How can we characterise offensive and defensive systems?

This article was written by guest authors Marie and Florian Gailliegue and is an excerpt from their book Ultimate in Motion: Balance and Dynamism, available from their website or currently part of the $25/mo Hive Swarm Tier deal.

Any situation in any spot of the field can be objectively characterised. Many factors combine – spatial (proximity to an endzone), positional (centering on the field), material (distribution of players) and initiative (separation / velocity, or other ability to dictate the tempo). During the game, each team will seek to tilt the advantages in their favour.

Strategy is long-term planning, and tactics are a sequence of calculated actions. Philosophy is from where one or more strategies flow. Structure guides how a strategy can be deployed effectively. Tactics are put at the service of the previous pillars to achieve the overall aim.

A structure is defined by the set of positions occupied by the players of a team. With 7 players, we can imagine a nearly infinite array of possibilities. When a strategy is decided upon, there are several structures that can be chosen to ensure the strategic goals are achieved. No matter the structure, the whole tactical toolbox remains at one’s disposal. The ensemble {Strategy, Structure, Tactics} creates a system. For the team to be as efficient as possible, the chosen system must match the philosophy.

ultimate systems

The final aim of all systems is to score – in other words, the goal is to maximise the spatial advantage. The means used to achieve such an ambitious objective are system dependent:

  • The silo system separates the field in halves to facilitate the offensive task of creating quantitative material imbalances. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stacks are the preferred structure in that case;
  • The iso system maximises the central field space available by pushing the players to the side of the field. Split stacks, side stack and various isos are used to achieve that. The large central area ensures some fast and agile cutters (qualitative material advantage) become unmarked, and sidelines generally avoided;
  • The motion system relies on connected players and dynamic space creation to maximise available options. This allows for quick movement and initiative generation. Hexagonal shape guarantees that a player is connected to at least three others. They can choose the most profitable option and keep the disc flowing.

An analogue reasoning works for defensive systems. According to the rules, a turnover only occurs when a pass is attempted (a stall out can be considered as a 0-yard pass). Three distinct systems exist in that regard. The goal is either to make each pass as hard as possible, to force the offense to multiply the number of passes in the hope that Murphy’s law will apply, and that the turnover will occur, or try to combine both. The following equation gives the scoring percentage as the product of completion rates of each pass (%completioni ).

Equation for completion rate.

The lock system puts pressure on each pass. To do so the defense uses a mimetic structure (mimicking the offensive positioning). It implies being close to each offense players so as to render all options tough to complete. 1-to-1 defenses and Flexagon Defense both fall into this category. Please note that the teamwork dimension is not included in this classification. Flexagon is a highly collaborative team defense whereas 1-to-1 defense is highly individualistic.

At the other end of the spectrum, the clock system puts a timer on the offense. With each new pass the chance of losing the disc during the possession increases. Forward disc progression must be hindered as much as possible. The structure that allows for a slower progression relies on barrage lines.

The hybrid system tries to combine both approaches. This includes setting up positional, temporal and material traps and triggers, and transitioning between lock & clock systems. Usually, hybrid systems rely on power ratio considerations to adapt the approach. Barrier lines are used to slow down the offense.

We hope Florian & Marie’s fresh concepts provide an interesting framework for deeper understanding of the spectrum of possible offences and defences which can be played in ultimate, as we move further away from simple “1-to-1 / zone” and “vert / horizontal stack” binary core options.

For more content like this, check out the book this is an excerpt from – Ultimate in Motion: Balance and Dynamism, available from their website or currently part of the $25/mo Hive Swarm Tier deal

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