Tuesday Tips: 10 Tips to Look For When Scouting, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Photo: Stephen Chiang — UltiPhotos.com

Tuesday Tips 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

Too often, “scouting” means simply sitting around with your teammates — either on the sideline or around a video screen — casually commenting on and criticizing a team you are watching, with a good amount of heckling thrown in.

To be fair, considering all the other things they need to manage, ultimate teams often don’t prioritize their time doing proper scouting. In an environment where captains and coaches have to handle all aspects of a team’s scheduling, strategy, and logistics, it can be difficult to find time to do anything beyond taking care of your own squad.

However, scouting is an extremely important process that can be very advantageous. Do it correctly once and it can reap benefits against a specific opponent for the course of an entire season, if not years. There’s a reason professional sports invest big money and some of their best management talent in the scouting world.

To truly scout correctly, you can’t be a casual observer. You have to be an active recorder.

True objectivity will rely on a lack of commentary, avoiding looking at the exciting highlight reel plays (most of these are athletic moments where things have gone wrong from set schemes), and record as many numbers as you can — numbers don’t lie…usually.

To scout well, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Something to write with. Notepad will work, but spreadsheets are best as always.
  • A dedicated time to watch a full game or two. Video footage is ideal to pause and rewind as needed, but if you need to scout in person, follow a team for more than just one game.
  • Knowledge of what to look for. Hence this article.

Once you are set up and willing to remain objective and unbiased as possible, you’re ready.

Here are ten tips for what to look for when scouting.

1. Offensive Tendencies… By the Numbers

A lot can be learned by simply going over accurate statistics from a team. Goal, assist, and block totals don’t tell a full story — but they do tell you something. Any stats you can track on top of these basics only tell you more.

However, ultimate being the fledgling sport that it is, accurate stats are extremely hard to come by for most. It’s one of the best reasons to do a ‘stats’ watch while scouting. The perfect way to stay objective, spend almost all of your watching time simply counting and recording. And don’t just focus on individual stats — try to keep stats on overall team tendencies overall.

Count and track:

  • How many times does a team run horizontal stack vs. vertical stack vs. side stack offensive sets?
  • How many times do they score by hucking vs. working it up?
  • How many of their goals are scored by their O-line vs. their D-line?
  • Who is dishing the assists and racking up the goals, but who also is the person who rarely turns it over or who chews up yards in the middle of the field and throws the hockey assist?

There is lots to look at, and these numbers can be really useful. When you analyze them later, patterns will start to develop. Knowing that every third point an opponent switches offenses to vertical stack is a big advantage, for example, as is realizing that most of their scoring is on hucks.1

Probably the most important and objective way to scout is to do this kind of numbers breakdown for your team.

2. Defensive Schemes

Similar to the concept above, but slightly more nebulous, defensive schemes are harder to track and predict because by their nature they change every game with a different opponent.

Offenses will often adjust to their foes, but good offenses still attempt the same sets most of the time and have patterns — they initiate while defenses respond.

Defensively, you can still track tendencies, but here you’ll have to be a bit more descriptive with words, rather than numbers. Still try to stay objective! Avoid coloring your comments with opinions (i.e. that was a really messy zone) and instead just accurately record what the defense runs and how they run it.

Examples:

  • They run a 2-3-2 with one deep baiting for blocks
  • They run force forehand most of the time, especially focusing on no arounds
  • They play physical push-under defense downfield

This is data, but of a different kind and no less valuable!

3. Pull Plays

In many ways this is the golden goose of scouting. If you can directly pinpoint a play — better yet, diagram it or save a clip link to it with time stamp — you can prepare your team and really get an edge on your opponents.

Beware: don’t think just because you’ve found the pull plays that you’ll beat the team. Most plays aren’t anything too secret or tricky, but instead are just good offensive direction. Don’t assume your first impression of a scouted play is correct, analyze the play and watch it a few times. Make a note of where the main cuts tend to come from, what the cuts look like, who makes them.

Once shared to your team this won’t let you totally shut down the offense, but instead gets a step closer to making the critical block. Sometimes that step you gain, by anticipating a play, will be the big difference maker. Be careful not to focus too much on a specific pull play and then under prepare on other areas — it’s a recipe to get embarrassingly beat. Remember, really good teams run pull plays that disguise or compliment each other.

4. Endzone

Almost every team has a slightly different endzone set from their regular offense, as the limitations of space and the critical nature of scoring when the disc is in that area impact what is available.

Make careful note of these changes. Do the handlers change in number? Does the offense shift entirely into a new format? Do they run an isolation or a smaller group, or do they include the whole team still?

Tracking the endzone and knowing the set is one of the best ways to prepare, especially if you can identify a particular position player that tends to score more often than others. For example, if you notice the H1 center handler scores upline the majority of the time in endzone, you can shift to try to stop it, or likewise the front isolation cutter.

Again, however, remember that this scouting is just to help prepare you. Knowing what they do is not the same as stopping what they are going to do. You can devise your own schemes or make tweaks to stop it — maybe a poaching zone or a hard focus on no-around/no-upline — but basic principles of defense such as not getting broken on the mark or not getting beaten to the force side are still the majority of what you’ll need to practice.

5. Set Pieces

People love to look for the pull plays and the endzone, but forget about other set pieces. Don’t be the person that ignores some of the best ways to get blocks!

Perhaps even more important than pull plays are the plays the offense runs out of timeouts or when picking up the disc on the sideline. These can be some of the most advantageous positions for the defense because you are, 1) set and fixed in position to start, and 2) usually dealing with a limited field space. Here you can really buckle down and perhaps even poach or cheat if you can identify a common play that an offense will use when they are in these tight spots. If you know, for example, they always look for a particular player or throw when trapped, you should make aggressive moves to stop it. Likewise, if they run a play like the zipper or clearing all players in the stack to one side and letting the back come under, you can aggressively try to stop it.

Set pieces like this are the times to gamble and get the big momentum turnovers.

6. Individual Traits To Identify

Before you can begin to look at individual player strengths and weaknesses, you have to be able to identify the players, know who they are, and what they do.

Start very simple: names and numbers. Then move on: what do they look like? Does this person tend to always wear a hat for example? Are they particularly tall or short? Who is the speedster on the team? Connect names and numbers to positions and roles on the team, such as who the primary movers and shakers on the offense are.

A great tip is to make a little flipbook or slideshow for your team to study. Think about it this way: in practice, you usually get an edge on a teammate if you know who to guard and what he or she likes to do. It’s much easier to say, for example, “I have Cam!” and know to force her out because she has fantastic throws, then hurriedly trying to scan across a field and not having a clue what defensive preferences to take.

This is the beginning of the matchup stage. Before your players can hope to guard someone, it’s best that they know who they are.

7. Individual Strengths

Once the basics of the who is who is established, you can begin to analyze individuals in-depth.

Start obviously with tendencies and strengths. What does this person like to do? What does this person do well? This is where it gets very hard to get objective. Oftentimes, you’ll see team leaders turn to awe (“He’s unguardable and I’m his fanboy”) or worse, dismissive (“He’s terrible and overrated”).

A little bit of commentary is to be expected and potentially helpful. You want any matchups to be confident they can take and dominate their mark. However, you want to still limit scouting reports to basic facts as much as possible.

So try to use these guiding questions:

  • Where does each player go most often on the field?
  • Which throw does each player use most, especially in tough spots?
  • Does a player like to catch it deep or under?
  • What athletic strength does each player have?
  • Is a player faster or slower than our potential matchup?

Consider as many factors as possible, from height to experience to temperament, into consideration.

8. Individual Weaknesses

Again, avoid the personalized commentary. Dive deep, be specific, find the flaws dispassionately.

Guiding questions:

  • How are most of each player’s turnovers committed?
  • Where does each player feel most uncomfortable or not go on the field?
  • Is a player inexperienced in any areas?
  • Does a player respond better in zone or person defense?
  • Can we poach off a player or bait a block?

Here’s where strategy comes into play. Once you’ve scouted individual weaknesses, start finding players on your own team that have those features as their strengths. If a player has weak throws, who has the best mark on your team to guard? If a player is shorter, who is the tall-star you can match up with?

Start picking players who you’d like to see guarding these others and then move to what you’d like them to do. Do you want to force a certain player into a certain spot? Are you hoping to take chances for blocks by encouraging certain throws or cuts? Think specifically and imagine situations where you are taking advantage.

9. Why They Succeed

Once all of this data has been collected and considered, take a step back. Take all the information in and try to outline the big picture question: Why does this team win games?

Answer in three or four big idea tenets to try to give yourself an idea of overall team structure and strength. Sometimes these answers will directly relate to players. After all, many times a team wins because a superstar dominates. It’ll be your challenge then, to limit that superstar.

If you can generally figure out why a team is successful, you’ll have taken the big step to finding out how to beat them.

10. Why You Will Win

Finally, after scouting extensively, you can answer the most important question of all: why (and how) will you beat this team?

Sometimes it can seem impossible, especially if you’ve been tallying inumerable traits for the opposing side. But no team is invincible and every strength will have a corresponding weakness. Sometimes just finding those trends and making the offense uncomfortable can be enough. With good scouting, even a minor role player can do a specific job to limit and stop an enemy that can be the key to victory.

Take the same process: write down a list of three or four big picture reasons you will win and then create a plan to accomplish them. At its most basic, this might mean a small strategy session or matchup discussion with the team. For a really big game, this might mean a practice plan that is in part dedicated to learning or running sets to defeat a specific opponent. There is no better practice for a defense than an offense that runs the opposing sets and plays. And the same is true the other way. Get your O-line into shape by practicing against the zone or defensive set that the other team most likes to utilize.

Especially useful against common opponents you see often (think your in-region rivals), creating practice plans with a little bit of scouting knowledge thrown in is a great synergy of tactics and strategy alongside athletic play.

Be prepared, be knowledgeable, be confident, and victory will be yours.


  1. Nearly every ultimate team scores on away shots, hence the “All they do is huck it” heckle. A true scoring huck is over 30 yds into the endzone. Keep note of how away shots are thrown as well, whether from power position, a standstill, or cutter-to-cutter flow. A lot of teams don’t score on hucks, but use away shots at some point. 

  1. Alex Rummelhart
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    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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