Article written by Noah Brinkworth
You probably know by now that we’re not massive fans of stacks here at Hive Ultimate. But there are specific and important reasons why stacks (particularly vertical and side stack – horizontal is not quite as bad) are detrimental to teach to beginners.
It’s worth remembering that you are not playing to win when you are leading beginners through their first few weeks of ultimate. The objectives of your on-field strategy in the first few weeks should not be to win, but instead to make sure as many players as possible are having a fun enough time that they keep coming back (retention) and to improve players as quickly as possible (development). These goals of retention and development are conveniently both met by ultimate where every player gets the disc and throws the disc as much as possible.
Our taster sessions are specifically designed to achieve those goals by:
- Throwing in groups of no more than 3.
- Playing 5v5 games at most.
- Discouraging slowing the game down with unnecessary calls.
- Putting out leading deep shots to beginners.
- Letting beginners pick up the disc.
- Not playing shutdown defence on beginners or on experienced players (give the beginners some window to throw the disc to free players or have the disc thrown to them.)
- Encouraging players to move the disc quickly.
- Throwing to beginners that are kinda free even if you think it might lead to a turnover.
- Throwing to beginners that are free even if you think they’re gonna throw the disc away straight after they catch it.
- Calling players ‘on fire’ or calling strings.
- Not teaching any formations or stacks.
Most of these adaptations to how you’d usually play are quite obvious in how they encourage every player to get loads of touches of the disc, but no stacking and no formations at all is more abstract.
Let’s say you’re playing ultimate, with a classic 2 handler, vert stack. There are a few ‘correct’ actions you can take when playing this way:
A) hold the disc and be ready to throw to a cutter or the dump
B) be the dump – stand in isolated space level ish with the disc and get the disc if the stall gets high
C) cut into the isolated space to get free and be thrown the disc
D) stand in the stack and wait to cut.
Now A, B and C are all completely fine but D is a problem – by playing stack you allow inaction to be a correct and encouraged choice beginners can make, limiting how much they will be thrown to and how much they will throw. Beginners that lack confidence can go whole games barely leaving the stack because in the moment they’re doing the right thing by not clogging the space – having been told these wide open spaces must be kept open. This compounds when the desire to win creeps into your play and beginners feel like they should avoid getting in the way, dropping the disc or making an incomplete pass, letting experienced players run the show whilst they loiter in the stack. If left unaddressed,a beginner could go a whole session dormant in the stack.
It can even cause problems on D, I’ve seen a confident, aware beginner start poaching in the lanes of the stack, leaving their inactive attacker and successfully getting themselves loads of Ds, just to be told to go back to the stack, mark 1 to 1 and stop poaching because they’re breaking the stack (remember folks, standing in a straight line in a free movement field sport is super weird!).
Felix touches on another salient point in the Running A Taster Session video when he encourages session leaders to ‘fight the temptation to put order in the chaos’ by teaching stacks. A really basic stack can be tempting to teach because it’s so nice to have those wide open lanes instead of a clogged mess of beginners sprawled out in front of you. But prescribing the space rips away the opportunity for trusting players to learn to create and recognise space without clustering.
You may be thinking, ‘if I’m not gonna teach beginners stack then what will I even tell them to do on offence?’ And the answer to that is to tell them to get free and throw to free teammates. By telling beginners this, they get to find, create, and maintain space themselves, the same way they would in other popular team sports like football. Teaching beginners from day 1 to discover space means you develop players with a high ‘game IQ’, players that can get free, counter poaches, predict where opponents will move and position themselves to clog valuable space. Just the sort of player who would be excellent at exploiting a stack.
Noah Brinkworth is a coach, writer and production lead for Hive Ultimate.