Tuesday Tips: How To Lay Out

Photo: Kevin LeClaire  --  UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

One of the most unique, exciting aspects of ultimate is how a disc floats in the air, creating many more opportunities for amazing plays than any sport with a normal ball.

But, to take advantage of this feature of the sport’s equipment and to make the highlight reel, you have to be able to lay out.

Getting horizontal on a sick block, snagging that diving catch that’s barely off the ground, and those massive “How-did-she-do-it?!” skies all require full extension layouts, and yet many players — especially younger, less experienced athletes — are hesitant to commit to the gravity-defying move. Others will lay out but do it in a way that leads to potentially serious injury.

Here’s the proper five-step lay-out process, along with some Do’s and Don’ts, and some key ways to practice.

STEP 1: Identify Your Chance

The first step is the most obvious: recognizing an opportunity to lay out. Most people have an easier time envisioning this on offense, especially on a longer pass like a huck, where a disc is out in space waiting to be run down and caught. But defense can also be a great opportunity to find spots to get horizontal, as a full extension bid is one way a defender can close down the space created by a cutter and knock the disc away to generate a turnover.

Whether on offense and defense, you need to track the disc and run hard to put yourself in position to make a play. Speed is important, but so is the ability to keep your eyes on the target. If you lose sight of the disc, you’re done for.

Once the disc is in the air, accelerate as much as you can to get the catch or block. Many times, if you’re fast enough, you can run through and stay on your feet. Other times, your speed will not be enough to chase down a disc in stride, but it could still be within reach with an additional push. In other words, you’re about five feet from the target and it looks like you won’t be able to get to it by normal means. Finding this range is how you will learn to recognize opportunities to lay out.

After identifying your chance, you must erase all doubt from your mind and commit to the layout. Prepare yourself mentally that you are going to dive; if you’re on the fence about it, chances are you will slow down or hold yourself back from proper form. Speed up and push past your doubt. You’ve found your opportunity to layout, now give it everything you’ve got.

STEP 2: Leap And Extend

Think Superman.

This is the hardest hurdle to overcome for many people because it can be the scariest. If your mind isn’t committed, your body may want to slow down and give up, bringing groans from the sidelines.

“Speed up and lay out” are the words you have to commit to saying over and over in your head. In that split second when you recognize your chance, accelerate, take a hard step, and leap off that planted foot as hard as you can.

You’re doing the same thing as jumping, but instead of going up, you’re going out. Lead with your head and arms (yes, both arms! This is critical and will be discussed later) as you dive forward. Reach out as far as you can go, like Superman taking off to fly.

This is not the time to worry about the landing (that will come in the next step); instead, focus on the disc. Keep your eyes fixed on it and jump forward as far as you can.

Reach with your arms until you can get your hand on plastic.

STEP 3: Eyes Up, Arms Up, Chest Up

Here we get to the catch and landing. And, guaranteed, it can be an absolutely painless process if you do it right.

Keep your eyes and head up, looking forward at the target disc.

Keep both arms up and extended. Many players instinctively lean with one arm because they are planning on catching it with one hand. However, this lean can often result in an awkward sideways landing that can dislocate shoulders. For as long as possible, keep both arms up, even if you plan on catching with one hand.

Keep your chest up with your arms and keep it horizontal to the ground. You’re in midair, you’re fully extended, and your chest is what is going to keep you safe and unharmed. If you’re positioned yourself properly, your stomach and upper body are protected, flat areas, which will slide without bruising or scraping when you hit the ground.

In your visualization of your layout, lead with the chest, not your hands. If you lead with your hands, you’ll leap so that the hands hit the ground first, not only making it more likely you’ll drop the disc, but also potentially leading to wrist or hand injuries.

Don’t twist or turn; landing on your side might seem like a good idea, but will provide you with a torso or forearm scrape at the very least, a shoulder or neck injury at worst.

Stay forward and up. And let those legs fly behind you; don’t bring them down too soon to brace for impact or again you could find yourself with painful bruises and scrapes on your knees—or far worse.

STEP 4: Catch And Hold (And Slide)

Now we come to the easy part: catching.

You’ve committed to the layout, you’re fully extended, and your eyes are on the disc. Reach out with one hand (or two) and grab the rim of the disc. Snag that edge and hold on to it. If you keep both arms up, your hands should never (or only barely) hit the ground. The disc won’t touch the ground and you’ll hold on to it. Pancake catches are more likely to jostle loose when you hit the ground with your forearms.

Keep your eye on the disc! Don’t close your eyes, don’t turn your face. Track it all the way into your hands and through the catch, then keep looking forward as you land.

After you catch it, your body will hit the ground. Keep pushing your arms and chest forward and up.. If you brace yourself, or push down, you’ll flop and it will hurt. If, on the other hand, you keep your momentum going forward, you’ll slide a few feet without so much as a scratch on you—and you’ll have the disc in your hand.

STEP 5: Practice (Gratuitously)

As with all skills, practicing is absolutely essential.

Laying out can be very hit or miss. Sometimes, you find a groove and have no problem. Other times, whether because of injury or concern about the playing surface or doubt and hesitancy, you find a slump. Even the most consummate layout D artists go through rough patches.

If you’re doing it wrong, or if it is hurting or scary, work through and break down the steps. Find a softer place to practice and have someone critique your form. Practice makes perfect, like with any skill.

Keep practicing, both in drills and in games. Cut deep, and don’t give up on any deep shots. If you’re working on becoming comfortable with laying out, do it even if you don’t think you have a shot. A few gratuitous layouts, with arms and legs fully extended, will improve your form and increase you confidence. You’ll also get closer to a lot of those “impossible” catches than you think.

On defense, the first consideration as you learn to lay out has to be for player safety. Recognize that there will likely be another player between you and the disc and that any bid will have to be at an angle that doesn’t endanger either yourself or your opponent. While the same fundamentals apply (keep your eyes, arms, and chest up, land on your chest), you will need to learn to reach or bid around a player to get a D. Once you can do this confidently, use practice time to lay out whenever you are close on defense. It is critical to learn the range at which you have a chance at making a play on the disc—and where it would be prudent to remain on your feet and set a mark.

Team leaders: help your rookies to improve. Encourage layouts—even gratuitous ones, at times—and don’t heckle those who are learning. There are lots of ways you can do this: some teams have lay out practices on muddy days, others make players lay out a few times no matter what, whether it’s on the pole vault mat or in a scrimmage. Some squads make it a right of passage to get your first layout D and present a gift or conduct a ceremony when it happens.

Keep practicing and don’t be discouraged.

Do’s and Don’ts of Laying Out

  • DO track the flight of the disc
  • DO speed up heading into a bid
  • DO commit to the layout
  • DO fully extend
  • DO keep your eyes, arms, and chest up
  • DO land on your chest
  • DO keep your hands up once you’ve caught the disc
  • DO keep your momentum going forward
  • DO slide once you hit the ground
  • DO practice gratuitously, at least to start
  • DON’T take your eyes off the disc
  • DON’T twist or turn in midair
  • DON’T flop or fall to your knees
  • DON’T bring your hands down early to brace your landing
  • DON’T land on your side/shoulder
  • DON’T assume that scrapes or cuts are OK (especially on your side); they are evidence you could be doing it better
  • DON’T say “I don’t really lay out ever”

Additional Tips

  • Practice in the pool, on hotel beds, in sand, and on pole vault mats. Don’t flop (if you’re chest hurts you’re doing it wrong and not sliding forward enough) and be careful of other people/objects. Lay out for everything.
  • Wear an armband on your dominant (catching) forearm right below the elbow. This will make laying out easier when you land (less scrapes).
  • If you are having trouble pulling the trigger, especially on D, make yourself lay out two or three times in a row against a teammate who’s playing catch.
  • Encourage a teammate to yell “Lay out!” whenever you’re close to a situation to make you less hesitant and to show you can get to the disc.
  • Layout in warmups; it makes laying out in the game a lot easier
  • To get a layout D, always be in a position to touch your mark. It means you’re within range.
  • To get a layout score, cut deep. A lot.


Layout O Drill: One thrower and one cutter start at the sideline. The thrower tosses a floaty low pass out to space, aiming for the far sideline (40 yards away). The cutter runs and gets it and is required to lay out. The thrower jogs over and then they switch roles. Do ten in a row. Often, if you’re tired, you have to lay out to catch.

Layout D Drill: Make a long triangle with three cones. Have a line of players at the center point. Have one player run the triangle, chased at the midpoint by another player, who is required to run through or lay out for a block. Have a thrower throw the disc out in front, in layout range, at the edge of the triangle. The person who laid out is now up to run on offense. Repeat.

With all of these methods in your mind, you’ll be laying out like a champ in no time.

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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