Monday, April 10, 2006

claw vs pancake

I posted this to rsd the other day in response to someone’s claim that pancaking is the only way to catch:
[quotes from Zaz’s book deleted]
If I had to give a single rule of thumb, I'd say that you'd catch more passes using the pancake if all you're doing is standing and catching with someone, but you'd catch more passes in a game using the rim catch. I'll cite an example from yesterday. In the first point of the Fools semis yesterday, I cut back to the disc with Jay Dono close behind. The pass was about head height. If I was by myself, I could have taken a little hop and pancaked it at chest level, but if I tried that in this situation, Jay would have had the time to get there first. Instead, I ran through it and clawed it, and even then I think he touched it enough that it almost spun out of my hand. Pancake = block (but not a drop), rim catch = chance for a catch. Had I not caught it, someone could have cited this as an example of why the pancake was preferable, but they would have been wrong for this situation.
I liken the pancake catch to a two-handed catch in baseball. It’s how beginners are taught, it’s more secure on your basic catches, but there are plenty of circumstances where it’s not the right catch: a first baseman stretching for a throw, an outfielder diving for a catch, a shortstop going into the hole. And for an experienced, athletic player on a routine catch, it’s just as secure and might help the player get in position to throw.

I know that some good players (even a great one like Paul Greff) swear by the pancake and I’m not going to try to convince them to switch, but the rim catch is a more natural catching motion. We have opposable thumbs for a reason. A rim catch is just two one-handed catches happening at the same time.

The real benefit, though, is that it can be easier to catch in a game. You don’t have to slow down to catch the disc (and you can avoid getting run over by a flailing diver), you can reach a few inches further, and you have better feel (once you get used to it). Additionally, since the disc is already in your fingers, you can quickly take your grip for the next pass (and if the pass is at head height, you don’t have to hop as with a pancake).

If the disc is at chest height, I’ll usually pancake it, especially if it’s windy or if there is no pressure from the defense. But for higher passes or ones where a block is possible, try running through the disc and catching it with your fingers. And take a look at the book for more info.

33 comments:

Mike Droske said...

for the longest time i swore by the pancake avoiding the claw catch at all costs. but in the last year or so i've learned to do a sort of modified claw catch. if you are good at understanding which way the disc is spinning, you treat it as a one handed catch with the second hand there for backup, closing on the disc a fraction of a second later. i think this method is good because it elimates the reason that most claw catches are dropped... being, that it hits the wrong hand first and spins out, instead of into the other hand.

sween said...

Sweet! I was introduced to the rim catch this year as an strong alternative to the pancake and I can definitely see the benefits.

Of course, the problem is teaching my body to do it...

gwbuhl said...

The last paragraph touches on an important aspect of catching: the elevation of the disc when you catch it. Whenever I was first really taught how to catch, my coach explained the elevation of the disc should be one of the factors that dictates catching technique. The lower the disc the greater the difficulty to claw (with thumbs down).

Another factor (inconsequential?) is: when you claw catch, your thumbs are under the disc and fingers are on top. For throwing. you need the opposite. If you pancake, half of you throwing hand (fingers or thumb) are roughly the correct place to throw (top or bottom, respectively). Does this mean that you pancake you can throw the disc sooner than with the claw? This is definitely minutia, but I find the physiology of catching interesting.

aj said...

Balance seems to have been restored in the frisbee world as Parinella is once again on the opposite side of Mike G.

For the most part, I’m a proponent of the “just catch the damned thing” method. If you’re not dropping the disc and people aren’t getting blocks on you then it’s probably best to just stick with what you’re comfortable with.

That being said, I catch the vast majority of game passes using the rim catch. I also encourage the players I coach to become comfortable using the rim catch because I consider it more versatile. We run a drill where we have the players pair up – one player is on offense and the other player is on defense. The defender starts about a yard behind the offensive player. We yell “disc in” and the players run back towards the disc. We then throw a hard pass right at the offensive player. If the offensive player doesn’t slow down and catches the frisbee out in front the defender isn’t really a factor. If the offender slows down the defense is close enough to be a factor. One thing players notice from the drill is that it’s pretty difficult to pancake when you’re running full speed back at the disc. After taking a couple of hard thrown discs off the stomach, players tend to stop trying to pancake.

There is a time and a place for the pancake as well – I definitely use it more when it’s really windy or really wet. I’ve also noticed that I use the pancake more on passes that Jim described as having a larger spatial margin of error, most notably dump passes. I think this has something to do with the fact that on dump passes I’m primarily concerned with using my body to seal my defender away from the disc - in these cases catching almost becomes an afterthought.

I don’t know enough strong players that consistently pancake to be real confident in my next claim, but I’d be interested to hear what people think. The few elite players, which I know, that pancake when they are cutting back to the disc are all very good at using their bodies to seal defenders. I’m thinking of one player in particular (who always pancakes) who consistently slows down on in cuts because he’s able to position his body in such a way that defenders don’t have a path to the disc. I’ve never seen anyone get a block going past him. I wonder if this is true for all top players who swear by the pancake.

_dusty_ said...

One of the funamentals of pancake catching that many people overlook is when to put the left hand on the bottom instead of the right. Most players simply catch with their throwing hand underneath the disc to get a quicker grip on the disc.

Cornerbacks in football are taught to put their hand between the receiver's hands to break up the pass. The same principle applies to layout D's in ultimate.

As a receiver, you want to use the arm nearest the defender on the bottom of the pancake catch. If the defender is laying out on your left side and your left arm is on the bottom, he has to avoid it to get the D and contact is more likely. If your right hand is on the bottom, you're providing a clear lane to the disc and it's much easier to get the D.

If you crab-claw, you don't have the luxury of using your arms to shield the defender. However, if you bend at the waist and fully extend your arms, you can use your hips and torso to keep the defender from the disc. It's very hard to lay out around someone who is fully extended in this manner.

I'd estimate I have a 60/40 split in favor of the crab-claw.

parinella said...

GW,
At about shoulder height, invert the claw so that thumbs are up and pinkies are close to each other.

As for the quickness of delivery, I think the claw has the pancake beat. The disc is already in your fingers, so switching to any grip is quick, especially if your thumbs are on top from a chest-level or lower pass. With a pancake, even if your fingers are on the right side, you still have to grab the disc first. You can probably cut down the time a little by catching with throwing hand down when you're hoping to throw a forehand and throwing up on top for the backhand, like if there's a leading pass to one side and you're looking to continue. Of course, that could look to thinking too much, a big cause of drops.

AJ, the claw requires more hand-eye coordination, since you have less up-down spatial margin, making the pancake a better choice on windy days. I'm not sure whether this applies to side-to-side margin, too. If you're trying to pancake the disc when it's not directly in front of you, you might misalign your hands and flip it. (We had the toughest time trying to capture this in a photograph for the book, and ended up faking it (p 36).)

This is in the Catching in a Game subsection, where we also point out that you'll be in motion when catching in a game, so when you develop your catching skills, be moving.

Factors favoring a claw: running full speed, defender nearby, head-height, one-handed catch might be necessary.
Factors favoring a pancake: wind, stationary receiver, handling

pgw said...

The first comment is right on about the claw catch -- if there is much relative velocity between you and the disc, you definitely want to lead with one hand ever so slightly (if you're coming back to the disc, left hand for righty forehands, right hand for righty backhands.)

In my opinion the speed with which you can switch to a throwing grip is rarely an issue. You can (and should) drill your hands to quicken your ability to switch to all throwing grips from all catching positions by trying to return throws as quickly as possible when you're throwing with a partner. If you really need to release the throw quickly: claw catch thumb-down and throw upside-down backhand, or claw catch thumb-up and throw backhand. Goaltimate will help you work on this.

One of the most interesting catching methods I've ever seen was sort of a hybrid between claw and pancake that an old college teammate of mine would use. Basically he would claw thumb-up with one hand, and claw thumb-down with the other. He would position his hands right next to one another and both angled toward the other so that the (non-thumb) fingers of his two hands were basically pancaking the disc, while each hand on its own was clawing it. I can't say that I ever developed this skill for myself but it seemed to work well for him. The fact that he has large hands probably helps though. (You might find that small-handed people are more likely to favor the pancake; I am small-handed and while I do use the claw a lot, I will pancake in a some situations where others would probably not.)

Idris said...

'Nella, struggling for topics huh?

At about shoulder height, invert the claw so that thumbs are up and pinkies are close to each other.

Uh... No. Best rethink that one.

Anonymous said...

A short comment on AJ's comment that the pancake catch is best when the disc is wet.

Since the team I coach spends a lot of time playing in rainy spring tournaments, we have a drill for the situtation called Crisco disc. Yes, you take a frisbee and coat it with Crisco. Then you dip it and your hands in a bucket of water and play catch. The disc has a tendency to slide right through your hands with a pancake catch. A claw (if disc at head or higher) or upside down claw (fingers underneath rim and thumbs on top if disc is anywhere else) works a lot better. Somehow you get get a firmer grip on the disc.
-miriam

parinella said...

Hey, it's drawing them in.

As you move from head-height down to shoulder height or maybe chest height, switch your hand position, like they teach football receivers. A few people like Billy R (and are you one of those, too?) will catch with thumbs down even on sliding catches, and I've seen two players catch with thumbs up even on eye-level passes, but they are the exceptions.

Probably more important to a quick release is that you run through the disc rather than hop to it, and that's easier to do with the claw.

dsb said...

3 quick notes on the 2-hand rim job:
-it's a much stronger catch; you've got a 2 hand grip on the disc
-the longer your arms the better it is. the pancake pretty much negates any reach advantage you've got
-it's easier to convert into a layout if need be

pgw said...

3 quick notes on the 2-hand rim job:
-it's a much stronger catch; you've got a 2 hand grip on the disc
-the longer your arms the better it is. the pancake pretty much negates any reach advantage you've got
-it's easier to convert into a layout if need be


1. No it's not. Clap down hard in the center of the disc and you have a lot more friction working for you.

2. No it doesn't. There's no rule that says you have to bend your elbows when you pancake. You do have a greater reach advantage with the claw, though.

3. I agree with you there.

dsb said...

1. No it's not. Clap down hard in the center of the disc and you have a lot more friction working for you.

2. No it doesn't. There's no rule that says you have to bend your elbows when you pancake. You do have a greater reach advantage with the claw, though.


1. This is not necessarily true. Not to get into a boring physics conversation, but the pancake largely relies on the friction of the two hands, while the claw also relies on the force of the thumbs against the rim.

2. Hrm, I guess I will give you that there are certain times when you can use your reach advantage with a pancake, but I would definately say you take much better advantage with the claw. I'm having trouble imagining myself using the pancake in any of these circumstances but I guess that's my personal preference.

Mike Droske said...

pgw... i think you got it backwards.. you would lead with your right hand coming back to the disc for a righty forehand, and left hand for a righty backhand.

higy said...

No left hand. If you reached with your right hand the disc would have more of a tendancy to spin through your grip.

pgw said...

Mike Droske: I disagree. If I were catching purely one-handed, I'd want to catch the forward-spinning edge of the disc. That means from the thrower's perspective, catching the right side of the forehand and the left side of the backhand.

dsb: I'm all about boring physics conversations. All catching methods rely on friction. The more force you can exert against the plastic -- and the slower the plastic is spinning where you are pressing against it -- the greater the frictional effect of what you're doing. (I think I have probably made some technical misstatement there but what I'm trying to say is that you are generally more likely to make the catch if you squeeze harder and/or the disc is spinning slower.) I'm pretty sure my entire left arm is stronger than my right thumb. Try this: grab hold of a big huge dictionary by its spine using one hand. Hard to hold up? Now place one palm on the front of the book and one on the back and squeeze. Pretty easy, no? As for number 2, I did concede that the claw maximizes your reach advantage. But you said the pancake negates your reach advantage, which isn't true.

Mike Droske said...

i understand the confusion. the method i am talking about encourages the disc slipping through your initial grip, into the backstop of your other hand. thus, catching it righty on the center to right side of the disc, effectively slowing the disc down to nearly a stop, then having your left hand there to easily clasp on it.

i do agree that your method could be useful as well... i think they are both good techniques as long as you understand what is happening.

dsb said...

pgw-
The more force you exert the more friction, yes (this relationship is approx. linear). The speed of the spin does not affect the amount of friction so much as how fast the disc will stop spinning. The pancake might be more effective at stopping the spin, but I am saying the claw is a stronger catch; stronger grip. Try these examples: Try lifting a keg with your two hands on the sides of the keg. Now try to lift it grabbing the lips on the ends. Similarly, hold a disc with both grips and have somebody try to pull it out of your hands. This is what I'm envisioning when I say a stronger catch; someone else attempting to catch/D it at the same time. With the claw we're not just talking about the friction of the thumbs clamping against the hand, but also the force of the thumb against the rim (or the palm against the outside of the rim, depending on the direction of the opposing force).

For number 2, you are right, I did say "negates." Forgive me for using a bit of editorial license.

james said...

Does anyone else think it's harder to pancake with your hands fully extended (or close to fully extended) than it is to rim catch with hands fully extended? I ask because I'd like to be able to make pancake catches way in front of my body, but it's awkward. WAY more awkwardt than a pancake close or fairly close to the body.

Idris said...

As you move from head-height down to shoulder height or maybe chest height, switch your hand position

Yeah, that's more what I was looking for. Maybe gut height. Though I'd love to see you catch a disc running to... thumbs up, with a disc at shoulder height. I still say it never happens.

I nag because I think the correct change of up to down thumbs is the biggest factor of people executing this catch well.

I'm no B-Rod, he's just comical with how low he goes. But he's proof that its effective to error on thumbs done lower than higher.

Fact is 80%+ of good players catch this way (claw) on running go-to catches. There's always the vocal minority who don't get it and claim the pancake is the shit... they are usually lower level players... vocal, but not as good.

parinella said...

Though I'd love to see you catch a disc running to... thumbs up, with a disc at shoulder height. I still say it never happens.
Jeremy Seeger.

And Paul Greff is an adamant pancaker. Although not the deepest thinker ultimate has ever known, he insisted that the first thing he would do when he started coaching Brute Squad was to get rid of this claw catch shit. Along with hamstring injuries, that is something that he just did not understand.

It is possible that the pancake is the preferable method for players up to a certain relatively high level, since it requires less athleticism or timing or hand-eye coordination. And most would agree that for certain catches, the pancake is preferable. So it's not as if the pancake is evil.

You kids today are lucky growing up in an environment where it's ok to catch with the claw.

Idris said...

I was refering to you... not all players in general. So he is not a good example of you catching that way.

people who are big bodied [paul] have an easier time as it is inherently harder to get a block going around them. so a pancake is easier to get away with.

parinella said...

Well, I do make fun of Seeger every once in a while...

I probably usually pancake a disc that is right in the numbers, except maybe when I'm going all out, and claw everything else. I'll one-hand in goaltimate out of laziness or to gain a couple feet of position by catching it to one side. But sitting here in my living room, I'm just not that sure right now. I have enough old tapes that I could probably track how I've changed over time. It really was unacceptable form back in the old days for most (even elite) players to catch it with the claw. The first 20 or so pictures in the Ultimate History Book that show a two-handed catch are all pancakes, even one where the disc is above the head and the receiver is trying a two foot drag (he should see page 61 of UT&T for the scissor kick).

Anonymous said...

Jay Dono!! I taught him how to play. That is, I taught him the basic skills and strategy (I'm positive I taught him to pancake). The uber-sick layouts of triumph, well, he developed on his own.

-Bram

Alex de Frondeville said...

Fine, I'll jump in. I mostly pancake but that is also the nature of the throws that I'm catching, which are typically around the disc. I guess per Idris that makes me a lower level player. It has gotten to the point that on the rare occasion where I go upfield and then make a comeback cut, unless the disc is offcenter or low (low claw) or above head height, I will always pancake. I'm also gunshy because every now and then when I try the 2 handed claw catch, it slips right through my hands and either clonks me on the forehead, or just slips over my head.

Obviously this discussion is only relevant for the 2-handed catches. If you can only get to it with one hand, then claw (or mini finger pancake for those pancaker aficionados).

Anonymous said...

hmmm... women playing disc with crisco.... is that like the flying disc equivalent of mud wrestling?

Anonymous said...

The pancake DOES negate any reach advantage. There is pretty much no such thing as a full-extension pancake catch without elbow bending because...every player knows they cannot clap their hands fast enough at full extension to stop the disc that is why players have to leap forward, bend their elbows, and pancake hard on the disc. This is a problem. Flying through the air is slower than sprinting on the ground. I see soooooo many players get layout D'ed on when they do the leap forward pancake catch. Bottom line is go hard at the disc with arm/s out in front. Also, is there a such thing as, "soft catches" and "soft hands" in ultimate?

Anonymous said...

a few thoughts about catching:

when going to a disc, claw catching often forces you to take a direct line and square to the disc since it's awkward to reach to the side and claw catch. it teaches good fundamentals to younger players.

also with the claw, a laying out defender has to either truly get his hand way in front of yours to block the disc or reach between your hands. clap catching leaves the side of the disc exposed for a laying out defender to hit. with a claw catch, he's far more likely to hit your hand as he lays out past you since your arm and hand is shielding the disc.

when clap catching, i teach people to still reach out and clap their hands on the rim rather than in the center of the disc (learned that from watching the already mentioned j dono who has to get all the reach he can with those stubby arms of his). this allows easier grip transition.

lastly, does anyone else change which hand they use on top of a clap catch depending on which side of their body their reaching to? i have found that if i reach to my left for a disc at head height, if i have my right hand on top, my arm partially obstructs my vision of the disc. but if my left is on top, my right arm is lower and not blocking my view of the disc at all. maybe it's just because i have such huge guns for arms.

b-lo

Ben Slade said...

Was referred here by a friend... there is such a thing as a fully extended pancake catch. as you move to catch the disc, simply put the wrists of your hands together. this essentially creates a giant claw (right hand below, left on top) which can be fully extended easily. This eliminates the shots that bounce off the chest because they are too hot and the 'misaligned hands' drops because your hands are already set up to be directly opposed to each other. You lose a little bit of reach when compared to the claw catch but not as much as with a standard pancake. It's an extremely safe catch, particularly with unpredictable winds or generally crap weather. I also favor it over a claw catch when a disc is coming very 'hot' on an in cut.

Anonymous said...

hee hee - the 2-hand rim job... parinella's favorite...

you guys are perverts. no surprise - parinella is a dirty old bastard.

I prefer the dirty sanchez. the pancake is for homos.

Edward Lee said...

lastly, does anyone else change which hand they use on top of a clap catch depending on which side of their body their reaching to? i have found that if i reach to my left for a disc at head height, if i have my right hand on top, my arm partially obstructs my vision of the disc. but if my left is on top, my right arm is lower and not blocking my view of the disc at all. maybe it's just because i have such huge guns for arms.

This might be a problem if the disc has the standard outside-in bank on it though; you'd have to tilt your forearms awkwardly to align your hands with the plane of the disc. (See this picture for an example.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, really interesting to see so many comments from high level players on a that is on its surface so mundane - catching. Some random thoughts that came to mind while reading through the posts.

In my city, the men's competitive players are now strongly advocating the two-handed rim catch, for the reason that it's harder for a defender to run through for the block. Indeed, watching them demonstrate it, it's pretty close to unblockable, they're not slowing down at all, and leaning/lunging into the disc with their catches.

It seems to come more naturally to some people though. I tend to drop the two-handed rim catch quite a bit in practice (and I very rarely try it in a game). For me, the left hand actually interferes with my catch, though it may be a question of practice. Strangely enough, I'm actually much more comfortable with one-handed rim catches (in practice I'll make the catches running into a disc). Another strange thing about my catching is that I can do high and low rim catches with my right hand (down to ankle level out to the side), and low rim catches with my left hand (came with practice), but am totally unable to catch high catches with the left hand. A rough estimate of catching success would be 95% with the catches I can make, and 2% (yes, I'm dropping 49 out of 50 passes) on the last one.

Overall I'm still a pancake catcher though. I'll be catching things slightly above my head this way, and down to the knees on the run, or even lower if sliding. I do sense that it's non-optimal as I can feel myself pulling back. About the which hand on top thing, I've always caught throwing hand on top pretty much no matter the trajectory, it's just more comfortable for me and I'd probably drop it a lot more if I had to think about it.

Incidentally, it is possible to lunge and get good extension while pancake catching, though not as much as is possible on a rim catch. My own pancake technique which seems to work for me involves having my top arm at an angle to the disc, and not parallel to it, so that the rim of the disc strikes the underside of my arm below the wrist just as I'm closing my hands together. Actually this technique is pretty much necessary when I'm pancaking a disc which is above my head.

parinella said...

Latest anon, it sounds like you're a victim of the Parallel Axis Theorem. You need to move your left hand more to the left (as you're looking at the disc coming to you) so the disc doesn't spin out.