Tuesday Tips: 5 Ways To Raise Your Game IQ, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Some players just seem to "get it." It's not an accident.

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

This article is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

You’ll sometimes hear someone comment that a player “just gets it.” And while you may wonder what “it” actually is, once you watch that player in action, you start to see how that mysterious, intuitive factor increases their effectiveness. They see a smart poach and move the disc to a more threatening position. They read the progression of an offensive play and reposition themselves to get a block. They find just the right time and place to attack the back cone and score what looks like an effortless, wide open goal.

That “it” is their intelligence and understanding of ultimate, and while some players develop it more quickly than others, nobody has it innately. Your game IQ, just like your vertical or your low-release backhand, can be strengthened and honed with practice and patience. Here are five ways to improve the way you see and read the game.

Get Virtual Reps: Watching Ultimate

There’s physical limitations to how much ultimate you can (and should) play, but you can supplement that practice with the virtual reps of watching others. In the modern age, that typically means video, and there’s ways to specifically watch video to get better. But also note that this can mean simply watching more disc in person, which there is an expanding array of opportunities to do.

However, if you were to get a real rep and waste it by lazily walking around the field or making terrible choices with and without the disc, you’d find yourself generating little benefit. The same is true of your virtual reps.

Watch with intent. Pick things to look for, like watching players who fill roles that you also play or by picking up new skills from players with strengths aligned with your current weaknesses. If you’re digesting film, be prepared to rewatch segments numerous times1, reviewing different elements or identifying key components. When you see a great play, rewind to try and find how and why it happened and dissect what could have prevented it.

Visualize the Game: Adding Game Elements to Non-Game Practice

Another way to get more virtual reps is with the power of your own mind! Visualization can add more to your throwing sessions or even your daydreaming2. That big play you just broke down? Insert yourself in it.

So how does this help you improve your IQ? Mental training, as it is sometimes referred to, may not be a replacement for physical repetitions, but the two together can do more than either alone. Familiarizing yourself with various situations and environments on the ultimate field will make it easier for your brain and body to access the best solution.

Using imagery during mental focus exercises will get you some extra virtual reps. Try to imagine as much detail as you can as you enter this imaginary world. Beyond just where people are on the field, try adding in the sounds, smells, and other specifics of the environment. What’s the score when you’re trying to break the mark of the opposing cup with the disc on the sideline? What’s the stall count?

Another way to use imagery, even with your eyes open, is to envision more than is actually there when you are training or throwing. Try adding an imaginary disc and opponent — O or D — when you’re doing sprints. When you’re throwing with someone, imagine them moving, mentally provide a mark you have to fake against, and figure out where on the field you’d be.

Think Ultimate: Discussing and Digesting the Game

If you’re trying to become a smarter ultimate player, you’re going to have to do some learning. After all, your understanding of the game is limited by the amount of information about ultimate you have. One of your ways to increase that store of knowledge is discuss the sport’s strategy, tactics, and mechanics with others.

Use every resource at your disposal to find places to discuss the game. That could be emailing your coach to ask them about a specific problem you’re having. It could be talking to a club captain about what they think are the skills necessary to succeed at a role. It could be sharing ideas with friends on other teams to get different perspectives on a particular strategy or formation.

Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions designed to get you answers to issues you’re encountering. Most people in the ultimate community are pretty open to giving feedback. And if you don’t have access to these type of people, you’re only a few clicks away. Forums like Ultiworld’s can help give you some form of that access, and there’s a lot of great content being created by sources like Rise Up and UltimateRob about how to strategize and execute in ultimate.

Remember that talking to people who know less than you can be just as helpful as those who know more. Teaching ultimate to newer players is an excellent way to reinforce your own understanding or encourage you to articulate new things you didn’t even realize you knew. On the field, you may know how to win a jump ball in the air, but have you ever tried to explain how you do it to another player? It forces you to make sure you understand what elements lead to your success in that area, and that comprehension will aid you in improving in those areas.

Play Other Sports: New Perspectives

Ultimate is a very young sport. There’s a lot to be learned from sports that have had years and years to develop their tactics. It’ll help make you a more malleable and adaptive thinker who can quickly react to new situations when you are forced to confront them from different angles, with altered goals, and with a new perspective.

Maybe what you learn will be mechanical. Tennis might show you some ways to add power to your throws or quickness to your shuffling footwork. Football might show you better ways to utilize your hips to change direction and accelerate more quickly. There’s plenty to be gleaned from the various movement patterns in other sports that also appear on the ultimate field.

You also may see situations in strategy and positioning that will benefit you next time you’re trying to set up a cut. Maybe it is how to use the give-and-go to penetrate defenders the way soccer players do. Perimeter ball movement opens up new driving and passing lanes on the basketball court, and the same principles can be applied to working around a zone defense. The patterns of a 3-on-2 breakaway in hockey could help you run a fast break near the red zone in ultimate.

And best of all, it is a refreshing way to take some of the stress out of trying to train to a better player.

Play More Ultimate: Making the Most of Your Reps

It isn’t enough to just go out and run around at pickup or summer league. If you’re trying to become a smarter player who can apply your knowledge to the field of play quickly and effectively, you need to use some of the principles we’ve discussed when you’re getting opportunities on the ultimate field. This could be in a drill, a scrimmage, a league game, or at a tournament. Every point, every drill rep, every throw is a chance to learn and reinforce good — or bad — habits.

Review film of your play when given the opportunity. Be sure to pay attention to what’s going on when you’re on the field or on the sidelines. Visualize past events with corrections you’d like to apply. Discuss points or drill reps with your team leadership and teammates to find out why mistakes happened, what optimal solutions are, or why a particular move was effective, for either you or them. And don’t stop trying to learn and improve, even when people start asking you the same questions.


  1. When I watch film, I have to run through it once just to get the entertainment portion out of the way before going into deeper analysis. 

  2. And while visualization is good, please don’t rely singularly on that as your method of improvement. 

  1. Keith Raynor
    Keith Raynor

    Keith Raynor is a Senior Editor and the Business Development Manager at Ultiworld. He co-hosts our Deep Look podcast and does play-by-play and color commentary. He coaches UConn Rise, the college's women's team. You can reach him by email (keith@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@FullFieldHammer).

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