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.

ho_stack_wideside
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).

ho_stack_trapside
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).

vertstack_sideline
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!

slant_doge
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.

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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).

vert_options_both
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

ho_stack_options_both
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.

horizontal_stack_home

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.

vert_stack_home

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.
around
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.

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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…

Preparing for Tryouts (2/2): Finding and Filling a Role

This second post is part of a two-part series about preparing for tryouts.

This second part stemmed from a conversation I had with my fellow captains, Brandi and Jake, on how our roles evolved over the course of the season last year on Mishigami and hopefully it will help you on your way through your ultimate season this summer.

As you prepare for tryouts, it can be a little overwhelming to improve every aspect of your game in a few short weeks. We all have this idea of what we want our role to be on the team, but when it really comes down to assessing our individual strengths and weaknesses in the context of the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the team, our roles will likely morph into something different than we expect.

For my entire ultimate career before last season, I was a defensive handler, quick and sneaky. Prior to and during last season, I was running 15-20 miles per week with very little sprint training. As a result, I found my groove as a cutter rather than a handler and absolutely loved it.

Tryouts are all about showcasing your strengths and reducing the chances your weakness have to affect your game. In order to do so, it helps to take some time to really assess where you are as a player:

  • Where do you stand both physically (conditioning) and mentally (knowledge of the game)?
  • What are my weaknesses? What are my strengths?
  • What can I do to reduce the occurrence of my weaknesses?
  • What can I do to highlight my strengths?

As an assessment of myself based on the above questions: My biggest weakness right now are my long throws and my hops, and I believe my strengths are my knowledge of the game I have gained from coaching and my deceleration. To highlight my strengths, and reduce the chance of my weaknesses popping up, I would like to focus on transitioning back to a D-line handler this year so I am not counted on to make the bomb deep throws as often, and so I can leverage my knowledge of the game for defensive breaks.

In order to improve on my weaknesses, I am throwing every day and focusing on my body mechanics when I try to huck, and I am incorporating explosive movements (starting at body weight, followed by some added weight) into my lower and upper body workouts. To exemplify my strengths, I am watching a lot of ultimate and adding some deceleration specific drills to my warm-ups and my workouts.

Whatever it is that you need to work on, make sure to keep your workouts focused. If you see yourself as a cutter, 200-m repeats on a track are great to incorporate into your workout. Handlers, incorporate some 10-m accelerations and 40-m sprints into your workout.

Finally, on the note of filling whatever role you find yourself in this year, Alex Rummelhart wrote a nice article for Ultiworld last year entitled, “25 Tips for Being a Clutch Role Player” that addresses many of the things I’ve written above and more: give it a read if you get a chance.

If there is something you would like to work on but don’t know how, or if you’d just like to chat about what your potential role on the team could be, feel free to leave a comment below.

See you on the field,

Draco

Preparing for Tryouts (1/2): Throw. Every. Day.

This is part one of a two-part series on preparing for tryouts.

Regardless of whether you would like to cut or handle on your team, the most effective thing you can do to improve your chances at tryouts is to throw every day. If you plan to cut, at some point, you should plan to catch and throw the disc downfield or otherwise. If you plan to handle, you will of course be expected to do a lot of throwing in games.

However, it is not enough to just go to the park with your friends and throw back and forth with no focus. This will help your general form on your backhands and forehands, but without the pressure, or imagined pressure, of a game-type situation, these general adjustments will not translate much to perfecting your in-game throws. Instead, throw with a purpose and throw for improvement.

What do I mean by that?

Throw with a purpose: Throw as if you had a mark on you, step out, throw some imaginary fakes then pivot and throw. Every throw should be 100%. Even if you’re going to throw a silly high release chicken wing do it as best as you can, don’t just goof off on it. Who knows, one day you might see a perfect opportunity to use that high release chicken wing in a game, but if you haven’t practiced it at game speed, going 100%, you will certainly fail in your execution at game time.

Throw for improvement: While this sort of goes directly off of the above; identify something you’re having trouble with, break it down into small pieces, then work on each of them individually. Aspects of Ben Wiggins’ Zen Throwing Routine and the Kung Fu Throwing Routine developed by Lou Burruss and Mike Caldwell are great things to add to every throwing session you have. Both of these routines can help to improve not only the range of throws you are capable of, but also the consistency and balance with which you throw your traditional FH/BH throws.

If you can’t find a friend who is free to throw with, here are a few things you can try on your own:

  • Target practice: Set up a target downrange (15-20 yd) – could be a spot on a tree, a cone on the ground, your dog – and throw flat backhand and forehand reps (10 or 20 at a time) at the target. Focus on a smooth, consistent release and flight path each time. Back up by 5-yd after each 10 or 20 rep set until your form starts to break down or you miss the majority of your throws.
    • Note: With a cone on the ground, you can either aim to have your throw be flat and off the ground until it reaches the cone, or you can try to land it within 2-3ft of the cone.
    • Bonus: focus on a specific curve for your flight path, alter release point (both distance from body and from ground).
  • Maximum Time Aloft (MTA): MTAs require a relatively steady wind (10-15 mph) for the best results. Simply throw the disc as hard as you can up and into the wind and try to have it come back to you without moving. For working on a smooth, flat release on your pulls and also helps with reading a high, floaty disc.
    • Bonus: try to catch the disc with one hand, on one foot or in a layout for added fun.
  • Throw, Run, Catch (TRC): Similar to an MTA, but you are trying to get the disc about 50-70+ yd downfield and to catch it in stride. The basic theory behind this is this: if you can throw a 70-yd backhand and catch it before it hits the ground, you can run down your pull and be on the mark before the offense gets set or gets any free throws off.

If you have any questions, or other suggestions for throwing routines, please feel free to comment!

Draco