Pull Fielding Analysis of the WUGC 2016 USA-JPN Men’s Final

The data below marks where each pull in the WUGC Men’s Gold Medal match – USA v Japan – was caught or landed, and the path of the disc up until the point where it stopped & the defence was set. For the purposes of this article, “flow” refers to the disc being released fluidly within 2 seconds of catching.


Points of note:

  • USA pulled out twice (both out the back), Japan once (out the side)
  • Japan caught every in-bounds USA pull, but were not tested with hard-to-catch pulls
  • USA caught 5/5 in-bounds JPN pulls in the first half, 1/6 in the second half
  • USA moved the disc towards the centre of the field 10/11 times
  • Japan moved the disc towards the centre of the field 5/12 times
  • Japan took more than one pass in flow 7/12 times
  • USA looked for and completed exactly one pass in flow 10/11 times
  • Japan one time chose not to chase down the pull, and allowed USA to work it up uncontested for 40 yards
  • All of USA’s pulls went further than all-but-one Japanese pull
  • Japan scored from flow off the pull twice, and gained more yards from fielding the pull – resulting in a shorter field to play with despite the deeper USA pulls
  • Japan were offside once, USA called travel on Japan flow once


Japan’s blading pulls, containing defence, and USA’s clinically executed pull-fielding routine

Japan’s pulls were all outside-in, so sacrificed hang-time and distance in order to make them riskier to catch – more so in the second half. This could have been a tactic to tempt a dropped pull, sacrificing being able to pressure USA’s first pass (which they consistently used to centre the disc). USA caught the couple of more bladey pulls in the first half, but let them land 5/6 times in the second half. Japan’s defenders were reluctant to go past the disc after running down the pull – preferring to clog the USA’s immediate downfield throwing lanes.

USA have a very clear pull fielding routine in place – two players hang back, one catches/picks up and passes to the other, who has positioned themselves as central as possible – gaining yards if safe. When the pass is complete, the pull catcher becomes the reset, and the thrower’s focus is turned downfield for the cutters to make the first play. Catching the pull is not of paramount importance in this routine, as seen in the second half when they only caught 1/6 pulls but were still able to get the pass off each time – in fact their least successful centering in the second half was off the one pull they caught.

This style of pull-fielding is very suited to the USA’s style of Ultimate – their aim was to present the downfield cutters with a static centralised handler situation, and they executed this practically without fail.


USA’s deep pulling, anti-centering defence, and Japan’s organic yard-eating pull-fielding style

USA’s pulls were all aimed at maximising hang time and distance – and they executed this with brilliant consistency; 9 from 11 of the downwind pulls floating into the back half of the end zone. They would always send one defender down the centre of the field, arriving first and 6/11 times preventing Japan from centering the pull.

Japan’s pull fielding was more organic and variable: Three players hang back; one catches whilst another is in a central position, and the 3rd player either provides an alternative first pass, a continuation / flow option after the first pass, or makes an aggressive move.

Fielding the pull with three players suggests Japan’s aim was to use flow passes to shorten the field, which they largely succeeded in doing – consistently ending up with a shorter field than the USA, despite the USA’s pulls all being deeper. Twice they scored in flow – once taking four passes, including a lateral / backwards open pass, and once from a two-pass play.

2nd level analysis:

USA’s tactic of sending their first defender down the centre of the field to prevent Japan from centering the disc was relatively effective, but Japan fielding the pull with 3 players was a natural counter to this. With 3 players fielding, Japan were prepared to advance the disc past the USA defender who arrives first in the middle of the field, and did so 5/12 times. This was often at the expense of the disc being moved away from the centre, which did not seem like a priority for them, but was definitely one of the USA’s biggest considerations. This organic style & the disc not being centered resulted in a variety of early-point scenarios – Japan’s downfield players seemed comfortable working from these less commonly seen situations, whereas the USA’s downfield defenders would have been unfamiliar defending against them.

Japan did not always take the flow passes open to them – there were 7 times when the disc could have been moved laterally or backwards by Japan, but they only took these options 2 times – once eventually resulting in a score, once resulting in a travel call on the next pass. At no point did a lateral or backwards flow pass result in an eventual loss of yardage, which suggests it’s an option they should have explored further. The 5 missed opportunities to pass laterally or backwards all resulted in flow stopping immediately or on the next pass.

USA’s pull-fielding routine presented the downfield cutters with a static centralised handler situation every time, which allowed the cutters to get familiar with creating plays from that exact situation. Potential yardage gains with extra passes were sacrificed in favour of centralising the disc, which can also result in a longer field to work with; however this plays to their superior deep game, so it works both ways. Japan may have been more aware of this long-field advantage than USA were, hence why they did not chase down the pull at 10-8, encouraging USA to play with a short field.


USA’s relentless routine consistently put them in the position they wanted, so from their perspective was a total success. Japan used more flow passes and resulted in gained yards – which can be viewed on the whole as a success – but questions remain about whether taking more open lateral or backwards flow passes would have resulted in greater yard gains (if this was their aim).

The objective question of “Which is the better routine/style?” is hard to answer as so many variables come into play mid-point. One can not objectively say the disc being centered is a good thing, or more flow or yards are a good thing, as each is dependant upon the team’s mid-point strategy and style. The relevant information we have to compare the two methods objectively is: neither team turned over when fielding the pull or flowing from the pull, Japan scored twice from flow off the pull, and USA won the game 15-11.*

Personally I preferred Japan’s fluid and variable style, but think there is much room for improvement which can make it more effective and harder to stop, such as taking yard-losing passes in order to keep the flow going. Generating fluid looks at the start of points – from random places on the field – is hard to play defence against, but arguably hard to play offence from also. USA seem to have nearly perfected their routine, but its standardised nature has a potential weakness in that the defence know what is coming – a static look from the centre of the field after one centering pass. Whether or not the defence can use this to their advantage is another question for another article – we did see Japan clogging throwing lanes and downfield space at the start of points as they attempted to do so in this match, if you’re interested in how effective they were then check out the full game footage.

* another potentially useful stat would be the number of points each team scored from the pull without turning over, and in how many passes

Hype – 7 on the line

I posted this image to /r/ultimate but it got taken down due to classifying as a joke/meme – against the rules – so here it is! For anyone out of the loop, it’s an edit of the recent image released by Rockstar Games to promote their upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 game.


Intuitive v Analytic players

I was just reading an article from 2015 on Skyd about Intuitive vs. Analytical Thinking in Ultimate [link], where the author (Alex Davis) places players in two categories;

The Intuitive is everybody’s favourite kind of athlete. Team sports culture celebrates intuition, and true geniuses of the archetype attract lofty accolades: they have “natural athleticism,” “potential,” and “strong instincts,” as if their qualities stemmed from some unknowable magic. They defy more concrete description because–frankly–they simply don’t work according to concrete, well-articulated methods. They feel their way through the game, often without explanation. Quick-thinking and coordinated, the Intuitives perceive the playing field according to shades of instinct, reflex, and experiential knowledge. In team sports in general–and ultimate in particular–we eagerly recruit for this seemingly unteachable intuition, and we then try to equip it with sport-specific tools and skills.

On the opposite end of the spectrum dwell those I’ll call the Analysts. Characteristically methodical, deliberate, and hard-working creatures, they think in firm, defined terms. They value correctness over quickness. They fight temptations and external pressures. They thrive on well-defined frameworks, rules, and mechanisms, informed by their accumulated experience. What they may lack in spontaneity or instinct, they usually make up for with sheer effort. Unlike the Intuitives, their mindset demands a degree of explanation, detail, and investment that coaches often struggle to satisfy.

As an Intuitive-player-turned-coach, I  have found the process of learning how to teach others to be very enlightening for all areas of my game. Analysing my intuition-led on-field actions in depth led me to a greater understanding of those actions, which has made passing on that knowledge / understanding possible & successful.


Not making notes of which players are Analysts and which are Intuitive

For example, slow fakes with the disc – they feel good and are fun to do, but when I look deeper I realise they serve many purposes – a slow fake has the status of potentially being a throw for a long time, meaning downfield defenders must commit and stay committed to stopping a throw which could come at any point, which makes them more likely to either over-commit or to bite on the wrist snap at the end. If the defender isn’t watching then a slow fake (or slow wind-up) opens a communication channel with the receiver and gets them on the same page as the thrower, in sync and able to cut for the throw or react immediately to the fake as appropriate. Until I stop and think about the nuances, slow fakes are simply approved of and encouraged by the pattern recognition area of my brain, and become part of my style.

Saying ‘I’m not sure why this works’ or ‘Do this because it feels right’ is better than guessing at a reason and then teaching it as fact, but true understanding should be sought by all coaches, and comes from analysis. Intuitives and Analysts working together make great coaching teams, providing they can communicate. Gaining deeper understanding has helped to guide my intuition further, including giving me the knowledge of when to control it for the benefit of the team, and strengthens me as a player year upon year. Once the analysis of a technique such as slow fakes has been done, I am more able to consciously recognise situations where I can suck defenders in or open communication channels with cutters, and construct mental models of the play beyond just that fake or throw.


Pointing in different directions – Analyst vs Intuitive?

There are a few players who I struggle to connect fully with as a coach, who I now realise are on the Analyst end of the spectrum, and I put the lack of connection down to the relatively unexplored nature of some of what I have been trying to teach. When trying to convince players to change the way they approach the vast arenas of offence or defence, the lack of a clear positive example (such as an elite team winning a championship with what I’m trying to teach) immediately makes everybody sceptical. When teaching particular throwing technique – such as getting a player to shift focus to spin rather than power in order to increase the distance of their throws – the results of the change are often immediate and clear, so any initial scepticism can be quickly either upheld or discarded. When teaching an offence or defence as a whole, the plethora of nuances involved and the ambiguity in evaluating the results (a turnover or a score happens, but what were the real causes?), means that Analysts possibly struggle to build a complete working mental model of the systems – requiring all sorts of assumptions, and it doesn’t make sense to them to take the ‘leap of faith’ needed to cross the unexplored areas & onto the unproven ground.

Intuitive-types will ‘feel’ positive (or negative) results of offensive or defensive changes almost immediately – they can sense the improvement of their team’s game regardless of scores or turnovers, and be keen to explore the ideas further in order to perpetuate these positive feelings (or vice-versa). They do not need full understanding, trust in a coach, or ‘proof’, as their evaluation is not related to a fully working mental model, tangible results, or the experiences of others.


A non-flow offence with potential flow moves drawn on by Frank

For example – when attempting to convey the merits of initiating flow – a player has a choice between taking an immediate yard-losing open pass, or looking downfield for a few seconds. Regardless of which option they take, it’s unlikely they will turn over immediately, and either one could fairly quickly result in a score. The immediate shot to the end zone for the goal is the quickest validation, but for flow fans that would be a false positive. If they take the open pass, it’s possible the disc will continue moving and then turn over a few passes later without even an attempt to score or break the force – but the opposite outcome for all these situations is also possible, as it is dependant upon a huge variety of other factors (including the defence). Given the difficulty of analysing the merits of either approach with any level of clarity or certainty, it’s natural for Analytic players to look at championship-winning teams for an idea of which approach is ‘correct’, whereas Intuitive players prefer to experiment with either approach and judge which one ‘feels’ right to them – being far less concerned with attempting to analyse the outcomes (immune to false positives), not depending on trust in their coach, and not desiring to look to the championship-winning teams for guidance.


Analyze This

Intuition is relied upon over analysis whilst a new strategy / tactic / technique is being played and developed, as it guides the direction of development through uncharted territory using the powerful pattern-recognition ability of humans. However, intuition is not perfect and can be very much a trial-and-error process, so whilst a strategy is in its development stage the coach cannot (and should not attempt to) fully explain it – which can come across as weakness or uncertainty, and is an unsatisfactory way of training for Analysts. It therefore makes sense that the status quo is usually perpetuated, and it takes a long time for overarching strategic changes to be adopted. Only after a strategy has matured is it possible to develop a full understanding of it, and therefore be in a position to convey this understanding in a way that satisfies both Analytic and Intuitive players alike at trainings.

It’s quite possible that the majority of those who decide whether or not to implement strategies – team leaders, training organisers, coaches – are Analysts, whilst Intuitive-types simply focus on playing the game and are generally less inclined to coaching or leadership roles (although if their talent stands out, they are often put into these positions and begin by leading by example). It’s also possible the status-quo strategies drive away some talented Intuitive-types to other sports which ‘feel’ better to them – where they’re not asked to stack up / focus solely on their mark, or enforce other traditional Ultimate tactics which feel counter-intuitive and are unseen in other team sports. The athletes I’ve introduced to Ultimate from other sports tend to relish flow and have a disdain for stacking – perhaps the majority are Intuitive players.

hammer-layI recommend you check out the original article – Intuitive vs. Analytical Thinking in Ultimate [link], where Alex (an Analyst) talks more about the science behind the different personality types, and describes his frustrating attempts to learn how to cut effectively from an Intuitive player, plus the impact that conversation had on him as a player and a coach over the course of the following few years!

Join / start the reddit discussion on this article


Felix is going to South Africa!


I was contacted yesterday by Fergus Klein – Sussex University (Mohawks) alumni from 2013-14. Since graduating and moving back to Johannesburg, Fergus has got massively involved in Ultimate, and is now chairperson of the Gauteng region of South Africa – they have around 100 league players and 500 kids currently playing Ultimate!


The sun does not appear bigger in Africa because it’s closer to the equator.

South Africa (RSA) entered teams into the Men’s, Women’s, and Men’s Masters divisions of WUGC 2016, and at U23 Worlds 2015 their mixed team played against the GB team I was coaching, in the match for 5th place. Now they are hungry for more Ultimate knowledge & coaching techniques – to boost the development of the game in the country and raise the top level!

It’s currently being discussed within the Gauteng Ultimate committee, but the proposed idea is that I fly over for 3 weeks around March – half spent in Johannesburg, half spent in Cape Town, with a visit to Kruger National Park in the middle. That’s a park with impala, buffalo, zebra, elephant, rhinoceros, lions, leopards, giraffe, hippopotamus, black mamba, pythons, crocodiles, vultures, eagles…


I couldn’t find a picture with all the animals together for some reason

I heard that the RSA Masters team were playing Mex Offence at WUGC 2016 but I was too busy filming/commentating to check them out, and had no idea how it came to be – now the jigsaw pieces are starting to fall into place! It was Fergus’ idea and apparently it’s the “in” formation at the moment – he says “all the good teams in SA are using it now!”

I’m really looking forward to the trip, where I’ll get to see Fergus and Ant Pascoe again (teammate from 2001-03 Smash & Grab era) – having never been anywhere in Africa before, I also can’t wait to check out the wondrous and abundant nature; maybe I’ll find some good hills / mountains to run up!


Like the Guateng Ultimate Facebook page

EUCF 2016 report & play-by-play of the Open Final

EUCF 2016 is the 10th European Ultimate Club Finals, it was held in

Open final play-by-play, as it happened:

Clapham with a stifling zone at the start, after the first point Funk had a couple of turnovers, a few points traded and a break for CUSB. 4-4.
Clapham working it well but footblock from CUSB and the score. 5-4 CUSB
CUSB show great awareness of the stall count as a team to get a D with the wall and then the stream dies. Comes back and it’s 6-4 La Fotta.
Couple of travel calls. La Fotta with a zone, some fouling on the mark from Davide. Ashley Yeo with another score from Justin, 6-5.
Huge Justin sky after a floaty CUSB huck – will be a good photo! Timeout.
Long possession with only short passes, Clapham work it up the line and bring it level, 6-6. Stream dies.
It’s back and I’ve missed a couple of turns, then Chris Baker sends a flick skyward but gets saved by newcomer Connor McHale. Contested foul. Conrad Wilson with the Clapham score, 7-6 Clapham, then they take half 8-6.
Justin with a layout catch on a lateral cut, then a big hammer across to Ashley Yeo who lays out big for 9-6.
CUSB mis-throw and then Briggs to Jackson deep with a flick – 10-6. Timeout – feels like a push coming from CUSB but they have to put in their offence…
Deep throw by CUSB just out of the reach of defender Garner, 10-7.
Clapham timeout on stall 8, they get out after a false re-start, Stobbs cuts up line for 11-7 score.
Floaty mistake mid-field from La Fotta and Clapham sustain their offence outside the end zone to score, 12-7.
Tom Abrams with the layout D on Davide, quick move up the line for 13-7.
La Fotta trapped at the back of their end zone, manage to complete a huck but then another unforced error on the next throw. Clapham bomb it deep to Andrew Jackson for another goal, 14-7. Stream is dropping in and out quite a lot.
A couple of turnovers before another unforced error for La Fotta, this time on their own goal line, and Clapham pick it up quickly and slot it in for the win! 15-7, Clapham are EUCF 2016 champions!

Women’s Final:

CUSB Shout put in a good performance against Flying Angels in the women’s final, with Eliza Frangalini making many huge grabs for them, but FAB’s experience shone through as they closed the game out 15-13. The match turned into quite a huckfest, both up and down wind, many contested catches and D’s in traffic.

Mixed Final:

After a fantastic domestic season where they took the UKU Nationals title, Reading secured their first EUCF title by defeating the very young team Grüt (FC Airborn, Netherlands) in the Mixed Final – this Reading side are incredibly strong and didn’t have many problems, dealing with the unpredictable and brave offence of Grüt – 15-8 the final score.


Clapham 15 – 8 Tchac:
Tchac’s fairytale rise gets firmly stopped by the UK powerhouse. Tchac’s unconventional style got them a few points and some incredible layout blocks, but Clapham seemed solid and confidently put away the game. Clapham’s Justin Foord connected with Ashley Yeo for the winning point.

Bad Skid 11 – 14 CUSB La Fotta:
The firey Italians, after a heated battle with Switzerland’s Freespeed in the quarter, had the edge on Germany’s Bad Skid and secured their spot in the Final for the second year running.

Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta is a repeat of the EUCF 2015 final, where Clapham won 15-8.


Iceni 14 – 15 CUSB Shout:
Last year these two teams met in the group stages, and Iceni won 12-11. This time, the Italian side CUSB Shout got their revenge and denied the reigning champions a place in the Final, in another exciting universe point match.

Troubles 10 – 15 Flying Angels Bern:
Switzerland’s FAB bring the Polish “Troubles” team’s good run to an end with a  5 point cushion.


FC Airborn 15 – 14 Hässliche Erdferkel:
Netherlands’ FC Airborn (“Grut”), with players ranging from 14 – 25 years old and an average age of 19 (the 54-year old coach is one of their fathers) have a very exciting style where they are not afraid to huck to double cuts and find unexpected spaces with their throws, and it paid off for them as they took this thrilling semi final in sudden death against the German Hässliche Erdferkel team.

Reading Ultimate 15 – 10 SeE6:
UK’s top mixed team Reading with a fairly comfortable win over the Swedish SeE6 side.

Playoff bracket graphics with scores: OpenWomen’sMixed

Scores, Groups, Results & Standings website
Clapham v Otso – last two points (universe point)