Full stream / extended analysis video:
Full stream / extended analysis video:
In this video from the 2017 World Games we’re going to look at how Colombia adapt their offence to effectively counter the one-to-one defence Poland play against them.
Interview with Colombian coach Mauricio Moore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN65_cIBYy8
Transcript: During the game it became apparent that the Colombian women were winning their matchups with greater ease than the Colombian men. To play to this advantage, Colombia manipulate the space on the field to reduce the risk of clogging and poaching from the male defenders, and maximise the space available to the women – in this case on the far sideline & deep – whilst the men are concentrated in the near-side and backfield areas.
There is some initial poaching from the male defenders, but the Colombian men stay involved and calmly take the open pass. The women on the far side have now formed a triangle, they are no longer being inhibited by the poaches, and they have a clear channel to the end zone. Note how the male players resist the urge to reposition downfield when the disc is near the sideline, instead trying to draw their defenders away from poaching positions.
Once the Colombian women are in flow the offence looks fairly unstoppable, with the defenders not able to apply any real pressure, however in the end the turnover is caused by an unforced execution error.
Colombia get the disc back later in the point, but the women are disconnected at the start of the offence, and there is some sagging and poaching from the defenders. When one of Poland’s male defenders gets sucked in on a poaching opportunity, their mark rightly takes off deep, but the disc doesn’t come and when he comes back we see Colombia fall into a similar setup to the one we saw earlier.
The women retain their shape deep on the far sideline whilst the men take a few easy open passes to keep the tempo of the offence. The triangle shape makes it very difficult for the Polish female defenders to poach or switch effectively.
When Lauras Ospina gets the disc, Colombia have a favourable one-to-one matchup completely isolated in the attacking half of the field, where Yina Cartagena scores without the defence having a bid.
By utilising the space on the field, manipulating the defence, and taking the open pass, Colombia were able to play to their advantage – their female one-to-one matchups – whilst minimising the poaching opportunities for the male defenders.
Utilising space and manipulating defence happens with all offenses, but which offensive structure would be most suited to this gender-weighted tactic?
Vertical stack creates space down the sides of the field but is very susceptible to poaching, as one or two male defenders start in the centre of the downfield space. 4-women in the stack with the three men in the backfield is possible, but is open to counter-tactics such as defenders sagging off the handlers, or downfield defenders surrounding the vertical stack to make it overconcentrated and difficult to initate flow from.
Splitting the vertical stack takes things to the extreme – it maximisises the space available, but it asks cutters to make big initial movements to get free. This is well suited to the hard cutting, yards-focused style which is prevalent in the game at the moment, particularly in North America.
How about horizontal stack? This is more dynamic and can work in a few different ways… when there are two male defenders downfield poaching could become a problem, so having three downfield female players can work nicely, offering loads of space… My favourite setup – which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my work – is called Hexagon Offence. This setup naturally supports the triangle shape Colombia’s women were forming, whilst keeping every other player connected, meaning any poaching can be quickly and easily punished.
Space in the Hex setup is created dynamically – when one player makes a cut they create a space where they came from, which is not how it works in vertical or split stack. This new space can be used by any adjacent team mates, and unlike horizontal stack, these second cuts can be made directly from the setup positions within the Hex shape. This dynamic creation and use of space has a cascading effect which maximises options for the offence and denies the defence any leverage.
Hex has taught me a lot about Ultimate, and there’s a bunch of other reasons why I prefer it to traditional offences, but I digress! I can talk about that more in another video.
If four women are on the field winning their matchups – perhaps related to a lack of female subs from the opposition – then a number of other interesting setups are possible to make use of this advantage.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to Mauricio Moore, the Colombian coach, about this video at all, so it’s just things that I’ve kind of seen, and my interpretation of them. He did an interview recently which is really really worth checking out – it’s a subtitled one, it’s in Spanish, but the subtitles are great, he’s clearly got a way with words, I’ll put the link down in the description below. Definitely check it out, I think everyone can learn from his experiences and what he has to say.
He says they focus very little on on-field tactics, so probably they just identified that the women were mismatched and just encouraged their men to just stay back and out of the way whilst the women had their own space to work with, rather than it being something they had drilled or it being a formal structure or arrangement they had. In this way I think they’re similar to Japan in terms of national teams, in that they’re more dynamic and organic with how they play, rather than sticking to set rules and cutting patterns and reset patterns, they kind of make it up as they go along to a certain extent, which is an approach that I really like.
Flags is a simple game which adds training elements to a throw around. It will expose your weaknesses and challenge your strengths. Set out two markers (water bottles are good) a few yards apart, one directly downwind of the other – these mark the goal line – the windier it is, the longer the goal line should be. The higher the skill of the players (and/or the lesser the wind), the narrower the goal line.
2 players: Throw from where you catch, don’t cut for throws but do move to catch them. (1) Throw over the goal line at any height, (2) Throw around the far side of the goal [OI], (3) Throw around the inside of the goal [IO]
3 players: 2v1 – Rolling defender, cutting now encouraged. All players can move freely and pass on either side of the flags, but only passes across the goal line (at any height) count as goals. Goals reset a shot clock to prevent stalling, and the shot clock can be counted by the defender from anywhere on the field.
Experiment with different goal sizes, goal orientation to the wind, restricting the surrounding space with back lines, and so on. I recommend stalling from 4-10, as this is most game-like – mimicking the common situation where a thrower looks for a secondary option at stall 3. Let me know if you come up with some interesting rules or modifications yourself! As it was written on the back of the first frisbee – Play catch. Invent games. Have fun.
(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.
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:
For more on communication, see Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
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!
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:
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:
v 2.2 – 15th March 2016
Concept first published 1st Jan 2013
Also available in French / en Français (v2.1)
Hex Offence combines Total Football’s freedom of movement with Spain’s tiki-taka quick passing style of play, and applies it to the Ultimate field.
Hex can be explained through four simple principles:
1. Always take the open pass
2. Fake to any option you cannot throw to
3. Use space as you see it developing
4. Maintain the shape
Abiding by these principles creates a fast-moving, flow-based offence which doesn’t give the defence a chance to set, maximises the offensive options available, and constantly changes the angles of attack.
1. Always take the open pass
2. Fake to any option you cannot throw to
Faking should always be realistic and purposeful. There are three main purposes for faking, in order of importance:
a) To move downfield defenders around – if you have seen a potential option, then the good defenders on the field will also have seen it, so a realistic fake will get them committing to cover this option, and open up other options for the offence elsewhere on the field.
b) To communicate with your team – when you fake to a potential throwing option, you communicate to that player that you have recognised the option they are providing, but that you are not going to throw it for whatever reason. This serves as a prompt for them to provide an option elsewhere on the field. The rest of your team are also party to this communication, and should respond appropriately. An effect of a good purposeful fake is that the team are brought onto the same page, into sync, and are then able to establish a rhythm to their offence and control the tempo.
c) To move your mark – useful to make a particular throw easier, and often considered the primary reason for faking, sometimes fakes for this purpose are not aimed at viable options and thus can cause miscommunication and disconnection between the thrower and their team mates. When there are enough offensive options available, faking solely for this purpose is no longer productive.
3. Use space as you see it developing
As space opens on the field, make use of it by moving into it. The shape (below) acts as a map of the potential space on the field relative to where the disc is at any point.
See space developing early by having your head up and being aware of the positioning of your team mates and the defenders whenever possible.
Create space for each other by making movements, even when closely covered.
Take what your defender gives you, or make them give you something you want.
4. Maintain the shape
The shape (a hexagon) stays the same regardless of the location of the disc – rotating as it nears the sideline in order to keep all players inside the playing field & away from the sideline, as illustrated here. The shape cannot and need not always be perfect during a point, but all players should make efforts and work as a team to maintain the shape when they can, especially if they are not involved in the immediate play.
Theoretical movement – without defenders, the most efficient way to advance the disc down the field whilst maintaining shape would be to pass the disc down the sideline whilst the hex rotates like a wheel rolling down the line – as illustrated in this animation.
In practice, defenders prevent the most efficient offensive movement, and so although globally the structure effectively rotates as it moves down the sideline, not all local situations will reflect this rotation directly.
When the disc is passed forwards through the middle, players behind and lateral with the disc must push up to avoid surrounding the disc (whilst avoiding the narrow channel), as illustrated in this animation and this animation.
“Hexagon” technically refers to the shape used in this offence, which can be considered as separate to the principles and style of play this article lays out. For simplicity, I am combining both the shape and the style in this article and under the name Hexagon Offence, as no other offences currently exist which use the Hex shape (though the positions in Frank Huguenard’s Motion Offence result in a similar shape). If plenty more Hex-based offences spring up over time then this combined shape & style may be renamed to something containing my name, such as Shardlow Offence, Felix O, etc.
Scoring in all Ultimate usually happens in one of two ways: (1) from a deep throw, or (2) from flow towards the end zone. When the disc is around the area of the brick mark, the deep throw is a significant threat, so defenders must not allow the offence players to streak free towards the zone. This allows the offence more chances to be free coming back towards the disc, for shorter passes which can be used to initiate flow. Hardly any turnovers happen when the disc is thrown from near the brick mark.
As the disc gets closer to the end zone, the deep throw is no longer a threat, so the defence can apply more pressure to shorter passes. When flow stops outside the end zone, the odds of the offence scoring decreases significantly.
When in this situation, it is still relatively easy for the offence to initiate flow – if they are moving away from the end zone. The offence should coordinate flowing away from the zone – towards the brick mark – whilst vacating all players from the end zone (staying connected), as this will quickly open up the deep throw again as an immediate scoring option, and put them in a good position to direct their flow back towards the end zone.
The ideal distance to which you should flow away from the end zone depends on the players on your team – far enough so that all defenders are out of the end zone, but not so far that your players cannot reach the end zone with a long throw.
Training Hex Offence with your team – contains some diagrams & descriptions of drills, and tips on how to introduce the offence to your team.
Mex Offence v2.1 – an older version of this doc – more verbose.
Full game footage of Hexagon Offence being played is available at pushpass.co.uk – see any of Brighton City’s games from UKU Nationals 2012/13/14, XEUCF 2013, EUCF 2014, or any Sussex Mohawks 1 or Brighton Panthers games from Uni Regionals 2014. For clips of Hexagon Offence see the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel – here are some samples from the channel of Hex in action, taken in 2013.
NB: The play in these videos is by no means a perfect display of Hex, and in the football ones I did get a bit overzealous on drawing triangles over the pitch…
I asked Mario O’Brien what he thought of Hex strategies and had some positive back-and-forth with him. Mario is the Founder/CEO of RISE UP Ultimate + ULTACADEMY; Seattle Sockeye & Cascades O-handler; 2-time Manager Team USA Beach; SOTG gold medalist; International and local coach; and Team ERIC Coach), and he recently did an “Ask Me Anything” on /r/ultimate/:
Chatting to Mario helped me clarify my thoughts on & for the first time verbalise how poaching causes the progressive collapse of Flex D. I’ve now incorporated this specific example into the Flex theory clinic – it now feels like there is a frame in place, and we’re no longer fumbling in the dark trying to figure out & define ‘smart defence’; we’re working out what fills the frame & where the holes are. The task for the first time feels relatively finite.
I’ve got a lot of time for Sockeye – I hung out with them a little in Prague during WUCC 2010, I love a team that knows how to play hard, party, and isn’t afraid to innovate on the field and openly discuss new strategies and tactics.
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 12th June 2016
Last update: v0.2 – 26th June 2018
Also available in French / en Français
For the first 3 seconds of the stall, the offence is looking for flow or continuation options. If the offence is playing well, these options are hard to prevent – nearby defenders should make efforts to contain the offence and prevent flow (or predict it and get a block), whilst other defenders not connected to the play should focus on establishing good positioning. If flow is halted and the stall count hits 3 seconds, the offence will look for a secondary, or reset option. At this point, the defence should already be working as a team to pressure these next options – using switches and sandwiches to ensure every player is marked with good positioning when the thrower looks up after 3 seconds.
After stall 6, the offence will look for their reset or backup options, like a hammer, a break, or a yard-losing pass. All defenders should be minimising separation, or be sandwiching any offensive players who are near to each other – working together to be tight enough to all offensive players to apply pressure to the break/overhead/yard-loser that will be considered at stall 6. Reaching stall 6 doesn’t happen all the time, so the defence can afford to put in extra effort when it does.
If the defenders are all conscious of when the stall count reaches 3 seconds during a point, they can focus their efforts in a coordinated way – using teamwork to attempt to punish the slight offensive error of flow having stopped. By all being on the same page with regard to when / where they should be expending effort, the defence can save energy for the moments when getting interceptions are most likely, and then focus their efforts to generate a block as a team.
The force should be ‘loose-tight-loose’ over the 10 seconds of the count – for stalls 1-3, the force should be loose and containing – ready to switch to prevent a give-go or up-line cut, and also preventing a ‘killer’ break throw or penetration move.
Stalls 4, 5 and 6 are when the force should be tight and aggressive – stopping the first ‘alternate look’ from the thrower, and applying pressure.
Stalls 7, 8 and 9 are when the force should loosen up a little again – preventing a ‘killer’ break throw and not allowing the thrower to draw a foul to reset the count.
Downfield, defenders should play tight-smart-tight against cutters – they should aim to be tight to their mark when the disc is caught (stall 0), then, if flow is halted, they should be smart and look for sandwiches / switches on stalls 3, 4 and 5, and if the disc still isn’t passed then they should make sure they are tight again at the end of the stall count when the thrower will be looking for the offensive player with the most separation to create an option.
Source video of NexGen-Pony gifs:
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.97 28/04/2015 – translated by Florian Gailliegue
La Flexagon appréhende la défense sous un nouvel angle, en combinant des éléments de défense individuelle et de défense de zone. La Flex n’est ni une « indiv » ni une « zone », c’est un hybride avec ses propres règles et principes. À l’ultimate, l’attaque a l’avantage, et prendre l’ascendant en défense requiert une combinaison d’athlétisme, de positionnement et de travail d’équipe. La défense individuelle est orientée vers l’athlétisme et la zone sur le positionnement, la Flexagon quant à elle met l’accent sur le travail d’équipe avant de capitaliser sur tout mouvement ou positionnement inefficace de l’équipe en attaque
Les positions sont grandement flexibles parce que largement dépendantes des positions prises par les attaquants, cependant la structure sous-jacente peut être décrite comme un 2-3-2.
Les termes de « forward » et « back » font référence au sens dans lequel vous voyez le terrain avant un point; les « forwards » sont comparables à des « défenseurs de handlers », et les « back » à des « deeps sur une défense de zone »
Les positions peuvent et devraient changer durant une possession ; fréquemment il est plus logique pour un défenseur de suivre sa marque tandis qu’il se déplace sur le terrain plutôt que de switcher ; les autres défenseurs doivent s’ajuster en fonction. Un défenseur peut débuter un point en tant que « back » et finir « forward » en passant par « hat ». Respecter les principes rend ces changements de postes dynamiques possibles.
Si l’attaque adopte une formation 3-4 alors la Flex ressemblera aussi à une formation 3-4 ; plus à ce sujet dans « Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies ».
La force, si le disque est près du milieu alors la force est « middle », si le disque est près d’une sideline alors la force est « line », ça laisse des joueurs de chaque côté de la force dans les deux situations. Ce n’est pas systématiquement un « forward » qui place la force, quand le disque est près d’une ligne il est plus probable qu’un « wing » s’en occupe, selon les positions occupées par les joueurs sur le terrain.
Quand les attaquants sont proches les uns des autres, ils ne sont pas positionnés efficacement, et la défense se doit de punir cela en les encadrant (“sandwitchant”) tout en Assurant d’être autant de défenseurs qu’il y a d’attaquants. Si au contraire les attaquants sont répartis sur le terrain en utilisant l’espace à leur disposition, une défense serrée est plus adaptée. Il ne faut pas tenter de sandwicher.
Lorsque des attaquants se déplacent l’un vers l’autre ou vers les défenseurs, la défense doit punir ces mouvements inefficaces en switchant leur marque. Cela conserve l’énergie et créer des opportunités de block puisque le défenseur arrivera d’un angle inattendu. Si les attaquants se déplacent vers un espace il n’est pas conseillé de switcher.
Vous souhaitez des vidéos montrant la Flex en action, ou des explications orales et autres? Restez informez en souscrivant à Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel.
La Flex en action face à FWD aux championnats européens – avancez jusqu’à 37:48:
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 4th May 2016
Last updated: 26th June 2018
Also available in French / en Français
Good communication within a team is essential for good teamwork, combined with trust in your team mates communications. When you receive communication from a team mate, you should immediately act on it, and then re-assess the situation. Very rarely should communication from a team mate be assessed before being put into action.
Communication should be near-constant during a point of Flex. If any of the principles are being disobeyed then there should be a lot of noise on the field – if an offensive player is unmarked, all defenders should know about it and be working together constantly to remedy the situation. If it’s becoming possible to sandwich the opposition, or if their positioning indicates a switch may be possible soon, communication should already be happening.
The 3 ways to communicate in Flex
Eye-contact between defenders should happen whenever they have the opportunity – usually when their marks are not moving and they are re-assessing the situation. A moment of eye-contact has multiple immediate benefits:
Gesticulation conveys more specific information, and can be recognised by many defenders at the same time. Usually the meaning of any gesticulation is self-explanatory – here are some examples:
Vocalisation is the most flexible form of communication, and can be reach all defenders within earshot. Any information conveyed vocally also carries with it information about where on the field the shout is coming from, and the tone / volume of the shout indicates the level of urgency. Shouts should be accompanied by eye contact and gesticulation, to give more specific information to team mates who have you in their field of view, or who turn to look when they hear the shout. Here are some shouts which have proved to be useful in Flex:
There are a number of ways the sideline can help Flex greatly:
Also available in French / en Français
Last updated: 26th June 2018
Flex vs Vertical Stack
If the opponents create a vertical stack, you should surround the stack as illustrated – this is also called the ‘scramble’ position (although in ‘scramble’, you usually transition to 1-to-1 defence after 1 pass).
The 5 players guarding the stack are basically playing a 5v5 surrounding game. When an offensive player cuts out of the stack, a defender marks them tightly, and the other defenders communicate and reposition to account for the fact it’s now a 4v4 situation. This transition happens as soon as there is space between the offensive players, and the sandwiching/surrounding players in the 4v4 should continue to be ready to switch with the defender in the 1v1 – for example if the offensive player cuts deep for a few steps and then comes under.
The faster the defence can reposition, the less chance the offence has to exploit holes in the sandwich. Avoid having two defensive players mark one cutting player, as this creates an unbalanced sandwiching situation (e.g. 3v4), which is a weakness for the defence.
The players marking the stack can choose to split duties, for example from a 5v5 sandwich, into two sandwiches – 2v2 and 3v3. They might choose to do this in the case of a pre-existing imbalance, such as the offence having a few ‘superstar’ players, or when playing mixed gender ultimate.
Flex vs Horizontal Stack
Against a horizontal stack from a central static disc, you should start tight to your mark, and look for switches after the first cuts are made. As any of the four cutting players can go deep initially, they must be marked honestly. Trying to have a deep & under poach when the disc is in the middle of the field does not work, as it leaves somebody in too much space – causing the defence to break down.
If setting up in positions initially (not recommended), one wing player must push up to mark the third handler – the wing player on the break side. Make this move before the disc is in play if possible, so it’s clear to the back/hat players who you are marking. The side cutter on the break side is marked by a ‘back’ player, the side cutter on the open side is marked by the other ‘wing’ player, which leaves the two in the middle (the ‘active pair’ when the disc is in the middle).
The back & hat players in the middle should mark honestly at first, as they don’t know whether they will go deep or come under, and it’s too easy to split the hat if we try to mark zonally. After the active middle pair make their first cut, the two defenders can get their heads up and have a look to see if they can switch. One defender will be ‘under’ – they can become the ‘hat’ – and the other will be ‘deep’ – they can become a ‘back’ player. As Horizontal stack utilises spacing between offensive players, switching rather than sandwiching is the more common way to gain defensive advantage.
If the disc is being brought into play from the sideline, the two deepest offensive players on the far side are often close enough to each other (bearing in mind how far they are from the disc) to be sandwiched effectively. Here’s a video where I briefly talk about this type of offensive positioning mistake:
When the opponents transition into a vertical stack in the end zone, you should stay in Flex to stifle the space and generate confusion & chaos. The ‘Ant’ defence is particularly useful against a static start – if there has been a timeout after a huck caught just outside the end zone, for example.
The force is straight up, and the remaining players surround the stack, picking up marks as they run towards them, and adjusting each time a defending team mate becomes occupied with a mark – like Flex vs Vert.
The ‘forward’ player marking the reset can also choose to leave them and join the ‘ant’ formation – which would give it six legs. If the person with the disc is a weaker thrower, the reset should be marked.
In the video below, Felix talks about the roles of each position in Flex before talking about Flex vs Vert stack (11:48) and Flex vs Horizontal stack (15:10). Note this video is slightly outdated, as the emphasis of Flex has shifted away from positioning, and towards dynamic switching & sandwiching.