How to Create Space on the Ultimate Field — And Why it Matters

The ebb and flow of available space on the field is crucial to offensive execution.

NC State against UNC Wilmington at Atlantic Coast D-I Regionals 2019. Photo: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
NC State against UNC Wilmington at Atlantic Coast D-I Regionals 2019. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

When we think of playing offense in ultimate, it’s easy to think only about throwing, catching, and shaking your defender to go get the disc. But most of an offensive player’s time on the field is spent doing other things—repositioning, clearing, or cutting hard despite being unlikely to get the disc. The latter activities, done right, make the space for the former to happen.

When teammates make space for one another, the result is beautiful ultimate: the disc flows toward the end zone, and the viewer is left to wonder how defenders have any chance on such a large field. But when players move only to try to get the disc, or they’re not sure how to create space, you’re more likely to see a slog. Handlers hold the disc longer, cutters hesitate and then double cut1, and the whole field appears defendable.

Making space is one of the hardest skills to learn in ultimate for a couple of reasons. First, it encompasses multiple types of movement, from sprinting to shuffling to standing still, so learning it isn’t as simple as drilling one technique. Second, it requires strong field sense and vision, which usually only develop after years of experience.

This article is based on my study of a handful of college and club games, in which I looked for effective space creation as well as the failure to make space. I tried to identify principles behind effective space creation, while also documenting the wide variety of ways players create space. I hope the following clips and analysis help to illuminate this subtle but crucial skill.


  1. Double cutting refers to two offensive players moving simultaneously to the same space, frequently resulting in neither player getting open. 

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  1. Alex Forde
    Alex Forde

    Alex Forde is a former captain of the Middlebury Pranksters. He has played in the Club division with Bethesda Watchdogs and Adelphos Ultimate.

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