felixultimate’s Covid-19 Safe Training & Play Ideas

All guidance up to date as of 25th September 2020

UK Ultimate’s Phased Return to Play Guidance currently permits training according to the restrictions in Phase C – Games and drills involving normal close-contact between players. See the UKU’s PDF for guidance on preparation, huddles, stoppages, disc management/cleaning, and throwing-bubbles.
Below we are primarily looking at the guidance which relates to active on-field play, with an eye to strategic modifications and new training exercises.


PHASE C

Phase C UKU Guidance – Defending

● Drills or games that involve marking receivers (i.e. any Offense player that is not the thrower) are permitted, but must not include deliberately setting up “face-guarding” an opponent within 1m. ○ I.e. a player should not be standing still, face-to-face within 1m of another player. Normal, active defending will mean that players sometimes move in and out of a 1m space around other players and this is permitted.
● Players marking the thrower must be at least 1m from the thrower.
● There must not be a stall count.
● For drills where it is practical and safe, it is recommended that the thrower, and the defender marking the thrower should both wear a mask.


What does this mean for defensive strategy?

Key elements of 1-to-1 marking which players usually aim for – such as always marking tightly, and putting on a close, strong force – are not permitted, so we must think about alternatives. Players should be able to aim for high performance, without that aim also pointing towards breaking distancing rules.

Strategically, the polar opposite to tight 1-to-1 marking is zone defence, where defenders occupy space instead of marking individuals. Between 1-to-1 and Zone you can plot a Spectrum of Defence which includes flash poaching, switching, surrounding, and sustained poaching. These are all ways in which defenders can move away from tight 1-to-1 ideals and towards using spatial awareness and teamwork to add pressure to the offence.
First let’s look at the basics of when, why, and how teams play Zone:

Half-way between 1-to-1 and Zone is Flexagon Defence, which includes 1-to-1 marking of players when they are moving, but encourages the surrounding of static players and switching marks where possible. This means that when a defender moves away from their static mark in order to maintain 1m+ distance, they can activate their nearby teammates – working together like a sandwich to cover opposite sides, and negate offensive movement.
The force has changed too (they must maintain 1m+ distance), so break side throws will be easier – positioning a defender in this break side space as part of a sandwich or a surrounding setup will take away the break throw as an immediate option. Here is a brief explanation of Flex:

Switching, Surrounding, Field Awareness, and Communication are all key elements for running Flexagon Defence without leaving holes in your defence. For more information see the Flexagon Defence Principles page, and the videos in the How to Play Flex series. Drills and ideas for How to Train Flex will be available in coming weeks.

Outside of Flex, 1-to-1, and Zone defence, are the concepts of Poaching – either flash poaching to bid on a pass or to clog a throwing lane temporarily, or sustained poaching to take away an area of the field for a longer period of time. For more info on poaching check out the full Spectrum of Defence video, analysis of PoNY v Revolver where the New York team get many poach-blocks, and the poaching section of the FlikUlti website.

What does this mean for offensive strategy?

Although offence is not specifically mentioned in the UKU guidance, in my opinion it is not safe for players create tight stacks – a key element players usually aim for when playing vertical, side, and split stack offences. Strategically, the polar opposite to a tight stack is a spread offence, where each offensive player aims to be isolated in space on the field. For such a setup to be functional, players must stay ‘in range’ of each other whilst also maintaining spacing.

Hexagon Offence is a spread offence which aims for optimum spacing whilst retaining maximum connections between players – distanced from each other, but equally interconnected in the most efficient manner. It thrives on quick disc movement and flow. For an explanation of how this offence works, check out the felixultimate ‘How to Play Hex’ principles & video series, and for Covid-safe Hex drills check out the How to Train Hex video series.

Horizontal Stack has some irregular spacing between players, however is more susceptible to pressure from a well played Flexagon Defence in my opinion, as it uses space on the field in an unbalanced way, and the movements are more predictable. Ho stack has been proven over the years to be successful against conventional 1-to-1 defence, and there are many good resources online for horizontal stack setups, drills and cuts – in particular check out Flik Ulti’s Covid-Friendly Training Ideas by Brummie.


Training Ideas for Phases B & C

  • Avoid queues where possible – have multiple spread starting points / positions, split into two drills when numbers increase
  • Plan for drills in the same session to have the same number of players, so groups can stay consistent throughout
  • Introduce competition between groups by e.g. counting number of completions in a row
  • Run exercises with several active players who are encouraged to maintain spacing – e.g. the Hex Puzzle Drill below
  • Consider & communicate whether offence or defence players are responsible for maintaining 1m distance – 50-50 shared responsibility is not always workable in a more competitive environment

Hex Puzzle Drill

  • 5-7 players
  • UKU Phase B (no defence)
  • Field Awareness
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Creating & Using Space
  • Initiating & Sustaining Flow
Initiating flow from static, sustaining flow whilst in good shape, creating and using space as you see it appear, decision making, communication… The Hex Puzzle drill is unique as it trains all these elements which are important in Hex, and all at the same time. It is notoriously challenging to do well, despite the lack of defenders – all 5-7 players must stay engaged and alert in order to maintain the tempo & rhythm of the offence. An essential tool for a team to get better at Hex quickly, introducing many elements which are not seen in other drills. Watch video.

For more spread drills and exercises to use during Covid-19, check out the How to Train Hex / Flex Series of videos, all of which adhere to Phase C or Phase B of UKU Guidance. The Hex and Flex strategies encourage spacing between players as a principle, which opens up many more opportunities for distanced drills, exercises, and safer play in games. Above all else, adhere to your local guidance to keep you and the people around you safe.


Phase B

Phase B UKU Guidance – Distancing

In Phase B, “Limited & Modified Club Training” all activity throughout the session should be completed with all participants (i.e. players, coaches, managers, spectators or any other non-playing volunteers, staff or participants) maintaining social distancing of 2m.

It is to be expected, and is reasonable, that from time to time, participants will inadvertently and briefly encroach within 2m of other participants. According to the DCMS Risk Exposure Framework such interactions remain low-risk and do not require additional measures.

The implication on the club and coaches (or other individuals organising the activity) is that careful planning is required in advance to make sure the social distancing is achievable and easy to follow for participants.

Note that “all activity” also includes breaks and coaching discussions. Spectators should maintain a substantial distance from the activity and maintain social distance with other spectators. The club’s plan should remind spectators that they may be subject to additional guidance about group gatherings.


Training Ideas for Phases A & B

For drills and exercises which are appropriate to use during UKU Phase B, check out the How to Train Hex / Flex Series of videos.

Consider weekly online sessions with your team – I use Streamlabs in combination with YouTube, with EpicPen to draw on the screen. Sessions can include technical analysis of player-recorded throwing technique videos, game footage analysis, Q&A, and strategic reviews & discussions.