Featuring a sequence with 10 passes in 22 seconds in the New Zealand Mixed Nationals Semi-Final, we analyse Hammertron Prime’s use of balance and shape to maximise their options and generate goals.
Analysis of 14 passes in flow from US College team Stevens IoT playing Hexagon Offence – 3rd video in the ‘How to play Hex’ series!
… read transcript / summary …
Full 3hr analysis session with Stevens Tech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ufyd8oe0aN8
Also from the How to play Hex series:
Hex Movement Decision Tree: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUTyrYrPCq0
Analysis of Outbreak’s Hex Shape: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvEaqAuN3Cg
Here’s some analysis of a US College team playing Hexagon Offence. It came about after I met TJ Stanton at the tryouts for New York Empire – his college coach Jason Thompson was already considering introducing Hex to Stevens Institute of Technology (as well as some other teams he’s involved with), and he knew they had to give it a shot after speaking to TJ.
This footage is from the final of the D3 Metro East Conference Championship, Stevens are in white against the college of New Jersey.
This point involves 14 passes in flow leading up to a score. I’m going to focus first on Stevens’ STRUCTURE and then on their MOVEMENT – not touching too much on their TECHNIQUE.
The three principles in Hex are to maintain shape, sustain flow, and control balance. Let’s stop the video here to look at Stevens’ offensive shape on the field during flow. Here are where their players are, and these are the hex shape points for this disc position near the far sideline. Around five of the seven players are near hex points, and there is no significant overload in any area as the player at the back can fill in here, and this player isn’t too far away from this prong position connected to the disc. 5 out of 7 with no overload is actually pretty good shape, bearing in mind shape is constantly deforming during play and shape maintenance is an ongoing task.
These players are then almost all immediately involved in the play, and although the opportunity for a pass to the near sideline is missed, the central position is filled in from afar and flow is sustained with another quick pass.
If we stop again, let’s look at offensive positioning, and compare to the hex shape points for this disc position. Around four of the team are near to shape points, the three prong positions are pretty much occupied, the only issue is that there is some overcrowding deep.
The fairly good shape facilitates the subsequent good flow. The upline cut has some separation that isn’t cashed in on, and the disc immediately moves across the pitch again. The shape is now really good, just needing small adjustments for the new disc position.
Now let’s look at the movement of the offence. The movement in hex is explained via the hex movement decision tree, which basically says take the first open pass in front of you, and face the centre of the space if nothing is developing.
If we pause here, Chris has just caught the disc and there is no option immediately open in front of him. He will turn immediately to face infield, where the centre of the shape is, which would have been slightly quicker if he had turned inwards rather than outwards after catching.
As the disc moves, Ronnie is moving across the field towards a hex shape point, which would have sustained flow nicely, however he turns away and clears, meaning the option the thrower takes is a little more risky.
If the pass had been made to the sideline and the catcher had turned inwards, they would have also seen the central player quickly, and been able to use them with a pass, or a very effective fake.
As the disc is passed, TJ immediately moves downfield, and provides a stall zero option in the direction the new thrower is facing during their catch.
Flow is sustained as the disc moves to the centre again, and Blake has two options available in front of him. After moving to the side, the disc flows all the way back across the field, continuing its path through the hex shape points smoothly.
Ronnie catches facing the backfield, and should turn inwards to face the centre of the space. He turns outwards but doesn’t waste any energy on an outwards auto-fake (which would be counter-productive for flow), instead finding the central option in good time and keeping the disc moving well.
The score is generated as TJ executes a well timed power move from the back across Kyle’s immediate field of view after catching, and TJ is able to throw whatever he wants towards the end zone for one second.
The stall count does not rise above 3 for the fourteen passes leading up to the score. Stevens’ shape throughout is fairly good, which facilitates their ability to sustain flow and advance the disc forwards both directly and indirectly.
Now, if you’ve been watching this video wondering what on earth I’m going on about when I speak of things like hex shape points, here’s a little explanation of how hexagon offence works:
There are three main elements to all offensive play – structure, movement, and technique. Each are equally important as the other, usually an offence is defined by its structure so that’s what I’ll talk about first.
The hexagonal structure is made of equilateral triangles, the points of which are a comfortable distance away from each other – around 12 yards. If it’s windy, or if players are smaller, slower, or can’t throw very accurately over distance, the distance between these points reduces. You want this distance to be comfortable so that a player can sprint towards or away from the disc and be able to receive a pass in stride.
The structure is a shape rather than a formation – as the disc position changes, a formation such as horizontal or vertical stacks will shift and warp, whereas the hex shape stays constant and rotates relative to the available space. The thrower is usually on the edge of the shape, to avoid 1-to-1 defenders surrounding the disc and provide a second level of continuation on a fundamental level. The “hat” is a useful point to keep track of, as it acts as a balance point for the shape, so everyone one the field should be aware of it, maintain it, and build the shape around it. When the disc is on the side, the shape extends perpendicular from the sideline, utilising the space most effectively. The shape will naturally deform during play, so all players should be making efforts to maintain the shape when they are not directly involved in the play around the disc.
In order to best maintain shape, all players should have knowledge of where the hex points are for the disc position, and should each gravitate towards these points. As the disc moves and as the stall count rises, populating the hex shape points will give your team good shape, which facilitates good flow and maximises options. Gravitating towards the hex shape points to occupy them whenever you have any individual down-time is step one, communicating and staying connected to your teammates in order to create good shape as a team is the next level.
These movements to maintain the shape after it has deformed can often be considered as cuts which can be passed to.
The shape is the supporting structure for the movement. The stall count should be kept as low as possible, so the decisions and actions of a player as the disc is coming towards them, when is in their hands, and what they do immediately after it leaves their hands, are critically important to the movement of the offence.
The movement is based around principles and guidelines, rather than cutting orders and patterns.
Movement in hex best explained through the Hex Movement Decision Tree, so check out the video linked in the description below to learn more about that, and expect a video in the future about techniques, such as dribbling, which are best suited to flow-based offences like hex.
Let’s have a quick look at a few more scores from Stevens Tech in this game. Here we see a turnover from TCNJ, Stevens pass the disc quickly and keep it moving by taking the first available options, their shape is pretty good after some initial downfield overloading and they sustain flow fairly well, finishing it off with a long throw to space.
Here you see the hex setup as the disc is walked up after a turnover, TJ in the hat wrongfoots his defender and goes deep, no switch from the defence means a comfortable long throw, Chris has also chased it down and is clear to catch the scoring pass.
Now this is a good move from Ronnie to offer a stall 1 option, when typically the offence and defence would spend the valuable first three seconds of the stall focusing on the area in front of the disc. Instead, each of the poached players is used, and the discs swings to the far side. In particular, a smart defender like Ben Katz would typically poach off Joe here at the back and cause trouble downfield, knowing they won’t be involved in the play for a while, but against hex that doesn’t work as the moving disc finds them very quickly and turns that separation into a threat.
This is similar to the first clip, but in this case TJ comes under towards the hex point to continue flow. He turns inwards and finds a pass to the centre, which is all very nice. The next pass tears open the defence, changing the angle of attack so drastically that is TJ instantly free for the score.
That’s all for now, congrats to Stevens for winning the final, and also congratulations to Belgian team Helgtre who recently got silver at the Belgian National Championships playing hex and flex strategies. Click Subscribe if you haven’t already and I’ll see you again soon!
Recording of a Live Online Video Analysis session between felixultimate.com and the Blue Devils U22 2018 Australia ultimate frisbee team.
Blue Devils had been learning Hex Offence, with a few players having played it before on club/uni teams.
v 2.31 – February 2020
Concept first published 1st Jan 2013
Older version also available en Français (v2.1)
Hex is a natural and organic offence in ultimate frisbee. If you want to win and have fun, follow these three guidelines:
1. Keep the disc moving (movement)
2. Maintain team shape (spacing)
3. Control your balance (technique)
Understanding and implementing these principles creates a fast-moving, flow-based offence which doesn’t give the defence a chance to set, maximises options, constantly changes the angles of attack, generates plenty of scoring opportunities, and is a lot of fun to play – for beginners and experienced players alike!
1. Keep the disc moving
Sustained flow is very valuable and hard to defend against, so players should take any open pass available to them without hesitation. The decision tree in the video below is a guideline for how players should move, and where they should look, in order to have the best shot at keeping the disc moving.
2. Maintain team shape
Players should maintain good spacing between each other and the disc throughout their possession, as this will maximise their options. This is an ongoing task – shape doesn’t need to be perfect, and it will deform whenever the disc or players move – but paying attention to spacing goes a long way. The overall shape is a hexagon made of equilateral triangles, with the thrower on one of the corners, this forms when every player has good spacing. Players should gravitate to shape positions when flow has stopped – something Outbreak could do a little better in this video illustrating hex shape:
2.5. Flow – the product of good movement, spacing, and decision making
3. Control your balance
In terms of individual technique, being in control of your balance whilst catching and throwing means you are in control of your acceleration and deceleration as well as the direction of the disc – a powerful combination! When used to counter defensive imbalance and/or exploit space, a thrower (who is part of an offence with good shape) can generate flow and penetrate through defensive setups.
There are two basic types of throw: the dribble-throw and the pivot-throw. At the moment of release, a thrower’s acceleration is near zero for a pivot-throw, and maximised for a dribble-throw. Pivot-throws are useful for getting the disc around a defender, but leave a defender between the previous thrower and the new thrower. Dribble-throws are useful for moving (with the disc) past or away from a defender, but are more difficult to execute.
More Hex Technique videos coming soon!
Combine and train these three elements – movement, shape, and technique – with freedom, creativity, and spirit – to win whilst enjoying the sport of ultimate frisbee to its fullest!
Extra notes for players who are familiar with / trained in stack offences:
- De-prioritise gaining yards – hex values flow over yardage, so take the open pass regardless of yardage, field position, or stall count. Look to initiate and continue flow, instead of looking downfield to potentially gain yards
- Spread out – clumping together in a stack maximises space at the expense of options, which does not work well with a flow-based offence. Make equilateral triangles locally, and resist the temptation to flood (or ‘clear’) downfield when the disc is on the sideline (50% of the players should be behind the disc to keep balanced shape)
- Follow your throw – when throwing, instead of viewing nearby space as just areas for your receivers to cut to, view them as areas which you can attack immediately after releasing the disc, receive passes back to, and then use the momentum of your defender against them
- Face infield – the centre of the space – soon after catching the disc, instead of looking downfield
- SMOG at Windmill 2018
- Sussex Uni flow point at Uni Nationals 2018 (with analysis)
- Brighton Breezy at SE Regionals 2015
- Brighton City at UKU Nationals 2015
- Brighton City at Tour 3 2015
- GB Mixed vs India at U23 Worlds 2015
- GB Mixed vs Japan (zone) at U23 Worlds 2015
- How to start a point: Brighton City @ Regionals 2015
- Drone footage: GB U23 X vs GB Mixed 2015
- Early: Hex comparison to Spain’s Tiki-Taka style
- Early Hex analysis: vs 1-to-1, vs zone/switching/poaches
If you want your team to have a crash course on Hex in preparation for the season ahead, felixultimate.com can run a Hex Clinic in your city – this will get everyone on the same page and able to play hex within one weekend. If your team is already playing hex and wants to improve, you can book a live online video analysis session with Felix. At the time of writing, 7 Hex Clinics and 14 live online video analysis sessions have taken place. To arrange a live online analysis session or a hex clinic in your city, contact felix at felixultimate.com
Amsterdam Hex Clinic, 29-30th September 2018
Last weekend saw players from all over Netherlands and Belgium come together to learn Hex Offence and Flex Defence at the Amsterdam Hex Clinic, put together with help from Sjoerd Druven. The clinic started with a classroom session on Flexagon Defence theory – the group discussed common offensive mistakes and shortcomings, and thought about which were the most noticed, and which are rarely considered to contribute to turnovers. Then we looked at how defence could change to take advantage of the less noticed offensive shortcomings, and how such a defence could be trained.
… read more & see videos of drills …
We headed out onto the field after lunch to put into practice what we had been talking about – running a few drills without a disc involved, focusing on defensive movement. Here are clips from Trent’s Drill (credit to Trent Simmons from 10milliondiscs.org) and the Surrounding Stack Drill, which aim to get players used to moving and reacting to multiple offensive players in a group, rather than just 1-to-1 marking.
Casper / ulti.tv filmed the first outdoors session, so when we went inside we were able to immediately use the footage for video analysis! This was really beneficial to everyone – to be able to replay exactly what happened and consider alternative actions is a great way to learn quickly. After the analysis session we headed out again for the Triple-Sandwich drill, and more games!
Saturday night we had a meal at a Turkish restaurant and played some Dobble before going out for a couple of drinks & then back to Sjoerd’s house (picturesque – next to a canal).
Sunday was Hexagon Offence day – starting again with a classroom session where we looked at the history of offence, broke down the shared fundamental elements of offence, and looked at how different offensive systems prioritise different values – and how Hex fits into the picture. Hex, which values flow above all else, was explained through Movement, Shape, and Technique – each of which are very different compared to conventional stack offences.
Then we headed out onto the field again! We trained technique first, emphasising the throw-and-go / dribble-throw technique, and had a Dribble Slalom Race:
Ulti.tv were filming again, so we were able to go inside and immediately have an analysis session. During this session I noticed that everyone was analysing their own play – I didn’t really need to contribute much because the theory knowledge from earlier was being put into action, and everyone could see what they could do better in any situation, and what was working well.
Although it was quite a light turnout this time around, we had 7v7 and I felt the clinic was a huge success. Everyone understood the theory, implemented it well, saw another side of ultimate strategy, and many players said they were keen to take the O/D back to their teams.
I learnt more about how to teach the strategies and implemented a few new drills with great success. Most importantly though, everybody had FUN playing Hex & Flex!
… read transcript / summary …
Hex Movement Decision Tree: Brief explanation / shortened transcript of video
The way I’ve been looking at offence recently is to break it into three elements; Movement, Structure, and Technique.
This decision tree is a guideline for how to sustain and generate movement of the disc. The left side pertains to movement of the disc, and the right side is more focused on players who are off-disc.
If you have the disc in your hands then you have three questions; Is someone open in front of you?, Is the previous thrower open?, and Can you continue the path of the disc? If the answer is Yes to any of these three questions then you take the open pass, and look for the return pass, before returning to the start of the decision tree. If the return pass is successful then you enter a loop on the top left of the tree, which is where give-go / dribbling moves thrive.
If the answer to any of the three ‘open’ questions is Maybe, then you fake. The answer could be ‘maybe’ because you’re not confident with the distance or type of throw the option is asking of you, or because the defender is half-covering the throw, or for any reason you’re not happy with the option – in this case, fake, and return to asking “Is someone open in front of you?” – which may be the player you just faked an option to.
In some situations it’s better to look to continue the path of the disc before looking back to the previous thrower. Looking back to previous thrower lends itself to a more dribbling-style of Hex, but looking first to continue the path of the disc fits in quite nicely with techniques players have learnt from conventional offences.
If all then ‘open’ answers are ‘No’, then you should face the centre of the space. In Hex, this means you face where the Hat position is (the central player), and you should have all your team mates within your field of view. At this point you return to asking yourself if anyone is open in front of you.
Let’s say you go for the return pass and don’t get the disc back into your hands. The first question to ask yourself is ‘Am I in good hex shape?‘. The details about hex shape / structure are defined in another video, but if you decide you are not in good hex shape then you should reposition – with urgency. Repositioning moves are like cuts, and simply repositioning may well provide the thrower with a viable passing option.
If you are in good hex shape, ask yourself if you are open. If you are, communicate with the thrower by gesticulation or vocalisation, to let the thrower know you are a potential option for them to hit or fake to.
If you aren’t open, see if the thrower is looking at you. If they are, you should try to generate an option for them to either hit or fake to – by moving, or by gesticulating towards space. This will create further options for your team mates.
If you’re in good hex shape, not open, and the thrower is not looking at you, then you should see whether you can create useful space for a team mate. This means looking around to take note of your team mates positions and their defenders relative positions, and working out whether you moving in any direction could create a space, or occupy another defender, which would be useful for your team mate. If you can, then you should generate this option.
If none of these things are the case, then you should chill – don’t stress or feel pressure to create an option, because if everyone on your team is going through the same decision process then the thrower will be faking to half-options, looking at players to generate options, and so on, and the options will come. Continue monitoring the situation to see if you can create useful space for a team mate, to make sure you’re in good hex shape (as a team), and to see if you’re free or if the thrower is looking at you, but aim to become comfortable being in the position of sustaining offensive possession as a team.
Full stream / extended analysis video:
In this video from the 2017 World Games we’re going to look at how Colombia adapt their offence to effectively counter the one-to-one defence Poland play against them.
Interview with Colombian coach Mauricio Moore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN65_cIBYy8
Transcript: During the game it became apparent that the Colombian women were winning their matchups with greater ease than the Colombian men. To play to this advantage, Colombia manipulate the space on the field to reduce the risk of clogging and poaching from the male defenders, and maximise the space available to the women – in this case on the far sideline & deep – whilst the men are concentrated in the near-side and backfield areas.
… read more & photos …
There is some initial poaching from the male defenders, but the Colombian men stay involved and calmly take the open pass. The women on the far side have now formed a triangle, they are no longer being inhibited by the poaches, and they have a clear channel to the end zone. Note how the male players resist the urge to reposition downfield when the disc is near the sideline, instead trying to draw their defenders away from poaching positions.
Once the Colombian women are in flow the offence looks fairly unstoppable, with the defenders not able to apply any real pressure, however in the end the turnover is caused by an unforced execution error.
Colombia get the disc back later in the point, but the women are disconnected at the start of the offence, and there is some sagging and poaching from the defenders. When one of Poland’s male defenders gets sucked in on a poaching opportunity, their mark rightly takes off deep, but the disc doesn’t come and when he comes back we see Colombia fall into a similar setup to the one we saw earlier.
The women retain their shape deep on the far sideline whilst the men take a few easy open passes to keep the tempo of the offence. The triangle shape makes it very difficult for the Polish female defenders to poach or switch effectively.
When Lauras Ospina gets the disc, Colombia have a favourable one-to-one matchup completely isolated in the attacking half of the field, where Yina Cartagena scores without the defence having a bid.
By utilising the space on the field, manipulating the defence, and taking the open pass, Colombia were able to play to their advantage – their female one-to-one matchups – whilst minimising the poaching opportunities for the male defenders.
Utilising space and manipulating defence happens with all offenses, but which offensive structure would be most suited to this gender-weighted tactic?
Vertical stack creates space down the sides of the field but is very susceptible to poaching, as one or two male defenders start in the centre of the downfield space. 4-women in the stack with the three men in the backfield is possible, but is open to counter-tactics such as defenders sagging off the handlers, or downfield defenders surrounding the vertical stack to make it overconcentrated and difficult to initate flow from.
Splitting the vertical stack takes things to the extreme – it maximisises the space available, but it asks cutters to make big initial movements to get free. This is well suited to the hard cutting, yards-focused style which is prevalent in the game at the moment, particularly in North America.
How about horizontal stack? This is more dynamic and can work in a few different ways… when there are two male defenders downfield poaching could become a problem, so having three downfield female players can work nicely, offering loads of space… My favourite setup – which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my work – is called Hexagon Offence. This setup naturally supports the triangle shape Colombia’s women were forming, whilst keeping every other player connected, meaning any poaching can be quickly and easily punished.
Space in the Hex setup is created dynamically – when one player makes a cut they create a space where they came from, which is not how it works in vertical or split stack. This new space can be used by any adjacent team mates, and unlike horizontal stack, these second cuts can be made directly from the setup positions within the Hex shape. This dynamic creation and use of space has a cascading effect which maximises options for the offence and denies the defence any leverage.
Hex has taught me a lot about Ultimate, and there’s a bunch of other reasons why I prefer it to traditional offences, but I digress! I can talk about that more in another video.
If four women are on the field winning their matchups – perhaps related to a lack of female subs from the opposition – then a number of other interesting setups are possible to make use of this advantage.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to Mauricio Moore, the Colombian coach, about this video at all, so it’s just things that I’ve kind of seen, and my interpretation of them. He did an interview recently which is really really worth checking out – it’s a subtitled one, it’s in Spanish, but the subtitles are great, he’s clearly got a way with words, I’ll put the link down in the description below. Definitely check it out, I think everyone can learn from his experiences and what he has to say.
He says they focus very little on on-field tactics, so probably they just identified that the women were mismatched and just encouraged their men to just stay back and out of the way whilst the women had their own space to work with, rather than it being something they had drilled or it being a formal structure or arrangement they had. In this way I think they’re similar to Japan in terms of national teams, in that they’re more dynamic and organic with how they play, rather than sticking to set rules and cutting patterns and reset patterns, they kind of make it up as they go along to a certain extent, which is an approach that I really like.
- Japan v USA: Kolick poach D & Japan dump-give-go switch February 27, 2020
- Japan v USA: Japan switching, a blown sandwich, and Jimmy Mickle’s precise cut and throw for goal February 20, 2020
- Japan v USA WUGC 2016: Japan communicating to cover USA’s initial options February 13, 2020
- EUICC 2020: Outrageous wall-jump attempt from Anton Malkov February 6, 2020
- USAU 2019 Final: 3 times greater teamwork on defence could’ve prevented goals January 28, 2020
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