USAU 2019 Final: 3 times greater teamwork on defence could’ve prevented goals

Taking a close look at defence in the USAU National Final, and the potential for greater teamwork.

How to play Hex: Max Options using Balance and Shape, with Hammertron Prime

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.

Hammertron Hex – Hammertron Prime run Hexagon Offence vs Mix Tape at NZ Nationals 2019

How to play Hex: Flow – Analysis of 14 passes in flow from Stevens IoT

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

Hey everyone!
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.

-Structure:
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.

-Movement:
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!

Felix reacts to Frank’s ‘Triple Threat applied to Ultimate Frisbee’ video

Felix reacts to Frank’s new video on the Triple Threat Principle – Let’s Be Frank EP2, and digests the key parts of the video.

Hexagon Offence v2.31

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.

full image of the Hex Movement Decision Tree

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

Further reading:

Video examples:

Hex Coaching:

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

Hex Movement Decision Tree

Hex Movement Decision Tree.png

… 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.

Hex Strategy Overview vs Conventional Ultimate – Amsterdam Hex Clinic

How to play Hex: Maintaining Shape (analysis of Outbreak Mountain)

Excerpt:

Full stream / extended analysis video:

Flexagon Defence v1.02

(c) Felix Shardlow v.1.02 26th June 2018

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 1-to-1 defence. Flex employs local positioning guidelines to reduce offensive advantage wherever possible. Where zonal marking utilises role-based teamwork and dynamic positioning; 1-to-1 defence employs simple positioning rules and focuses on athleticism; Flex utilises a set of principles which encourage defenders to work as a team, dynamically recognising any offensive mistakes or inefficiencies and attempting to punish them to gain advantage.

In Ultimate, offence by default has a huge advantage, and if they play very well then it’s very difficult for any defence to stop them from scoring. Actively gaining advantage on defence requires the ability to recognise offensive mistakes, and then utilise a combination of teamwork, positioning, and athleticism to capitalise.

The 3 Flex Principles

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

Communication

Aim to open a communication channel with nearby teammates as soon as they are within range, so it can be used instantly when opponents move. There are three main ways of opening & using a communication channel:

  • eye contact – keep your head up – positional information is shared & acknowledged, chances for miscommunication reduced
  • gesticulation – keep your eyes open – pointing, indicating
  • vocalisation – keep your ears open – push/pull shouts to move teammates

For more on communication, see Advanced Flex Part II: Communication

Switch / surround where appropriate

  • Using your communication channel, reposition to surround offensive players when there is no space between two or more opponents
  • Surround with the same number of defenders as there are offensive players
  • If there is space between all offensive players, and their movement cannot be punished with switches, mark 1-to-1 until the opportunity to switch or surround arises
  • Prepare to switch marks early – pre-empt offensive movement if possible, as late / reactive switches only limit damage – they do not necessarily gain advantage for the defence
  • Prepare to switch marks when opponents move towards occupied areas
  • Switch if mutually beneficial for defenders, and both offensive players can be easier covered
  • Both players must move quickly to cover their new marks

Offensive players who are occupying the same space as each other, or moving towards occupied areas, are making mistakes – be prepared to punish them to gain advantage!

Cover all offensive players as a team

  • All individuals should be marking one specific player unless surrounding or flash-poaching
  • Leave no offensive player unmarked
  • Get help if trying to cover two players
  • Avoid defensive double-coverage
  • Only poach temporarily, and when you have help from a team mate (in a sandwiching / surrounding situation)
  • Solo poaches send false signals to other defenders, which causes a breakdown of Flex due to chain reaction

The offensive team have the same number of players as the defence – and one of their players isn’t allowed to move!

Global Positioning

Flex doesn’t really have a prescribed shape or formation, as the local positioning of the defenders is entirely dependant upon the positioning of the offensive players. However, if the theory of both offence and defence in Ultimate are explored to depths, a hexagon (or rotatable 2-3-2) shape emerges as most efficient use of space by 7 players. The hex shape is only utilised in Flex defence in three circumstances:

  • When playing against a Hex offence, as shape knowledge will help the defence to pre-empt offensive movement and punish positioning / movement mistakes
  • When the team are very experienced with playing Flex, and wish to employ more advanced ideas related to global switching & surrounding
  • If the defensive team are not switching or surrounding enough during normal play – calling initial positions can be useful as it puts defenders into a more ‘zone-like’ mindset, where they will be more actively looking for switching and surrounding opportunities.

Conversely, if a Flex team is surrounding too loosely, blowing switches often, or if poaching becomes an issue, calling initial match-ups on the line can encourage the defence to adopt a more 1-to-1-like mindset, which should address those problems.

If calling positions, by default: 2 forwards, 2 wings, 2 backs, 1 hat (central player).
If your opponent is playing horizontal stack it’s recommended you start with person-to-person marking, but if calling positions: 3 forwards, 2 wings, 1 hat, 1 back. For more on playing Flex against specific offensive strategies, see Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
The terms “forward” and “back” refer to how you see the field when on the line before a point – “forwards” are comparable to “handler marks”, “backs” are comparable to “deeps”.
Remember that Flex is not a zone, and position calling should only be used in the three situations listed above.

The force – recommended: if the disc is near the middle force straight-up, if the disc is near the sideline force towards the line – this leaves defenders on either shoulder of the force in all situations. The force is not a critical part of Flex – it can often be left til last when making sure all offensive players are covered, and it can change depending on opponents / conditions. There should certainly not be a player chasing the disc and putting on multiple forces in a row (unless you have incorporated an advanced switching system into your Flex).


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: