Tuesday Tips: How To Field the Pull & Why It Matters, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Receiving the pull is an opportunity, so make sure to use it. Effectively gaining momentum off of the pull requires a balance of patience and aggression.

Fielding the pull cleanly helps avoid get stuck on your endzone line with the defense set. Photo: Paul Rutherford — 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!

The importance of fielding the pull is an often overlooked component of a fully functional offense. A well-fielded pull will help your offense gain valuable field position and get the disc moving before the defense sets. Neglecting to field the pull quickly and confidently puts your offense at a serious disadvantage, acting at the mercy of a fast-approaching defensive line. Help your offensive line take control of a point by being intentional and strategic about how your team approaches the pull.

Fielding the pull can be broken down into four basic steps: delegate responsibility, catch the pull, center the disc, and flow into offensive play. Let’s take these steps in order.

1. Delegate Pull-Fielding Responsibility

A well-fielded pull requires deliberate coordination before the pull and excellent field awareness after.

When your team is on the line, take a second to quickly delegate pull-fielding responsibilities among the handlers. Who is catching the pull and who is receiving the centering pass?

With a three-handler offense, the two outside handlers should field the pull to the center handler. The two handlers responsible for fielding the pull can communicate who is catching and centering the pull based on which side of the field it comes to.

With a two-handler offense, you’ve got a couple options. Either decide who is catching the pull and who is getting centered to, or base who is catching the pull off of which side of the field the disc comes to. Either way, fielding the pull with only two handlers back requires that both communicate intently and are ready to adjust their position depending on the pull’s flight path.

I highly recommend always delegating responsibility like this. A team’s offensive momentum can implode if there’s any confusion about whose responsibility it is to catch the pull. Simply take a second on the line to indicate “Player 1 and Player 2 centering to Player 3” or “Player 1 field left, Player 2 field right.”

2. Catch The Pull

Due to the high stakes of a dropped-pull turnover, lots of newer players shy away from catching the pull. However, catching the pull gains your offense several invaluable seconds, allowing you to put the disc in motion right away. Although it might be nerve-wracking, aggressively attacking catchable pulls is a skill you can perfect. Keep the following components of catching a pull in mind:

  • Read the pull to get your whole body behind the disc. Set yourself up for an easy chest-height pancake catch by reading the flight path of the pull and reacting accordingly. What’s the angle of the disc? How fast is it coming in? Is there a wind you need to take into account? Read the pull and set up in a position where you’re far enough behind the disc that you can take a few steps forward into it. Never catch the pull with one hand or above your head. Position yourself to take away the unnecessary risks of an awkward catch.
  • Focus all the way through the catch. Keep both eyes and your whole mind on the disc until it’s firmly in your hands. Odd catching execution errors happen when a player starts thinking about the next throw before the catch has even happened.
  • Practice catching the pull! Get yourself reps catching pulls in lower-stakes practice situations. Figure out what you need to do to consistently catch the pull in games. Diagnose whatever drops you have so you can improve your consistency.

It’s also worth mentioning that not all pulls can or should be caught. When reading a pull to decide whether to catch it, make smart decisions: sharply angled pulls, pulls at a catchable height but that are tailing out of bounds, pulls that are short or low to the ground, or pulls that unexpectedly change flight path due to gusts of wind likely shouldn’t be caught. However, you can still field the pull responsibly to get play into motion quickly.

It’s quite similar to catching the pull, actually: read the pull to get your whole body behind the disc as it lands so you’re ready to pick it up and go right away. Make sure you’re behind where the disc will land, keeping your momentum facing downfield and avoiding situations where you’d have to awkwardly turn around to chase down a pull. Be prepared to stop angled pulls from rolling and focus in on stopping that roll before you start thinking about the centering pass. Finally, as basic as it sounds, if you decide not to catch a pull make sure you don’t touch any part of the disc before it hits the ground. There’s nothing worse than making the calculated decision not to catch a pull only to misjudge its path and have it hit you in the shin. Ouch.

3. Center The Pull

As the player catching the centering pass, you have two main goals: gain the most yards possible and gain intentional field position.

When looking to gain yards, go further downfield than you think you ought to. If the defense is slow to cover the pull, your teammate who caught the pull will be able to lead you downfield to gain tons of yards with no defensive pressure. If the defense is fast approaching, you’ll be able to make a short cut back towards the thrower, sealing off the defense while still gaining considerable yardage. Sometimes the defense still won’t be set after the first centering pass; in this case, handlers should look to dish back and forth in the middle of the field to continue gaining yards until the defense applies pressure.

Gaining yards is only part of the equation. Oftentimes, gaining yards straight down the sideline is worse than centering the disc without gaining any yards. As a general rule, fight to get the disc in the middle of the field on the first pass after the pull. You don’t know what defense your opponents are going to set, so keeping the disc in the middle will help you keep your options open and avoid a situation where you start off trapped on the sideline.

I’ll offer a few caveats to this. There are a couple situations where it’s to your advantage to intentionally position the disc slightly left or right of center: when you’re running a pull play involving a side stack or when you’re playing in a distinct cross wind. In these situations, imagine the disc is divided length-wise into thirds; you want to shoot for the lines that divide the field into thirds, and try not to go closer to the sideline than this.

If you’re running a side stack pull play: get the disc to the further of the two dividing lines from the side stack. This ensures that the thrower likely won’t be dealing with a poaching defender off the front of the side stack and will also have a reasonable throwing window regardless of the defense’s force.

If you’re playing in a cross wind, get the disc to the dividing line that’s further upwind (the “high side” of the field). It’s much harder to get the disc to the high side of the field when defensive pressure is set, and it’s much harder to run your offense when you’re stuck on the low side of the field. Use the first throw off the pull as an opportunity to get an uncontested pass slightly towards the high side of the field.

Any time you’re catching the centering pass, keep your head on a swivel and be aware of the defense’s position. Centering passes should be easy and intentional, never forced. In the face of excellent pull coverage, stay calm; if you’re already in good field position, simply look downfield and get the offense rolling. If you’re stuck on the sideline, do what you’d do any other time: look to your other handler(s) for a swing or a reset. Keep your wits about you and play fundamental, conservative offense.

4. Flow Into Your Offense

Your offense worked hard to catch that pull, get it to the middle of the field, and gain a ton of yards; the momentum is on your side, so now it’s time to capitalize.

Cutters downfield need to be as heads-up and aware as the handlers fielding the pull. Pay close attention to where the pull and the centering pass go so you can set your stack at an appropriate distance. As an initiating cutter, follow the path of the disc carefully and time your cuts so that you’re already in motion when the center handler looks downfield. Be flexible and ready to adjust if the centering pass is well-defended. If things don’t go according to plan, stay calm and stick to your offensive fundamentals.

Similarly, handlers need to transition quickly from fielding the pull to getting into position to play offense. After catching and centering the pull, don’t hesitate to set up as a reset in case the downfield defense shuts down your cutter flow. If you’re responsible for catching the centering pass and that pass doesn’t go off, don’t hang out in an awkward downfield position; move quickly to become an available reset.

  1. Kayla Emrick

    Kayla Emrick is a graduate student in public health at Emory University. She started playing ultimate at Oberlin College in 2009 and later captained the team. She currently plays for Ozone in Atlanta and coaches Luna, the women's team at Emory.

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