Flexagon Defence v1.01

(c) Felix Shardlow v.1.01 29th March 2017

Also available in French / en Français (v0.97)

Part of a series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Intro

Flexagon Defence is not a zone, nor is it strictly person-to-person defence. Flex employs local positioning guidelines to reduce offensive advantage wherever possible. Where zonal marking utilises role-based teamwork and dynamic positioning; person-to-person 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

  • Communicate
  • Switch / surround where appropriate
  • Cover all offensive players as a team

Communication

  • 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

Never concede a point in silence

Switch / surround where appropriate

  • 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
  • Only leave your mark if you know they will be covered, and you know who you will be covering next
  • 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 person-to-person until the opportunity to switch or surround arises

Offensive players who are double-covering space 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
  • Leave no offensive player unmarked
  • Get help if trying to cover two players
  • Avoid defensive double-coverage
  • Avoid poaching (leaving a player unmarked)
  • Poaches are false-positive signals to other defenders which cause 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!

Global Positioning

Flex doesn’t 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.
Calling initial positions can be useful if a Flex team is not finding enough opportunities to switch or surround the opposition, as it puts them 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, or is reduced to poaching, calling initial match-ups on the line can encourage them to adopt a more person-to-person mindset.
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.
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 to encourage more switching and surrounding – not as an excuse for poaching, which directly goes against the principle of covering all offensive players as a team.

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. As Flex is not a zone, 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).


Further Reading

Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Want videos of Flex in action, or vocal explanations and stuff? Keep updated through the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel and the felixultimate YouTube channel.

Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48:

GB Mixed U23’s played this defence at Worlds in 2015 – more videos of Felix explaining it to the team will be uploaded to the Hexagon Ultimate channel shortly (below is a video of the first time it was introduced to the team):

Hex/Flex in action against Japan at Worlds:

Hexagon Offence v2.2

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

  • Regardless of field position or yardage – if the open pass is behind you, take it. Don’t wait to see if there’s another open pass which can gain you yards, simply take the open pass you are aware of at that point in time.
  • Regardless of stall count – if you have an open pass on stall 1, don’t hold onto the disc to see if anything else will present itself later in the stall, simply take the open pass as soon as you see it.
  • Face infield – by facing towards the centre of the shape, you are able to see open passes develop anywhere on the field at any time.
  • Initiate & maintain flow – two quick passes can be enough to initiate flow, and once flowing, sustain it for as long as possible by continuing to take the open passes.

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.

  • Stay connected – when in good shape, each player is connected to (within 8-12 yards of) three team mates. The distance between any two players in the shape is guided by the team’s average throwing ability, or wind conditions – it should be a comfortable pass if the player moves towards the thrower as quickly as possible, or if they move away from the thrower as quickly as possible (a long pass). The three players connected to the thrower occupy the centre of the comfortable distances the thrower can pass, and keep the same distance away from each other.
  • Make triangles – the shape consists of six equilateral triangles, so if players focus locally on maintaining these triangles, the hexagon shape forms naturally.
  • Keep equidistant – locally, ensure the triangles are equilateral. These equal distances make it much easier to ensure everyone is connected, and to establish rhythm and tempo control as an offence, as well as setting a standard for pass-length that players can become familiar and comfortable with.
  • Avoid the narrow channel – when moving up past a player with the disc, take the path on the wider side of the field – avoid the space between the thrower and the sideline.
  • Don’t surround the disc – against person-to-person marking, surrounding the disc (i.e. having the thrower in the centre of the shape, or having a ‘reset’ on the opposite side of the disc to ‘cutters’) will often lead to turnovers and should be avoided. Against zonal defence, surrounding the disc can be beneficial.

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
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.

Resources
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…



Full drone cam footage of GB U23X v GB Mixed 2015




Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 12th June 2016

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.

With flow halted, if the PoNY defenders used a switch or a sandwich then the clear cutting option would have been denied, and the reset would have been marked quickly.
 

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 very often, so the defence can afford to put in extra effort when it does.

Flow is stopped, the thrower looks at their reset at stall 3, they are marked out, so further options are looked at at stall 6. If the defence positioned themselves effectively as a team, the thrower would likely be left with no easy option.
 

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.

Defenders are positioned well and heads-up to switching to limit options. Tightening up late in the stall reduces the chance of flow being re-started after the disc is passed (sustainable defence). The defender with yellow shorts realises their poor positioning too late.
 

The Force

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.

Part III of an ongoing series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Source video of gifs:

Flexagon Défence (Français)

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.97 28/04/2015 – translated by Florian Gailliegue

Followed by:
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication

Intro

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 3 Principes Flex

  • Communiquer
    • Eye contact – rester en alerte
    • Utiliser des gestes
    • Utiliser des mots
  • Switcher / Encadrer avec un partenaire lorsqu’approprié
    • Être prêt à changer de marque (switcher) – anticiper les déplacements de l’attaque si possible
    • Ne jamais laisser le joueur sur lequel vous défendez sauf avec la certitude qu’il sera couvert, et si vous savez sur qui vous devrez défendre dorénavant
    • Encadrer (« sandwicher ») des joueurs près l’un de l’autre
  • Couvrir tous les attaquants en équipe
    • Chaque défenseur doit marquer un joueur spécifique sauf si encadrement (ne pas défendre un espace ou une position)
    • Ne pas laisser d’attaquant non défendu
    • Recevoir de l’aide si vous essayer de défendre plusieurs joueurs
    • Éviter les surnombres défensifs

 

Positionnement

flex1

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.

  • 2 forwards (avants)
  • 2 wings (ailiers)
  • 2 backs (arrières)
  • 1 hat (joueur central)

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.

Switcher / Sandwicher

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.


Pour aller plus loin

Des articles sur la Flex avancée son ten train d’être publié;
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication

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:

GB Mixed U23’s utilisa cette défense aux mondiaux 2015, plus de vidéos de Felix expliquant la Flex à l’équipe seront uploadées sur la chaine Hexagon Ultimate sous peu (en dessous une vidéo de la première fois que cette défense a été présentée à l’équipe).

La Hex/Flex en action contre le Japon aux mondiaux:

Advanced Flex – Part II: Communication

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 4th May 2016

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.

The 3 ways to communicate in Flex

  • Eye-contact – opens the channel of communication between two defenders
  • Gesticulation – directs attention to a particular area or person
  • Vocalisation – gives detailed information or instructions

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:

  1. Communication channel is opened. If there is anything you or your team mate wish to communicate to each other, you have each others attention so are able to do so, through facial expressions, gesticulation, or vocalisation. A neutral look saying “everything is OK” is useful in itself.
  2. Each defender gets knowledge of their teammate’s position, and the position of their teammate’s mark. They also know that their teammate is aware of their situation – which opens up the opportunity for switches or sandwiches.
  3. Defenders are put “on the same page”. The chance for miscommunication is minimised, and a good base for teamwork is established.

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:

  1. Pointing to an offence player or players – depending on the context, this can either mean you are marking them, or that your team mate should mark them. Pointing to two or three players (by using two or three fingers) is a quick way of initiating a sandwich with a team mate.
  2. Open-hand gesturing can be used to indicate what area you are covering in a ‘sandwiching’ situation, and to move defending team mates around to improve coverage.

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 pointing, 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:

  • Push – used to move nearby defenders away from you. This is useful when you realise you are both covering the same space, or when you see an unmarked offensive player the other side of a team mate. When you hear “Push”, you should initially move directly away from where the voice came from, before reassessing the situation. Example animation here.
  • Pull – the opposite to ‘Push’, use “Pull” when you want defenders to come towards you, or to an area near you. This is useful when you find yourself covering two or more players, or when you can see an unmarked offensive player nearby. When you hear “Pull”, you should initially move towards where the voice came from, before reassessing the situation. Example animation here.
  • Switch – also used in person defence, a ‘switch’ call is used when two defenders wish to swap their marks. Switches are best called by the player whose new mark is the option the thrower is looking at, and (as according to the principles), should only be called when you know (a) who your new mark will be, and (b) that your old mark will be covered.
  • Sandwich – used when offensive players are stood in close proximity to one another, and the defenders wish to take advantage of the inefficiency and ‘surround’ the opposition. Sandwiches can involve any number of defenders, but should always involve an equal number of offensive players– 2v2, 3v3, 4v4 etc. In Mixed, sandwiches should usually be gender-specific, so surrounding a vertical stack should effectively be looked at as 2v2 & 3v3, rather than 5v5.
  • Left/right – can be used to move a team mate when you are out of their line of sight. If a team mate has their back to you, your left is their left, so directing them with left/right shouts is relatively straightforward. When they are facing you, gesticulation is more effective.
  • “I’m here” – can be used to notify your nearby team mates of your presence – particularly useful if you have just followed your mark across the field without switching, and wish to let new nearby team mates of the opportunity to use teamwork.

Sideline

There are a number of ways the sideline can help Flex greatly:

  1. Up shouts for every pass. The length and tone of the “Up” shout can help convey the type of pass made. This is very useful for players who aren’t in a position to actually see the pass being made – it lets them know the angle of attack is changing, the stall count is resetting (see Advanced Flex Part IV: The Stall-3 Game Changer), and that the disc is momentarily in the air so an immediate throw is not possible.
  2. Any defensive mis-positioning – identify and alert players to any situations where a defender is not marking a specific player, marking two players, or when there is a free offensive player on the field.
  3. The thrower’s focus – let the defender nearest to where the thrower is focusing their attention know that the thrower is looking, so they can be extra vigilant.
  4. High stall counts – lots of noise & “here it comes” from the sideline to let defenders know a pass is coming very soon, so they should tighten up to their mark and be ready for the unexpected.

Part of a series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

 

Advanced Flex – Part I: Counter-Strategies

Also available in French / en Français

Flex vs Vertical Stack

flex v verticalIf 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 man-to-man defence after 1 pass).

Whichever offensive player runs towards your area, you mark tightly, and the other defenders reposition to account for the fact you’re now occupied. The 5 players guarding the stack are basically playing a 5v5 game against the players in the stack, where they cannot allow a player to be unmarked when in space or moving towards it. If a player cuts far out of the stack (‘running through the poach’) then it becomes 4v4, and so on, until it’s clear who everybody’s mark is and we’re back to playing regular Flex, looking for switches.

In Mixed, the players marking the stack should be gender-specific, e.g. it’s a 3v3 women’s matchup and a 2v2 men’s matchup. If a woman cuts out and takes a mark, it becomes 2v2 & 2v2. Keeping track of the number of players helps avoid double coverage & unnecessary poaching which might leave a player free.

Flex vs Horizontal Stack

Against a horizontal stack, 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.

flex v horizontalWhen setting up, one wing player must push up to mark the third handler – the wing player on the break side. Make this move early 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 their man 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.

Flex vs Stack in the endzone

antWhen 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):

Part of a series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Offences vs Defences: Training to counter your opponent effectively

Introduction:

In this article I will be seeing how a selection of common offences match up to a selection of common defences in Ultimate, and whether any conclusions can be drawn about the most effective offences / defences for teams to spend time learning in order to efficiently counter their opponents’. When planning what strategies your team should learn in any given season, it’s important to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they are most likely to be countered effectively by your opponents.
The strategies listed are by no means exhaustive – every strategy has several different ways of being played, several tweaks or modifications, several patterns or plays which can be employed – none of which are touched on here, for the sake of simplicity. Environmental factors are not considered, “match-strategy” is not considered (e.g. come out more aggressive at the start of a match; change your defence regularly), skill-sets of teams or individual players are not considered, and different teams will have experienced different levels of success with the strategies listed – these estimates and statements are generalisations, made in order to achieve some kind of tangible comparison between the offensive/defensive strategies based on their merits and drawbacks.

I’m working with four offences and four defences:
Vertical / side / split stack offence: Players line up in the centre or at the side of the field, and make hard ‘cuts’ to the space available, before ‘clearing’ back into a stack. One player stays behind the disc as a dump/reset.
Horizontal stack: Players create a 3-4 formation (3 backfield, 4 downfield), with the downfield players either cutting towards or away from the disc.
Hexagon offence: Players form a hexagon made from equilateral triangles, often in a 2-3-2 formation, with movement creating space for passes in any direction. More info on Hex offence here.
Zone O: Varies from team to team, but usually 3 or 4 players in the backfield, who swing the disc from side to side, looking to pass downfield to ‘poppers’ attacking the space in front of the disc, and wings or deeps further downfield.

Strict person-D: Each defender marks an offensive player, staying very close to them for the duration of the offence. The side the defender tries to hold position on their mark is determined by the direction of the force put on the thrower.
“Help-defence”: A modification of person-D where the defenders are heads-up to switching marks and helping covering dangerous space when appropriate. More info on Help-defence here.
Flexagon: A hybrid defence, taking elements from person-D and Zone, to apply pressure to all players by using constant teamwork and communication. In theory a 2-3-2 setup, but actual positioning is entirely dependant upon where the offensive players are. More info on Flexagon D here.
Zone D: Defenders spread over the field to cover the space, usually overloading the area in front of the thrower to limit short downfield throwing options. There are many types of Zone D, this article does not distinguishing between them (for simplicity).

defence
* a note about strict person-D: although much pressure can be applied by playing this defence with smart local positioning and trained athletic moves, I see the strategy as limited due to (a) the absence of teamwork between downfield defenders, and (b) the over-reliance upon matching or surpassing your opponents athletically.

offence

Calibration:

The table below compares each offence against each defence. The numbers are scoring likelihood / defence likelihood estimates, assuming two high-to-elite level teams are competing with well-practiced offences vs well-practiced defences. For example, assume the (very common) combination of Vertical stack vs strict person-D would see the offence scoring without turning over 85% of the time – use this as calibration for the other numbers, whether or not you agree with the figure! This is roughly the same for Horizontal stack vs person-D, and for Zone O vs Zone D – these combinations are generally considered comparable with each other in terms of effectiveness, as they are the most commonly played.
“Help-defence” is more variable than the others, as it depends a lot on how well it is played by the defence, and how well the offence adapts – so I’ve given the numbers a range.
Hexagon and Flexagon are quite new strategies, so the estimates are more likely to be inaccurate, however they are taken from 2-3 years of regularly teaching and playing the strategies – including with the GB U23 Mixed 2015 team.
All the numbers are rough estimates of likelihood, and the relative effectiveness of each strategy will certainly vary from team to team, and depending on how each is played!

o-d-matrix

From an offence point of view:

vs Strict person-D, it’s best to get defenders clumping together (covering the least / most useless space), so a vertical or side stack is ideal, and horizontal creates a large deep space. Hex spreads the defenders out, meaning the D actually becomes more efficient.
vs “Help-defence”, defenders who are clumping together will be able to poach/switch to help each other, so vertical stack becomes less effective. Horizontal spreads the defenders well, making it hard for them to help each other effectively – especially when it comes to covering the immediate deep threat. Hex spreads the defenders further and punishes poaching more efficiently, but doesn’t offer the immediate deep threat of Horizontal.
vs Flexagon, vertical stack is negated, and Zone O doesn’t function well due to the tight marking against static players. Any set cutting patterns of plays are unlikely to work, so Horizontal stack and Hexagon must improvise in order to function. Improvisation is easiest done when the number of available options is maximised, so Hex is the ideal setup.
vs Zone D, stack offences are negated. Zone O and Hex have both been shown to be effective at breaking down area-based (zonal) defences, so should be played to counter Zone D.

From a defence point of view:

vs Vertical / Side / Split stack offences, the offensive players are clumping, so strict person-D plays to their strength (clumping your defenders together and leaving large open spaces), whilst Zone or Flex will force them to transition into another offence. Help-defence punishes the clumping, which encourages the offence to improvise, and can generate turnovers when played well.
vs Horizontal stack, the offence is more spread, so help-defence is harder to implement. Strict person-D is moderately effective as usual (depending on your athleticism vs theirs), but Zone D or Flexagon will force the offence out of any pattern- or play-based movement.
vs Hexagon, simple person-D can cause issues, specifically if you are more athletic than your opponents. Help-defence is easier punished by Hex than other offences, but can force the offence to use all their options. Traditional zones don’t change the formation of the Hex, but can force a different play-style which the offence may not be used to. Flexagon applies pressure to the highest number of options, forcing the offence to improvise – meaning any set patterns or plays become unreliable, and players must identify space for cuts and passes as and when they appear.
vs Zone-O, the offensive players are looking for space to occupy, so person-D will force a transition. Zone D conserves the energy of most defenders, however Zone O will be well-practiced against Zone D. Flexagon is more person-focussed, which forces Zone O either to transition or to improvise – to play at a different pace/tempo than they are used to in Zone O.

Summary:

From an offence point of view: The most common defence is strict person-D, and the most common offence – vertical stack – does well to exploit strict person-D’s weaknesses. If the defence start switching and poaching (“Help-defence”), then the offence must start to improvise, and would ideally be able to counter with a practiced Horizontal stack or Hexagon offence. If facing Flexagon, offensive improvisation from a Horizontal / Hex / Zone O setup is necessary. If the defence play Zone, then the offence must respond with a practiced Zone O or Hexagon offence.
From a defence point of view: The most common offence is vertical stack, which plays to the weaknesses of strict person-D. Playing Flexagon or a Zone D will force the offence to transition – and you will see if they have a practiced alternative. Zone O can be countered effectively with person-D or Flexagon, which forces the offence to either completely improvise, or to play Horizontal stack or Hexagon offence. Flexagon still functions well against these offences, as does person-D – providing there is no athletic disadvantage.

Conclusion:

From an offence point of view: Time spent perfecting a vertical stack offence can be made to be ineffective if a defence plays anything other than strict person-D. Training an offence which works against Zone (i.e. Zone O or Hexagon offence) is essential. If your opponents have good “Help-defence” or Flexagon D, then you must either be able to improvise, or transition to Horizontal / Hexagon in order to keep your scoring percentages up. Horizontal must transition when facing Zone, but Hexagon can be played effectively against any defence you face – even though it may not necessarily be the most effective against any defence individually. Your team can function against any defence if they know both Horizontal (with improvisation) and Zone O, or if they simply know Hexagon offence. To be the most effective, a team should also learn an offence which punishes strict person-D more efficiently – vertical- or side-stack.
From a defence point of view: Strict person defence is simple to learn and functions against any offence, but its success is determined by the athletic edge you have over the opponent, and limited by the lack of teamwork involved. If you have an athletic edge over almost every opponent then strict person-D can get enough turns to win games, but only until you reach an athletically superior team playing a well-practiced offence, or until your own offence is countered. Learning a more challenging defence, particularly one which counters the most common offence – vertical stack – is essential, unless you are fully relying on your athleticism or your offence.
“Help-defence” is hard to learn and implement due to its lack of structure and principles, and it is most useful against vertical stack – less so against Horizontal or Hex. Zone D completely counters vertical and other stack offences, however most teams have a well practiced Zone O which will counter it well. Although Flexagon is also hard to learn, it is flexible enough to be played effectively against any offence you face, countering the most common vertical stack and Zone offences effectively.

More info on Hex offence here.
More info on Help-defence here.
More info on Flexagon D here.
Video of Flexagon D in action.

Training Hex Offence with your team

Also available in French / en Français

Hex is a new offence which most of your team will not have seen or played before – introducing it can be both fun and exciting, but will certainly come with its challenges. I’ve had experience introducing the offence to a variety of teams and players, from primary schools through University level teams to GB, and along the way have learned plenty about how to make the introduction as enjoyable and productive as possible. I hope to share what I’ve learnt with you in this article.
intro
Before your first session starts some players will be sceptical of the benefits of Hex, some will see no point in learning it, and others will flatly resist change. You can’t always please everybody, but as with any new concept, it’s important to:

  • keep things fun
  • give players achievable aims
  • provide players with challenges

Documentation
The good news is that you can please loads of players! If you direct everybody to the Hex documentation a few days before your first session, you’ll likely get a handful of very keen players excited about learning a new strategy – who will then help the others during the session – making your job much easier. The doc contains the core principles of the offence, which are applicable to players of any level of experience. Memorise the core principles yourself, and repeat them whenever appropriate during training.

From here there are three methods of training Hex offence – explanation, play progression, and drills. There probably won’t be time to run through all three at your first session, so you should choose what to focus on depending on what your team is most receptive to. Different players learn in different ways, so it’s worth running through each method at subsequent sessions so nobody is left behind.

  • Explanation – coach explains the positions, principles, and movement of Hex offence, before the players go into a 7v7 game
  • Play progression method – players play 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, and 7v7 games (in that order), with coach setting a focus between games to learn the principles one-by-one
  • Drills / Exercises – There are a variety of drills which help to reinforce particular key elements of the Hex offence
Explanation

positions
Positions
Start with something which everybody can relate to – positions! Mark these out on a mini-field with cones. The basic setup of Hex can be described as 2-3-2. Instead of positions being called handler / cutter / etc, in Hex they are called:

positions-rotatedWing:- the two wing positions are near to the sideline, but should avoid being within 3 yards of it. They stay connected to the players with / behind the disc, whilst making room for the central player, and not getting ‘disconnected’ from the players further forward (you’ll explain what connected/disconnected mean later on). If the disc is near the sideline, the player in possession is in a ‘wing’ position – as if the shape is rotated. In the top right diagram, the disc could be with any of the ‘back’ or ‘wing’ positions, and the setup would be correct.
Back:- these two positions are the closest to our own end zone. Both ‘back’ positions are behind the disc when it is near the sideline, but otherwise the disc is in the hands of one of the ‘back’ players, whilst the the other ‘back’ is roughly level with them.
Hat:- this central position is connected to all the other positions – when the disc is on the sideline the ‘hat’ is level with it, but the closer to the middle of the pitch the disc is, the more directly in front of the disc the ‘hat’ is.
Forward:- these positions are the closest to our opponent’s end zone – both are in front of & connected to the hat and the wing positions, and must avoid getting disconnected (drifting deep) as this takes away the long option.connected

At this point, explain what you mean by the word ‘connected’ – position a volunteer about 10 yards from you and demonstrate how they can hear your voice, how they’re within easy immediate accurate throwing distance from you, and how they could cut at speed in any direction and receive a pass.

positions-toofarThis distance will vary slightly depending on the size of your players, the average throwing ability of your team, and other factors such as environment.
Demonstrate how if the volunteer is further away from you, they become ‘disconnected’ – it is more difficult to communicate with them, passing to them is more likely to be inaccurate, and if they cut away from you at speed they are harder to hit in stride.

positions-toocloseDemonstrate how when a player stands too close, they are ‘crowding’ the thrower – their defender can cause havoc, and they don’t have space to cut towards the thrower for a pass.

Move them out to ~10 yards again and re-iterate that this is the distance you’re talking about when you say two players are ‘connected’. Wherever the disc is on the field, players should look to be staying connected to each other & maintaining the Hex shape.

Movement
How movement is conducted in Hex is dependant upon the style in which you want to play. The style I teach is based around freedom, fast disc movement, and intelligent innovation by the players. Other teams have had success with more pattern/play-based movements from the Hex setup, or approaches where players switch positions infrequently. Below I explain how to teach the ‘Mexican’ style of the offence which is played by the teams I have coached, and which I believe is particularly suited to the Hex setup.

Immediately clarify – after explaining positions – that there are no set ‘roles’ for a point.  You may start a point as a ‘forward’, and within 5 seconds of team possession you could be in a ‘back’ position, and vice versa. The positions laid out and explained are all filled dynamically, and every player is encouraged to occupy whichever position is appropriate at any given time. Movement occurs when players are aware that positions are unoccupied, and move quickly to occupy them. When you cut, you are often moving into a valid position as well as creating space where your cut originated, so there is no assumption that you need to ‘clear’ back to your original position.

Initial movement is based upon the ‘take what they give you’ principle – both as a thrower, an intended target, and a team mate – awareness of what the defence is allowing your offence, and how to work effectively as a team to highlight and isolate that option – dictates how movement occurs from a static position. The #1 principle is to take the open pass – regardless of yardage / field position / stall count.

Players can simply play as they would when in flow in any other offence – cutting into space as they see it appearing, passing to whoever is free, and creating space for team mates.

 

GB Mixed U23 2015 (Black) playing Hex vs GB Mixed 2015 (White)

Game time
 A couple of players may feel baffled, which is understandable, so give them a final piece advice that they can use whenever they are in doubt: Make triangles.

triangleSet out another ‘connected’ volunteer, and ask a third player get into a position where they are ‘connected’ to both of you – they should make an equilateral triangle. If you’re lost on the field, all you need to do is find two team mates and get connected to both of them without crowding – this will likely put you in a good position.

Enough talking! It’s time to start playing. Take any questions people have and then get everyone on the field ready to play.
Try to keep chat on the line down to a minimum for at least the first 3-4 points, and encourage players to learn by playing & trying to get involved. Keep the core principles in mind when looking to advise from the sideline.
As the game develops, if you notice players setting up incorrectly from static – you should interrupt the game and reposition them as appropriate (often when the disc is on the sideline).

Some common scenarios which occur:
positions-crowded
One player gets frustrated as they feel they are crowding their team mates / sideline, and they cannot find the solution.
It’s likely that a team mate several positions away from them has become disconnected from a back player (the far wing player in the diagram example), so when that player gets connected, it sets off a chain reaction which gives the crowded player enough space. It’s important to point out to the crowded player that it’s no real fault of their own – they showed good awareness by feeling uncomfortable when crowded, and the only thing they could’ve done would’ve been to try to communicate with their poorly positioned team mate. Note how in the drone footage above, the 2nd back gets disconnected from the 1st back, and this contributes to the crowding downfield.

pass-to-sidelineWhen you pass forward and to the line from a back position, you are already in a good position so don’t need to ‘clear’ downfield unless you know connected players wish to replace you. Many players have a habit of doing this, which can leave the ‘back’ positions vacant when the disc is on the sideline.

sideline-crowdedWhen the disc is on the line, players often fall into the trap of neglecting the 1st back, 2nd back, and far wing positions. In the diagram on the right, positions 1 / 2 / 3 are important for sustaining possession and initiating flow, however most players will gravitate to area 4 out of habit, or out of an over-desire to score.
One way of fixing this flow-breaking problem is to use a whistle to stop the game when the disc is on the sideline, and check with the players how many of the back / far wing positions are occupied or vacant, and how long it takes them to move to occupy them. When they are occupied it should be clear how many more options are available to both the thrower and the cutters.

Play progression method

This method involves far less talking and much more playing, so it’s particularly useful on cold days, or with teams who are receptive to going outside their comfort zone to try something new without it being fully explained. After a warm up, go immediately into Ultimate games, giving the players small focus points between each round:

2v2: Take the open pass. Players should take the open lateral pass whenever the defenders allow it, which will mean they will often be level with each other, rather than one thrower back and one cutter downfield. When а defender takes the lateral pass away, there is plenty of space for a lead pass downfield. As opposed to a cutter trying to get free of their mark downfield for a pass, the type of movement you want to encourage looks more like this:

 

Brighton City (White) penetrating, vs Brighton Legends (Black) at Regionals 2015.3v3-movement

3v3: Stay connected without crowding – demonstrate what you mean by ‘connected’ (see ‘Explanation’ section on positions), and how it follows that a triangle setup is appropriate from a static disc. Demonstrate staying connected dynamically – if the other cutter cuts away from you, you should move towards them to stay connected, whereas if they cut towards/across you, you should either move away from them or towards where they came from, to avoid crowding.

4-rhombus-flat4-rhombus-pointed4v4: Make equilateral triangles – demonstrate the two possible shapes from a static disc, one where the thrower is part of two triangles, and another where the second triangle is further from the thrower, created by the downfield players. If in doubt, find two players and make an equilateral triangle with them.

5v5 – 7v7: Don’t surround the disc – all players should be within the field of vision of the thrower – so only 3 players should be connected to the thrower.

The remaining players should not set up connected to the disc, but should get connected to non-throwing players to make further triangles.

sideline-180If too many players try to get connected to the thrower, the thrower becomes crowded and / or surrounded by defenders.

Drills / Exercises

There are a number of drills which practice key elements of Hex offence. If players have had a go at Hex then they should be able to relate to the following drills / exercises:

Give-Go-Swill Drill
7-12 players
Focuses: Give-Go moves, Misdirection

drill-give-go-swill-1Players start as illustrated in the diagram on the left. The player at the top is the active ‘O’ player, accompanied by a defender – all other players are static. The active ‘O’ player is aiming to work the disc down to the player at the end of the drill, using at least one static player from the far side.
drill-give-go-swill-2-2The offence is not allowed to throw to a player they are not connected to, and static players may not pass to each other.
The defender is simply trying to stop the offensive player, by containing them / going for an interception / getting a point block. When the disc reaches the furthest player, they throw a long pass back to the start, swilly enough for both the O and the D to be able to make a bid for.
drill-give-go-swill-3
The give-go-swill drill trains misdirection, balance, and using flow and tempo to attack. Players should find that it is more effective to advance the disc through give-go moves – including moves away from the end target – than it is to directly break the force from static. Players also learn to communicate clearly with the static players about when/where they want the disc thrown back to them.

Rotation: The long thrower at the end joins the queue at the top, all the static players zig-zag down one position, the O becomes the first static player, and the defender becomes the active O player.

 

J-Lav running through the Give-Go-Swill drill at GB Mixed U23 2015 trainingKeepdisc
8-16 players
Focus: Sustainable possession
Mark out a box which is quite spacious – half a pitch (including end zone) is good for 7v7 – and split players equally into two teams. The aim of the exercise is for the offence to keep possession for as long as possible, playing out of the Hex setup/shape. Possession switches on a turnover as usual. Play starts / stops on the blow of a whistle, and the team in possession when play stops is awarded 1 point. 60 seconds on / 30 seconds off is quite realistic and fairly hard work – you can adjust the timings to suit what you want to achieve with your team.
Keepdisc is tough physical work and it trains sustainable possession – players must be efficient with movements or they will get too tired. It also gets players practicing fundamentals of the offence such as not surrounding the disc (this is the most common cause of turnovers in keepdisc), staying connected without crowding, & taking the open pass.
If you wish to expand on Keepdisc, consider:
– changing the play / break times
– adding an extra defender every 10-20 seconds
– adding 3 or 4 end zones of different colours around the edges of the box, after X seconds of possession then the whistle blower announces a colour – if the offence then score in the corresponding end zone, they get 2 points

Mex Puzzle Drill
6-13 players
Focuses: Communication, Creating space
drill-mex-puzzle-drillSet up 7 marker cones in a regular Hex formation, and add six ‘clearing cones’ around the outside, between the marker cones and further out from the centre. Players can cut to marker or clearing cones at any point and from anywhere in the formation, and they are allowed to hang out on the marker cones – but must continue moving if they are near a clearing cone. Passes should be made from marker cone to marker cone, hitting receivers in stride. The pass should be faked if a receiver arrives too early at a marker cone, if there are two cuts to the same cone, or if the thrower is not happy with making the pass for any other reason.
The disc starts on the edge of the formation, one player cuts to a clearing cone to create space for the first pass, and play continues for 30-60 seconds depending on your team. Players aim to keep flow by creating space for each other & keeping the disc moving. Fakes help the team keep tempo.
Mex Puzzle Drill is probably the hardest drill in the world which doesn’t involve defenders, and as such it can be frustrating – but it is great for teaching dynamic spatial awareness. Players constantly have their heads up, are looking to create space for each other and use it as they see it developing – a very valuable skill which is tricky to learn and tricky to teach.
In order to keep any kind of flow or tempo, the team must also learn to communicate constantly through vocalisation and gesticulation. This teaches them to work together as a team when playing offence, with everybody sharing the responsibility for keeping the disc alive.

Rotation: Mex Puzzle Drill can be very tiring, so regular breaks / multiple subs are recommended. Rolling subs can be waiting to be tagged in near the clearing cones, or the drill can be played in short bursts (although ideally the offence works at a rate they can sustain indefinitely).

 

Mex Puzzle Drill at Brighton City trials, 2015Mex Huck Drill
8-13 players
Focus: Long throwing from motion, Breaking the force

drill-mex-huck-drill-11Players set up in a rhombus, first cut goes from the open to the break side, the other cutters follow the triangle rotation – break side player goes deep, deep/forward player comes under to the open side. If the break pass is thrown, the under cutter turns to go deep, and the deep cutter turns to come under.
drill-mex-huck-drill-2-21
Catcher of the break pass throws long to the new deep cutter.
If the break pass is not thrown, cutters should improvise to provide a suitable backup option for the thrower – often the initial deep cutter is well placed / has good timing to come under for an open-side under pass, and then throw deep to the original break-side cutter.
If you want to expand on the Mex Huck Drill, consider adding defenders whilst also giving the cutters more freedom to choose the direction of rotation of the triangle. You can also change which cutter initiates the movement downfield – these modifications prevent players from simply ‘running through the motions’ – instead they should start with their hips facing the thrower, being ready to react to space as they see it being created. The setup/shape can also be rotated to create different angles – meaning the long thrower could receive the first pass moving towards as opposed to away from the end zone, or the disc movement could be changed to be lateral (a swinging drill) instead of downfield.

Rotation: New player becomes force, force becomes break-thrower, break-thrower becomes long thrower (starts open side), long thrower becomes deep-to-under cutter (starts deep), deep-to-under cutter becomes under-to-deep cutter (starts break side), under-to-deep cutter joins the queue.

 

Mex Huck Drill at City trials 2015

 

Variation – using open side if no break

Flags
2-7 players
Focus: Identifying space, throwing skill

flags-3pFlags is a simple game which adds training elements to a throw around. It will expose your weaknesses and challenge your strengths. Set out two flags (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.

Felix, Will and Edgars play 3-player Flags.
3v2 / 4v3: More players can be brought in both on offence and defence, and the goal widened.

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 first frisbee – Play catch. Invent games. Have fun.


Hex offence is still very new, so there are plenty of alternative ways to train it which have yet to be discovered – the ones included in this article are some of the methods which Felix has utilised whilst coaching Hex over the last few years, but are by no means perfected or exhaustive. I recommend experimenting with new drills, exercises and games which are suited to your team’s needs – working from the Hex setup & core principles.
Good luck implementing the strategy – I hope you enjoy playing it as much as the teams and players I’ve coached do! If you have any questions, just get in touch.

For videos of full games with Hexagon offence, check out the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube and Facebook pages.

Felix is planning a UK & European Tour of workshops on Hex Ultimate in late 2016, where you can participate in drills and games with experienced Hex players (including Felix) who will be imparting their knowledge to you at all times. There will also be a classroom session where Felix will break down the core principles before progressing through to the advanced concepts of both Hex offence and Flexagon defence – why they are effective, how you can teach them, and how to excel at playing them. Join the notification list to hear about the locations / dates of the Hex Tour.

Related:
Hex offence documentation
Offences vs Defences: Training to counter your opponent effectively
Hexagon Ultimate YouTube
Hexagon Ultimate Facebook
Reddit discussion on this article

FelixUltimate.com

Hexagon Offence v2.1

First published 1st Jan 2013
v 2.1 – 15/7/14
Also available in French / en Français

NB: This documentation is now out of date – please see the links from the menu for the most up-to-date version

“Hex Offence” covers any offence which plays to the hexagon shape on the field as described in the “Formation” section below. Currently there is only one known offence which utilises this shape – Mexican Offence, or Mex for short – which is a flow-based offence operating on principles (as opposed to e.g. patterns). This article describes Mex Offence.

Introduction
This document explains the basics of Hexagon Offence in Ultimate. Hex was first played in the summer of 2012 in a pickup game in Brighton, introduced by Felix Shardlow. The strategy quickly gained support and became the favourite amongst many players, who recognised its potential and enjoyed its freedom. These players would each feed ideas back and forth, discovering new ways to unlock its potential, and figuring out the most effective principles which should be applied. A history of how it stood up to tests in it’s early days is at the bottom of this page.

This offence can be played effectively in high level Ultimate, or be the first offence taught to beginners – who will quickly pick up on the fundamentals of the game with a style that encourages involvement and offers constant opportunities to contribute to plays.

Hex can also be played with fewer players – although the overall shape changes, the principles remain the same and the effectiveness is not compromised.

This doc is written so a beginner can pick it up and understand how to play offence in Ultimate without any prior experience. Experienced players may have picked up habits and principles from other offences which can hinder Hex, so clear your mind and try not to make any assumptions. The information in this document is very basic – deliberately open to the interpretation that best suits your team.

Principles

On-disc:

  • Always take the open pass / what the defenders give you, regardless of:
    – yardage / field position
    – stall count
    – personnel
  • Face infield so you can see all of your team & all of the movement / passing options available
  • Fake to cuts you cannot, for any reason, complete a pass to

Off-disc:

  • Create space for your team mates by moving, even when closely covered
  • Make equilateral triangles
  • Do not [allow defenders to] surround the disc
  • Stay connected to your team mates without crowding them
  • Take what your defender gives you – move & signal with hands
  • Move quickly into space as you see it developing
  • Be constantly heads-up, on your toes, and aware of the play & your surroundings
  • Communicate
  • Respond to fakes – change direction, clear space

 

Formation
Firstly, this formation is not a structure which must be strictly followed at all times – it is a guideline for the shape the players should be looking to maintain during fluid play, or the areas which players should be aiming to move towards / to clear for team mates – a meta-structure, if you will, to keep in the back of your minds whilst the offence moves fluidly. Players could either be taking the initiative and moving into / clearing space at all times, sticking more rigidly to positions, or running set plays – this depends on the style of your team.

The disc should be on the edge of the formation – this prevents surrounding the disc, and gives continuation options after the first pass is made. The shape extends from the disc towards the centre of the space available – so when the disc is on the sideline, the formation extends directly off the line into the centre of the field. This animation shows how the shape is applied when the disc is in different field positions – essential viewing.

The shape consists of six equilateral triangles creating a hexagon. The use of triangles means players are spread across the field in the most efficient manner – each player has as much space as possible, whilst remaining connected to as many team mates as possible. Maintaining these triangles and thus the ‘connections’ between players is crucial to the effectiveness of the formation – if disconnected, flow will stutter and may stop.

The distance between each player should be equal distance to the average player’s comfortable, reliable, and accurate throwing distance – usually between 5 and 15 yards. The triangles are the crux of the shape so must not be neglected – the overall formation acts as a guideline for the space we should be looking to use during fluid play.

Movement
How the movement from the Hex setup works is largely down to how your team wants to play. Expansive moves create space which can immediately be used by the surrounding players, so can be used to initiate play. Moving rapidly to the end zone is possible from many positions on the field, and the space directly around the disc is always available to be used. Give and go moves work well, and set plays are possible in every situation – three players cutting in a triangle shape, for instance, presents three viable options every couple of seconds.

For efficient movement when the disc is in flow, a few rules of thumb can help. If the disc is flowing up the sideline, the formation should ‘roll’ up that sideline – players behind the disc should push out wide away from the disc and then fast downfield, and players in front of the disc should attack the space in front of the disc on the active sideline – as per this animation.

If the disc is passed to the central player, players behind the disc (surrounding it) should push wide and downfield immediately, and players downfield should look to move into the space created in the centre, in front of the disc. This animation shows movement after a simple pass to the central player, and this animation shows movement when the central player receives the disc towards the side of the field.

Scoring
Scoring usually happens in one of two ways: (1) from a deep throw, or (2) from flow towards the end zone.
Static, stop-start situations near to the opposing teams end zone are difficult due to the defenders having a very small space to cover – the deep throw is no longer a viable threat.
When a comfortable distance away from the end zone, deep throws are possible from many positions, and rapid moves to the end zone are able to come from almost any player at any time.
Flow towards the end zone can be started by flowing with the disc in any direction, moving the defenders out of position, and then taking advantage of the space to generate a scoring opportunity. If flow stops without a score being generated, then the team should focus on re-starting the flow – either by moving the disc across the field, or – more easily when very near the end zone – by flowing back away from the end zone. After flow away from the end zone has been achieved, once again the deep throw will be a viable threat (assuming your team has retained their shape), as well as the possibility of re-generating flow towards the opposing teams 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.

History
The Hexagon Offence was created by Felix Shardlow in 2012 and the original content can be found here: http://goo.gl/miR1Jj. Felix had many influences in the 12 years he played Ultimate before writing up Hex, including strategic talks with Sam “Scando” Webber, reading content from Jim Parinella, but most notably with regard to Hex was Frank Huguenard, who would persistently post on forums about how antiquated current offensive thinking in Ultimate was, and relentlessly promote his Motion Offense.

Although Hex was experimented with occasionally by the Brighton City offence line through 2012-2013, it was only at UKU Tour 3 2013 where it blossomed. The Brighton City offence line decided to come straight out with it in their first game, against Euro Champions Clapham – who beat Brighton 15-8 at UKU Nationals 2012.

Clapham started out with man-to-man defence, but Brighton scored relatively easily with long throws. Clapham then threw a tight zone defence – but without modifying their offence, Brighton scored in a few passes. Clapham then put on a loose zone, and Brighton scored in 5 or 6 passes to make it 6-6.

Although Brighton’s D line hadn’t converted any turns, Clapham felt like they were on the ropes, called their second time-out, and came out with a very physical, tight man-to-man defence. They edged the game away, winning 15-11 in the end – the best result Brighton have had against them for years. After the game, Marc “Britney” Guilbert – Clapham and GB Open captain – said how impressed he was with the way we created and used the space on the field, that we were doing it in a way which Clapham aspired to.

Brighton City finished 3rd at UKU Nationals 2013 using this offence 90% of the time on both lines. However, the offence is not limited to top-level play. The principles at work in Hex are more similar to other sports than any other offence in Ultimate, and Hex has been easily and successfully taught to university freshers from both Sussex and Brighton Universities – new players who have only ever played Hex are already showing a great understanding of Ultimate and excelling in the Club scene.

In 2014, Brighton City’s play has become more ingrained – our movement within Hex requires less thinking and happens more naturally, and as such Hex was a big part of our taking Clapham’s D line to sudden death at Tour 2. Brighton continue to play the offence through the 2015 & 2016 seasons, finishing 3rd at UK Nationals 2015.

In 2015, the Great Britain U23 Mixed team played solely Hex at the World Championships in London. Beating Japan and runners-up Australia along the way, they finished a very respectable 5th.

Resources
Full game footage of Hexagon Offence being played is available here – 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…


Flexagon Defence

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.97 28/04/2015

Also available in French / en Français

Part of a series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Intro

Flexagon approaches defence from a new angle, bringing together elements of person-to-person defence and zonal defence. Flex is neither “man” nor “zone” – it’s a hybrid, with its own set of principles. In Ultimate, offence has the advantage, and gaining the upper hand on defence requires utilising a combination of athleticism, positioning, and teamwork. Person defence is weighted towards athleticism, zonal defence is weighted towards positioning, whilst Flexagon defence is weighted towards using teamwork to capitalise on any inefficient movement or positioning by the offence.

The 3 Flex Principles

  • Communicate
    • eye contact – keep your head up
    • gesticulation
    • vocalisation
  • Switch / sandwich with a team mate where appropriate
    • Prepare to switch marks early – pre-empt offensive movement if possible
    • Only leave your mark if you know they will be covered, and you know who you will be covering next
    • Surround (sandwich) offensive players who are near each other
  • Cover all offensive players as a team 
    • All individuals should be marking one specific player unless sandwiching (not marking a space/position)
    • Leave no offensive player unmarked
    • Get help if trying to cover two players
    • Avoid defensive double-coverage

Positioning

flex1Positions are highly flexible as they are largely dependant upon the position of the offensive players, however the underlying structure can be described as a 2-3-2.

  • 2 forwards
  • 2 wings
  • 2 backs
  • 1 hat (central player)

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”.

Positions can and should switch during a possession – quite often it makes more sense for a defender to stick with their mark as they move across the field, rather than to switch – other defenders should adjust accordingly. A defender may start as a ‘back’, then transition into the ‘hat’ position, and end up as a ‘forward’. Abiding by the principles makes these dynamic positional switches possible.

If the offence sets up in a 3-4 formation, then the Flex will also resemble a 3-4 formation – more on this in Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies.

The force – if the disc is near the middle then force towards the middle, if the disc is near the sideline then force towards the line – this leaves defenders on either shoulder of the force in both situations. It’s not always a ‘forward’ player that puts the force on – when the disc is near the line, it’s likely that a ‘wing’ will put the force on – depending on the position of the other offensive and defensive players.

Switching / Sandwiching

When offensive players are near to each other, they are inefficiently positioned, and the defence should look to punish this by surrounding (sandwiching) them – ensuring they are using the same number of defenders as there are offensive players. If the offensive players are spread out & utilising the space on the field, the defence is best positioned tighter to the players, and should not attempt to sandwich.

When offensive players move towards each other, or towards defenders, they are moving inefficiently, and the defence should look to punish by switching their marks. This conserves energy, and creates an opportunity for a block as the defence is approaching from an unexpected angle. If the offensive players are moving to space, then the defenders should not attempt to switch marks.


Further Reading

Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Want videos of Flex in action, or vocal explanations and stuff? Keep updated through the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel.

Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48:

GB Mixed U23’s played this defence at Worlds in 2015 – more videos of Felix explaining it to the team will be uploaded to the Hexagon Ultimate channel shortly (below is a video of the first time it was introduced to the team):

Hex/Flex in action against Japan at Worlds: