Why Chaos And Risky Defence Are Better In Ultimate

Here’s the thing. We all play frisbee for different reasons, and my main reason is to have fun. So I don’t belong on a competitive team with winning as the primary focus. If I can win AND have fun, great. But I’d rather have a shit ton of fun, take big risks, try to build momentum and win or lose in epic fashion.

So with that in mind, I’m personally developing a playing style more aligned with massive risk-taking. This means paying way more attention to the thrower at all times, and trying to read what’s going to happen in order to do something about it. I leave my man to feel basically unguarded. Sure, I’m close-ish, but I’m playing with space. I’m poaching, trying to make my man look as attractive a throw as possible while staying confident that I can cut off the throw mid-flight. And if they throw over me, that’s more time for me to recover careless positioning.

At this point, I’d say (just as a wild guess) I’m able to see a play coming 30% of the time, and the majority of the time I’m completely wrong and out of position. But that’s OK with me, because I feel pretty strongly that if I’m able to drop my player and make an interception, the momentum gained by my team is far greater than the momentum lost by me being out of position and a pass being completed (even for a point). Being out of position is not spectacular, it doesn’t generally create a strong reaction. But bidding for an interception (and even missing) creates a sense of “swinging for the fences” that spreads throughout the team. I think this makes a team more volatile, more dangerous, and more fun.

I think it’s a mistake for a beginner team to try an play a “controlled” game. I don’t think there’s enough to be gained by playing safely, making only “sure throws” to justify that approach as a team’s strategy. New players, if given license to throw bombs in a game, gain a shit ton more confidence and valuable handling experience than if they’re pressured into always making safe throws (and dumps) to veteran handlers.

No team, ever, has been ignited by safely walking the disc into the end zone. On the other hand, even the opposing team will get up and scream for a spectacular layout D block.

Defending the end zone presents even juicier opportunities to read the play, and abandon your player, and make a bid for glory. Because you’re covering a smaller part of the field, I think it’s actually easier to poach hard in the end zone (providing you’re taking away the easy “in” throws and forcing the handler to put the disc over you, thus building the necessary time to catch up if you made a mistake).

Here’s my final argument for why poaching is better than not poaching:

Imagine a situation where all the players on the defending team are able to predict the throw a second before it’s released. This gives them all enough time to begin sprinting to the point on the field the disc is headed, leaving all players undefended but the player trying to receive the disc. Assuming the defender marking the disc doesn’t make the block, you have the defenders in immediate proximity to the handler reacting to the handler alone. This means bodies getting in the path of the throw (which we’re assuming is happening). So let’s then assume that none of those nearby defenders were able to block or intercept the disc, we now have all the mid-and-deep positioned defenders reacting to the receiver – who now has to make a fairly difficult catch due to being outnumbered by defenders. Yes, if the catch is made, the entire rest of the team is open. That’s the risk. But I still think that a team being able to collectively react to one throw at a time, and isolating/outnumbering the two offensive players involved in that pass, creates a defensive advantage. It also introduces a level of unpredictability for the offence to deal with, and as those of you who’ve played with me know, I’m a huge fan of creating a sense of chaos! I love when the other team is yelling “Man! No, Zone! No, Uh… What the fuck are they doing?”

We’ve all played “Man” and “Zone” and I think it’s time to embrace a new and somewhat random system where we’re thinking less about zones and players, and more about flight paths and developing a poaching mindset (admittedly structured almost exactly as a zone would be). I want to do some strange shit. I want to leave the handler unmarked (if we have a lead!) and double up on the in-cuts.

I want to see the game evolve.


Slow Motion Ultimate Frisbee Pulls

It’s funny how I’ve never noticed how much a player’s “approach” factors into the force they generate during a pull. But after watching this footage it’s obvious that footwork plays a huge role in adding distance into a throw.

There seems to be a consistent “big last step” in which all that lateral force is planted into the lead foot and translated into torque. It looks like everyone instinctively does this. To get even more yardage, it looks like many players also “hop” into that big last step, probably storing even more elastic energy in their muscles and tendons during those last microseconds of their wind up.

One thing that’s really interesting to watch is what the “non” frisbee hand is doing. For backhand pullers, most of them seem to be using two hands to wind up, then (obviously) letting go with the non-throwing hand at the moment the forward twist begins. For my forehand throw, I actually seem to use my left arm to generate whiplash and “pre-trace” the path which the disc will take. Super strange!

Become A Plastic Magnet in 12 Minutes

This drill will turn your hands into plastic-magnets. And yes, contrary to popular believe, plastic IS magnetic. Watch the video for proof.

Ultimate frisbee players are handicapped much in the way football players are – it’s tough to improve throwing and catching skills without a buddy, nice weather, and lots of space. Getting way better at frisbee doesn’t need to depend upon the availability of friends. You can jack up your skills by yourself, in your own backyard.

For this drill I’ve isolated the pop pass for practicing. If the Backhand is King and the Flick is Queen, the humble (but important) pop pass is certainly on the dais during every feast. It just doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

flick backhand pop pass

A new player using a strong fake followed by a reliable pop pass (to a dump or up field) can damn near eliminate typical short range errors. Short range flicks and backhands, by contrast, are tough to catch and difficult to throw. So we pop.

This pop pass/catch drill is designed to improve the certainty with which you:

  1. Throw pop passes at super short range.
  2. Catch single-handed on both sides.

So, as promised, here’s the video for turning your hands into PLASTIC MAGNETS:

Top 8 Ultimate Frisbee Rule Mistakes

Apparently I’ve been totally wrong about a handful of frisbee rules for as long as I’ve been playing.

The problem is, like most players, my rules knowledge had been shabbily constructed through a telephone game of what other players claimed they knew about the rules. So, finally, I’ve studied the rules myself and discovered some pretty glaring discrepancies between what I thought I knew and how the actual rules go.

Below I list my top 8 forehead-slapping, “I totally had that all wrong” rule misconceptions. I’ll bet you’ll find a shocker in here too! I’ve included linked annotations referencing The Official Rules of Ultimate 11th Edition so you can double-check my findings.

Defenders Can’t Call “Pick” on the Throw

I’ve seen a defensive player call a “pick” when their path to a disc in flight was obstructed by offensive players, so the defensive player’s interception attempt was unsuccessful. So they called a pick.

(II.G): (i) A defender who turns away from an offensive player and begins focusing on and reacting to the thrower is no longer guarding that offensive player.

So as soon as a defender turns to focus on the thrower, that defender has lost his ability to call a pick (because he can’t call a pick on the thrower (because the thrower is stationary)).

Pick calls are contestable.

A pick can be contested just like any other infraction (XVI.B). Grounds for contesting a pick might include that the picked player was not within 3 meters of or was not guarding (II.G) the receiver at the time of the pick. However, unless the defense retracts their call, the outcome is the same (play stops, and the disc must go back to the thrower if the defense believes that the pick affected the play). – Peri Kurshan, chair of UPA Standing Rules Committee. (link)

Picks come in at the count +1 (or 6 if over 5).

(XIV.A.5.b.1) If a stall count is interrupted by a call, the thrower and marker are responsible for agreeing on the correct count before the check.  The count reached is the last number fully uttered by the marker before the call. The count is resumed with the word stalling followed by the count reached plus 1 or 6 if over 5.

Contact Is Allowed

The big misconception is that there is no contact allowed at all in ultimate frisbee, and that’s flat out not true. There can be contact, even hard contact, so long as the contact does not affect a player’s ability to make the play they were attempting to make.

(II.H) Incidental contact: Contact between opposing players that does not affect continued play.

(XVI.H.2) Contact resulting from adjacent opposing players simultaneously vying for the same unoccupied position, is not in itself a foul.

So if an offensive player jumps for the disc and while in the air collides with a defender, even forcibly, but neither player’s ability to play the disc was hindered, and both players agree it was not a dangerous play, there is no foul on the play. Their contact was incidental.

“Boxing Out” is Allowed

Yes, you can “box out” a player from catching the disc. So if two players are jockeying for a disc, the front player can block the player behind her from getting to the disc, so long as she is also making a general effort to make a play on the disc. It’s only when the front player is solely blocking the back player that she is committing a foul.

(XVI.H.3.c.1) When the disc is in the air a player may not move in a manner solely to prevent an opponent from taking an unoccupied path to the disc. (i)

(i) Solely. The intent of the player’s movement can be partly motivated to prevent an opponent from taking an unoccupied path to the disc, so long as it is part of a general effort to make a play on the disc. Note, if a trailing player runs into a player in front of him, it is nearly always a foul on the trailing player.
“if a defender is playing the disc (e.g. looking at and reacting to the trajectory of the disc in order to make the catch/D), they are allowed to move into unoccupied space for the purpose of preventing their opponent from taking that space (ie- “boxing out”), since they are not solely playing their opponent.” (link)

Double Teaming Distance is Measured to the PIVOT

We can all be a little closer in the cup. It’s not 10 feet to the foremost body part of the thrower, it’s 10 feet to the thrower’s pivot.

(XIV.B.2) Double-team: If a defensive player other than the marker is within three meters of any pivot of the thrower without also being within three meters of and guarding another offensive player, it is a double team.

The Disc is a Body Part

(II.O.3) A disc in a player’s possession is considered part of that player. (i)

(i) Thus, hitting the disc in a player’s possession is a foul
So if the mark hits any part of the thrower, the thrower can call “foul“. Play is stopped and the mark either contests that they hit the thrower or the foul is uncontested. Uncontested, the count resets to “Stalling… 1”. Contested, the count comes in at the count reached + 1 or 6 if over 5.

Disc Space, Fast Count, Double Team, etc. Do Not Stop Play, but “Violation” Does

(XIV.B.5) Fast count, double team, disc space, and vision blocking are marking violations.

And the mark must continue their count 1 lower than the last spoken number or 6 if over 5. Eg: “stalling 1, 2, 3″ “fast count” “2, 3, 4…”

(XIV.B.7) When a marking violation is called, play does not stop. The violation must be corrected before the marker can resume the stall count (i)

What if the mark keeps making violations in the same stall count?

Every time a marking violation, such as the ones mentioned, occurs and is called by the thrower, the marker must do two things- correct the marking violation before resuming the stall count, and drop the count by one (XIV.B.7). For example, if the marker said “four” and the thrower said “discspace”, the marker must first correct the illegal marking position, and having done that can resume the stall count with “three”. If the marker does not correct the marking violation, repeats the same violation or engages in a different marking violation, the thrower may continue to call the name of the specific marking violation, and each time, the marker must respond in the way just explained. However, once a thrower has called one marking violation in a given stall count, if the marker continues to be in violation of any marking rules (XIV.B.1-5), the thrower can stop play by calling “violation” (XIV.B.8). This not only stops play, but the stall goes back to zero (unless the violation is contested). This rule (new to the 11th edition) allows greater flexibility to the thrower, who can choose whether to stop play by calling “violation” or merely to stop/reduce the stall count by calling the name of the specific violation. (link)

Tipping to Other Players is Allowed

I can’t intentionally tip or bobble the disc to myself, but I can absolutely (and intentionally) tip to my teammates. Mind. Blown.

(XV.A) (i) Tipping, brushing, etc. to someone else is legal. It is legal to tip/brush your own throw. However, if after a tip/brush, one is the first player to touch the disc, then it is deemed a tip/brush to oneself and it is a travel.

Anyone Can Call Foul!  (Only The Fouled Player Can Call a Foul)

This one is crazy. I thought only the fouled person could call foul, which makes things difficult for new players who get fouled because they’re uncomfortable with calling foul and being put on the spot. Not so! Any player on the a player’s team can call foul on his/her behalf!

(XVI.A) An infraction may only be called by player on the infracted team who recognizes that it has occurred.

This rule is so crazy that I emailed USA Ultimate to make sure I’m interpreting it properly. Here’s their reply:

Hi Ryan,

If you’re playing under current USAU (11th edition) rules, then the relevant part about who can call fouls is at http://www.usaultimate.org/resources/officiating/rules/11th_edition_rules.aspx#XVI.H
XVI.H.1. “A foul can be called only by the fouled player and must be announced by loudly calling foul immediately after it occurs.
This is because, in general, calls are to be made by players who are certain that a violation of the rules has occurred.  Fouls, by definition, must have affected the outcome of a play, so only a fouled player is considered to be absolutely certain that any contact was the reason that the outcome was different than it would have been absent the contact.
That said, teammates who are more experienced or knowledegable are very much encouraged to explain rules to new players so that they can then, ideally immediately, understand the rules and what a foul is so they can begin to make the right calls and/or contests of calls.  Often that kind of explanatory situation is the best way for new players to learn the rules properly, a key aspect of a self-officiated but still highly competitive sport, and very much a part of good Spirit of the Game (respecting the rules and endeavoring to play by them as much as possible).  So opponents should not object to a new player being taught the proper rules and should themselves desire not to win-at-all-costs but instead to play fairly under the rules.
Hope that makes sense and helps!  Hope the league is a blast!

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