Just because you aren't a primary look doesn't mean you can't help your offense.
August 8, 2019 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 0 comments
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Good offenses in ultimate are like well-oiled machines. Like machines, there are many moving parts that make up offensive flow. A few parts get a lot of attention, others are smaller and less noticeable. Still, as you might expect, if you take a few of those small pieces out (unscrew even the tiniest of bolts) the engine will not run nearly as well. Make too many tiny changes and the entire thing might collapse.
Ultimate is the same way, but many people simply don’t realize it. The big plays — the incredible break throws, the epic skies, and the primary isolation cutting — get the attention. A good eye might also appreciate the swings and dumps. But very few casual observers watch ultimate away from the disc.
There are several key things that good ultimate players do away from the primary action to ensure good offensive motion for their team. Sure, they may be less glamorous — no one is going to get widespread public plaudits for their subtle work away from the disc. Nevertheless, if you really want to help your team, or you really want to get noticed by the best of the best, here are five extremely useful things to do on offense without even coming close to touching the disc.
1. Be Active in the Stack (Without Getting in the Way)
In any offensive set, there are specific areas of the field designated for attack and others where the focus is on setting up the next attack, for example by forming stacks or recycling players through those areas when they clear. Great offenses always have active threats, regardless of position on the field.
This is important for a few key reasons. First, good defenses also are aware of what is attacking space and what is non-threatening space, and they’ll do their best to take advantage of the players who aren’t in the primary cutting zone. This can come in the form of poaching, switching, or resting in order to better stop the main looks in the flow of an offense. Active cutters, even if they are only making small movements or fakes in the stack, force defenses to be reactive. By forcing defenders to pay attention, you draw attention away from switches and make poaching riskier. If nothing else, it keeps a defender on their toes and doesn’t allow them to relax.
Active fakes and cutting can also help create space for your teammates. Even making a small stutter step might cause a defensive player or mark to focus their line of sight on you, a sideline to scream instruction, or a defender to shift their position, which might open up a lane for your squad.
Finally, and most importantly, being active in the stack helps set up good flow. A standing player is not only easier to guard, but far less likely to touch the disc in the future. Moving with the flow of offense, judging timing and space, is good for your chances of touching the disc in the future.
Be careful, however. Being active in the stack is all well-and-good, but keep it in short bursts and in small spaces. This will save your own legs (no reason to be wasting energy), keep you ready to attack when it is our turn, and won’t be a distraction or get in the way of the main offensive cuts.
2. Clear Quickly and Efficiently
Clearing is an extremely important part of ultimate that is worth a study all of its own. Effort is needed to clear hard, but it will open up space for you and your teammates, making offensive flow much easier. This gives wider throwing lines, makes defensive scheming much more difficult, and allows offenses to truly flow.
Watch any ultimate for an extended period of time and you’ll notice that offenses stagnate most often not because of something that a defense does, but because of simple mistakes they make themselves. Two come to mind. The first is double-cutting; whether as a result of miscommunication or bad timing, seeing two offensive players moving into the same space ensures that neither option is open and kills huge chunks of the active attacking space. The second example is bad clearing.
Hanging out in the lane for even a moment or two too long means a rising stall count, which can create a pressurized situation that defenses just love. Clear quickly and efficiently. Find the space that your team has designated for recycling motion out of the active cutting lane and get to that space, setting up your next attack.
3. Cut Opposite a Teammate
Similar to clearing, this is a technique that is important to teach every rookie (and veteran player who missed the lesson).
Many offenses rely on multiple cuts developing simultaneously. Think of a vert stack with one player cutting from the back under and another cutting from the front deep. Rarely will both of these cuts be equally viable. Especially in the midst of flow after a set play, when multiple people are cutting at the same time, one person probably has a greater advantage than the other. Perhaps the matchup is better for one person, or the other person has created a step or two on their defender, or perhaps there is just more space for one throwing lane vs the other. Either way, a great teammate will recognize when they are not the most viable cut and respond by giving way and cutting opposite that first cut.
Most often this is seen when a disc is in flow and two players recognize the disc being in a good position. Both might start to attack. This happens most often when you have two players see a handler gets power position breaking for the deep space. Sometimes you have to be the one to cut under, allowing your teammate that deeper space. Similarly, if you see a great open lane to the break or force side, but know your defender is hot on your heels, hold off on moving into that lane and instead let a teammate with more separation go there to give your thrower a bigger window to hit.
It can be tough to give up the goal-scoring cut or big yardage gain, but good players do it all the time — especially if they draw the matchup of the enemy’s top D-line baller. Eat a slice of humble pie, give the juiciest of looks to your teammates in a better position, draw your defender away from that space, and prepare for the next cut. You may not get the glory, but you’ll be a critical part in helping that sweet score go down without ever touching the disc.
4. Set Up an Honest Opportunity
Honest opportunities involve two things. The first part of the equation is that it’s a fair deal for your team — it is playing within your system, not you suddenly cutting off a teammate or streaking into an unexpected area. The second element is being opportunistic, ie recognizing a momentary opening and taking advantage of.
Being away from the disc as an offensive player gives you some advantages. Most often, you can play heads up and really read the flow of the game. This means you can help set up your next cut at the right moment. Timing and patience are key in this situation — you have to know when to go and when to wait. Just because a thrower is unmarked, for example, does not give you license to wildly run into the break space, especially if it cuts off a big gainer or better option elsewhere.
Rule of thumb: check your shoulder. If someone behind you has better position, cede the floor. Or, if you know that your offense has particular cutting orders or strings and it’s not yet your turn, then wait a bit. If, on the other hand, you see a chance and you’re best to exploit it, then go, go, go! Don’t waste that opportunity. Perhaps someone downfield or already in the midst of a cut draws a poach from the person marking you or your defender stumbled while adjusting their position or a mark has vastly overcommit or a sudden crossfield scoober opens up the break lane. You can also anticipate when a teammate is going to get the ball in an advantageous spot and be ready to be the next best cut for them. Nothing is better than a primary cutter getting a big under to have a perfectly timed away shot from the other side of the stack ready the second that he or she turns to face upfield.
5. Prepare For the Worst (And Be Ready to Be the Bailout)
Being away from the disc means you are not the first look (and probably not the second look either if you’re in the thick of the stack and not already preparing a next cut). But being a third or fourth look means you’re in territory where things start to break down and every team finds themselves at one time or another: desperate bailout. Being away from the disc means you can keep your head up and be watching for opportunities. Sometimes, however, it means being ready for emergencies.
Do your best to judge the pace of the offense in your head, counting the stall as you go. If you begin to realize things are getting dire, put yourself in a position to be that last best chance to retain possession. Many times this means heading for the over-the-top or the bailout huck. Sure these cuts may undercut your offense early in the stall count, but they work well a surprising amount of the time in the final few stall counts. The handler can’t attempt that desperate hammer if no one has gone to the free space to be available for it. Likewise, that back corner dime deep ball won’t be an option if you aren’t streaking for it on stall eight.
Be sure not to get in the way of the primary options. Again, there is nothing worse than trying to get ready for a bailout and inadvertently ruining a really good look. Still, you’ll know the desperate times when you see ‘em, and desperate times call for desperate measures and maneuvers. If you’re being poached or if your defender is sensing the feeding frenzy and creeping toward the thrower, start moving for a space where you can be the outlet and help when it’s needed most.
If it is successful, all eyes will be on the thrower who narrowly escaped. You might not get the big love for being that option, but the person with the disc will notice and be sure to find you after the point for a big thank-you hug.
Remember to be useful when away from the disc. Cut actively, clear hard, and be prepared for opportunities when they are needed. The glory may not come from distracting defenders or opening up cutting lanes, but success will, as will recognition from those who know the game. Most of all, you yourself will be a stronger, more intuitive player, and see benefits in every aspect of your offensive play, continuing your improvement, and bettering yourself as an ultimate player.