Dream Cup – Point 9 – Analysis

This post was co-written with Robyn Wiseman.

Offensive talking points:

The biggest offensive strengths for HUCK this point were the consistent attacks of the inside lane and their use of effective faking to move their defenders and to switch grips.

Attacking the inside lane: One thing that elite Japanese women’s teams, in particular, are known for is their ability to attack the inside break. They take advantage of everyone else’s “defensively position yourself on the open side” mindset. You can watch every pass in HUCK’s possession that there is always one player, sometimes two players, moving into this space the moment a thrower catches the disc. They time it so they have their momentum attacking toward the break side for a quick, easy continuation away from the defenders. 

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At 0:08 when the throw is centered to the handler off of the pull.
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At 0:10 when the first cutter receives the disc (she doesn’t throw this, but there is someone there!).
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At 0:13 when the mark changes:

This continues until HUCK gets to the Redzone in possession 1 and we see the same sort of thing in transition immediately after they get the disc back in their second possession (0:56).

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Faking when necessary: In the US, we seem to have an obsession with pump faking to “communicate” with a cutter. Robyn points out that HUCK, on the other hand, pump fakes for one of two reasons:

1.) To switch grips: Huck doesn’t bother to pump fake when someone’s defender is face guarding or the mark is facing away from the thrower as they take away a continuation (that defender is already committed to only one option). You can watch a few separate times that I know in the US someone would have faked and chose not to. Here’s an example where the thrower pump fakes to switch grip and attack the middle of the field:

Opi shuts down the strike cut and stops looking at the thrower. Why would the thrower pump fake the receiver a second time?

2.) To make a well-positioned defender move: When a defender is pressuring more than one option and paying attention to the thrower the thrower will pump fake to make the defender choose.

Finney (#11) is pressuring both the inside and the around options. The defender waits until Finney looks, pump fakes to make her choose, and then takes the other option.
Manuela is poaching effectively on the break side and the thrower pump fakes to get her to commit to one option.

Here, HUCK illustrates the importance of faking to actually move the defender. Their fakes are believable due to their incredible wrist control and relatively simple throwing motion and they reserve these types of fakes for situations when a defender involved in the play is making eye contact with the thrower.

Most of the pump fakes throughout the game follow one of these two paradigms. A few times, you can see the thrower really wanted to throw it, but a crazy wind gust came in and they had to pull back the throw (https://gph.is/2vvtfDV). Throwers in the US who do a great job of this are Angela Zhu and Claire Chastain if you’re looking for other examples to model after!

Defensive talking points:

Fortunately, this point has a lot of great defensive points from the All-Stars. On the other hand, we aren’t able to see many defensive notes from HUCK due to an unfortunate gust of wind that causes the All-Star possession to be cut short. Two players I would like to highlight this point are Mish Phillips (#17) and Carolyn Finney (#11).

Mish Phillips (#17): Phillips defensive positioning and awareness throughout this point is incredible. She nearly gets a block on the second throw with great speed from the near side of the field. The rest of this possession we see her taking frequent checks at the disc and constantly adjusting to the space on the field which culminates in an easy D on an ill-advised hammer.

We love hammers more than anyone else, but given the conditions, this space is REALLY difficult to hit. The space is available with a backhand at 0:29 (after the pump fake toward the side line). The thrower should have attacked this space with an IO or flat backhand as shown below.

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Red line showing the best possible option for a throw, given the defensive positioning.

Carolyn Finney (#11): Showing this next gif again because it illustrates some great defensive awareness by Finney. After the turn, as the disc goes up to pink hat Finney is already looking down field to see where the next most dangerous options are coming from. She dives hard into the lane to take away an angle on the continuation while keeping her head on a swivel to observe how the HUCK players will react.  

I wasn’t in this game so it’s hard to say how I would have reacted in this moment, but given that Finney scanned downfield prior to the throw, I would have liked to see her switch with Hui (#90) to stop the continuation leading to the score instead of biting so hard to stop the inside shot.

All-Star’s Defensive strategy: Robyn and I had an interesting exchange on the All-Star defensive strategy here. From what I can hear, it sounds as if the sideline is calling ‘away’ and ‘home’ as the disc moves around the field, possibly signaling a force-middle defense. Robyn noted that a force-middle isn’t specifically geared to stop these inside shots that are so integral to the HUCK offensive strategy because FM is often used to stop continuations to the break side. What do you think? Is a FM an effective strategy here?

Contact: Comfort and Communication

“Ultimate is a non-contact disc sport played by two teams of seven players.” – The Official Rules of Ultimate (11th edition).

We have all heard the mantra, but everyone knows that contact in a game of ultimate is inevitable: fouls on the mark, bumps in the air when a two players are going up for a disc, collisions and picks in a sloppy vertical stack, the list goes on. These types of contact vary in severity and frequency; so, it is difficult as a coach or team leader to prepare your players for each one, individually. Not only that, but every player has a different background in sport and a different level of comfort with contact. As coaches and team leaders, it is our job to teach our players to reduce contact while preparing them for the inevitability of it.

The recent InsideOut Ultimate article brought to light not only the inherent danger of contact, but also strategies for addressing and managing contact to maintain contact that came down to four major steps: Recognize contact happens, prioritize player safety, be proactive by training for it, and be reactive by addressing avoidance and contact after it occurs (or doesn’t). To me, part three is the hardest and should therefore be given the most attention.

On Moose, we have a series of drills that simulate high contact play to increase every player’s experience and comfort with contact: the bump-and-grind. We usually do these drills in the spring after players develop better field awareness and start playing more competitive tournaments because this is usually when contact increases. These drills are not to teach us how to put on contact, rather to teach us how to play against it. Bonus: they’re actually a really good workout, trust me!

The first drill is a simple tweak to the three-person mark drill that many of you know where the mark is encouraged to (safely) cause as much contact with the thrower as possible. Light pushes and shoves are fair game, as are bear hugs. Throwers should be encouraged to throw through fouls and call them whenever they occur. While egregious contact like this may not be common in a game, we will be more comfortable communicating when contact does occur.

The second bump-and-grind is a take on the classic downfield, 1v1 defensive drill. As with the first drill, the defender is encouraged to (SAFELY!) cause as much contact as possible while the cutter is setting up their cut (although no bear hugs in this one). Light pushing, holding someone back with a stiff arm, or grabbing the cutter’s jersey (please don’t rip their clothes though) is all fair game, though we should call ‘foul’ if we believe it is warranted. Once again, we stress that this drill is not HOW we play, but we need to be comfortable playing against it and calling it out when it does occur.

If you’re looking for more resources for how to increase body awareness in your players, Ben Wiggins gave a great demonstration on body awareness and avoiding contact at YUCC 2014, including variations of the above drills. If you have time, you should watch the first half, which is about footwork; it’s similarly awesome and informative.

Thanks for reading! I’m interested to hear what other strategies you have used on teams you coach or play for to get your players more comfortable with avoiding and addressing contact.


From the Sideline: Horizontal Stack

As you read in the previous post (From the Sideline: Vertical Stack), the sideline is not an ideal place to be when we’re in a vertical stack. The same goes for the horizontal stack. By moving the disc toward the sideline, we are forcing ourselves to make all of our cuts and throws just much smaller windows than we would have if the disc were more toward the middle. For this reason, we want to maintain a balanced field position as much as possible by keeping the disc close to the middle of the field.

Of course, we will often find ourselves on the sideline. When we are there, remember we can either be on the wide side or the trap side. In either scenario, we want to have an efficient, structured way to work it back toward the middle of the field and onward (as in a swing). For this post, we will focus on how we want our handlers to be positioned on the wide side and the trap side when we are running a horizontal stack. Future posts will touch on the cutting movements we can make from these positions, and variations of these cuts.

Wide Side

When the disc is on the wide side, and we don’t necessarily need our handlers to be our first look, though they can be. Since we have a wide-open look at the field, we can use our cutters to initiate movement, but we don’t need to and this post will only focus on the situations when we finally do look at handlers for initiating movement.

The first thing we want to consider when we are on the wide side is our throwing lane. The farther you are up field as our first off handler, the more you have to engage your defender to keep them from narrowing our cutting lane. To this end, you should be certain that you are either a.) even with the disc and engaging your defender so they are paying attention to you and not the disc, or b.) far enough behind the disc where it would be foolish for them to poach off into the lane to challenge the throw (Figure 1). Losing 5-yd back to get it 7-10yd off the sideline is a win in our minds if it means you keep your throwing lane open.

Figure 1. Handler positioning options on the wide side (ho-stack). A.) even and active or B.) behind and ready to receive an easy throw.

The second off handler (X’s in Figure 1) should be positioned closer to the first off than the first is to the disc. Additionally, the second off ready to move as soon as the first off starts moving so we have multiple options for resets in quick succession. They should be even with the disc, regardless of whether or not the first off is behind or even.

Trap Side

            Positioning the handlers on the trap side is pretty straightforward. The spacing is similar: the first off wants to be closer to the second off than they are to the disc. In this case, the second off is still moving with the first off and responding to their moves; ready to be the backup in case the first off is covered. When the disc is on the trap side, the further you are away from it as an off handler, the further upfield you can be (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Handler positioning on the trap side (ho-stack). Notice that the further you are from the handler, the further upfield you are allowed to be.

In the next post, we will go over how to make cuts for the handler on the sideline followed by another post where we will discuss how we cut from a slant. Once we have laid out these principles, we will have a few posts discussing variations of each of these philosophies and then we will move on to more cutter oriented posts.

Once again, let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!

New terms used in this post:

first off – the handler closest to the handler with the disc when it is on the sideline
engage – remaining active with the goal of keeping your defender’s focus on you and not the disc
second off – the handler farthest from the disc when it is on the sideline

From the Sideline: Vertical Stack

Being on the sideline sucks – everyone knows that. It’s hard to figure out what cuts to make, what throws to try, etc. So, what can we do about it?

When talking about field position on the sideline, it is important that we all know what sideline we are talking about. There are two sides we can be on when the disc is on the sideline: the wide side or the trap side. The wide side is the sideline in which we have a wide open look toward the open side. We can also say that we are on the wide side when the disc is pushed all the way to the break side, but that takes too many words. The trap side is the sideline where the mark is trapping the disc on that sideline. We can also say we are on the trap side when the disc is pushed all the way to the open side but, again, too many words.

Regardless of the offensive formation we are running, it makes sense that being on the wide side would be more favorable, right? A wide open look at the field is much better than being stuck on the trap side between your mark and the sideline. However, the vertical stack sort of complicates both of these situations (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Vertical stack when the disc is on either the trap side (left) or the wide side (right).

When we are on the wide side (right panel of Figure 1), the stack feels like it is cutting off long throws toward the open side and the defense usually recognizes this and shifts their positioning slightly to make even the (normally undefended) break side cuts less viable. When we are on the wide side and the mark goes more or less flat, they cut off our throwing lane so we have to try to squeeze those open side throws into a much smaller window. Throws to the open side of the stack are dangerous because the disc has to travel farther and is any pass is more likely to get blocked. So, dang, what do we do?

When we are on the trap side (left panel), we are in a similar situation, but for different reasons. Our open side throws are difficult because we don’t have as much room to lead our cutters out to space for fear of throwing out of bounds, and they have little room to shake their defenders. The break side throws seem like a good option, right? However, when we are throwing around a mark, trying to place a 30-yard throw out to space over the stack is a difficult task. SO, WHAT CAN WE DO!?!?!?

We have a few different options: we can run a side stack to open up a ton of space in the middle of the field, but that leaves us only one side to cut to, or we can run set plays and hope the defense doesn’t read them well, oooorrrrr we can run a slant!

Figure 2. The slant on the wide side, attacking the endzone to the right of the image.

The beauty of the slant is two-fold: it reorients the field so we have much more space to work it back toward the middle, and it almost always gives us an easy reset. This is because most teams do not practice this play, and when you don’t practice something, it is hard to play perfect defense against it. We will go into the intricacies of the slant in a future post, but recognize that it can be run on either side of the field regardless of the force. When we run a slant, after we get it off the sideline, we should just return to a normal vertical stack offense.

Next post will be concerned with working the disc from the sideline in a horizontal stack. If you have any questions about the vertical stack or the slant, please put them in the comments below.

New terms used in this post:

flat – when the mark is oriented perpendicular to the sideline and forcing all throws toward the backfield.
slant – an angled stack with all six non-thrower players in a line.
trap side – when the disc is pushed all the way to the force side sideline.
wide side – when the disc is pushed all the way to the break side sideline.

Home Positions: Cutting Options

Remember from part one (Home Positions: Introduction) that we place our handlers in specific, balanced, positions so we have more than one cutting option at any given time. If you haven’t part one yet, please stop now and do so before you move on. These positions also attempt to keep our throwing lanes open and reduce the amount of poaches that we may encounter, or if we do see a poach, they give us clear choices on how to exploit that poach (in most cases). This post will not be an exhaustive list of the options that will be available to us in any given case. Instead, our goal is to give you a simple framework within which to work moving forward.

First, a few of the symbols we will use for describing cuts, throws, and players on the field. You have seen many of these in part one so far, but it is important we are on the same page moving forward.


There may be a number of cut options for a given scenario, and for each cut option there will most likely be at least one throw option. Therefore, until a cut is actually to be made, these options will be the dashed lines.

Vertical Stack

Remember that a vertical stack we are organized in such a way to leave wide throwing lanes for our handlers and to also leave cutting lanes on the open side and the break side for our cutter to work. When we are in our home positions, with one handler at a 45° angle behind the disc on the open side and the other handler as our anchor at the front of the vertical stack, we have four total throwing options for our reset, but three different cuts (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Cuts and throwing options from the home positions in the vertical stack. The diagram on the right shows the basic set-up of a vertical stack. Box (a) and (b) are zoomed in from the dotted box on the left. (a) cuts for the open side reset. (b) cuts for the anchor reset.

In a vertical stack the open side handler has two cutting options: either cutting for a ‘hardest throw‘ or making the ‘green cut‘. The anchor handler (front of the stack), however, is cut off from the open side by their defender, so they basically have one cutting option: toward the break side. In this case, the handler has two different throwing windows in which to hit that cut: inside or around. Since we place the stack slightly on the force side, the inside-out throwing window is our first option, and as the cut progresses more towards the break side, the around throw is the next option.

Horizontal Stack

Remember in a horizontal stack we are organized to leave space in front of and behind the stack with which to develop our cuts. This leaves us a lot of space in front of the disc for our handlers to get effectively get a reset

Figure 2. Cutting options from the home positions in a horizontal stack. The diagram at the top shows the basic set-up of the horizontal stack. Box (a) and (b) are zoomed in from the dotted box above. (a) cuts from the open side reset. (b) cuts from the break side reset.

In a horizontal stack each handler reset option has two choices on cuts they can make when they are ready to move. The open side handler has the same options as in the vertical stack: either straight up field for a ‘hardest’ throw or straight across the field for a dump (green cut). The break-side handler makes their cuts at a 45° angle relative to the sideline for either a strike (upfield) or a dump (backfield). In this diagram, the spacing is slightly collapsed, as in the cuts are drawn too close, but the relative angles are the most important part. For a dump cut from the break side handler, they want to be sure to cut back toward the direction from which they came to both make the throw into space a bit easier and to maintain momentum on the catch for the next throw.

Thanks for reading – If you have any questions please put them in the comments below!

New terms used in this post:

backfield – the space behind the disc relative to the endzone we are attacking
cutting lane – the space on either side of the vertical stack left clear for cuts to develop
hardest throw – an inside out throw to the force side (most often used when being forced forehand)
green cut – an easy dump that comes straight across behind the mark
poach – when one defender is guarding a space or a lane rather than playing strict person-to-person defense
upfield – the space between the disc and the endzone we are attacking

Home Positions: Introduction

Over the next few days I will be covering how we want our handlers to manage their spacing, timing and field position as the disc changes hands. Taz will be doing a similar series on how we want our cutters to manage the same topics. While a not all of you are cutters, and not all of you are handlers, many of these concepts are interconnected it is important to have a firm grasp on both aspects before we can meld well as a team.

The home positions are the positions that handlers are expected to start all of their cuts from. They are positions chosen to give us the most balanced field position and to give us the greatest number of options with which to run our handler offense. The home positions will change slightly based on field position, the force, and what offensive formation we are running on the current point, but the general idea is as follows. All diagrams below are based on the forcing toward the left side of the field (forehand if you’re a righty) and attacking an endzone below the image.


Figure 1 shows the home positions for the horizontal stack with the disc roughly in the middle of the field. These positions are chosen to give us wide throwing windows and many reset options. The open side handler should be at close to a 45° angle from the handler. If this is your position, one way to think about this is you want to be on a line that goes from the mark to the thrower to you. The break-side handler should be more or less even with the disc. The distance between the disc and each handler should be around 5-10 yd, with the open side handler on the closer end of that range and the break-side handler on the farther end of that range.


Figure 2 shows the home positions for the vertical stack with the disc roughly in the middle of the field. Because the vertical stack emphasizes break-side and open side cutting space, rather than deep space and under space, we move the break side handler in front of the disc as our anchor. The stack should be set at least 10-15yd away from the disc and slightly on the force side in order to leave our around and inside throwing window as open as possible.

As I stated above, one of the most important reasons we have these home positions is to maintain balance: balance in field position, balance in cutting options, and balance in throwing options. The next post in this series will go over how we use these balanced positions to make cuts from the home positions, how we will describe these cuts, and the advantage/disadvantage of each.

If you have any questions so far, please put them in the comments below.

New terms used in this post:

anchor – the handler at the front of the vertical stack.
a throw that breaks the mark on the backfield side. 
balance –
a position from which we have many options.
field position –
the position of the disc relative to the field and the force.
force –
defined by the mark, the direction it is generally easiest to throw.
horizontal stack –
an offensive formation that emphasizes space in front of (under) and behind (deep) the stack.
home positions –
positions of balance for our handlers to have the most options with which to work.
inside –
a throw that breaks the mark on the upfield side.
offensive formation – a way to organize our offense on the field.
reset – the handler (or cutter) we are looking for to reset the stall count.
vertical stack –
an offensive formation that emphasizes open-side and break-side space.

Full Circle: Why I Played, Why I Stayed (part 1)

Not many people know this story in its entirety, but in addition to being about my journey into and through ultimate, this is really the story of how one team helped get me where I am today, and to which I am eternally indebted.

East Lansing, MI circa 2008-2009. USA Ultimate is still the Ultimate Players Association, ultimate is still a sport where ‘no one will ever have the chance to go pro,’ man buns have yet to become a thing, and I am going into my senior year of High School at ELHS.

One day that year, a dear friend returned from her time at Michigan State University and dropped a bomb on my world. Her name was Tiff and she had just told me that she joined the Club Ultimate team at MSU, Infamous. Now, at this point, all I knew of ultimate was from pickup in and around the East Lansing area, so the fact that it was a competitive sport in college totally blew me away.

Tiff and her characteristic smile.

“You mean this isn’t just a sport for hippies and dogs?” I probably said, with a twinge of irony at the hippy comment as we were all toeing the line toward hippie-hood at that point. From that point on, I knew I wanted to try out for the men’s team at Western Michigan University, my eventual alma mater. I got on the computer that night and tried to find anything I could about the team: stats, contact information, whatever. I found out they had a team called ‘Dark Horse,’ and I joined that Fall.

As one of the few rookies who could already throw a forehand thanks to Tiff’s tutelage, I was quickly integrated into the team as a handler; big shoes to fill for a puny freshman like me. Practices went well, and I was immediately hooked on the sport – or so I thought. Quite the opposite of a traumatic experience, but engrained in my memory just as concretely, is the memory our car rounding a corner past a row of corn to see dozens of discs flying through the air, hundreds of players warming up, and beautiful grass fields as far as the eye can see amidst acres and acres of corn. This is the memory of my first Glory Days in October 2009. Realizing that this was for real, thousands of people REALLY play this sport, my captains weren’t just pulling my leg the past few months: this truly was the moment I fell in love with the sport. For the first time.

If you liked it, stay tuned for part two…