Info for youth players
(and adult beginners)
Rules | Skills ( catch | throw | strategize ) | Ways to play & practice (solo, with a few friends, or on a team)
Super simplified rules (recess version)
- play fair (read about and then play with the Spirit of the Game)
- no contact
- two end zones, each about 1/5 the length of the available space
- defense starts with a throw to offense (both on goal lines)
- pass in any direction
- no running with the disc
- turn-over on interception, incomplete pass, or out-of-bounds
- score by catching in end zone
- substitute after points or injury
- win by being first to 11 (or whatever score you choose)
- 2 points if both a girl and a boy are involved* in scoring!
- 3 points if everyone on your team is involved* in the score!!
* “involved” usually means “at least touches the disc”
How to catch
There are 4 basic ways to catch the frisbee most reliably. Which one to use depends on where the disc is relative to your body.
- alligator (or clap, or pancake) catch
If the throw is below your head-level but above your knees, use the alligator catch. Put your dominant hand (e.g. right if you’re right-handed) up in front of your face like you’re signaling stop and your left hand angled down towards the ground like you’re asking for a low-five. (Hey — you look like an alligator with its big mouth wide open, ready to eat that disc!) Note: this method helps you protect your face when catching fast or unexpected throws… (and some people call it the “pancake” catch.)
If the throw is below your knees, use the lobster catch. Put both hands down and catch the disc in a pinching motion with your thumbs on top and fingers underneath. (Hey — you look like a lobster scuttling along the seafloor chasing food!) Bend at your knees and waist to catch those really low throws…
If the throw is above your head, use the crab catch. Put both hands up and catch the disc in a pinching motion with your fingers on top and thumbs underneath. (Hey — you look like a crab protecting itself!) Let the disc hit your palms before you pinch so you don’t break a finger nail or jam a finger.
Sometimes the disc is too high, low, or off to the side to catch with two hands. In these cases, you should try to catch (or make a “bid”) with just one hand. This is riskier than using two hands, but is often
necessary to make a catch.
If you jump really high and extend one arm up, that is a “sky.” If you leap sideways to make a catch, often one-handed, and land on your belly or side that is a “layout.” In any case, try to catch the disc with the first contact being on the palm and in the soft pad between the thumb and forefinger.
How to throw
In elementary school players it is a toss-up whether it is easier to learn the backhand or the forehand throw first. Try to learn them both as early as possible.
If you are new to throwing the backhand, get off on the right foot with these instructional videos from USA Ultimate and Brody Smith —
For additional guidance, including how to pivot during the throw and common errors, try the video tutorial on the backhand throw from Rise Up Ultimate.
Some players have trouble with the forehand grip (as taught by Brodie below) because their hand is too small or not strong enough to support a 175 gram disc. Such players may benefit from extending the index finger towards the center of the disc from its position backing the middle finger to help support the disc. On the other hand, letting the disc drop away from level until the thrower can’t see the top can often help stabilize a beginner’s forehand throws…
If you are new to throwing the forehand, start with these instructional videos from USA Ultimate and Brody Smith —
Most players leave more advanced throws until after the forehand and backhand are mastered. But in pursuit of inspiring and empowering creative, fun play — here’s a post about the 80+ throws that have been named (so far)!
Pivot and fake
Once you have your basic throws down, you need to learn to pivot before you throw. Pivoting is turning on one foot (your pivot foot) and stepping to one side or another with you throwing foot (the foot on the same side of your body as your throwing arm). You need to learn to keep your pivot foot on the ground when throwing; lifting it up before you release the disc is a foul.
Pivoting is an important skill for two reasons. First, it helps keep your defender safe because it allows you to step to one side of them or turn away from them before throwing. It is dangerous to throw “through” your defender. Don’t give your friendly opponent a concussion with your elbow! Secondly, the pivot helps you see the whole field. Instead of panicking and throwing immediately when you catch it, try to take the time to pivot and see different parts of the field.
Another skill to learn when throwing is the fake. A fake is when you pretend to throw the disc. A good fake can cause your defender (aka “mark”) to over-react and get off-balance, allowing you an easier pass.
Offense and defense
Basic defense: marking and the force
When you are on defense, you “mark” someone by staying close to them and blocking or intercepting throws they make or try to catch. When marking the thrower you should usually stand in front of them at least a disc diameter away (or in youth ultimate better yet an arm’s length away) and do the following:
- Call out the 10-second “stall count” by saying “Stall 1, stall 2…” up to “Stall 10” with each number 1 second apart. If you start to say “10” and they haven’t released the disc, it is a turn-over.
- Keep your feet a little wider than your shoulder width
- Keep your hands out as wide as possible
- Stay on your toes with knees bent and hips low.
- Mostly watch the disc and their eyes to anticipate where they’ll throw
A more advanced technique is to stand on one side of the thrower, so you can try to “force” them to throw to a particular part of the field (where you have your teammates more ready to block or intercept the pass). A good time to try this is when the thrower you are guarding is near the sideline. By standing between them and the center-line of the field, you can “trap” them — forcing them to throw up the sideline.
Basic offense: fake and cut (to spread out)
An initial challenge in youth ultimate is learning how to spread out on the field. The strong tendency of most beginners is to run toward the disc, but this causes a “blob” or “swarm” of players around the thrower in which it is way too easy for defenders to block or intercept a pass. A good offensive strategy will counter this tendency, creating open space for receiving passes without so much defensive pressure.
Faking out your defender is a fun challenge. Getting away from them into an open space (cutting) will help you receive more passes successfully. As this video demonstrates, a good cut involves chopping your feet and staying balanced so your defender can’t predict where you’re heading, “planting” to decisively accelerate away from them, and then securing the disc by staying ahead of your defender all the way to the catch.
Other important aspects of cutting are “clearing” (making open space for the next cutter and pass), as well as resting.
Ways to play & practice
Ultimate Rob has some great drills that you can do on your own. By yourself or with a friend you can also take the Brodie Accuracy Challenge or try to learn 80+ different ultimate throws!
With a few friends
Try games like:
Join or form a team!
In the U.S. you can find local playing opportunities on the USA Ultimate “where to play” map — youth leagues, tournaments, camps, pick-up games, and other opportunities. If you live in the Seattle area, check out DiscNW’s list of youth ultimate playing opportunities or this sortable spreadsheet of seasonal opportunities to play youth (grade 3-12) ultimate in the Pacific Northwest.
2 thoughts on “Play!”
Is there a team that you know of in central or eastern PA? My son is 13 and is very interested in playing
We are mostly savvy about west coast opportunities, especially near/in Seattle. Please contact the Philadelphia youth ultimate, or the USA ultimate youth division, and post back about your experience if you’re able to share.