Videos are available on the YouTube channel
Danny Karlinsky #23 has the disc for Sockeye against Revolver in the Final of USAU Nationals 2015;
In the short video below, we break down what exactly happens in the six seconds leading up to the throw (audio at the end):
You can watch “Crazy” Frank Huguenard and Felix Shardlow’s full analysis of the USAU Nationals 2015 Final here – also check out the discussion on reddit.
We’re all familiar with the following situation; our team has turned over, the player we’re marking is walking to the disc, we’re putting a force on, and our sideline helpfully advises “No breaks!”
Photo by Graham Shellswell from The ShowGame
At this moment in time, not being broken is pretty much your only aim. If there was one thing you were planning on avoiding for the next few seconds, it’d be being broken by the thrower. You know this is not an easy task, but you’re going to try your hardest. You’re remembering the release points of your mark, you’re glancing over your shoulder to visualise the potential threats, and you have an extra pair of eyes on the sideline to help you. What do they say? No breaks. Guess you’re to blame if you get broken then – the instructions couldn’t be clearer.
Another situation we’re all familiar with – the opponents break the force, and the shout of “No breaks!” rings out again – usually in a more whiney tone. The force has already been broken – all the shouter is doing is releasing their frustration in a commonly acceptable way. You wouldn’t shout “Don’t get scored on!” before or after the opponents score, would you? Everybody knows what you were trying to do, and that you didn’t succeed in doing it – no need to state the obvious.
The real fallacy of ‘No Breaks’ isn’t in how obvious, unhelpful, or useless it is as a hindsight, but in the near-impossibility of the request. When two players of comparable ability face up against each other, the thrower will be able to break the force. We’ve all been part of drills since we were beginners where breaking the force is a given. The three-man break-force drill doesn’t pose any real challenge to the throwers – without any restrictions on time and space, breaking the force is easy, and stopping all break throws is incredibly difficult.
Photo by Simon Crisp
The sideline have access to far more information. They can see space developing behind the force, and instruct the mark to move to prevent throws to this space. Conversely, they can also see where covered cuts or crowded areas are behind the force, and instruct the mark to force throws to go towards these areas. Sideline players can identify a free offence player cutting and provide very timely shouts to help the force prevent the ‘easy’ throws to them.
Photo by Christine Rushworth from The ShowGame
Most higher level teams have their own lexicon for communicating some of this information – ‘left hand / right hand‘, ‘around / inside’, ‘strike‘ and ‘spoil‘ / ‘no huck’ calls are quite common, and each are useful for encouraging the force to concentrate on taking out a particular throw at a particular time – infinitely more useful than a ‘no break’ shout. This allows the force to direct their efforts in the most effective way.
The sideline can also help the force by letting them know more general / less situation-specific information, so as what the thrower’s preferred throws are – if they’ve been using high releases to devastating effect, then communicating ‘high hands‘ can benefit the defence. If the thrower is going into the wind, then ‘low hands’ can force higher release points, therefore tougher upwind throws.
At the next opportunity when your team mate is stepping up to put a force on, trust that they know the basics of the task at hand, and communicate to them using the info they can’t see or hear for themselves. It’s time we heard the last of “No Breaks”.
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.
- Aim for perfection – both hands touch the center of the disc at the same time, fingers splayed, watch disc into hands
- Use legs to move body / jump / go to ground to get the centre of your chest behind the disc
- Angle of the disc determines which hand goes on top
- When catching at chest, body acts as a backboard in case the catch is slightly missed
- When catching out to the side, your palm/wrist should act as the backboard
Most people have a preferred way of clap catching – practice the other way until you are comfortable with both
- Makes the disc easier to catch
- Means you can lead receivers more by throwing to space
- Inaccuracy is less likely to result in a turnover
- Opens up many more throwing options
Practice adding touch by pulling your arm back as you release your throws
Almost all scores and turnovers in well-matched Ultimate games are down to throws & catches. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the years throwing around, and yet I still learn something new every time I go out for a chuck around. For the purposes of improving your throwing and catching, the most important things I’ve learnt are:
(1) make throwing around a habit,
(2) have an idea of what ‘ideal’ technique is,
(3) know how to learn & improve effectively.
Even if just for a minute or two, even if you just throw to yourself in your bedroom – get some hand-on-disc time every day, and make a mental note if you miss a day. You can throw casually or intensely, work on something new or practice something learnt, throw with randoms or with team mates, so long as you make throwing around a habit, you will have taken the first big step to becoming a much improved thrower & catcher. Find out what motivates you and run with it – perhaps meeting up with someone in particular to throw, perhaps getting some sun towards the end of the day – whatever will be sustainable motivation for you.
Once you’re out and throwing around regularly, the second step is to give yourself purpose – are you trying to throw & catch with perfect technique, or are you pushing your limits / experimenting with variety? Are you still weaker catching with your non-dominant hand? Can you clap catch equally well with either hand on top of the disc?
Train for what will be best in a game, including practicing faking before throwing
“Perfect practice makes perfect”, so your ‘ideal’ technique must be as balanced and efficient as possible. Variety can help shore up your technique and make you better at adapting to non-standard situations – as defenders always create these – but you should always be aware of what the ideal technique is in a standard situation, and aim to be able to replicate it flawlessly, both for catching and throwing. Practicing faking before throwing is important too – faking different throws to different places before executing a variety of throws will get your body familiar with making game-like movements.
Start every fake or throw from the power stance / neutral stance
The power stance is where you stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, disc held flat at your waist, with hands at 11 and 1’o’clock, and all fingers on both hands tucked under the rim. This means you are already coiled to throw quick lefty or righty backhands, and ready to pivot / set up your body for regular backhands / flicks / hammers / off-hand backhands in a balanced manner.
By training to throw every throw from the power stance, and conditioning yourself to get into the power stance whenever you catch the disc in a game, you are normalising game situations (bringing them as close to throw-around situations) as much as possible whilst also maximising your options on the field.
Finish throws in a balanced stance
After releasing the disc, hold your final stance for three seconds, to emphasise balance. If you are releasing the disc from a balanced position then your consistency and ability to adapt or turn the throw into a fake goes way up. Make sure you can perform every type of throw finishing in a balanced position. Once you’ve got the hang of this, practice doing the opposite – practice pushing off and running as soon & as fast as you can after each release.
Throwing motion technique
4 consecutive stages to work on, whether you’re a beginner or experienced – it’s always worth revisiting these stages one by one:
Footwork: for both backhand and flick – step perpendicular to your target, point both feet towards the direction of your step (or slightly towards the side of your throwing hand), and bend your knees to get your hips / centre of mass close to the floor. Stay balanced.
Grip: for backhand, all fingertips should be under the rim, resting in the crease between the rim and the underside of the disc. When changing to flick, it is most efficient if the tips of the index and middle fingers do not move – so when the disc is cocked back, the tips of the index and middle finger are still resting in the crease, the thumb stays clamped down on the top of the disc, and the ring and pinky shift to clamp the outside of the rim for stability. Changing grip from backhand to sidearm & back must be practiced, and can be practiced virtually anywhere*, until it feels smooth and controlled. The forward movement of a flick should begin as soon as the grip has changed – do not hesitate with the disc in a flick grip – this means the ring and pinky finger sometimes do not get involved.
* there are many productive things you can do with a frisbee whilst waiting for food to cook or watching an episode of something: smooth grip changing, clap catching both ways, clap catch transitioning into backhand grip, flick muscle training, and generally becoming familiar with the size, shape, weight, and rigidity of the disc helps with catching.
Release: the meat of a throw comes from the core, with a fairly relaxed arm/wrist only adding fine adjustments – make sure you are rotating your core/shoulders for both flick and backhand. When fully wound up, the disc should be at the same angle and on the same plane you want the release to be, and as you bring it forward, the disc should move in a straight line towards the target & not change angle – this transfers your energy into the velocity in the most efficient manner, and reduces the negative effect of an accidental early or late release. You should wind up as you are stepping, and release just after your foot hits the floor – “step-throw” not “step, throw” or “stepthrow”.
Spin: once you’ve been through the above stages, one remains: Spin. Keep adding more and more spin to your throw. You can’t put too much spin on an accurate throw. “Touch” video.
Technique for a fake should be identical to technique for a throw, as the realism is directly related to how effective the fake is on the field.
The “perfect” area to aim for on your receiver is the neck – this is the mid-way point between the ground and the extent of their reach when they jump, so this is the point which has the highest margin for error, therefore the safest throw.
From your power stance to the furthest back point of your wind-up, the disc should be taking the most direct path, without changing orientation or hesitating at any point. If you rotate the disc on any axis not perpendicular to the ground during your wind-up, hesitate with your flick cocked back, move the disc up and down, hold your backhand far away from your body whilst winding up, or do anything else unnecessary with the disc or your body, you have “baggage” on your throw and you should be working to get rid of it to maximise the efficiency of your throwing technique.
Catching technique: Get your body behind the disc, with shoulders facing the point of catch
The clap catch is the safest way to catch, and Ultimate is a possession game. Different situations require different types of clap catch – you should always provide a ‘backboard’ for the disc, stopping its velocity with your body or your wrist even if it were to continue past your hands – this affects which hand you should place on top. For example, a flat disc which is going to pass at head height a meter to your right should be caught with right hand on top, so your right wrist acts as a backboard. If the disc is passing on your right at thigh height, left hand on top will mean your right wrist acts as a backboard again. Grip transition times are negligible compared to the importance of making sure of the catch.
Another variable which affects the way to clap catch is the angle of the disc. Position your body so the disc will be coming straight towards you (rather than slicing across), and if the disc is tilting to the left, catch left hand on top – if tilting right, catch right hand on top. This avoids you having to twist your arms and wrists awkwardly. Aim for perfection – have both hands contacting the disc at the exact same time, in the centre of the disc, without changing the angle the disc was flying at.
Crab catch with two hands:
Crab catching is the quickest way to catch, so is critical in any pressure situations. If the disc is still above face height when you are at the top of your jump, crab catch with thumbs under the disc. If it is still below hip height when you crouch, crab catch with thumbs on top of the disc.
To make your crab catches safer and easier, align your shoulders with the angle of the disc. For example if a slightly bladey righty hammer comes in high (tilting to the left), you want to rotate at your core so your left shoulder is lower than your right, thus both arms can be at full symmetrical extension with no extra wrist/shoulder rotation needed when you catch. Where possible, get your eyes on the same plane & tilt as the disc too.
Technique, range, variety and reps are key elements to effective throwing & catching practice. Simply working on technique + reps is useful for consistency in ‘perfect’ conditions, but won’t make you a great catcher/thrower. Working on range & variety – developing versatile and well-rounded skills – will make you more consistent in all situations on the Ultimate field. There are so many variables which can affect the situation in a game that ‘perfect’ conditions are not common. “Perfect practice” in this case actually involves preparing yourself for non-standard situations. Here are a few methods for improvement which I’ve found particularly helpful:
This is far and away the best & fastest way to improve your throwing and catching on your own accord. If you tend to do something one way, or if a throw goes wrong in a particular way, overcompensate and make sure you do it to the opposite extreme – do it wrong the other way – and you will quickly find the middle ground. If it goes wrong three times in the same way, get it wrong three times in the opposite way before continuing – try to even out your errors to 50% either way.
The rule of overcompensation applies to pretty much everything, from specific details (if your throws often go outside-in, try extreme inside-out angled throws), to wide-ranging statements (if you don’t clap catch enough, try to clap catch too much – where a crab catch would be appropriate). A list of throwing/catching modifications to experiment with, and ways in which to overcompensate, can be found at the end of this article.
“In the zone” catches
Athletes are able to pull off seemingly impossible moves because they plan and visualise them before they execute them, and then make minor adjustments to their plan dynamically whilst executing them – simplifying the whole process, which has the effect of making it seem like reality is happening in slow-motion in their minds. It’s called being ‘in the zone’ and it’s a fantastic feeling. Here’s how to do it:
As soon as the disc is thrown, read it and make a detailed plan for the catch. Decide (a) exactly how you are going to catch it – what angle it will be at, what type of catch you are going to execute, where on the disc your contact will be, and even what parts of your hands are going to touch it first, (b) exactly where you are going to catch it – are you going as high/early as possible, as safe as possible (chest behind clap catch), as early / late as possible, or something else – this changes how you approach it. Plan out each step you are going to take before the catch and begin to execute that plan immediately.
In the second after the disc is thrown, you will get a better read, and will have to make modifications to your plan – make these changes as early as possible, so that they can be as slight as possible, and the overall plan becomes clearer as it doesn’t have to change very much. These modifications continue right up until the catch, and get smaller and smaller. A benefit of knowing what the ‘ideal’ technique is that you won’t need to abandon your plan if it goes slightly wrong – you’ll just need to make a modification (unless something unexpected happens). By the time your hands contact the disc, you will have subconsciously prepared so well that the catch will look easy.
Throwing for distance
For distance, you either need more inside-out angle on your technique, or you need more power on your throw. If your ‘long’ throws are turning outside-in, change your technique to release the disc more inside-out, focusing on spin, aiming to get the disc landing at an inside-out angle. When your long throws begin landing inside-out, you can then focus on adding power to the throw – until they are turning outside-in again. Add power by dropping your shoulder, rotating your core, and ‘snapping’ your core (rotationally) as powerfully as you can. Repeat this two-stage process indefinitely to increase the distance of your throws.
Expand your range and variety
Push your limits in every way you can think of – for every limit you can think of, there is an overcompensation limit you can also push, and it will all help you be a well-rounded and versatile thrower & catcher. I’ve listed some below (print & take to your throw-around), however this is by no means an exhaustive list and I recommend you come up with your own!
Long throws | Short throws
Outside-in | Inside-out
[extreme inside-out or outside-in throws are hard to read and/or catch for your throwing partner, but are good practice for both]
Neutral balanced | Directionally balanced
Spin | Speed
Spin | No Spin
Speed | No Speed
Release wide as possible | Release close to your body
Release as quick as possible | Release in slow motion
Core only | Arm only | Wrist only
Catcher doesn’t have to move hands | Catcher has to read & sprint instantly
High release | Low release
Forward pivot | Backwards pivot
Quick release | Slow release
As high as possible | As low as possible
RH on top clap | LH on top clap
Clap | Crab
Close to body | Far from body
Early catch | Safe catch
Early move | Late move
Positioning for jump | for chest-high clap | for ankle-high catch
“Correct” catching | “Incorrect” catching
Zero preparation | Excess preparation
Early static positioning | Three-step-approach jump
Three-step-approach jump: Towards disc | Perpendicular to | In the direction the disc is travelling
Work on weaknesses | Work on strengths
Totally sober | Not sober
Exerting maximum energy | Exerting minimum energy
Max number of discs – quick thinking | One disc aiming for perfection – pressure
If you prefer more structure to your throw-around sessions, you can print & follow the “Throwing for Greatness” doc copied below, created by Megan Hurst & Felix Shardlow around 2013:
Throwing for Greatness
Comfortable, warming up throws but still focused – ie. proper pivots, moving body to make catches, making EFFORT. No sloppy throwing. No sloppy catching either: use the correct hand, clap catching or two-handed crab when you can.
Platinum 100s – stand 15m apart, circle around each other gradually, and each throw:
10x flat backhands, 10x flat sidearms
10x outside-in (rollcurve) backhands, 10x outside-in sidearms
10x inside-out backhands, 10x inside-out sidearms
Then, at a distance you are comfortable with:
10x pop passes (spread fingers under disc and lift as you throw backhand – also called toss pass)
10x off-hand backhands (do not pivot outwards, throw lefty if you’re right handed & vice versa)
1. FOCUS on: Release points
Your completion rate should drop in this section – it’s about pushing yourself past your limits. Throws are meant to feel awkward. View this as good catching practice as well!
10 sidearms, 10 backhands released…
– as low as you can
– as far away from your body as you can
– as high as you can
2. FOCUS on: Catching the frisbee-disc
10x sidearms to off-hand catches
10x backhands to off-hand catches
10x roll-curves to awkward (but correct) clapcatches
Jump ball – standing slightly less than your hucking distance apart, throw long, high discs to each other. Throw roll-curve and IO, practice attacking these and catching at the peak of your jump, or on your way down.
It’s better to have a few go over your head before you catch one correctly, than to constantly catch them safely. Read the disc early, plan your approach, jump to your max.
20x catch attempts (discount poor throws)
3. FOCUS on: Faking before throwing
Fake on opposite side before each throw. Make sure your fakes are believable – sharp snap of the wrist on fake, wide pivot and low as possible for both, try to remain balanced.
20x sidearms, 20x backhands.
Stretch to warm down afterwards.
If you’re pushed for time, chop out one of the sections, but make sure you don’t always chop the same one.
Optional extras: pulling practice, hucking practice. If you want to huck or pull in games you will need to practice it between trainings. For these bigger throws, make sure you warm up your arms a little more beforehand.
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.
- Always take the open pass / what the defenders give you, regardless of:
– yardage / field position
– stall count
- Face infield so you can see all of your team & all of the movement / passing options available
- Fake to cuts you cannot, for any reason, complete a pass to
- Create space for your team mates by moving, even when closely covered
- Make equilateral triangles
- Do not [allow defenders to] surround the disc
- Stay connected to your team mates without crowding them
- Take what your defender gives you – move & signal with hands
- Move quickly into space as you see it developing
- Be constantly heads-up, on your toes, and aware of the play & your surroundings
- Respond to fakes – change direction, clear space
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…
(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.97 28/04/2015
Also available in French / en Français
Flexagon approaches defence from a new angle, bringing together elements of person-to-person defence and zonal defence. Flex is neither “man” nor “zone” – it’s a hybrid, with its own set of principles. In Ultimate, offence has the advantage, and gaining the upper hand on defence requires utilising a combination of athleticism, positioning, and teamwork. Person defence is weighted towards athleticism, zonal defence is weighted towards positioning, whilst Flexagon defence is weighted towards using teamwork to capitalise on any inefficient movement or positioning by the offence.
The 3 Flex Principles
- eye contact – keep your head up
- Switch / sandwich with a team mate where appropriate
- Prepare to switch marks early – pre-empt offensive movement if possible
- Only leave your mark if you know they will be covered, and you know who you will be covering next
- Surround (sandwich) offensive players who are near each other
- Cover all offensive players as a team
- All individuals should be marking one specific player unless sandwiching (not marking a space/position)
- Leave no offensive player unmarked
- Get help if trying to cover two players
- Avoid defensive double-coverage
Positions are highly flexible as they are largely dependant upon the position of the offensive players, however the underlying structure can be described as a 2-3-2.
- 2 forwards
- 2 wings
- 2 backs
- 1 hat (central player)
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”.
Positions can and should switch during a possession – quite often it makes more sense for a defender to stick with their mark as they move across the field, rather than to switch – other defenders should adjust accordingly. A defender may start as a ‘back’, then transition into the ‘hat’ position, and end up as a ‘forward’. Abiding by the principles makes these dynamic positional switches possible.
If the offence sets up in a 3-4 formation, then the Flex will also resemble a 3-4 formation – more on this in Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies.
The force – if the disc is near the middle then force towards the middle, if the disc is near the sideline then force towards the line – this leaves defenders on either shoulder of the force in both situations. It’s not always a ‘forward’ player that puts the force on – when the disc is near the line, it’s likely that a ‘wing’ will put the force on – depending on the position of the other offensive and defensive players.
Switching / Sandwiching
When offensive players are near to each other, they are inefficiently positioned, and the defence should look to punish this by surrounding (sandwiching) them – ensuring they are using the same number of defenders as there are offensive players. If the offensive players are spread out & utilising the space on the field, the defence is best positioned tighter to the players, and should not attempt to sandwich.
When offensive players move towards each other, or towards defenders, they are moving inefficiently, and the defence should look to punish by switching their marks. This conserves energy, and creates an opportunity for a block as the defence is approaching from an unexpected angle. If the offensive players are moving to space, then the defenders should not attempt to switch marks.
Want videos of Flex in action, or vocal explanations and stuff? Keep updated through the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel.
Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48:
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