Coaches Corner The Around Backhand – Why and How by Alexander Gan

The around backhand is not only my favourite throw in Ultimate, but it’s also one of the most useful throws in a player’s arsenal for moving the disc off the forehand sideline. Despite this, I’ve watched over and over as many newer (and even some more experienced players) become stuck on the side of the field because of an inability to decisively and confidently execute this throw. A small part of me dies every time I see someone look off a wide open around backhand to the centre of the field.
Take this example from the WUCC showcase game; The dump marker was completely beaten and fell over, leaving the dump completely unmarked. If the thrower pivoted wide and low, the throw would have easily made it around the mark and to the dump. Instead, a half-pivot, fake and lazy high release backhand led to a turn on the goal line.:

To be more specific, the throw this article is focusing on is the low, wide release backhand which can be released at a range of disc angles and curve around your mark into a cutting or stationary receiver:

For the rest of this article, I’ll be calling this throw the “around backhand”.
When stuck on the sideline, the around backhand is useful for an immediate swing to the middle of the field if the dump defender is poaching or giving the dump a buffer towards the backfield:

It’s also essential for being able to hit a fill cut from the front of the stack:

To see how important this throw is, watch these points from the WUCC showcase match:

The Wildcard players’ ability to reset the disc to the centre of the field make offence look easy. It breaks apart the defence as the disc is marched up the field without any contestable throws.

How to throw it

The around backhand is effective because its wide and low release point is a hard place for the mark to defend. The release point allows the thrower to generate plenty of spin for windy conditions, becoming a lot more viable than a high release backhand.

Step 1

Because it’s released so wide, the throw needs most of its power and spin to be generated from the wrist (and a little from the forearm). The first step in learning to throw it is practicing wrist only backhands. Start in a normal backhand throwing stance and hold your throwing arm straight out from your body. Try and use the minimal amount of arm movement required to throw the disc to your partner (maximising wrist snap). They should position themselves 5-10m away and can increase this distance as you’re able to throw further. Remember, the focus is to maximise wrist power while minimising the power generated from the rest of your body’s components.

Step 2

Once your wrist is strong enough to consistently hit your receiver, the next step is to try and isolate wrist rotation from arm rotation by throwing the disc at different angles. Start from a normal flat release (i.e. with your wrist rotation parallel to your arm as shown above), then work your way towards throwing as outside in as you can while keeping your arm at the same angle. This is important in an around backhand since although we want to release it low, we want it to curve/shape in towards our dump.

If you’re having trouble visualising this movement, just start by rolling your wrist around at different angles with the disc in hand. Work your way up to increasing speed and snap. Learning the air-bounce backhand (which has plenty of tutorial videos on YouTube) can help you learn this wrist and arm isolation – though you should make sure you’re still able to differentiate between an air-bounce and a normal backhand.

Step 3

Disc movement. The throw requires quick movement to the backhand side to release it before the mark can completely cover it. To practice this, start in your flick stance facing the mark and pivot to the backhand side then release in one motion.

Tips for execution:

  • Move the disc to the backhand side before the rest of your body.
  • Use your off-hand to help steady and position the disc in the correct grip as you move
  • Stay low to the ground as you move as it’ll help with balance and speed
  • Bend both legs to move your body closer to the ground. This will help not only with speed of movement but also with releasing the disc low
  • About 1/5th of your weight should be on your pivot foot when you release the disc
  • Notice from the video below that moving the disc all the way around your body until it’s behind you allows you to get more power in the throw from the rest of your arm

Step 4

Practice the whole movement in one motion. From flick side to backhand and throwing as low to the ground as you can. Try and push yourself to throw wider (You can try pivoting around a pole, pushing it wider to make the throw more difficult). The wider you get, the less consistent your throws will be. Don’t be deterred, after 3 or 4 solid sessions of practicing, the consistency will come. Vary your release angle and direction of the throw and observe the different shapes it traces through the air. Practicing it with a moving dump will help you identify the situations where each angle is more useful.

The beauty of the throw is that it’s almost unguardable by the mark. I remember a throw from WUCC where I told myself I’m going to throw the around backhand no matter what. By changing your release angle and throw direction, you can almost always get it around a mark. And if they’re really so far around that you can’t possibly throw around them, they must be revealing a pretty open inside lane for you to throw a flick into.

Alexander Gan showing off the around backhand at WUCC 2018

Pro tips

  • It’s important to practice with someone marking you so that you become confident about throwing around a mark in a game. The best around backhand throwers look like they’re ignoring the mark because they understand how far/quickly they need to move to execute the throw successfully. They can also make slight adjustments to the throw based on what their mark does, changing the angle of release or the direction of their pivot.
  • A big strength of the throw is being able to get wide and low faster than the mark can. As you practice, try and minimise the time taken between holding the disc in the flick stance and releasing the backhand. The faster you can make your movement, the harder it is to guard the throw.
  • If for some reason the around backhand is covered (maybe the mark started very far around or the dump wasn’t ready for the throw), there is little value in staying in the backhand stance. It can be more useful to move back into your flick pivot. This will allow you to throw flicks and will also move the mark to open up another opportunity to throw an around.
  • Isolating your wrist snap in steps 1 and 2 is vital for adding touch to the throw. Tipping the front edge of the disc upwards slightly as you throw will slow down its speed through the air. This is essential for shorter range throws, where a fast-moving disc is both harder to catch and hit your target with.

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