Tuesday Tips: Touch the Disc More Often, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Some players just seem to have a knack for finding the disc.

Revolver's Joel Schlachet has developed a reputation for attracted this disc, especially around the endzone. Photo: Jolie J Lang -- UltiPhotos.com
Revolver’s Joel Schlachet has developed a reputation for attracting this disc, especially around the endzone. Photo: Jolie J Lang — 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!

Everyone knows the player: the super talented athlete who seems like they should be dominating on the field, but just always end up being a non-entity. They simply can’t get open or find a way to get passes thrown to them on offense.

Whether very athletic, incredibly fast, or possessing great throws, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get open. Check all the boxes, but if you never touch the disc on the field on offense, you’re not helping the squad nearly as much as you could be. This is usually a problem for new players, but even the most experienced veteran can have those dry runs of being unable to get the disc thrown to them. The better the squad gets, the more this is especially true; some players just have a knack for finding the ball, while others don’t.

If it isn’t talent, then what’s the problem? Is it luck? Not at all; getting the disc consistently on offense is a specific skill. Touching the disc consistently requires a knowledge and mental focus to coincide with athleticism and talent.

Here are the key areas to concentrate on to improve on this skill: timing, spacing, and aggression.

Timing

75% of touching the disc on offense is timing. Most players who always end up in the wrong place at the wrong time (imagine a cutter stuck on the far side of the field), simply don’t know when best to pick their moment.

The reality is, you can be a phenomenal cutter or handler, but if you don’t time your cuts right, throwers will never have a chance to hit you. This may be because the defense has shifted to cover or your thrower has already started looking to their next progression when you make your move.

Here are some tips to mastering timing when it comes to getting the disc. While they won’t hold true in every situation —and there will still always be those occasional “throw you open” moments — they’ll work for most players most of the time.

  • When the disc moves, you move: Changing your direction or speed at the moment the disc is caught is a good rule of thumb and a way to help sync the timing of your cuts. Generally the first second of the stall after a player has received a pass is when it is easiest for them to attack because the mark isn’t yet set in position. If you strike immediately in that moment, you have better odds of getting open and passed to. Think of a swing laterally and then taking off deep. Even better, timing your deep cut just when someone gets power position. Or when a teammate receives an under cut and you are able to line it up so you’re ready to receive the next easy under pass. Great teams with great flow will move like a clock, with one piece ticking off each second.
  • Think two passes ahead: Sometimes you are just so far away from the play or out of position, that is will be near impossible to get the next pass. Therefore, think ahead. Move when the disc moves, but instead of setting up to get the very next pass, try for the one after that. Especially important on swings or lateral movement, this is the way to perfectly time your cuts, rather than (as most rookies do) trying to get the ball when it isn’t your time. A great example: the disc swings to the center, you move and take off deep, knowing you won’t get that throw, but you can then set up an under for the next pass, or even a throw later in the stall if a thrower needs to move beyond their first look. For handlers, think positioning yourself to get the next reset or dump, when the player ahead of you has gone.
  • Find the flow (and your role): Good teams will have a set pattern or flow to their offense. It will usually run through 2-3 core players who drive the motion of the offense. Don’t try to do too much or step outside your role — again, imagine the furiously sprinting rookie who despite their effort does more clogging than good. Instead, pick your spots. If you know a player is going to get a reset as the center handler, set up for that person. This is your cut deep when your hucker gets power position, or your dive to get a dump from a non-confident newbie. Figure out your place (and everyone else on the line’s place) to then go for the key moments when you can serve the squad best.

Spacing

If timing is 75% of the key to touching the disc more often, then spacing is 20% more on top of that — almost the whole shebang.

A lot of times you simply can’t get the disc because you’re in the wrong place, usually on the wrong side of the field. Inexperienced players languish there, even when the disc is attacking away from them, and they can feel helpless. More knowledgeable players set themselves up to be dangerous in space and make an impact. Here’s how:

  • Find the clear areas: Every offense will have areas it is trying to attack, usually dictated by the type of set it runs. For example, in basic form, horizontal stack opens up the deep and under space, vertical opens up the sides, etc. But regardless of set, in the midst of a point, there are going to be areas that are more open. You have to be able to see these throwing lanes, and most of all see where your teammates are and aren’t. You absolutely can’t go to the same space as another player; then, neither of you will get the disc. Clear away, look for the next throwing lane (again thinking ahead), and be ready to attack that space.
  • Change the field: There will be a lot of times when the clear areas or the best throwing lanes will be away from you. This is normal and part of offense. A great offense will swing back and attack both sides of the field to make it easier on their players and their flow, but this may not always happen. You may have to change your positioning. This might mean temporarily moving out of your spot in the stack or handler set to find where the play is. Handlers going downfield are great examples of this; there is no point being the third off handler if other players are grinding up the far side. Go deep! You probably won’t get the disc, but you will be able to then come down and maybe get an under on the other half. Likewise, think about cutters who fill the handler space or who move into a new stack position.
  • Be involved in the order: Ideally, all of this is done in a clear order, where you have one person who is the true star for the moment, with clear continues to follow. Be sure to find that order and get a place in it. If you are on the far side of a horizontal stack, set yourself up to come into the middle as a continue, for example when another player needs to rotate out.
  • Mirror movement with your fakes: A final note on spacing; many uncertain players just go exactly where the disc goes like dogs chasing their tails. In fact, you usually want to do the opposite, at least on your first fake. First you do need to adjust your spacing to be close (but not too close) to the play. This is moving your stack or set based on the yardage gained or lost. But when you are in position, you want to mirror the move. When the disc moves upfield for example, you want to come under and then go deep. Handlers, think about setting up a great upline. The disc moves up field, you drop back for a bounce back swing. The defense responds, immediately giving you a chance to turn hips and strike. Likewise if a dump just happened. Get into position, make an upline move to attack and the defense will scramble to stop it, letting you then head back to continue for a second swing. Cutters can and should do this as well.

Aggression

Let’s be clear: we are NOT talking about unspirited or physical play. This is about mental aggression and a desire to attack and get the disc.

If you want the ball, you simply cannot be tentative. In fact, most people can relate to those points where they were just demanding to take over (usually because of a matchup) as the times where they touched the disc most.

It’s still a balance — you can’t be overly aggressive to forsake timing and spacing or you’ll end up running for a lot of nothing. Likewise, you can’t be so fierce that you get the disc often, but become the ball hog and mess up the entire team offense.

The final 5% of the equation, here’s how to do it:

  • Want the ball: It sounds silly, but you have to really want to touch the disc and not be afraid when it is in your hands. There is a reason that the best throwers are sometimes great at getting open. They have confidence to attack, no matter what situation, knowing they want to have the disc in their hands.
  • Be dangerous: You have to be threatening to the defense to get open. Make the defender afraid of you by attacking the dangerous space (often the deep space) often. If they’re terrified of the upline power position, you’ll get a lot of free swings. If they know you crush unders every other, you will get to score goals with easy deep shots. Show the defense you have weapons and then you must be willing to exploit other areas of the field when they are afraid of them.
  • Take what the defense gives you: Sometimes you’ll want to go deep, but free unders are there. Likewise for the easy dump or the swing. If the defense is not especially close and in a position that is clearly preventing you from moving somewhere, then simply go where they’ll let you and reap the rewards.
  • Use those legs: Finally, you have to be willing to work. One cut ain’t gonna do it folks, not against a good defender. It may take a few fakes, or dragging your defender around the field for a bit, to get the spacing and timing you want. Push the space, make the defense constantly have to watch where you are. Force them to adjust their hips and practice their footwork. Even when you are clearing or waiting for your moment and perfect timing, keep moving if you can. Run hard and be ready to strike fast when an  opportunity occurs. Make every cut like it’s your last chance to make an impact on the game.

Time + Space +Aggression = Touches

Practice these skills as often as you can. Watch film to see how elite players who seem far away from the disc or in the wrong position respond. Watch downfield to see plays develop, rather than just watching the pass and end result. Realize you can get the disc as often as you want. Work at it, think about it actively on the field, and then go and do it.

  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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