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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.
Videos are available on the YouTube channel
Danny Karlinsky #23 has the disc for Sockeye against Revolver in the Final of USAU Nationals 2015;
In the short video below, we break down what exactly happens in the six seconds leading up to the throw (audio at the end):
You can watch “Crazy” Frank Huguenard and Felix Shardlow’s full analysis of the USAU Nationals 2015 Final here – also check out the discussion on reddit.
We’re all familiar with the following situation; our team has turned over, the player we’re marking is walking to the disc, we’re putting a force on, and our sideline helpfully advises “No breaks!”
Photo by Graham Shellswell from The ShowGame
At this moment in time, not being broken is pretty much your only aim. If there was one thing you were planning on avoiding for the next few seconds, it’d be being broken by the thrower. You know this is not an easy task, but you’re going to try your hardest. You’re remembering the release points of your mark, you’re glancing over your shoulder to visualise the potential threats, and you have an extra pair of eyes on the sideline to help you. What do they say? No breaks. Guess you’re to blame if you get broken then – the instructions couldn’t be clearer.
Another situation we’re all familiar with – the opponents break the force, and the shout of “No breaks!” rings out again – usually in a more whiney tone. The force has already been broken – all the shouter is doing is releasing their frustration in a commonly acceptable way. You wouldn’t shout “Don’t get scored on!” before or after the opponents score, would you? Everybody knows what you were trying to do, and that you didn’t succeed in doing it – no need to state the obvious.
The real fallacy of ‘No Breaks’ isn’t in how obvious, unhelpful, or useless it is as a hindsight, but in the near-impossibility of the request. When two players of comparable ability face up against each other, the thrower will be able to break the force. We’ve all been part of drills since we were beginners where breaking the force is a given. The three-man break-force drill doesn’t pose any real challenge to the throwers – without any restrictions on time and space, breaking the force is easy, and stopping all break throws is incredibly difficult.
Photo by Simon Crisp
The sideline have access to far more information. They can see space developing behind the force, and instruct the mark to move to prevent throws to this space. Conversely, they can also see where covered cuts or crowded areas are behind the force, and instruct the mark to force throws to go towards these areas. Sideline players can identify a free offence player cutting and provide very timely shouts to help the force prevent the ‘easy’ throws to them.
Photo by Christine Rushworth from The ShowGame
Most higher level teams have their own lexicon for communicating some of this information – ‘left hand / right hand‘, ‘around / inside’, ‘strike‘ and ‘spoil‘ / ‘no huck’ calls are quite common, and each are useful for encouraging the force to concentrate on taking out a particular throw at a particular time – infinitely more useful than a ‘no break’ shout. This allows the force to direct their efforts in the most effective way.
The sideline can also help the force by letting them know more general / less situation-specific information, so as what the thrower’s preferred throws are – if they’ve been using high releases to devastating effect, then communicating ‘high hands‘ can benefit the defence. If the thrower is going into the wind, then ‘low hands’ can force higher release points, therefore tougher upwind throws.
At the next opportunity when your team mate is stepping up to put a force on, trust that they know the basics of the task at hand, and communicate to them using the info they can’t see or hear for themselves. It’s time we heard the last of “No Breaks”.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
updated 03/10/2018 | old version 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, at Hex Clinics and GB U23s, and along the way have learned plenty about how to make the introduction as enjoyable and productive as possible. I hope to share some of what I’ve learnt with you in this article.
If your team are already committed to learning Hex, you can arrange for a Hex Clinic to be run in your city – this includes a classroom session to go over the Hex documentation, video examples, shape & movement theory aspects of the offence, and immediate analysis of footage from the training. This will set your whole team up for playing the offence. Details on running a Hex Clinic in your city follow later in this article.
If a Hex Clinic is not an option and you are just running a session or two with your team, then first send out some links to hex material in preparation – even if only a few read them, it will help the session go a little smoother.
There are three main elements you should teach, all of which are different to stack offences:
- Shape (positioning)
Instead of boring your team with lots of explanation, it’s best to get them active as soon as possible – so teach everything through exercises and games, and it’s a good idea to first work on Technique. This also highlights to your team that the offence is not simply a new formation, but a new style of play. All of the exercises & drills below can likely be improved on or done in a way which better suits your team – there is plenty of room for development of coaching hex offence!
The main techniques to learn which are suited to hex: adopting the neutral stance / power stance, and the throw-and-run. Neutral stance can be encouraged with a quick focused throwaround, and should be mentioned throughout the session when you notice any player isn’t adopting it. Throw-and-run can be practiced as follows:
Technique practice – in pairs, practice throw-and-run footwork – lifting the non-pivot foot knee high before accelerating out of throws, backhand/flick/off-hand. One person does five back-and-forth reps and then switches.
Technique exercise – Dribble Slalom Race (can be run with lines of 4-5 people):
Technique drill – Brilliance Box Drill:
Other drills such as the give-go-swill drill (detailed below) can bring in a defender whilst also working on technique, good to run if you have more time/trainings with the team.
Plenty of scope here for coming up with your own drill which encourages players to follow the Hex Movement Decision Tree. If very limited for time this stage can be skipped, however a good round of Keepdisc is good to warm up hex-like movement;
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, fouls and all other rules are as normal. You can score the drill by number of sequential passes each offence completes, or which team is in possession after X seconds – the former encourages taking the open pass more, the latter encourages safer possession.
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.
Learning the shape will be hard for some players due to a fundamental difference between hex and stack offences – in stacks, the formations are understood relative to the field of play, whereas in hex the shape is understood relative to the disc. The hex shape remains the same and rotates depending upon where the disc is on the field. It’s best to avoid attempting to simplify it to formation terms, such as ‘2-3-2’ or ‘1-2-1-2-1′, as this is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and will hinder players’ understanding of how the shape works.
Shape Race – two teams of 7, throw two discs out onto the field and the two teams race to get their hex shape set up correctly. Teams should not communicate ‘positions’ in down-time, instead plenty of communication should be done within the teams whilst moving to set up & adjust the shape. If in doubt, make an equilateral triangle with two teammates.
Get a game going without much more discussion. Call a ‘pull catcher’ on the line, everyone else sets up shape relative to that player – so be aware of whether they are near the sideline or the middle of the field, as this affects the positioning significantly. Avoid calling positions on the line as this takes away a shape-learning element, and may discourage players from free movement around the field. Whilst the game is going, you can blow a whistle when the shape gets deformed and flow has stopped (stall gets above 3) – players freeze,look at their positioning,
and then set up their shape correctly before continuing.
Some common scenarios which occur:
Over-rotation – a player gets trapped against the sideline, and they cannot find the solution. Caused by too many players pushing downfield, distorting the shape. Solution: communicate – rotate the shape.
When 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.
In the diagram on the left, 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.
Live-Streamed Analysis Sessions
If you have done a few Hex trainings and would like to progress your team’s development, a live-streamed analysis session is ideal. The only requirement is good footage of your team training or playing Hex. A live-streamed analysis session involves your team following a YouTube link at a specific time/day, and joining Felix live as he goes through pre-recorded footage of your team playing and provides strategic, tactical, and technical analysis, with focus on particular areas the captain/coaches want to look at. Your team (of any number) can chat to each other, interact, and ask Felix questions in real-time via the Live Chat window. If this is still unclear, check out this example recording of a live streamed analysis session with Outbreak Mountain from Australia. There are a number of different Live-Streamed Analysis Session packages available depending on the needs of your team – get in touch with Felix for more details.
If you would like to kick-start Hex in your club then you should arrange a Hex Clinic for your city. This is the best way for your whole team to get on the same page with adopting Hex Offence (and Flex Defence, if you choose the full-weekend option). It includes classroom (theory) sessions, practical sessions, and footage analysis sessions immediately after training – if you choose to invest in that option. Get in touch with Felix for more details and a quote!
Another method of teaching Hex which has also been experimented with is the Play Progression Method. This involves less talking and 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 really being 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:
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.
4v4: 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.
If too many players try to get connected to the thrower, the thrower becomes crowded and / or surrounded by defenders.
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:
Focuses: Give-Go moves, Misdirection
Players 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.
The 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.
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 training
Mex Puzzle Drill
Focuses: Communication, Creating space
Set 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, 2015
Mex Huck Drill
Focus: Long throwing from motion, Breaking the force
Players 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.
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
Focus: Identifying space, throwing skill
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 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, off-disc movement 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 (7 seconds) – the shot clock can be counted by the defender from anywhere on the field, and if it runs out then it’s a turnover.
Experiment with different goal sizes, goal orientation to the wind, restricting the surrounding space with back lines, and so on. I recommend stalling from 3-10, 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 exercises, drills, games, or ultimate rule-modifications yourself! As it was written on the first frisbee – Play catch. Invent games. Have fun.
If you have any questions, just get in touch.
- Aim for perfection – both hands touch the center of the disc at the same time, fingers splayed, watch disc into hands
- Use legs to move body / jump / go to ground to get the centre of your chest behind the disc
- Angle of the disc determines which hand goes on top
- When catching at chest, body acts as a backboard in case the catch is slightly missed
- When catching out to the side, your palm/wrist should act as the backboard
Most people have a preferred way of clap catching – practice the other way until you are comfortable with both
- Makes the disc easier to catch
- Means you can lead receivers more by throwing to space
- Inaccuracy is less likely to result in a turnover
- Opens up many more throwing options
Practice adding touch by pulling your arm back as you release your throws
Almost all scores and turnovers in well-matched Ultimate games are down to throws & catches. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the years throwing around, and yet I still learn something new every time I go out for a chuck around. For the purposes of improving your throwing and catching, the most important things I’ve learnt are:
(1) make throwing around a habit,
(2) have an idea of what ‘ideal’ technique is,
(3) know how to learn & improve effectively.
Even if just for a minute or two, even if you just throw to yourself in your bedroom – get some hand-on-disc time every day, and make a mental note if you miss a day. You can throw casually or intensely, work on something new or practice something learnt, throw with randoms or with team mates, so long as you make throwing around a habit, you will have taken the first big step to becoming a much improved thrower & catcher. Find out what motivates you and run with it – perhaps meeting up with someone in particular to throw, perhaps getting some sun towards the end of the day – whatever will be sustainable motivation for you.
Once you’re out and throwing around regularly, the second step is to give yourself purpose – are you trying to throw & catch with perfect technique, or are you pushing your limits / experimenting with variety? Are you still weaker catching with your non-dominant hand? Can you clap catch equally well with either hand on top of the disc?
Train for what will be best in a game, including practicing faking before throwing
“Perfect practice makes perfect”, so your ‘ideal’ technique must be as balanced and efficient as possible. Variety can help shore up your technique and make you better at adapting to non-standard situations – as defenders always create these – but you should always be aware of what the ideal technique is in a standard situation, and aim to be able to replicate it flawlessly, both for catching and throwing. Practicing faking before throwing is important too – faking different throws to different places before executing a variety of throws will get your body familiar with making game-like movements.
Start every fake or throw from the power stance / neutral stance
The power stance is where you stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, disc held flat at your waist, with hands at 11 and 1’o’clock, and all fingers on both hands tucked under the rim. This means you are already coiled to throw quick lefty or righty backhands, and ready to pivot / set up your body for regular backhands / flicks / hammers / off-hand backhands in a balanced manner.
By training to throw every throw from the power stance, and conditioning yourself to get into the power stance whenever you catch the disc in a game, you are normalising game situations (bringing them as close to throw-around situations) as much as possible whilst also maximising your options on the field.
Finish throws in a balanced stance
After releasing the disc, hold your final stance for three seconds, to emphasise balance. If you are releasing the disc from a balanced position then your consistency and ability to adapt or turn the throw into a fake goes way up. Make sure you can perform every type of throw finishing in a balanced position. Once you’ve got the hang of this, practice doing the opposite – practice pushing off and running as soon & as fast as you can after each release.
Throwing motion technique
4 consecutive stages to work on, whether you’re a beginner or experienced – it’s always worth revisiting these stages one by one:
Footwork: for both backhand and flick – step perpendicular to your target, point both feet towards the direction of your step (or slightly towards the side of your throwing hand), and bend your knees to get your hips / centre of mass close to the floor. Stay balanced.
Grip: for backhand, all fingertips should be under the rim, resting in the crease between the rim and the underside of the disc. When changing to flick, it is most efficient if the tips of the index and middle fingers do not move – so when the disc is cocked back, the tips of the index and middle finger are still resting in the crease, the thumb stays clamped down on the top of the disc, and the ring and pinky shift to clamp the outside of the rim for stability. Changing grip from backhand to sidearm & back must be practiced, and can be practiced virtually anywhere*, until it feels smooth and controlled. The forward movement of a flick should begin as soon as the grip has changed – do not hesitate with the disc in a flick grip – this means the ring and pinky finger sometimes do not get involved.
* there are many productive things you can do with a frisbee whilst waiting for food to cook or watching an episode of something: smooth grip changing, clap catching both ways, clap catch transitioning into backhand grip, flick muscle training, and generally becoming familiar with the size, shape, weight, and rigidity of the disc helps with catching.
Release: the meat of a throw comes from the core, with a fairly relaxed arm/wrist only adding fine adjustments – make sure you are rotating your core/shoulders for both flick and backhand. When fully wound up, the disc should be at the same angle and on the same plane you want the release to be, and as you bring it forward, the disc should move in a straight line towards the target & not change angle – this transfers your energy into the velocity in the most efficient manner, and reduces the negative effect of an accidental early or late release. You should wind up as you are stepping, and release just after your foot hits the floor – “step-throw” not “step, throw” or “stepthrow”.
Spin: once you’ve been through the above stages, one remains: Spin. Keep adding more and more spin to your throw. You can’t put too much spin on an accurate throw. “Touch” video.
Technique for a fake should be identical to technique for a throw, as the realism is directly related to how effective the fake is on the field.
The “perfect” area to aim for on your receiver is the neck – this is the mid-way point between the ground and the extent of their reach when they jump, so this is the point which has the highest margin for error, therefore the safest throw.
From your power stance to the furthest back point of your wind-up, the disc should be taking the most direct path, without changing orientation or hesitating at any point. If you rotate the disc on any axis not perpendicular to the ground during your wind-up, hesitate with your flick cocked back, move the disc up and down, hold your backhand far away from your body whilst winding up, or do anything else unnecessary with the disc or your body, you have “baggage” on your throw and you should be working to get rid of it to maximise the efficiency of your throwing technique.
Catching technique: Get your body behind the disc, with shoulders facing the point of catch
The clap catch is the safest way to catch, and Ultimate is a possession game. Different situations require different types of clap catch – you should always provide a ‘backboard’ for the disc, stopping its velocity with your body or your wrist even if it were to continue past your hands – this affects which hand you should place on top. For example, a flat disc which is going to pass at head height a meter to your right should be caught with right hand on top, so your right wrist acts as a backboard. If the disc is passing on your right at thigh height, left hand on top will mean your right wrist acts as a backboard again. Grip transition times are negligible compared to the importance of making sure of the catch.
Another variable which affects the way to clap catch is the angle of the disc. Position your body so the disc will be coming straight towards you (rather than slicing across), and if the disc is tilting to the left, catch left hand on top – if tilting right, catch right hand on top. This avoids you having to twist your arms and wrists awkwardly. Aim for perfection – have both hands contacting the disc at the exact same time, in the centre of the disc, without changing the angle the disc was flying at.
Crab catch with two hands:
Crab catching is the quickest way to catch, so is critical in any pressure situations. If the disc is still above face height when you are at the top of your jump, crab catch with thumbs under the disc. If it is still below hip height when you crouch, crab catch with thumbs on top of the disc.
To make your crab catches safer and easier, align your shoulders with the angle of the disc. For example if a slightly bladey righty hammer comes in high (tilting to the left), you want to rotate at your core so your left shoulder is lower than your right, thus both arms can be at full symmetrical extension with no extra wrist/shoulder rotation needed when you catch. Where possible, get your eyes on the same plane & tilt as the disc too.
Technique, range, variety and reps are key elements to effective throwing & catching practice. Simply working on technique + reps is useful for consistency in ‘perfect’ conditions, but won’t make you a great catcher/thrower. Working on range & variety – developing versatile and well-rounded skills – will make you more consistent in all situations on the Ultimate field. There are so many variables which can affect the situation in a game that ‘perfect’ conditions are not common. “Perfect practice” in this case actually involves preparing yourself for non-standard situations. Here are a few methods for improvement which I’ve found particularly helpful:
This is far and away the best & fastest way to improve your throwing and catching on your own accord. If you tend to do something one way, or if a throw goes wrong in a particular way, overcompensate and make sure you do it to the opposite extreme – do it wrong the other way – and you will quickly find the middle ground. If it goes wrong three times in the same way, get it wrong three times in the opposite way before continuing – try to even out your errors to 50% either way.
The rule of overcompensation applies to pretty much everything, from specific details (if your throws often go outside-in, try extreme inside-out angled throws), to wide-ranging statements (if you don’t clap catch enough, try to clap catch too much – where a crab catch would be appropriate). A list of throwing/catching modifications to experiment with, and ways in which to overcompensate, can be found at the end of this article.
“In the zone” catches
Athletes are able to pull off seemingly impossible moves because they plan and visualise them before they execute them, and then make minor adjustments to their plan dynamically whilst executing them – simplifying the whole process, which has the effect of making it seem like reality is happening in slow-motion in their minds. It’s called being ‘in the zone’ and it’s a fantastic feeling. Here’s how to do it:
As soon as the disc is thrown, read it and make a detailed plan for the catch. Decide (a) exactly how you are going to catch it – what angle it will be at, what type of catch you are going to execute, where on the disc your contact will be, and even what parts of your hands are going to touch it first, (b) exactly where you are going to catch it – are you going as high/early as possible, as safe as possible (chest behind clap catch), as early / late as possible, or something else – this changes how you approach it. Plan out each step you are going to take before the catch and begin to execute that plan immediately.
In the second after the disc is thrown, you will get a better read, and will have to make modifications to your plan – make these changes as early as possible, so that they can be as slight as possible, and the overall plan becomes clearer as it doesn’t have to change very much. These modifications continue right up until the catch, and get smaller and smaller. A benefit of knowing what the ‘ideal’ technique is that you won’t need to abandon your plan if it goes slightly wrong – you’ll just need to make a modification (unless something unexpected happens). By the time your hands contact the disc, you will have subconsciously prepared so well that the catch will look easy.
Throwing for distance
For distance, you either need more inside-out angle on your technique, or you need more power on your throw. If your ‘long’ throws are turning outside-in, change your technique to release the disc more inside-out, focusing on spin, aiming to get the disc landing at an inside-out angle. When your long throws begin landing inside-out, you can then focus on adding power to the throw – until they are turning outside-in again. Add power by dropping your shoulder, rotating your core, and ‘snapping’ your core (rotationally) as powerfully as you can. Repeat this two-stage process indefinitely to increase the distance of your throws.
Expand your range and variety
Push your limits in every way you can think of – for every limit you can think of, there is an overcompensation limit you can also push, and it will all help you be a well-rounded and versatile thrower & catcher. I’ve listed some below (print & take to your throw-around), however this is by no means an exhaustive list and I recommend you come up with your own!
Long throws | Short throws
Outside-in | Inside-out
[extreme inside-out or outside-in throws are hard to read and/or catch for your throwing partner, but are good practice for both]
Neutral balanced | Directionally balanced
Spin | Speed
Spin | No Spin
Speed | No Speed
Release wide as possible | Release close to your body
Release as quick as possible | Release in slow motion
Core only | Arm only | Wrist only
Catcher doesn’t have to move hands | Catcher has to read & sprint instantly
High release | Low release
Forward pivot | Backwards pivot
Quick release | Slow release
As high as possible | As low as possible
RH on top clap | LH on top clap
Clap | Crab
Close to body | Far from body
Early catch | Safe catch
Early move | Late move
Positioning for jump | for chest-high clap | for ankle-high catch
“Correct” catching | “Incorrect” catching
Zero preparation | Excess preparation
Early static positioning | Three-step-approach jump
Three-step-approach jump: Towards disc | Perpendicular to | In the direction the disc is travelling
Work on weaknesses | Work on strengths
Totally sober | Not sober
Exerting maximum energy | Exerting minimum energy
Max number of discs – quick thinking | One disc aiming for perfection – pressure
If you prefer more structure to your throw-around sessions, you can print & follow the “Throwing for Greatness” doc copied below, created by Megan Hurst & Felix Shardlow around 2013:
Comfortable, warming up throws but still focused – ie. proper pivots, moving body to make catches, making EFFORT. No sloppy throwing. No sloppy catching either: use the correct hand, clap catching or two-handed crab when you can.
Platinum 100s – stand 15m apart, circle around each other gradually, and each throw:
10x flat backhands, 10x flat sidearms
10x outside-in (rollcurve) backhands, 10x outside-in sidearms
10x inside-out backhands, 10x inside-out sidearms
Then, at a distance you are comfortable with:
10x pop passes (spread fingers under disc and lift as you throw backhand – also called toss pass)
10x off-hand backhands (do not pivot outwards, throw lefty if you’re right handed & vice versa)
1. FOCUS on: Release points
Your completion rate should drop in this section – it’s about pushing yourself past your limits. Throws are meant to feel awkward. View this as good catching practice as well!
10 sidearms, 10 backhands released…
– as low as you can
– as far away from your body as you can
– as high as you can
2. FOCUS on: Catching the frisbee-disc
10x sidearms to off-hand catches
10x backhands to off-hand catches
10x roll-curves to awkward (but correct) clapcatches
Jump ball – standing slightly less than your hucking distance apart, throw long, high discs to each other. Throw roll-curve and IO, practice attacking these and catching at the peak of your jump, or on your way down.
It’s better to have a few go over your head before you catch one correctly, than to constantly catch them safely. Read the disc early, plan your approach, jump to your max.
20x catch attempts (discount poor throws)
3. FOCUS on: Faking before throwing
Fake on opposite side before each throw. Make sure your fakes are believable – sharp snap of the wrist on fake, wide pivot and low as possible for both, try to remain balanced.
20x sidearms, 20x backhands.
Stretch to warm down afterwards.
If you’re pushed for time, chop out one of the sections, but make sure you don’t always chop the same one.
Optional extras: pulling practice, hucking practice. If you want to huck or pull in games you will need to practice it between trainings. For these bigger throws, make sure you warm up your arms a little more beforehand.
- Analysis: Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta, EUCF Open Final 2019 – Part 4 November 5, 2019
- Analysis: Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta, EUCF Open Final 2019 – Part 3 October 31, 2019
- Analysis: Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta, EUCF Open Final 2019 – Part 2 October 24, 2019
- Analysis: Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta, EUCF Open Final 2019 – Part 1 October 15, 2019
- In or Out? Lola Dam’s toe-drag in the EUCF 2019 Mixed Final October 6, 2019
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