Advanced Flex – Principles in Detail

(c) Felix Shardlow v.1.03 8th July 2021

Also available in French / en Français (v0.97)

Part of a series:
Advanced Flex – Principles in Detail
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Be sure to also check out the Flexplanation page which includes videos of the basic concepts of Flex.

Considering sharing this page with your team? Before you do, please first read through the Hive Ultimate Content Sharing Policy, as this page is technically patrons-only.

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.

Basic Flex Movement Decision Tree

The 3 Flex Principles

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

Communicate

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 – use names, inflection, and directional shouts to move teammates

See, sign, say. Opening a communication channel with your teammates ensures immediate feedback and facilitates learning from each play on the field. Communicating is a valuable skill which can be learned through practice, will help your team get on the same page, and fosters a growth mindset. As players become more familiar with each other, communication moves from vocalisation to gesticulation, and on to the point where simple eye contact will communicate a significant amount of information and initiate teamwork on defence.

Players and teams will naturally develop their own lexicon once they apply the Flex principles and make efforts to communicate. To read more about the specific words and phrases which we have found to be useful in Flex, see Advanced Flex Part II: Communication and Flex Part 4: Communication.

Switch / surround where appropriate

  • Proximity is the trigger you are looking for, to indicate switching/surrounding is appropriate
  • When facing a stack, use your communication channels and reposition as a team to surround
  • Surround with the same number of defenders as there are offensive players
  • The fewer players involved in the stack, the closer the defenders should position
  • Cutting players should be marked 1-to-1, whilst the remaining surrounding defenders reposition & tighten up to keep the stack covered
  • 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 or busy 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

By default, Flex does not involve poaching. Poaching indicates an individual’s decision to leave their mark – this can be applied as an advanced or emergency tactic to good effect, but by default the defence in Flex involves coordinated teamplay, rather than individualistic poaches.

  • All individuals should be marking one specific player, or be part of a balanced surrounding setup
  • Surrounding setups should have equal numbers of offence and defence
  • Leave no offensive player unmarked
  • Get help if trying to cover two players
  • Avoid defensive double-coverage
  • Solo poaches send false signals to other defenders, and can cause 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. If you find players are marking too much like 1-to-1, not looking for enough switches or surrounding opportunities, then players can be assigned initial positions. Players should be very willing to switch positions mid-point and stick with players 1-to-1 where appropriate, otherwise the defence turns into a zone / poaching, and many of the above principles are broken. Calling positions in Flex should be used as a tool to change the way your team is approaching the defence and get them playing more as a team – conversely, calling 1-to-1 matchups should be used as a tool to stop your players from poaching and apply more individual pressure. A well played Flex sits squarely in-between 1-to-1 and zone, adjusting as the situation dictates.

If the theory of both offence and defence in Ultimate are explored to depths, a hexagon (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 Hex offence – 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 to connect with team mates and essentially switch and surround the offence.

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.

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 middle, 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).

How to Train Flex

Understanding the theory is one thing, but training players to apply the principles in game situations requires focused work at trainings. Felix has been coaching these principles since 2012 and has a number of drills which are effective at developing players communication and field awareness skills so they can effectively switch and surround in game situations. The content is presented in a number of Flex drill videos, which are available on the $8 patreon tier.

Next parts in this series

Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Considering sharing this page with your team? Before you do, please first read through the Hive Ultimate Content Sharing Policy, as this page is technically patrons-only.


Optional video examples

Zoney Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48:

More recently, Hammertron Prime played a zoney version of Flex at NZ Nationals 2019 (as well as playing Hex Offence):

GB Mixed U23’s played a zoney version of Flex at Worlds in 2015 – below is a video of the first time it was introduced to the team:

Hex/Flex in action against Japan at Worlds:

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