Tuesday Tips: 8 Ways To Help Your Team From The Sideline, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Even when you're not on the field, you can be feeding your teammates energy an information.

Photo: Jolie J Lang -- UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Jolie J Lang — 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

This article was written by guest author Alex Dietz, head coach for the Duke University Men’s ultimate program.

The following scenario should be familiar to all ultimate players: It’s your first season of playing the sport and you’ve been drinking from a fire hose at practice, trying to learn how to play the game, how to cut, how to throw, and what a force is. You’ve absorbed a little and are excited to put all of that into action at a tournament.

When your team arrives at the fields on Saturday morning, you’re stoked — it’s game time! The team warms up and the coach calls everyone into the huddle to do a cheer and call the first line. Your name doesn’t get called. That’s only to be expected, it’s a big team, you’re the new rookie, and you know that you’ll get your chance on the field later in the game. You watch the seven players called get on the line and get ready to pull; your team is starting on D. The pull goes up, and suddenly the older players on the sideline start yelling their heads off at everyone on the field. You wonder if maybe you should be yelling too, but have no clue what is happening or what you should be yelling so you just stand there and watch. An older player walks past you and tells you that you should be talking to someone on the field. You say you will, but then don’t. You have no idea what you’re supposed to say.

Most people on a team will spend more time on the sideline than on the field during any given game. What players do on the sideline is hugely important in determining how successful a team is in a game. In ultimate, good teams have active sidelines that are providing both energy and information to the players on the field. New players often struggle initially to be good sideline players, and sideline talk frequently gets overlooked at practices. This article will try to help give you an idea of what you need to be doing on the sideline and why.

Sideline Energy

Despite what the rulebook might state, games in ultimate these days are not played 7-on-7, they are played 25-on-25. Teams that play with the energy of the whole team will perform better than teams that only rely on the energy of the seven players on the field — and they will have more fun. Keeping the energy level high is the most important function of an active sideline. That means the sideline needs to stay positive and it needs to stay loud. Very loud. There are a lot of different ways to keep the energy up on the field, but they can be divided up into three broad categories:

1. Cheers

Cheering is not something that only happens in the huddle. Cheering should be continuous throughout the game. Coming up with and having good team cheers is really helpful for keeping the energy up during games, even when things might not be going your way. It is not the captains’ job to come up with cheers; it is everyone’s job. Most teams will have some cheers that they pass on from year to year, but it’s important for new players to contribute new ideas — you never know who is going to be good at coming up with new cheers. You can have team cheers for just about everything: when the pull goes up, when you’re on defense, when you’re on offense, when you score, when you score a break, when players do something awesome, or pretty much any random thing that your team does. The more cheers, the better your team energy will be.

2. Specific Player Encouragement

When I hear someone on the sideline yelling my name, telling me to work, my energy level always goes up. Sometimes you just have to make it clear that you’ve got your teammate’s back. It will make a world of difference.

3. Rushing The Field

When your team scores a break it’s easy to be excited and rush the field to give everyone a high five. It is less easy when the other team manages a break and your offense has to make the long walk back to the other side of the field. As the sideline, you can make that walk a lot more bearable by rushing the field, giving high fives anyway, and telling your teammates that they’ve got this next one. If you’re on the O-line and your defense fails to get a break, you need to go give your teammates on the D-line high fives before you take the field.

You should rush the field at the end of every point. When you score, you celebrate together. When you get scored on, you pick each other up together. If everyone on the team does that, the energy level won’t fall when you get broken and it’ll be easier to stop the other team from gaining momentum. Nothing kills the joy of getting a break more than seeing that the other team is still happy and confident and having them come out firing on the next point. If you can win the energy game even when you’re down, you won’t stay down for long.

Sideline Help

Keeping the energy level high is not the only important function of the sideline. Providing information to players on the field is absolutely crucial, especially when your team is on defense. This role is something that you will get better at the longer you play ultimate and the greater your understanding of the game becomes. This does not mean that you are excused from this role while you are a rookie — there are still many important pieces of information you can provide to players on the field even when you don’t have any experience.

It’s important to note that you should not refrain from giving your teammates — even more experienced teammates or captains — the information they need because you think you don’t have the authority. Players on the field are usually focused on the area of the field they can see, which can be quite limited, especially on defense. As a player on the sideline, you can see the whole field, and it is your job to share the information you gain from that perspective with your teammates on the field.

Here are a few pieces of information that you should always make sure are being shared.

1. Up Calls

This one is pretty simple. When your team is on defense and the disc goes up, yell “up!” loudly and clearly. It is absolutely unacceptable for your teammates on the field to miss an easy opportunity for a block because they didn’t know the disc was in the air. While they should be automatic every time the disc goes up, these calls are especially important on hucks and on dump throws because the defender guarding the target of the throw is less likely to be able to see the thrower and the disc.

Another key function of up calls is that they tell defenders that the stall count is being reset. Every person on the field should have a stall count going in their head and adjust their play accordingly, so knowing when the stall count is going to be reset is crucial information. Always give up calls.

2. Poach Calls On Offense

This is another simple one. If one of your teammates on the field is being poached off of (the defender is not guarding the player closely, but is instead standing in the lane or helping cover somebody else) and has yet to realize it, you need to say something. Poaching can be very destructive to offensive flow and result in unnecessary turnovers, but it can also give the offense unique opportunities to attack if they can recognize that a poach is happening and who is now uncovered. If you’re on the sideline, be looking for this and let your teammates on the field know a defender is poaching.

3. Clearing On Offense

When your team is on offense and someone on the field is too deep, or is not clearing after a cut under and is clogging the lane and disrupting flow, tell them to clear. This is something they should be doing already, but if they aren’t getting it done you need to remind them that they don’t get to stop until they’ve cleared out of the cutting lane. Be nice about it, but get that player moving.

Be ready to also call out a poach if the defender stays behind in the lane while your teammate is clearing.

4. Talking To The Mark On Defense

Marking is really difficult, as throwers have an incredible advantage. They can see where they want to throw; the mark has to react. Once on the mark, you may not know exactly where the threats downfield are most of the time because you can’t see them develop. Marking becomes a lot easier if you have someone on the sideline telling you where the threats are and what the mark should take away.

But, part of what makes marking so difficult is the sheer volume of information that could be fed to you from the sideline. Here is a quick list of some of the things you can tell a mark and what they mean:

  • Straight up/flat/big/no huck: This tells your teammate to stand directly in front of the thrower and take a step back. You’ll say this to a teammate when you want to make it more difficult for that thrower to throw hucks — for example when a cutter gets free deep — and are less worried about break throws.
  • More around/inside: Around and inside refer to the different types of break throws a thrower can try to use to get the disc past a mark to the break side. By telling the mark to move more inside, you are saying, “stop the inside throwing lane more,” and when you tell the mark to move more around you are saying, “stop the around throwing lane more”. The around lane when you are forcing forehand is a backhand throw, and the inside lane is a forehand. When the force is backhand, the around will be a forehand, and inside will be a backhand.
  • 45/90/100: Some teams like to designate numbers for different marking positions. The 45/90/100 spectrum refers to the angle between marking straight up and where you should be marking. 45 means that you’ll be marking at a 45 degree angle from marking straight up, 90 means you’ll be marking at a 90 degree angle from straight up, and 100 means you’ll be marking at a 100 degree angle from straight up. A 45 mark pressures the inside more and the around less, a 90 mark puts more pressure on the around, and the 100 mark really clamps down and stops all around throws that do not get thrown straight backwards, but gives up the inside lane a little bit. These different marks will be useful at various times. Your team may or may not use the number system, but many teams will have language to vary their marks depending on field position or stall count.
  • Left/Right, Low/High, tight/back off: Sometimes even the simplest instructions from the sideline such as hands low/high or move left/right can help make your teammate’s mark much more effective.

5. Who’s “Hot” On Defense

When your team is on defense, the defenders won’t always be able to see the disc. Sometimes, the player with the disc will be looking to throw to the person your teammate is guarding and your teammate won’t know until it is too late. This can happen a lot for handler defenders. You can tell teammates on defense that their matchup is the target for the thrower by saying “you’re hot” (you can pick another word if you like, just be clear with your teammates about what word you will be using). When someone is telling you that you’re “hot” it means be ready because your matchup is trying to get the disc.

***

When you are on the sideline during ultimate, you should be actively participating in the game. If you aren’t, you’re just giving up an advantage, both in terms of energy and information. Everyone needs to be active on the sidelines during every point to help out their teammates in every game. If you are an active sideline player, your team will do better, and you’ll have more fun.

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