Full stream / extended analysis video:
Full stream / extended analysis video:
(c) Felix Shardlow v.1.02 26th June 2018
Also available in French / en Français (v0.97)
The rest of this series is currently in production and is available first on the felixultimate patreon.
Flexagon Defence is not a zone, nor is it strictly 1-to-1 defence. Flex employs local positioning guidelines to reduce offensive advantage wherever possible. Where zonal marking utilises role-based teamwork and dynamic positioning; 1-to-1 defence employs simple positioning rules and focuses on athleticism; Flex utilises a set of principles which encourage defenders to work as a team, dynamically recognising any offensive mistakes or inefficiencies and attempting to punish them to gain advantage.
In Ultimate, offence by default has a huge advantage, and if they play very well then it’s very difficult for any defence to stop them from scoring. Actively gaining advantage on defence requires the ability to recognise offensive mistakes, and then utilise a combination of teamwork, positioning, and athleticism to capitalise.
Aim to open a communication channel with nearby teammates as soon as they are within range, so it can be used instantly when opponents move. There are three main ways of opening & using a communication channel:
For more on communication, see Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Offensive players who are occupying the same space as each other, or moving towards occupied areas, are making mistakes – be prepared to punish them to gain advantage!
The offensive team have the same number of players as the defence – and one of their players isn’t allowed to move!
Flex doesn’t really have a prescribed shape or formation, as the local positioning of the defenders is entirely dependant upon the positioning of the offensive players. However, if the theory of both offence and defence in Ultimate are explored to depths, a hexagon (or rotatable 2-3-2) shape emerges as most efficient use of space by 7 players. The hex shape is only utilised in Flex defence in three circumstances:
Conversely, if a Flex team is surrounding too loosely, blowing switches often, or if poaching becomes an issue, calling initial match-ups on the line can encourage the defence to adopt a more 1-to-1-like mindset, which should address those problems.
If calling positions, by default: 2 forwards, 2 wings, 2 backs, 1 hat (central player).
If your opponent is playing horizontal stack it’s recommended you start with person-to-person marking, but if calling positions: 3 forwards, 2 wings, 1 hat, 1 back. For more on playing Flex against specific offensive strategies, see Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
The terms “forward” and “back” refer to how you see the field when on the line before a point – “forwards” are comparable to “handler marks”, “backs” are comparable to “deeps”.
Remember that Flex is not a zone, and position calling should only be used in the three situations listed above.
The force – recommended: if the disc is near the middle force straight-up, if the disc is near the sideline force towards the line – this leaves defenders on either shoulder of the force in all situations. The force is not a critical part of Flex – it can often be left til last when making sure all offensive players are covered, and it can change depending on opponents / conditions. There should certainly not be a player chasing the disc and putting on multiple forces in a row (unless you have incorporated an advanced switching system into your Flex).
Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48:
v 2.21 – 31st August 2018
Concept first published 1st Jan 2013
Also available in French / en Français (v2.1)
Note: Updated (2020) documentation here: https://felixultimate.com/2018/10/14/hexagon-offence-v2-3/
This page is an old version, not all concepts are represented as clearly and concisely as in version 2.31!
Ultimate is a team-based field sport, and as such Movement, Positioning, and Technique/Skillset are the major elements for strategic consideration. Hex Offence’s movement is comparable to Spain’s tiki-taka quick passing style of soccer play. Hex’s positioning is spread like a network – maximising connections between players, and as such maximising options. Technique / skill sets which are suited to Hex include staying balanced and ready to throw or run anywhere at all times, communicating and reacting to your team mates, having spatial and field awareness, and being in control of your acceleration / deceleration at all times.
Hex can be explained through three simple principles:
1. Keep the disc moving (higher value than gaining yards)
2. Maintain the shape (a hexagon)
3. Create space for your team mates, use space as you see it developing
Abiding by these principles creates a fast-moving, flow-based offence which doesn’t give the defence a chance to set, maximises the offensive options available, constantly changes the angles of attack, and is a lot of fun to play.
The flow chart in the video below is a guideline for the decisions you should be making on the field when playing Hex.
Ways this style of play differs from conventional offence:
Some of the decision pathways above are yellow – this means an option isn’t definitely open, but it isn’t definitely marked out either. This could be due to a loose defender, due to not being confident with the type of throw or the distance involved, or any other reason the thrower isn’t totally happy with the option. In this circumstance, fake.
Faking should always be realistic and purposeful. There are three main purposes for faking, in order of importance:
a) To move downfield defenders around – if you have seen a potential option, then the good defenders on the field will also have seen it, so a realistic fake will get them committing to cover this option, and open up other options for the offence elsewhere on the field.
b) To communicate with your team – when you fake to a potential throwing option, you communicate to that player that you have recognised the option they are providing, but that you are not going to throw it for whatever reason. This serves as a prompt for them to provide an option elsewhere on the field. The rest of your team are also party to this communication, and should respond appropriately. An effect of a good purposeful fake is that the team are brought onto the same page, into sync, and are then able to establish a rhythm to their offence and control the tempo.
c) To move your mark – useful to make a particular throw easier, and often considered the primary reason for faking, sometimes fakes for this purpose are not aimed at viable options and thus can cause miscommunication and disconnection between the thrower and their team mates. When there are enough offensive options available, faking solely for this purpose is no longer productive.
In the Hex Movement Decision Tree, if you don’t have the disc in your hands then you must ask yourself “Am I in good hex shape?” – to know the answer, you must first know the shape!
Here is a video where I analyse an Australian team (Outbreak) playing Hex, with particular focus on how they should be maintaining shape during the possession.
Some guidelines to help with maintaining shape during a point:
Theoretical shape movement – without defenders, the most efficient way to advance the disc down the field whilst maintaining shape would be to pass the disc down the sideline whilst the hex rotates like a wheel rolling down the line – as illustrated in this animation.
In practice, defenders prevent the most efficient offensive movement, and so although globally the structure effectively rotates as it moves down the sideline, not all local situations will reflect this rotation directly, and players will interchange between positions regularly.
When the disc is passed forwards through the middle, players behind and lateral with the disc must push up to avoid surrounding the disc (whilst avoiding the narrow channel), as illustrated in this animation and this animation.
“Hexagon” technically refers to the shape used in this offence, which could be considered as separate to the disc movement, technique, and style of play this article lays out. For simplicity, I am combining the shape, the movement, the technique and the style in this article and under the name Hexagon Offence, as no other offences currently exist which use the Hex shape (though the positions in Frank Huguenard’s Motion Offence are similar). If plenty more Hex-based offences spring up over time then the combined ideas of shape & movement & technique/style may be renamed to something more personal, such as Shardlow Offence, Felix O, etc.
The final part on the Hex Movement Decision Tree reads “Can you create useful space for a teammate?” – knowing the answer to this requires having good spatial and field awareness, and understanding how your teammates can use space which you create. Keep you head up and always be aware of where the defenders and the offensive players are positioned, and, if appropriate, move accordingly. You can create space for your teammates even when you are closely covered, and it is acceptable to distort the shape in order to generate an option.
As space opens on the field, make use of it by moving into it. This also helps your team maintain shape. Take what your defender gives you, or make them give you something you want.
Here’s a clip of UK team SMOG playing Hex at Windmill 2018, where they are applying most of the principles explained above fairly well:
Scoring in all Ultimate usually happens in one of two ways: (1) from a deep throw, or (2) from flow towards the end zone. When the disc is around the area of the brick mark, the deep throw is a significant threat, so defenders must not allow the offence players to streak free towards the zone. This allows the offence more chances to be free coming back towards the disc, for shorter passes which can be used to initiate flow. Hardly any turnovers happen when the disc is thrown from near the brick mark.
As the disc gets closer to the end zone, the deep throw is no longer a threat, so the defence can apply more pressure to shorter passes. When flow stops outside the end zone, the odds of the offence scoring decreases significantly.
When in this situation, it is still relatively easy for the offence to initiate flow – if they are moving away from the end zone. The offence should coordinate flowing away from the zone – towards the brick mark – whilst vacating all players from the end zone (staying connected), as this will quickly open up the deep throw again as an immediate scoring option, and put them in a good position to direct their flow back towards the end zone.
The ideal distance to which you should flow away from the end zone depends on the players on your team – far enough so that all defenders are out of the end zone, but not so far that your players cannot reach the end zone with a long throw.
felixultimate Patreon – Hex training videos released each month to Roo tier patrons, access to livestream analysis archive for all patrons, pledge any amount!
Training Hex Offence with your team – contains some diagrams & descriptions of drills, and tips on how to introduce the offence to your team.
Mex Offence v2.1 – an older version of this doc – more verbose.
Full game footage of Hexagon Offence being played is available at pushpass.co.uk – see any of Brighton City’s games from UKU Nationals 2012/13/14, XEUCF 2013, EUCF 2014, or any Sussex Mohawks 1 or Brighton Panthers games from Uni Regionals 2014. For clips of Hexagon Offence see the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel – here are some samples from the channel of Hex in action, taken in 2013.
NB: The play in these videos is by no means a perfect display of Hex, and in the football ones I did get a bit overzealous on drawing triangles over the pitch…
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 12th June 2016
Last update: v0.2 – 26th June 2018
Also available in French / en Français
For the first 3 seconds of the stall, the offence is looking for flow or continuation options. If the offence is playing well, these options are hard to prevent – nearby defenders should make efforts to contain the offence and prevent flow (or predict it and get a block), whilst other defenders not connected to the play should focus on establishing good positioning. If flow is halted and the stall count hits 3 seconds, the offence will look for a secondary, or reset option. At this point, the defence should already be working as a team to pressure these next options – using switches and sandwiches to ensure every player is marked with good positioning when the thrower looks up after 3 seconds.
After stall 6, the offence will look for their reset or backup options, like a hammer, a break, or a yard-losing pass. All defenders should be minimising separation, or be sandwiching any offensive players who are near to each other – working together to be tight enough to all offensive players to apply pressure to the break/overhead/yard-loser that will be considered at stall 6. Reaching stall 6 doesn’t happen all the time, so the defence can afford to put in extra effort when it does.
If the defenders are all conscious of when the stall count reaches 3 seconds during a point, they can focus their efforts in a coordinated way – using teamwork to attempt to punish the slight offensive error of flow having stopped. By all being on the same page with regard to when / where they should be expending effort, the defence can save energy for the moments when getting interceptions are most likely, and then focus their efforts to generate a block as a team.
The force should be ‘loose-tight-loose’ over the 10 seconds of the count – for stalls 1-3, the force should be loose and containing – ready to switch to prevent a give-go or up-line cut, and also preventing a ‘killer’ break throw or penetration move.
Stalls 4, 5 and 6 are when the force should be tight and aggressive – stopping the first ‘alternate look’ from the thrower, and applying pressure.
Stalls 7, 8 and 9 are when the force should loosen up a little again – preventing a ‘killer’ break throw and not allowing the thrower to draw a foul to reset the count.
Downfield, defenders should play tight-smart-tight against cutters – they should aim to be tight to their mark when the disc is caught (stall 0), then, if flow is halted, they should be smart and look for sandwiches / switches on stalls 3, 4 and 5, and if the disc still isn’t passed then they should make sure they are tight again at the end of the stall count when the thrower will be looking for the offensive player with the most separation to create an option.
Source video of NexGen-Pony gifs:
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.97 28/04/2015 – translated by Florian Gailliegue
La Flexagon appréhende la défense sous un nouvel angle, en combinant des éléments de défense individuelle et de défense de zone. La Flex n’est ni une « indiv » ni une « zone », c’est un hybride avec ses propres règles et principes. À l’ultimate, l’attaque a l’avantage, et prendre l’ascendant en défense requiert une combinaison d’athlétisme, de positionnement et de travail d’équipe. La défense individuelle est orientée vers l’athlétisme et la zone sur le positionnement, la Flexagon quant à elle met l’accent sur le travail d’équipe avant de capitaliser sur tout mouvement ou positionnement inefficace de l’équipe en attaque
Les positions sont grandement flexibles parce que largement dépendantes des positions prises par les attaquants, cependant la structure sous-jacente peut être décrite comme un 2-3-2.
Les termes de « forward » et « back » font référence au sens dans lequel vous voyez le terrain avant un point; les « forwards » sont comparables à des « défenseurs de handlers », et les « back » à des « deeps sur une défense de zone »
Les positions peuvent et devraient changer durant une possession ; fréquemment il est plus logique pour un défenseur de suivre sa marque tandis qu’il se déplace sur le terrain plutôt que de switcher ; les autres défenseurs doivent s’ajuster en fonction. Un défenseur peut débuter un point en tant que « back » et finir « forward » en passant par « hat ». Respecter les principes rend ces changements de postes dynamiques possibles.
Si l’attaque adopte une formation 3-4 alors la Flex ressemblera aussi à une formation 3-4 ; plus à ce sujet dans « Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies ».
La force, si le disque est près du milieu alors la force est « middle », si le disque est près d’une sideline alors la force est « line », ça laisse des joueurs de chaque côté de la force dans les deux situations. Ce n’est pas systématiquement un « forward » qui place la force, quand le disque est près d’une ligne il est plus probable qu’un « wing » s’en occupe, selon les positions occupées par les joueurs sur le terrain.
Quand les attaquants sont proches les uns des autres, ils ne sont pas positionnés efficacement, et la défense se doit de punir cela en les encadrant (“sandwitchant”) tout en Assurant d’être autant de défenseurs qu’il y a d’attaquants. Si au contraire les attaquants sont répartis sur le terrain en utilisant l’espace à leur disposition, une défense serrée est plus adaptée. Il ne faut pas tenter de sandwicher.
Lorsque des attaquants se déplacent l’un vers l’autre ou vers les défenseurs, la défense doit punir ces mouvements inefficaces en switchant leur marque. Cela conserve l’énergie et créer des opportunités de block puisque le défenseur arrivera d’un angle inattendu. Si les attaquants se déplacent vers un espace il n’est pas conseillé de switcher.
Vous souhaitez des vidéos montrant la Flex en action, ou des explications orales et autres? Restez informez en souscrivant à Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel.
La Flex en action face à FWD aux championnats européens – avancez jusqu’à 37:48:
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 4th May 2016
Last updated: 26th June 2018
Also available in French / en Français
Good communication within a team is essential for good teamwork, combined with trust in your team mates communications. When you receive communication from a team mate, you should immediately act on it, and then re-assess the situation. Very rarely should communication from a team mate be assessed before being put into action.
Communication should be near-constant during a point of Flex. If any of the principles are being disobeyed then there should be a lot of noise on the field – if an offensive player is unmarked, all defenders should know about it and be working together constantly to remedy the situation. If it’s becoming possible to sandwich the opposition, or if their positioning indicates a switch may be possible soon, communication should already be happening.
The 3 ways to communicate in Flex
Eye-contact between defenders should happen whenever they have the opportunity – usually when their marks are not moving and they are re-assessing the situation. A moment of eye-contact has multiple immediate benefits:
Gesticulation conveys more specific information, and can be recognised by many defenders at the same time. Usually the meaning of any gesticulation is self-explanatory – here are some examples:
Vocalisation is the most flexible form of communication, and can be reach all defenders within earshot. Any information conveyed vocally also carries with it information about where on the field the shout is coming from, and the tone / volume of the shout indicates the level of urgency. Shouts should be accompanied by eye contact and gesticulation, to give more specific information to team mates who have you in their field of view, or who turn to look when they hear the shout. Here are some shouts which have proved to be useful in Flex:
There are a number of ways the sideline can help Flex greatly:
Also available in French / en Français
Last updated: 26th June 2018
Flex vs Vertical Stack
If the opponents create a vertical stack, you should surround the stack as illustrated – this is also called the ‘scramble’ position (although in ‘scramble’, you usually transition to 1-to-1 defence after 1 pass).
The 5 players guarding the stack are basically playing a 5v5 surrounding game. When an offensive player cuts out of the stack, a defender marks them tightly, and the other defenders communicate and reposition to account for the fact it’s now a 4v4 situation. This transition happens as soon as there is space between the offensive players, and the sandwiching/surrounding players in the 4v4 should continue to be ready to switch with the defender in the 1v1 – for example if the offensive player cuts deep for a few steps and then comes under.
The faster the defence can reposition, the less chance the offence has to exploit holes in the sandwich. Avoid having two defensive players mark one cutting player, as this creates an unbalanced sandwiching situation (e.g. 3v4), which is a weakness for the defence.
The players marking the stack can choose to split duties, for example from a 5v5 sandwich, into two sandwiches – 2v2 and 3v3. They might choose to do this in the case of a pre-existing imbalance, such as the offence having a few ‘superstar’ players, or when playing mixed gender ultimate.
Flex vs Horizontal Stack
Against a horizontal stack from a central static disc, you should start tight to your mark, and look for switches after the first cuts are made. As any of the four cutting players can go deep initially, they must be marked honestly. Trying to have a deep & under poach when the disc is in the middle of the field does not work, as it leaves somebody in too much space – causing the defence to break down.
If setting up in positions initially (not recommended), one wing player must push up to mark the third handler – the wing player on the break side. Make this move before the disc is in play if possible, so it’s clear to the back/hat players who you are marking. The side cutter on the break side is marked by a ‘back’ player, the side cutter on the open side is marked by the other ‘wing’ player, which leaves the two in the middle (the ‘active pair’ when the disc is in the middle).
The back & hat players in the middle should mark honestly at first, as they don’t know whether they will go deep or come under, and it’s too easy to split the hat if we try to mark zonally. After the active middle pair make their first cut, the two defenders can get their heads up and have a look to see if they can switch. One defender will be ‘under’ – they can become the ‘hat’ – and the other will be ‘deep’ – they can become a ‘back’ player. As Horizontal stack utilises spacing between offensive players, switching rather than sandwiching is the more common way to gain defensive advantage.
If the disc is being brought into play from the sideline, the two deepest offensive players on the far side are often close enough to each other (bearing in mind how far they are from the disc) to be sandwiched effectively. Here’s a video where I briefly talk about this type of offensive positioning mistake:
When the opponents transition into a vertical stack in the end zone, you should stay in Flex to stifle the space and generate confusion & chaos. The ‘Ant’ defence is particularly useful against a static start – if there has been a timeout after a huck caught just outside the end zone, for example.
The force is straight up, and the remaining players surround the stack, picking up marks as they run towards them, and adjusting each time a defending team mate becomes occupied with a mark – like Flex vs Vert.
The ‘forward’ player marking the reset can also choose to leave them and join the ‘ant’ formation – which would give it six legs. If the person with the disc is a weaker thrower, the reset should be marked.
In the video below, Felix talks about the roles of each position in Flex before talking about Flex vs Vert stack (11:48) and Flex vs Horizontal stack (15:10). Note this video is slightly outdated, as the emphasis of Flex has shifted away from positioning, and towards dynamic switching & sandwiching.
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:
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.
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.
First published 1st Jan 2013
v 2.1 – 15/7/14
Also available in French / en Français
NB: This documentation is now out of date – please see the links from the menu for the most up-to-date version
“Hex Offence” covers any offence which plays to the hexagon shape on the field as described in the “Formation” section below. Currently there is only one known offence which utilises this shape – Mexican Offence, or Mex for short – which is a flow-based offence operating on principles (as opposed to e.g. patterns). This article describes Mex Offence.
This document explains the basics of Hexagon Offence in Ultimate. Hex was first played in the summer of 2012 in a pickup game in Brighton, introduced by Felix Shardlow. The strategy quickly gained support and became the favourite amongst many players, who recognised its potential and enjoyed its freedom. These players would each feed ideas back and forth, discovering new ways to unlock its potential, and figuring out the most effective principles which should be applied. A history of how it stood up to tests in it’s early days is at the bottom of this page.
This offence can be played effectively in high level Ultimate, or be the first offence taught to beginners – who will quickly pick up on the fundamentals of the game with a style that encourages involvement and offers constant opportunities to contribute to plays.
Hex can also be played with fewer players – although the overall shape changes, the principles remain the same and the effectiveness is not compromised.
This doc is written so a beginner can pick it up and understand how to play offence in Ultimate without any prior experience. Experienced players may have picked up habits and principles from other offences which can hinder Hex, so clear your mind and try not to make any assumptions. The information in this document is very basic – deliberately open to the interpretation that best suits your team.
Firstly, this formation is not a structure which must be strictly followed at all times – it is a guideline for the shape the players should be looking to maintain during fluid play, or the areas which players should be aiming to move towards / to clear for team mates – a meta-structure, if you will, to keep in the back of your minds whilst the offence moves fluidly. Players could either be taking the initiative and moving into / clearing space at all times, sticking more rigidly to positions, or running set plays – this depends on the style of your team.
The disc should be on the edge of the formation – this prevents surrounding the disc, and gives continuation options after the first pass is made. The shape extends from the disc towards the centre of the space available – so when the disc is on the sideline, the formation extends directly off the line into the centre of the field. This animation shows how the shape is applied when the disc is in different field positions – essential viewing.
The shape consists of six equilateral triangles creating a hexagon. The use of triangles means players are spread across the field in the most efficient manner – each player has as much space as possible, whilst remaining connected to as many team mates as possible. Maintaining these triangles and thus the ‘connections’ between players is crucial to the effectiveness of the formation – if disconnected, flow will stutter and may stop.
The distance between each player should be equal distance to the average player’s comfortable, reliable, and accurate throwing distance – usually between 5 and 15 yards. The triangles are the crux of the shape so must not be neglected – the overall formation acts as a guideline for the space we should be looking to use during fluid play.
How the movement from the Hex setup works is largely down to how your team wants to play. Expansive moves create space which can immediately be used by the surrounding players, so can be used to initiate play. Moving rapidly to the end zone is possible from many positions on the field, and the space directly around the disc is always available to be used. Give and go moves work well, and set plays are possible in every situation – three players cutting in a triangle shape, for instance, presents three viable options every couple of seconds.
For efficient movement when the disc is in flow, a few rules of thumb can help. If the disc is flowing up the sideline, the formation should ‘roll’ up that sideline – players behind the disc should push out wide away from the disc and then fast downfield, and players in front of the disc should attack the space in front of the disc on the active sideline – as per this animation.
If the disc is passed to the central player, players behind the disc (surrounding it) should push wide and downfield immediately, and players downfield should look to move into the space created in the centre, in front of the disc. This animation shows movement after a simple pass to the central player, and this animation shows movement when the central player receives the disc towards the side of the field.
Scoring usually happens in one of two ways: (1) from a deep throw, or (2) from flow towards the end zone.
Static, stop-start situations near to the opposing teams end zone are difficult due to the defenders having a very small space to cover – the deep throw is no longer a viable threat.
When a comfortable distance away from the end zone, deep throws are possible from many positions, and rapid moves to the end zone are able to come from almost any player at any time.
Flow towards the end zone can be started by flowing with the disc in any direction, moving the defenders out of position, and then taking advantage of the space to generate a scoring opportunity. If flow stops without a score being generated, then the team should focus on re-starting the flow – either by moving the disc across the field, or – more easily when very near the end zone – by flowing back away from the end zone. After flow away from the end zone has been achieved, once again the deep throw will be a viable threat (assuming your team has retained their shape), as well as the possibility of re-generating flow towards the opposing teams end zone.
The ideal distance to which you should flow away from the end zone depends on the players on your team – far enough so that all defenders are out of the end zone, but not so far that your players cannot reach the end zone with a long throw.
The Hexagon Offence was created by Felix Shardlow in 2012 and the original content can be found here: http://goo.gl/miR1Jj. Felix had many influences in the 12 years he played Ultimate before writing up Hex, including strategic talks with Sam “Scando” Webber, reading content from Jim Parinella, but most notably with regard to Hex was Frank Huguenard, who would persistently post on forums about how antiquated current offensive thinking in Ultimate was, and relentlessly promote his Motion Offense.
Although Hex was experimented with occasionally by the Brighton City offence line through 2012-2013, it was only at UKU Tour 3 2013 where it blossomed. The Brighton City offence line decided to come straight out with it in their first game, against Euro Champions Clapham – who beat Brighton 15-8 at UKU Nationals 2012.
Clapham started out with man-to-man defence, but Brighton scored relatively easily with long throws. Clapham then threw a tight zone defence – but without modifying their offence, Brighton scored in a few passes. Clapham then put on a loose zone, and Brighton scored in 5 or 6 passes to make it 6-6.
Although Brighton’s D line hadn’t converted any turns, Clapham felt like they were on the ropes, called their second time-out, and came out with a very physical, tight man-to-man defence. They edged the game away, winning 15-11 in the end – the best result Brighton have had against them for years. After the game, Marc “Britney” Guilbert – Clapham and GB Open captain – said how impressed he was with the way we created and used the space on the field, that we were doing it in a way which Clapham aspired to.
Brighton City finished 3rd at UKU Nationals 2013 using this offence 90% of the time on both lines. However, the offence is not limited to top-level play. The principles at work in Hex are more similar to other sports than any other offence in Ultimate, and Hex has been easily and successfully taught to university freshers from both Sussex and Brighton Universities – new players who have only ever played Hex are already showing a great understanding of Ultimate and excelling in the Club scene.
In 2014, Brighton City’s play has become more ingrained – our movement within Hex requires less thinking and happens more naturally, and as such Hex was a big part of our taking Clapham’s D line to sudden death at Tour 2. Brighton continue to play the offence through the 2015 & 2016 seasons, finishing 3rd at UK Nationals 2015.
In 2015, the Great Britain U23 Mixed team played solely Hex at the World Championships in London. Beating Japan and runners-up Australia along the way, they finished a very respectable 5th.
Full game footage of Hexagon Offence being played is available here – see any of Brighton City’s games from UKU Nationals 2012/13/14, XEUCF 2013, EUCF 2014, or any Sussex Mohawks 1 or Brighton Panthers games from Uni Regionals 2014. For clips of Hexagon Offence see the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel – here are some samples from the channel of Hex in action, taken in 2013.
NB: The play in these videos is by no means a perfect display of Hex, and in the football ones I did get a bit overzealous on drawing triangles over the pitch…