(c) Felix Shardlow v.1.02 26th June 2018
Also available in French / en Français (v0.97)
Flexagon Defence is not a zone, nor is it strictly 1-to-1 defence. Flex employs local positioning guidelines to reduce offensive advantage wherever possible. Where zonal marking utilises role-based teamwork and dynamic positioning; 1-to-1 defence employs simple positioning rules and focuses on athleticism; Flex utilises a set of principles which encourage defenders to work as a team, dynamically recognising any offensive mistakes or inefficiencies and attempting to punish them to gain advantage.
In Ultimate, offence by default has a huge advantage, and if they play very well then it’s very difficult for any defence to stop them from scoring. Actively gaining advantage on defence requires the ability to recognise offensive mistakes, and then utilise a combination of teamwork, positioning, and athleticism to capitalise.
The 3 Flex Principles
- Switch / surround where appropriate
- Cover all offensive players as a team
Aim to open a communication channel with nearby teammates as soon as they are within range, so it can be used instantly when opponents move. There are three main ways of opening & using a communication channel:
- eye contact – keep your head up – positional information is shared & acknowledged, chances for miscommunication reduced
- gesticulation – keep your eyes open – pointing, indicating
- vocalisation – keep your ears open – push/pull shouts to move teammates
For more on communication, see Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Switch / surround where appropriate
- Using your communication channel, reposition to surround offensive players when there is no space between two or more opponents
- Surround with the same number of defenders as there are offensive players
- If there is space between all offensive players, and their movement cannot be punished with switches, mark 1-to-1 until the opportunity to switch or surround arises
- Prepare to switch marks early – pre-empt offensive movement if possible, as late / reactive switches only limit damage – they do not necessarily gain advantage for the defence
- Prepare to switch marks when opponents move towards occupied areas
- Switch if mutually beneficial for defenders, and both offensive players can be easier covered
- Both players must move quickly to cover their new marks
Offensive players who are occupying the same space as each other, or moving towards occupied areas, are making mistakes – be prepared to punish them to gain advantage!
Cover all offensive players as a team
- All individuals should be marking one specific player unless surrounding or flash-poaching
- Leave no offensive player unmarked
- Get help if trying to cover two players
- Avoid defensive double-coverage
- Only poach temporarily, and when you have help from a team mate (in a sandwiching / surrounding situation)
- Solo poaches send false signals to other defenders, which causes a breakdown of Flex due to chain reaction
The offensive team have the same number of players as the defence – and one of their players isn’t allowed to move!
Flex doesn’t really have a prescribed shape or formation, as the local positioning of the defenders is entirely dependant upon the positioning of the offensive players. However, if the theory of both offence and defence in Ultimate are explored to depths, a hexagon (or rotatable 2-3-2) shape emerges as most efficient use of space by 7 players. The hex shape is only utilised in Flex defence in three circumstances:
- When playing against a Hex offence, as shape knowledge will help the defence to pre-empt offensive movement and punish positioning / movement mistakes
- When the team are very experienced with playing Flex, and wish to employ more advanced ideas related to global switching & surrounding
- If the defensive team are not switching or surrounding enough during normal play – calling initial positions can be useful as it puts defenders into a more ‘zone-like’ mindset, where they will be more actively looking for switching and surrounding opportunities.
Conversely, if a Flex team is surrounding too loosely, blowing switches often, or if poaching becomes an issue, calling initial match-ups on the line can encourage the defence to adopt a more 1-to-1-like mindset, which should address those problems.
If calling positions, by default: 2 forwards, 2 wings, 2 backs, 1 hat (central player).
If your opponent is playing horizontal stack it’s recommended you start with person-to-person marking, but if calling positions: 3 forwards, 2 wings, 1 hat, 1 back. For more on playing Flex against specific offensive strategies, see Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
The terms “forward” and “back” refer to how you see the field when on the line before a point – “forwards” are comparable to “handler marks”, “backs” are comparable to “deeps”.
Remember that Flex is not a zone, and position calling should only be used in the three situations listed above.
The force – recommended: if the disc is near the middle force straight-up, if the disc is near the sideline force towards the line – this leaves defenders on either shoulder of the force in all situations. The force is not a critical part of Flex – it can often be left til last when making sure all offensive players are covered, and it can change depending on opponents / conditions. There should certainly not be a player chasing the disc and putting on multiple forces in a row (unless you have incorporated an advanced switching system into your Flex).
Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48: