Freestyle Handle-Skills for all Disc Sports

Ken WesterfieldPart of FrisbeeGuru’s mission is to aide in the growth of Freestyle Frisbee. In this guest post, Ken Westerfield shares his vision for sharing Freestyle to Ultimate players. Ken is a Frisbee (disc) player from the 1960s and a Hall of Fame inductee in freestyle, ultimate and disc golf. Thanks, Ken, for this submission!


“All disc sports are rooted in early freestyle play. No disc sport plays at a higher level of handling skill than freestyle, therefore it stands to reason that any disc sport requiring any degree of disc handling skill could be greatly advantaged by having skill in freestyle”.

Even before the game of Gut’s, people were trick throwing and catching the Frisbee behind the back and under their legs, freestyle, although not yet called that, was the original play with a plastic flying disc, maybe even with the pie tin. Freestyle competitions and the touring freestyle performers in the 1970s were the events that began showing people that Frisbee skills could be more than just recreational beach play with a toy. Popular, competitive disc sports like ultimate and disc golf are excellent flying disc games and are much better than their ball counterparts, but as a skilled flying disc handling activity, there’s nothing more uniquely, self-challenging than playing freestyle with a flying disc. As disc sports become more popular, freestyle may evolve in content and direction. More freestyle-like games and events may become new disc sports in the future. In the meantime, since there are elements of freestyle play in every disc sport, it’s time to start convincing disc athletes to include some form of regular freestyle play as a good exercise for handle-skill improvement. As their freestyle skill evolves they will gain an appreciation for freestyle as a sport and a few may even make the conversion to freestyling for fun and even competitively.

There’s a potential for a new generation of young freestylers, currently playing other disc sports, especially ultimate. Ultimate is fast becoming the breakout disc sport of the future, using many of the freestyle throwing techniques that made early freestyle popular. Ultimate’s flying disc uniqueness, mixed gender competition, ease of play anywhere without restrictive equipment, as well as a working self-imposed attitude of good sportsmanship (SOTG), during a competition, is going to make ultimate a very popular sport in the future. I would never want to see freestyle catching included into the game of ultimate (keep it simple), but if we can show ultimate players that there are some playing benefits that can come from learning freestyle throwing and catching, as a training option, freestyle could end up sharing ultimate’s future playing popularity.

Trick Catch

Vancouver Sun Newspaper, 1974

Freestyle, prior to 1975: Play was fast and throws were hard with a smaller Pro Model Frisbee. The play would actually resemble a good tennis volley, especially when done on a hard surface, with lots of running, jumping and fast freestyle catching. After 1973, tips and kicks were invented, larger Frisbee’s were preferred, then came delay moves, and the game began to change. So by 1975, the quick, throw, catch and flow game was over. However, this early version of freestyle play, using a 175g ultimate disc instead of a Pro Model, could interest and benefit ultimate players. An uncomplicated freestyle option that would be easy to learn with play similar to the running, throwing and catching skills used in today’s ultimate. I know the benefits because this is the type of freestyle play I did before I played ultimate and I know how much having this freestyle throwing and catching skill advantaged me as a handler.

I originally wrote these ultimate handle-training articles a few years ago for ultimate players, to be read at several online ultimate websites, Fast Freestyle the Ultimate Edge on Ultimate Rob and 8 Reasons to Include Freestyle to Your Ultimate Training on Ultiworld’s site. It promotes fast-freestyle, speed-flow, (early freestyle, pre-1975) as an “extreme throw and catch exercise” for ultimate players.

Most sports do have a freestyle component for a reason. Professional soccer players can bounce a soccer ball on their head, knees and feet almost endlessly without a break. This skill does not come with the play of the game, it’s a skill that has to be developed. As well as practicing their timing, they do this routine to develop their mental and physical connection with the ball. This skill is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. As a result of this exercise, soccer freestyle is becoming popular and has its own competitions.

To develop playing skills in any sport, it helps to include multiple training activities that can isolate and improve every playing skill and strength that is required for that sport. Athletes often include cross-training sports to improve skill and strength in their primary sport. Freestyle is the cross-trainer for all other disc sports. Ask any ultimate player that has freestyle skill and I’m sure that they will agree. Ultimate is not a complicated game. There still isn’t much in the way of strategic plays with coaching genius. There’s man or zone, don’t clog up the passing lane. It’s a game of throw and catch, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes doing that, wins.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

In my “Freestyle for Ultimate Handle Training” articles, there are techniques of freestyle play outlined that as freestylers you can convincingly present to friends and disc athlete’s who play ultimate and other disc sports. You will see, if you read my articles, I’m not promoting delay moves, the use of delay paraphernalia or even spray for this exercise. Ultimate players have already shown that they enjoy running, throwing and catching and are already doing many of the throws that we used to consider to be freestyle throws, even air-bounce. So for freestylers that know this type of play and are already involved in ultimate, whether competing or organizing ultimate events; presenting a basic throw and catch, pre-delay version of freestyle is a great place to begin, allowing ultimate players to easily see a type of freestyle play that most closely resembles the skills required for their own disc sport. Once new players are able to experience the basic fundamentals and original play of freestyle and realize it’s potential, they can play freestyle anyway they like.

I’m not saying freestyle skills are always necessary for handle-skill improvement but for ultimate players that already have excellent handle-skills, it could just be an effective (cross-training) way to improve, strengthen and maintain them. For the ultimate player just starting out, freestyle could be a fast and fun way to learn handle-skills, especially for wind conditions and catching with one-hand. In the future when ultimate teams are looking for every competitive edge, I have no doubt that freestyle will be an integral part of ultimate training. I feel that a throw and catch freestyle, as a training exercise for ultimate handling skills, could be compared to the mental and physical abilities that can be derived from martial arts training and how that type of training can assist in developing confidence and skills that are used in fighting sports. If we want new players to check out freestyle, we need to take the sport to them, by showing players of other disc sports that freestyle isn’t a different activity with unique skills, but can also be played as a fun similar skilled activity, improving the handle-skills for the disc sport they already play.

In the future, I’m still not sure if freestyle will be popular as its own competitive sport or be more of an art-form recreation, exercise or skilled discipline, like dance and martial arts. Either way the future is bright for freestyle. As long as some disc sports are growing in popularity, freestyle will always be there, as an alternative or addition to competitive disc sports. I know that as new ultimate players go to the parks and athletic fields to practice their two-handed rim and clap catching, that either by accident or intent, they will eventually try something a little different with a throw or a catch and when they do, that’ll be it.

Ken Westerfield

Note:  What I’ve outlined, is a way for freestylers already involved in other disc sports, like ultimate or disc golf, to grow interest in freestyle, by presenting a simple non-paraphernalia freestyle play option that might appeal to athletes of other disc sports. Start with the basic throw and catch, the main attraction and common activity most closely related to all the disc sports. Today’s freestylers should not only think of themselves as players and jammers but also think of themselves as pioneering and teaching a disc sport that is still developing. The big difference between yesterday and today’s freestyle potential is that today there are millions of people and disc sport players that have accepted the flying disc as an implement to be used in sport. I’ve played all the disc sports well enough to understand what each sport has to offer athletically and I know without a doubt that what freestyle has to offer, no matter how you choose to play it, is unparalleled in its play.There’s no score keeping or competition necessary to enjoy freestyle. Freestyle is completely unique to the flying disc and there’s no other sport or recreation like it.

Videos of freestyle Throwing and Catching

A short film of throw and catch freestyle by early freestyle champion Krae Van Sickle

Freestyle throwing by DC Breeze ultimate player Rowan Mcdonnell. Maybe not realizing that these are early freestyle throwing techniques. Because nobody has seen freestyle throwing styles since the 1970s, they think these throws are new and for new ultimate players, they are.

Ultimate players playing freestyle in between ultimate games. This is what we should be seeing at every ultimate tournament

About Ken Westerfield

Ken Westerfield is a Frisbee (disc) player from the 1960s. A Hall of Fame inductee in freestyle, ultimate and disc golf. Westerfield co-produced and was TD for early Frisbee and disc sport championships, including the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto (1972-1985), the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974-1976), the Santa Cruz Flying Disc Classic, Santa Cruz, California (1978), the Labatt’s World Guts Championships, Toronto (1986) and the World PDGA Disc Golf Championships, Toronto (1987). World record, MTA, 15 seconds in 1975 and one of three to ever throw a Frisbee over 500′ (552’ in 1978), both thrown with a sidearm. Many competitive wins in freestyle, ultimate, disc golf, distance and other individual events in over-all NAS competitions in the 1970s. Invented freestyle moves, including “body-rolls” and with Jim Kenner introduced the first freestyle competition at his 1974 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, Canada. Westerfield was one of the original freestylers from the 1960s and used his expertise, with other freestylers, in several company-sponsored touring promotional Frisbee show tours for Irwin Toy, (Frisbee distributor in Canada 1972–76), Molson Frisbee Team (1974–77), Adidas Canada (1974-1979), Goodtimes Professional Frisbee Show (1978–82), Orange Crush Frisbee Team (1977–78), Air Canada Frisbee Team (1978–79), Lee Jeans Frisbee Team (1979–80) and the Labatt’s Schooner Frisbee Team (1983–85).
Westerfield played on Santa Cruz’s first ultimate team (Good Times), in the first two years of California’s first ultimate league, the Northern California Ultimate Frisbee League (NCUFL 1977-1978). Ken also brought early ultimate play to Canada with demonstrations in 1975 at his Canadian Open Frisbee Competitions on Toronto Island and with Chris Lowcock, Bob Blakely, Jim Lim, Toronto Beach freestylers Patrick Chartrand and Stuart Godfrey, started the first ultimate league in Canada called the Toronto Ultimate Club, (1979 and still running, 250 teams and 3500 active members). Ken and his Toronto ultimate team Darkside, won the first Canadian National Ultimate Championships, Ottawa, 1987.

Matt Teaches the Kerfuffle

In this video Matt teaches how to perform a kerfuffle. A kerfuffle is when the disc rolls around your hand on it’s rim, spinning on a third world axis. If that doesn’t make sense, the video will make it clear. 

To perform a kerfuffle, toss the disc up so it is perpendicular to the ground and to you. Put very little spin on it on only toss it a few inches for your hand. Now, lightly push into the rim at 3 with the side of your hand o’clock for clock or 9 o’clock for counter. The disc will pivot on it’s axis and begin to roll around your hand. Slightly lift up and then down and grab the disc as it rotates back into your hand.

The Kerfuffle is a fun move that can draw alot of attention. Still, it’s not used much in most freestyle play because it’s challenging to connect it to other moves. Sometimes it’s used at the end of a series as a catch restriction…the kerfuffle itself is a restriction. Of course, of the best reason to learn a kerfuffle, as Matt points out, is that it is a “gateway trick” to learning the cuff. The hand motion and the place you touch the disc are very similar between a kerfuffle and a cuff, so learning a kerfuffle will aide in learning to cuff.


Catch zones

Film Strip CatchesAfter writing the poll, what is your bail catch?, I realized a discussion of catch zones was in order. As one hones one’s freestyle skills, one begins to realize that the disc can come in at any height, any angle, and any side of one’s body. As such, it pays to have at least one answer for every possibility.

This is where the concept of catch zones comes in – it’s a way to break down all the possibilities in order to reflect on what skills one may wish to develop.

I break down the zones as follows: ankles, knees, waist, shoulders, and head. Each of these has a right and left side, for a total of 10 zones.

So with that defined, the first step is to ask yourself, “what is your bail catch for each zone?” Here’s a worksheet to help:

Side of Body Left  Right

Once the list is filled out, evaluate it with the following questions:

  1. Are there any gaps?
  2. Are these catches truly bail catches? Can you make them with both spins? Any angle?
  3. Are you satisfied with the difficulty level or your form for each catch?

For example, here is my list:

Side of Body Left Right
Ankles Chair Phlaud
Knees Under the Leg Under the Leg
Waist Behind the Back Triple Fake
Chest   Scare Crow
Head Behind the Head Scare Crow

The first thing that I notice from my list is the gap at Left-Chest. A great thing for me to practice is a catch in that zone, maybe a right handed scarecrow. Next, I notice on my right side I have more difficult catches than on my left. So, I could drill my left catches; or target one of the zones and start drilling a different specific catch. For example, a left handed phlaud for the left ankle zone. Lastly, I my Knee Zone catch on both sides could be improved with more difficult catches, like a flamingo.

This “zones” exercise can be useful for more than just catches. For example, takes, sets, air brushes, against the spin, UD, really any category of tricks can be examined in this way.

What zone do you plan to work on next?

Matt Shows the Equipment that Freestylers Use

In this video Matt shows us the basic equipment needed for Freestyle Frisbee. This is really the video version of one of the oldest articles on this site. This video is perfect for someone who want to get started with Freestyle but doesn’t have a friend to show them the ropes. Nice job Matt!

Here’s his list:

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, FrisbeeGuru receives a small commission if you use the link and make a purchase. This helps support our mission.

  1. A disc with a smooth bottom. Many discs have raised lettering, which is bad for the nail delay. Most Freestyler prefer the Discraft Sky-Styler. Purchase here.
  2. Slick in the form of silicon spray or grease. This is used to make the disc’s plastic less sticky. Purchase here.
  3. A slick rag. This is used to wipe down and spread out excess slick. Find one in your sock drawer.
  4. Fake Nails. These provide a stronger surface on which to nail delay the disc. Purchase here.
  5. Super glue. This is how the fake nails are attached to your natural nail. Purchase some popular brands: Krazy Glue and Uhu.
    1. An alternative to glue is double sided tape. Check here for more details.

Addressing the Disc

Addressing the DiscI was practicing my counter airbrushing in high wind the other day and I had an “ah ha!” moment. You see, I have been great at brushing clock in high wind for a while, but only recently have I decided to seriously practice counter in high wind. In the past I was happy to have just enough counter skill so I could control the disc to pass or immediately catch it. More recently, I’ve decided it’s time to master counter. It’s actually quite challenging, but in a different way then when I learned clock. Now when the wind is high – I know I can brush clock all day long and have a blast. But, if I start brushing the disc counter, after two or three brushes, it soon drops or blows away. Maximum frustration.

So, the other day the wind was up past my comfort zone with counter. I decided to “pay my dues” and just keep at it, no matter how frustrating it got. This is what lead me to my “aha!” moment. I found that when the disc was getting away from me, when I had to make my maximum effort to get to it, I’d arrive to a place where I could reach it, but not at a place where I had options to make a save. I was literally putting myself out of position to make the play.

“Why is this, what am I doing wrong?” I asked myself. One of the most important skills I had learned early on was to judge where the disc was going to land, then calculate where I could meet it before it hit the ground, and then run straight to that point. This was the skill I was applying, but it was letting me down.

I had apparently learned a more nuanced skill with clock spin, but not realized it. The spin of the disc changes how the disc flies through the air. More wind makes this even more pronounced. A clock disc will tilt to the left (forcing my body to twist toward the right) and a counter disc will tilt to the right (forcing my body to twist to the left). The tilting of the disc, of course, changes the flight path, but it changes another thing as well: the it’s direction relative to the wind, i.e. where the nose is pointing.

As I pursued the counter spinning disc, I was considering the flight path, but not the disc’s direction to the wind. My muscle memory for clock spin was causing me to arrive at the counter spinning disc with the nose pointing off to my left, leaving me with limited options. I needed to not only meet the disc, but meet it at a place where I had the maximum options for addressing it. In other words, I had to get “behind it”, which is a different place for counter than it is for clock.

Making this adjustment was quite challenging. It was a little like fighting against an instinct. The more I forced it, the easier it got and soon I found options for saving the disc that were not there before. As this adjustment became more natural, I started to see the counter spinning disc falling into the pocket for more catches! This shift in thinking opened up my counter brushing game and gave me a deeper level of insight into freestyle skills.

If you are working on your brushing game, here’s a tip: as you pursue the disc, consider it’s flight path and it’s tilt relative to the wind and run straight to the place that gives you the most options. I call this place “behind the disc.” This way, as you brush it back up into the wind, the nose will be pointing away from you, causing the disc to float out, and then right back to you. 

Need some more airbrushing advice? Here are some great videos and another informative article.

Dani Demonstrates How to Attach a Fake Nail with Double Sided Tape

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, FrisbeeGuru receives a small commission if you use the link and make a purchase.

There are many techniques to applying fake nails for jamming. I usually glue them on with Krazy Glue. In this video, Dani show’s his technique of using double sided tape from Uhu. This is perfect for those who don’t want to or can’t use glue. 

If you’re looking for tips on the equipment needed to get started with Freestyle, check out this article. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, or contact us directly. We’d love to help!

Appendix from Dani: after a couple more years of experience, it is recommended to use a nail-polish block to shine your own nail (until really shiny). That way there is no need for any isopropanol. It’s very fast, more effective and less chemicals on your nails. It holds days, but can still be taken off without harming your own nail (as it can occur with super glue). Perfect for beginners and pros in my opinion. Please share your experience!

How to Deal with Low Spin

In this video tutorial, Ryan Young teaches us how to deal with a disc with low spin. His strategy is to quickly and precisly set the disc and make a catch. This is a great skill to master as it allows for using more of the spin before catching and for recovering from errors that use up most of the spin.

Ryan gives excellent detail in the video, but the gist is this; delay the disc in the center as long as possible. Then, spiral out to 10 o’clock for clock spin, or 2 o’clock for counter spin, and just touch the rim long enough to set the disc do it falls into the pocket.

How to Practice the Kick Tip

Learn how to practice a kick tip, also called the toe tip or toe tap. The goal is simple, kick the disc with your toe to pop it back up into the air.

Kick tips are great for a couple reasons. First, it is a gateway trick to begin integrating feet into Freestyle Frisbee. Second, kick tips a great way to save a disc that can’t be reached with the hand.

To practice, set the disc flat in front of you just under leg’s length. This can be done with a self set throw, or from a center delay. Now, point your tow towards the sky and kick the center of the disc with medium power. The goal is to lift it back up to chest height to regain control.

To improve your kick tip, watch the disc intently. You want to aim your toe to hit the center. To judge how close you came to the center, watch the wobble of the disc. If there is no wobble, you hit the center correctly. The more wobble there is, the further from the center you contacted. As you watch, you’ll get the feel for how to hit the center every time.

Have a kick tip story? Let us know in the comments below.