Hold the disc at about waist level. Hold it so that your right arm is pointed about halfway between where your toes are pointed and where your right shoulder is pointed. (i.e. In front and to the right of you.)Your arm is relaxed and your elbow is near your waist.

Relax. Breathe. Bend your knees a little and smile. It’s only ultimate.

First, we will try throwing the disc using only our wrists. The disc won’t go far but it will get a nice spin, and that is the important thing. It is the spin that keeps the disc stable in the air. (i.e. No wobbling.)

Cock your wrist. Pardon? This is the name for having your hand and wrist ready to throw. The cocked position is different for each type of throw. For the backhand, bend your wrist so that the disc is as close as possible to the inside of your lower arm. Hold the disc so that it is flat. (Parallel with the ground.)

During the throw, your wrist will go from the cocked position to the released position. In the released position, your wrist is bent so that the back of your hand is as close as possible to the outside of your lower arm.

This movement of the hand from cocked to released is called “snapping your wrist”. It is what makes the disc spin.

OK, so now you’re ready to rip. You’re standing there looking at the receiver with your body facing sideways (in the “set” position). The disc is flat at waist level and 45-degrees away from you in the direction of the receiver. Your wrist is cocked and your elbow is close to your side. Because you are practicing with only your wrist, try to prevent your lower arm from moving.

Exercise One
Hold the disc while you move your wrist from the cocked to the released position. Move it back and forth a few times. Work on keeping your lower arm from moving and keeping the disc flat the entire time. Do it slowly at first. Watch what happens to the disc as it moves. Then try it while looking at the receiver.

Why won’t the disc stay flat in my hand?

Is the outside edge of the disc tilting up? Try to keep it flat by pushing down harder with your thumb.

Is the outside edge tilting down? Tighten your grip and the disc should flatten out.

Move it back and forth a few more times to get the feeling of keeping it flat.

Exercise Two
Have a receiver move to about five meters (fifteen feet) away from you. Move the disc back and forth a few times as in Exercise One. Make sure your lower arm does not move. When you are ready, open your hand about halfway between the cocked and released position.

If the disc flew to the receiver, do it a few more times while looking at the receiver. Keep doing this until you are so good you want to show your mom. Try doing it with your receiver a little further away.

Why didn’t it go far enough?
If it went in the right direction but didn’t go very far, try moving your hand faster. Move your hand quickly from cocked to released like you are trying to flick water from your fingers.

Why did it go straight into the ground?
If the disc moved quickly but went into the ground, try aiming higher. Make sure your hand is pointing at your receiver, not at the ground, at the end of your throw.

Why did it fly up?
If the disc went too high, try aiming lower. Make sure your hand is pointing at your receiver, not upwards, at the end of your throw.

Why did it curve to the left?
The disc will go to the left if you let it hang down from your hand as you snap your wrist. Try again and watch to make sure the disc is flat when you release it. If it still curves left and you think you are holding it flat, you may have to overcorrect. This means that you hold the disc so that it is not flat, but is instead tilted towards you just a little. The outside edge will be tilted up. See what happens if you throw it like this. If it now curves to the right, try tilting it a little less.

Why did it curve to the right?
The disc will go to the right if you let it tilt towards you as you snap your wrist. This makes the outside edge of the disc point up. Try again and watch to make sure the disc is flat when you release it. If it still won’t go straight and you think you are holding it flat, you may have to overcorrect. This means that you hold the disc so that it is not flat, but is instead hanging down away from you just a little. See what happens if you throw it like this. If it now curves to the left, try tilting it a little less.

Once you feel comfortable with the wrist-snapping part of the backhand, try to use the technique to throw 10, 20, 30 metres. You will find that the longer the throw, the more you want to use the rest of your arm. In the first section we used our wrists to get the disc spinning. Now we will use the rest of the arm to add power and make the throws go further.

Stand sideways, as before, with your right hip in the direction of the receiver. Get in a stable position with your feet apart and knees slightly bent. Cock your wrist and bring the disc back to the vicinity of your left hip. Now you’re in the set position and ready to throw.

Slowly pull the disc across your body, keeping it flat, until your arm is fully extended to the right. Keep your hand at the same height as it moves across your body. As the disc moves across your body, snap your wrist. When your arm is fully extended, your wrist should be released. Your arm should now be pointed in the direction of your receiver.

Exercise One
Practice this movement with increasing speed while holding the disc. Watch to make sure that the disc is flat. At the end of the motion, check to see that your arm points in the direction of your receiver.

Exercise Two
After you’ve got the hang of that, get your receiver to stand about 10 metres (30 feet) away. Now focus your eyes on the receiver’s chest. Go through the motion at medium speed and open your hand just before the end. Finish with your arm pointed at the receiver’s chest. If it went to the receiver, keep practicing and try throwing it further. Remember to use just your arm and wrist.

Why did it flutter to the ground?
If your throw was wobbly, make sure to grip the disc tightly and snap your wrist. Both of these elements are necessary to create spin. The disc needs lots of spin to fly straight.

Why did it curve?
The disc will curve if your arm or wrist is making it tilt as you release it. It will curve to the left if the outside edge is tilting down away from you. It will curve to the right if the outside edge is tilting up. Practice making the throwing movement and focus on keeping the disc flat.

Why did it go up?
If your hand goes up after you have released the disc, the disc will fly upwards instead of staying at waist level. Try again and focus on keeping your hand at waist level throughout the throw, including the follow through.

Why did it go into the ground?
If your hand goes down after you have released the disc, the disc will fly into the ground instead of staying at waist level. Try again and focus on keeping your hand at waist level throughout the throw, including the follow-through. Keeping your eyes on the receiver’s chest will also help to keep your throws out of the dirt.

Why did it miss the receiver?
The disc will go in the direction that your arm points when you release the disc. Without releasing the disc, practice throwing and see where your arm points. Look where you want the disc to go and point your shoulder there too. Now your arm will point in the direction of your receiver when you release the disc.

One rule of ultimate is that you have to maintain a “pivot foot” while you are holding the disc. The pivot foot is the name given to the foot that must remain in contact with the same piece of ground the entire time you are holding the disc.

Imagine that one of your feet is caught in a leg-hold trap. You can swing around (or “pivot”) as much as you like but that foot must stay in one spot. It seems strange at first, but right-handed people use their left foot as their pivot foot.

Why do righties pivot on their left foot? During a game, the person who is marking you will be trying to block your throws. You will have to learn how to throw around them. Because one foot must always remain stationary, the way to get some distance from your mark is to step sideways and forwards away from them. When righties pivot on their left foot they can reach much further than if they were pivoting on their right foot.

This movement also provides extra power to throws. When you add this step to the arm and wrist movements, you will be ready to throw in a game.

Stand in the set position with your right hip and eyes pointed at the receiver. Cock your wrist and bring the disc back to the vicinity of your left hip. Now you are in the set position from the previous section. In a game, this is how you should be standing to be prepared to throw a backhand.

When you want to throw, start by stepping your right foot in the direction of your receiver. Step as far as you can while remaining comfortably balanced with your pivot foot stationary. As you step, pull your hand forward and snap your wrist as we learned in the last section. Release the disc as your foot touches the ground.

Start in the set position. Shift your weight back onto your left foot when you are ready to throw. This allows you to step forward with your right foot. As you plant your foot, shift your weight forwards. Practice shifting your weight backwards and forwards while you go through the throwing motion.

See how far you can step without straining or feeling off-balance. Practice this until you can do it while thinking about your last embarrassing night on the town.

Go through the throwing motion and try to snap your wrist at the same time as you finish your step. Pay attention to how it feels when you snap your wrist too early or too late. Too early, and you are unstable with one foot in the air; your accuracy will be affected. Too late, and you will have lost the momentum provided by stepping. You will be throwing with just your arm and your power will be reduced.

Practice until your leg, arm, and wrist come forward in a single motion.

Go slowly through the motion and freeze at the point where you would release the disc. Look at where your arm is pointing. This is where the disc will go.

Rotate on your pivot foot and step in different directions. The direction in which you step will determine the direction of your throws. After you step, look at where your right shoulder is pointing. This is also where your arm will point and where the disc will go.

Visualize a receiver running to different spots. To throw to each one of these spots, your arm will have to finish in that direction. Step so your right foot is pointed where you want the disc to go.

Get your receiver to move to different spots and see if you can hit them. Start with short throws and a stationary receiver. Progress to longer throws and a moving receiver.

If you want to throw further, use more of your body. Start in the set position with the disc cocked by your left hip. Keep both feet planted and twist your upper-body to the left. Bring your left shoulder back and around. Reach your right arm around like you are using the disc to scratch the left side of your back. Get your right shoulder into the act and move it around to the left. You should now feel like a coiled spring.

The problem is all of this twisting can affect your accuracy. To maintain accuracy, always keep your eyes on where you want to throw. Move your head and eyeballs to the right while your upper-body twists to the left. Focus on your target.

Stepping out with the right foot is the same as in the regular throws. However, the timing of the step and the movement of the upper-body is different. You want to have a stable base to unwind around, so hold the twist as you finish the step and plant your foot. Once this base is ready, unwind and release the disc.

Exercise 1
Plant your feet in the set position and practice winding and unwinding. Notice what your muscles are doing and try to use as many of them as possible.

Exercise 2
Practice stepping and unwinding. Focus on planting your right foot and then unwinding. Inhale as you wind-up and exhale as you release.

Exercise 3
Go through the entire motion and release the disc. Begin at a moderate speed. See how far you can throw without losing accuracy. Knowing your limits is useful so you are not tempted to do the impossible during a game.


Why won’t the disc go where I want it to?
If you twist too far or unwind too quickly, your throws will be inaccurate. Only twist as far as it is comfortable and unwind at a controlled speed. Keep your eyes on your target. At the point of release, your arm should be pointed at the receiver.

Why doesn’t it go further?
The key to distance throws is using as much of your body as possible. Make sure that you are twisting your body back as much as possible before you begin your forward-throwing motion. Try to make this forward motion smooth, your body unwinding and your arm pulling forward in one fluid motion.

Why are my throws all messed-up again?
You might forget the basics because you have too much to think about. If your throws are curving, fluttering, too high, or too low- go back to just using your arm and wrist.
Once those throws are easy, try adding the step. Start slowly and watch what is happening to the disc while it is in your hand. Make sure it stays flat. Make sure your grip is tight and that you are snapping your wrist. Look at where you want the disc to go.

Why can’t I hit a running receiver?
The key to hitting a running receiver is anticipation. Watch them to get a sense of their speed and direction. Look at a point in front of them and throw there. Throw to where they will be, not to where they are. This is called “leading your receiver”.

Start with short throws to a slow-moving receiver. Throw the disc in front of them. It is easy for a receiver to speed up to catch an overthrown disc. It is difficult for them to catch a disc that is behind them. Gradually increase the length of your throws and the speed of the receiver.