I'm going to go to a very fundamental aspect of Ultimate for this entry, the simple act of catching the disc. There are a lot of different ways that people catch, some good, some bad, but there are a series of basic ideas behind catching that should be universal in Ultimate. I'll start with very basic stuff, if you think you're bad-ass and don't want to read about beginner stuff, skip down. If you're having trouble visualizing what I'm saying then try acting out the motions yourself as you read.
When I'm teaching a person to play who has never played before, one of the very first things we talk about is the pancake or alligator catch. Here's the visual: take both your arms and extend them out in front of you, one on top of the other, with the palm of each hand facing the palm of the other. Now make a big alligator motion, chomp chomp chomp. For a beginner, this is how you should always try to catch the disc, it allows for me disc control, you don't have to worry about the trailing edge and is very simple.
One thing that I teach that a lot of people forget to do is to make a concerted effort to catch the disc at the maximum extension of your arms away from your body. A lot of people pull their elbows to their sides and catch the disc with their chest as kind of a backboard for the disc, which is a bad habit. This is especially true when catching an underneath throw, where the disc and your body are traveling towards each other in a collision course. Even if catching close to your body makes you more comfortable, it's still a very bad habit because playing against an elite defender every inch you have as an offender counts. And being able to catch a disc with another six inches of extension can be the difference between a completion and a D.
Another thing that every person should practice when making a pancake catch is catching with either hand on top of the disc. The majority of the time, this will not come into play when making a catch. However, if a disc is to the right of you when you're making the catch it's easier to have your right hand on bottom, and a disc far to the left is easier to catch with your left hand on the bottom.
Another way that a lot of more experienced players catch is with both hands on the rim of the disc. Here's the visual: extend both arms in front of you with your hands next to each other, both palms facing downward. Now put your thumbs underneath the fingers on their respective hands and make a little duck quacking motion by moving your fingers up and down.
This method of catching is difficult for some but allows for two advantages. First of all, you are always catching the disc at your arms' full extension because it's the more natural catching motion rather than pushing your elbows down and bringing your hands closer to your body. So by doing this you are always having that extra several inches I spoke about in the alligator portion above.
The second advantage to catching like this is that it is more natural for underneath layouts. If you are cutting underneath with the disc coming straight at you, if you need to layout for whatever reason with two hands, the double duck allows you to get to the disc sooner, since you aren't having to get a hand both above and below the disc, and it is much easier to coordinate your hands and body.
Obviously there are tons of situations when you're going to be forced to catch one-handed. High or low discs, situations where you have to have absolute maximum extension, or where you're laying out. There's a couple of things to keep in mind when you're going after a disc one handed in any situation.
First of all, you have to be comfortable catching both left and right handed at all times. This is important in tons of different situations, but for the sake of this entry we're going to focus on why this applies to avoiding trailing-edge catches.
As a receiver, you want to avoid trailing edge catches at all costs. These are very difficult for any player to make 100% of the time, and the smaller your hands are, the harder a trailing-edge catch is. When I say trailing-edge, I mean catching the disc in the same direction that the disc is spinning. Think of a right-handed flick or lefty-backhand coming in over your right shoulder on an out cut. If you extend your right hand out to the disc and go for a catch on the side of the disc closest to you, the disc can easily mack off your hand since there is nothing but your grip to stop the rotation.
The way that this catch should be made is to extend your left hand out and catch the disc on the back-side (furthest from your body), Additionally, when you make the catch your thumb should end up on the top side of the disc with the rest of your fingers down below (similar to a backhand grip), since you would have to extend your elbow out at a very-awkward angle, with almost no extension on your arm to keep your fingers on top and thumb on the bottom.
Here's a visual: hold a disc in your left hand out in front of you and imagine it spinning with a flick rotation (counter-clockwise). Extend your right hand and go for a one-handed duck catch on side of the disc closest to you (fingers on top, thumbs on bottom), Picture the rotation and how the disc could easily glance off your hand. Now switch the disc over to your right hand and extend your arm. Picture that same rotation, but now extend your left hand and catch the disc on the backside with your thumb on top so your left forearm is almost curling all the way around one side of the disc. This is the proper catch since the disc's spin is leading into your grip rather than away from it.
The same situation applies for a righty-backhand or left flick rotation (clock-wise spin on the disc). You want to make these catches with your right hand on the backside of the disc whenever possible.
Obviously, a player can't always avoid making trailing edge catches. Sometimes you aren't close enough to get to the backside of the disc or there isn't enough time. One thing you can do is layout for that extra extension to get the backside of the disc. If you still aren't close enough, then the best thing you can do is to make an attempt to time the catch as precisely as possible so you're getting the full force of your grip on the disc right as you come into contact with the disc.
What can I do to work on catching?
If you're struggling with the absolute basics of catching, meaning that you simply have a lot of pancake drops, then the best thing you can do is to get repetitions that mimic in-game situations. Straight come-to drills where you're catching as you make an in-cut are very helpful here. If you're just throwing with a partner, then one of the best things you can do is to have them wing the disc at you as hard as they can over and over. Once you get used to catching discs coming at you at high velocity, everything else will be much easier.
Once you've mastered the hand-eye coordination (or gotten pretty damn good at it), the next thing you want to work on is a variety of catching techniques, like what I talked about above. Get comfortable catching with both your left and right hands, both high above your head and down below your knees. Get comfortable making pancake catches with either your left or right hand on top of the disc. And finally, get comfortable laying out to make a catch, even if it's just so you can ensure a pancake or to avoid getting the trailing-edge.
The final thing you can do to work on good solid catching (this is excellent for throwing as well), is to work on grip strength. All the best catchers I know, guys that rip everything down at all angles, have very strong grips (Jordan will prove it to you in an arm wrestling match I'm sure). These are the guys that can consistently get those out of reach trailing-edge discs because their grip is still strong enough to stop the discs rotation.
One method that works wonders for grip strength (from conditioning expert Tim Larkin), is to set up a pull-up bar anywhere and to just hang with your hands a shoulders width apart for a 200 count. Once you've got that down, trying hanging for a 200 count without your pinkies on the bar, then without your ring fingers. Beyond that, you can do your 200 count with just one hand, and beyond that, one-handed with a dumbbell in the other hand.
While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to making all sorts of catches, these are all good tips and tricks to lower your drop rates and increase the consistency with which you can catch the disc. As always, any comments are welcome.