Tuesday Tips: 8 Adjustments To Make Before Losing A Game, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Never lose a game without trying something different.

A straight-up force is an adjustment that can force an offense out wide rather than attacking down the field. Photo: Burt Granofsky — 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!

Never lose a game without trying something different.

Most of the time, losing has little to do with who you’re playing against and a lot more to do with the conditions and how well you execute in them. But other times, the reality is that your team can train and practice for months, hone its strategy, master a perfect game plan, and yet still find yourselves losing a match. Sometimes strategies fail, sometimes matchups fall in the opponent’s favor, and sometimes a team is able to respond to what you’re doing in a way that makes you unsuccessful. As has been famously stated in many different iterations:1 “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

In these situations, there are two options: First, you can grit your teeth, keep pushing the same plan, and hope for a breakthrough. Or, second, make an adjustment.

Most coaches and captains would gladly choose the second of the two options. If your ultimate goal is to win, it doesn’t much matter how you do it. When something is not working, you need to be flexible enough to change it up; the longer you wait for your original plan to start working, the deeper the hole you’re probably digging yourself.

So what does that mean practically? What can you or your team actually do that is a simple switch, which might make an impact on the game, but requires little or no prep or practice? Here are eight adjustments to implement, ideas that are completely under your control and are worth trying before you lose a game.

On Defense

1. Switch the force.

This is literally probably the simplest fundamental shift in a defensive set and yet far, far too often, teams stick with just one force because it is the default strategy we learned way back when players couldn’t throw the disc that well on one side.

Changing the force can make a sudden and important difference in affecting the defense. Although it might not seem like such a big shift, many offenses run plays (or entire stacks) anticipating the open side is the forehand side.

Most handlers spend their entire lives practicing their best pivots, breaks, and hucks to beat defenders guarding this way, and most cutters set up their initial moves to get shots from that side.

Making a change, therefore, will force the entire offense to adjust and can pay big dividends, despite requiring very little but communication to your team and some mental effort. Sometimes, just the change itself can buy you a few easy mistakes, turnovers, or blocks before your opponent recognizes the switch.

If a new force is working, stick with it. Even if it isn’t, you can try changing the force a few times in random patterns to be unpredictable and forcing an offense to think; if they’re not in a comfortable groove, your defense has that extra second to close the gap.

2. Put a straight up mark on.

The same idea as a force shift, but used even less often, is going to a flat mark. It’s a very useful strategy if you’re team is getting beat by the handlers or deep shots. Limit these guys by making them dump, swing, and spray short under passes toward the sidelines.

This move has a little more risk associated with it, as it definitely puts the defense downfield at a disadvantage. Those defenders need to stick their opponents underneath and simply play as tight as they can to both sides of the field. It will be tough and you’ll have to expect some yardage-gaining passes to go off, but if played with tight marks to prevent hucks and aggressive defense downfield, it’ll force an offense to grind. Chances are good you may get some blocks or miscues in this unexpected look.

Add a wrinkle by bringing the off handler defenders into the lane to poach or form a wall. This is especially great against a horizontal stack or a hucking offense. Force players backwards, take risky poach bids for blocks, and generally confuse the opponent.

3. Call for a bracket, bait, poach, or last back.

If your team is getting beat, you need to force turns in order to fuel a comeback. One way to do that is to give one player license to go rogue. This player should be the best defender on your line and he or she should have the freedom to do something risky and unusual, exert his or her will and skillset to make something happen.

That person’s adjustment may be a set call that you’ve practiced before. For example, on the safe side, assigning them a role in a bracket or as a last back can stop set plays, give them a better chance against first look hucks and unders, and genuinely stymie a team.

If you’re really struggling to generate turnovers, you need to take a bigger risk. Have a player specifically set up a poach or bait a throw, accepting that it may result in a wide open look if it fails. Have your best defender specifically overcommit or appear to misplay a receiver, leaving someone open who will probably call for the disc. If the throw goes up, give chase and go get the disk.

4. Run a zone.

Perhaps the most common defensive adjustment is also maybe the best: Never lose a game without trying a zone.

If you’ve been playing person-defense all game, then this becomes a simple process. Make a change by having defenders guard space rather than individuals, trying to close off throwing lanes and generally slow down the offense’s rhythm. If you have already been running zone, then the adjustment is just slightly more complicated: run a different zone.

Simple zones are cups or walls. For a more aggressive set, but one also more likely to confuse the offense, try a clam or some other similar poach set. Playing one-on-one on specific players, like an opponent’s superstar or handlers, and then having a deep and some wings or unders, can really cause chaos for the opponents.

Remember, a little havoc is your friend if you’re down.

On Offense

5. Switch the position of your stack.

Just as fundamental a shift as switching a defensive force, switching the position or shape of a stack is an easy adjustment for any player, but one that can pay big dividends by forcing the defense to respond to something new.

Many players these days has experience with or has seen both vertical and horizontal stacks; if you’ve been running one predominantly, simply try the other. Vertical offenses work well against defenses that struggle to hold the mark or stop a fast-flowing, technical offense. On the other hand, horizontal offenses can really open up the deep space and hucking game easily, and can help defeat teams that aren’t very athletic or that don’t have great fitness. Either scenario can be a boon to your team depending on who you’re facing.

Even if the opponent is a sound strategic and defensive team in all respects, you should still try switching the shape of your offense if you’re losing, especially if you’re getting broken often. A new look will at the very least make it harder for the defense to stick to their traditional force, matchups, and plan, giving you a slight momentary edge.

Remember, offense should always have the advantage, dictating location, placement, and timing. Don’t let the defense get to the point where they’ve gotten a rhythm to have you locked down.

6. Call a cutting string or a new series of plays.

It’s amazing how often offenses, especially struggling offenses, continue to trot out to the line calling nothing but a stack and positions, or maybe a single player called for a first cut. You have the advantage with the disc because you can know exactly what you want to do; the defense simply has to respond. Take that advantage! Communicate and have a plan when you go out there!

Every team should have at least a couple set plays or a standard cutting cycle that you’ve practiced and honed. If that isn’t working, you need to dig deep into your toolbox to try some new versions.

Even without set plays, however, you can have a plan. Remember, a simple idea of what you’re going to do is better than no idea! Simply saying “Start cutting, let’s do this,” is like telling the captain of a ship to sail out into the ocean and hopefully find land on the other side. Call out player names and give distinct jobs. Give a cutting order, with two players at least getting directions to fake and run and who will be throwing to whom. An example: “Jill is catching the pull and centering to MoMo, while Eliza cuts first from the back of the stack, faking deep and then under, and she’ll then get Jimmy as her continue, ideally for a huck, but coming under if he’s not open deep.”

It can be a two-second set of instructions, but the offense will often thrive when everyone knows what to do. A clicking team is a thriving team, and people are always surprised at how often simple strings run just as they are called, leading to a score.

7. Move players from traditional roles.

When your offense gets stagnant, your in-game adjustments sometimes need to break players or sets out of traditional roles. Any kind of static or traditional play might negatively impact your team, keeping you in the same damaging cycle or slowing your comeback. Be more aggressive and make changes to make your players more dynamic.

One great example is to send handlers downfield. This can be done in a variety of ways. One adjustment is to start a player downfield in a stack to get an under cut and start a flow or send a huck. Slightly more complicated is to send out a speedy handler for an unexpected deep shot, which has the benefit of offering a quick scoring opportunity and catching the defense off-guard.

Another tried and true classic switch-up is running a dominator, a handler-driven offense which keeps the cutters (and their defenders) out of the way until an easy upfield continuation is available. Even the very best defenses have trouble stopping dominators because it sets quick players with strong throws in a fast-break, throw-and-go offense with tons of space.

8. Create an isolation.

The same concepts behind a dominator can be used in any traditional offense in an easy add. Set one cutter or handler downfield with isolated space. This comes back to an old mantra: simplicity equals success. Simplify, simplify, simplify your offense as much as possible by getting back to basics: a fast player in lots of space against one defender. A one-on-one matchup is much easier to win, especially if you bring your best.

Isolation offenses can be really successful in a variety of different ways. A basic isolation can simply provide a cutter or handler (in any given offensive set) a large amount of space to beat their defender.

Slightly more advanced isolations can be set up around an entire offense. A side stack is a great and easy way to isolate players using almost the entire field to your advantage.  Other ideas include running a German style offense based solely on isolation, using break throws and the big space for hucks to drive downfield movement. Bringing cutters forward (moving one or two to handlers) or backward (sitting in a deep option) can greatly confuse your opponents.

Just Try Something

Many times, adjustments are made out of desperation; your team is losing, its plan isn’t working, and so you need to try something new. As a result, don’t freak out if some ideas don’t work (or fail miserably), simply go back and try something new again. The key is to be dynamic to keep an opponent on their toes and change the pace and rhythm of a game where you aren’t finding success.

Most of the ideas above are short-term fixes and not necessarily ideal as long-term sustainable strategy moves. Then again, if you find something that really works, then go out and practice it! The more adjustments you have in your toolkit, the higher the likelihood you’ll discover one that works against any opponent in any conditions.

Make a simple shift. Your own adjustments can make a world of difference.


  1. But is originally attributed to Field Marshall Helmuth von Meltke the Elder. What a name! 

  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, and has played for Haymaker, Chicago Club, and Machine. He currently plays for Chicago Wildfire. 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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