Seven Mistakes You Should Remove From Your Team’s Offense

Action From The 2013 USA Ultimate Pro Flight Finale
Photo by CBMT Creative.

It’s the end of a long season, and time for reflection.  What better way than to sit back with a drink and watch some footage of the 2013 season?  While you are, look out for some of seven classic mistakes, and approach 2014 with a fresh pair of eyes; you never know, your team may benefit as a result.

1. Cutting and clearing from behind the disc, through the cutting lanes

I see this a lot, particularly with US teams. Imagine you’re standing with the disc, facing downfield.  Your best cutter is getting open and you’re shaping up a flick down the big lane in front of you for a 20m gain. Suddenly, a body appears from nowhere; it’s one of your teammates pushing downfield, from behind the disc, with their defender trailing.  And he’s using your throwing lane to clear.  Now you can’t hit the open cut and you’re forced to recycle.

Now imagine you are cutting downfield, you lose your defender, and there’s a glorious window of opportunity that is suddenly and abruptly closed by a teammate pushing downfield.  Both situations are lost opportunities; more to the point, your own team had to cut up its flow. It is far easier to play 3-on-3 in half the field than it is to play 7-on-7, so why rush to get back into a stack? When I coached Great Britain we used the term “dead space” to refer to the area immediately around the thrower, because any cuts there killed our flow. Your team should have a strategy for clearing that avoids killing your flow.

2. Taking a time out after catching a huck short of the endzone

This one makes me die a little inside every time I see it. You’ve just caught a long pass but are a few yards short of the endzone. You have no mark and there’s one supporting offensive player with some separation. You decide to take a time-out. This happens a lot.

Now think carefully: if you saw the same scenario but instead with a handler busting up the sideline, you’d expect that pass to go, every time, to a very small amount of separation and often into a tight spot.  So why look off the 1-on-1 throw into an entire endzone, especially if you don’t have a mark? There is an argument for forcing a throw and there’s an argument about the adrenaline rush. But, honestly, turnovers in this scenario are far more likely due to the fact that very few teams practice how to score from fast break scenarios.

Instead, teams tend to recycle until they can run their (very practiced) 7-on-7 endzone set.  And, really, only the top teams have high success rates getting to and executing from those sets. Try throwing to the 1-on-1 before the field gets too crowded.

I think that many teams avoid the 1-on-1 throw for two reasons.  The first is a fear of looking like a fool by being the one who turns it over here. That misses the point: a turnover is a turnover. This 1-on-1 is a high percentage option, and you need to take it.

Second, some players prefer to wait for a receiver to be open by yards before they will throw. Stop overestimating the abilities of the defender and underestimating yourself and your receiver.

3. Picks kill flow

Creating and maintaining flow against a strong man defense is one of the most difficult things to do in Ultimate.  Why help the defence out by creating picks?  Picks allow the defense to recover, make plans, and worse still, the possibility of turning over a pass that never would have stood (that is the wrong side of an infinite risk to reward ratio)!

You need to actively discourage picks at practice. Generally, they are a symptom of lazy play and/or clogging. For the Great Britain Open campaign in 2012, we spent a lot of effort to avoid picks. I don’t remember one being called against us all week at WUGC, and I’m certain that helped us out. You can also prevent picks by knowing who is responsible for cutting and when to stay out of the way, both underrated skills.

From viewing recent club footage, Doublewide get a lot of picks called against them. That forced them to reset a lot and prevented them hitting their big cutters in flow. Compare this to Revolver, who have very few picks called against them; Revolver maintains better flow because their spacing is better and they have fewer picks.

4. Hucking down the open sideline

Lots of teams play this way: get the disc to the sideline and throw a flat pass to the endzone to a cutter busting deep.

A quick analysis of the angles will show that a defender who is on the open side will have a shorter distance to cover than the person they are guarding; often the receiver will need to box out the defender who often already has position.

Throwing roll curves that land in the path of the receiver is becoming more prevalent and is a better option.  These throws increase the distance from the defender and also tend to fly over the defenders head — making it really tough for defenders to read and make a play.  Initially this will seem difficult; the trick is to pivot according to where you want the disc to end up, rather than trying to do everything with your wrist.  This should lead to a more stable flight path. Watch footage of Nick Lance throwing for Bravo and you’ll see he pivots forwards aggressively, putting his body in a better position to execute this throw.

5. Not bringing the disc into play because you’re “not a handler”

Imagine this: you’re guarding a cutter who is cutting to the break side. The thrower forces out a throw that goes to ground, with the player you’re guarding laying out unsuccessfully. The disc ends up right next to you, with essentially a 2-on-2 situation now in front of you (assuming the thrower had a dump, and both of those players are guarded).

If you pick up now, you only have to throw the disc a few yards without a mark to put it in the hands of one of those two, leaving a 1-on-1 isolation in the rest of the field.  You don’t need to do anything heroic, just pick it up and throw a short backhand before the guy who laid out recovers and gets a mark on.  But you’re “not allowed”, because it’s “not your role” on the team.  Because of this, your team squanders a perfect goal-scoring opportunity.

6. Wasting timeouts

In my opinion, the best use of a timeout is on a high stall; your dump has fallen over, or there was an unexpected pass, or something else. Don’t punt for yards! Take a timeout and use it to reset the disc, keep it in play, and score. Timeouts should act like a trump card that you use to get your team out of a hole.

Of course, this means not taking timeouts at other positions on the field – and I’m sure there are plenty of philosophies on when to use your timeouts – but from my perspective I’d rather take a time out on stall 9, prevent the turnover and score the goal, than punt, get scored on, then take a timeout.

In this year’s quarterfinal, Doublewide had two turnovers from high stalls and they lost both points; they also had a high stall punt where they retained the disc due to an observer ruling. In a game they lost by two, tactical use of timeouts could have put them into semis.

7. Failing to keep the disc moving

When you first get people trying out Ultimate, they tend to throw as soon as they catch the disc.  It requires some training to get players holding onto the disc for a few seconds.

One unfortunate consequence that some people later like to hang onto the disc for far longer than they should.  Once a level of caution has been instilled, it can be difficult to train people to just hit the open pass, even if it is for a small gain.

Rather than try to sell it to you, just watch this clip of Buzz Bullets running a textbook fast break the full length of the field. You can encourage your team to change their playing style via the use of themed games, where playing the new method is of more importance than winning the game.

 

 

  1. Sion "Brummie" Scone

    Sion "Brummie" Scone coached GB Open from 2010-2012, and also coached the GB World Games team in 2013, and the u24 Men in 2018. He has been running skills clinics in the UK and around the world since 2005. He played GB Open 2007-12, and GB World Games 2009. He lives in Birmingham, UK. You can reach him by email (sionscone@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@sionscone).

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