Tuesday Tips: Try These Anti-COVID Frisbee Games

A portion of the Zontal field setup.

Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

This article was written by Dave Chang, the creator of the Covidimate website.

It’s been hard not being able to play ultimate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Like you, I’m an ultimate player, eager to stay safe and yet also play the sport where I live in Austin, Texas. Rather than just call it quits, I worked with our local pickup group to come up with an assortment of frisbee games that inherently create social distancing.

We’ve tried a lot of different options and created Covidimate, a website dedicated to explaining the games we’ve liked and played the most. Here’s a look at some of our favorites — we hope you’ll give them a try!

Vertal probably plays most like regular ultimate. We use field marking disks — little soft discs of plastic — to mark eight running lines, one for each player, in a 4v4 game. The field is a 270′ x 110′ rectangle, with two 15-yard-deep endzones. The lines alternate between the two teams, with 15 feet between each line, which means that there’s always one defender with no one to guard, but that player is expected to call stalls and ups and be ready for a turnover. We also compensate for this by rotating down a line every two scores. Players must have a foot on their line to make any play, which makes accuracy and wind reading critical skills. To compensate for the lack of horizontal mobility, first bounces are live and can be caught just like any regular pass. The offense is constrained by a seven-second stall count and a five-down requirement. That is, like football, a team has to score using five throws or it’s a turnover.

Can you play defense 15 feet from a receiver? The answer is yes, especially with the limitation on receiver movement, the seven-second count, and five downs to score. Shutdown defense isn’t as feasible, but face-guarding a receiver with good up-calls from your teammates is remarkably effective.

Here’s a video of Vertal in action:


Zontal is the other favorite for large groups, and unlike Vertal, it doesn’t require a ton of special field markers, just twenty regular cones. As you’ve probably guessed, this game requires the midfield players to stay on horizontal lines. The end result is a more tactical game with plenty of running but more of an emphasis on quickness. Instead of endzones, though, this game requires offenses to hit cones that are defended by a goalie in order to score. The target cones are offset to give the offense more options, including shooting from midfield. We’ve actually strung the target cones together with window screen mesh to make a net of sorts, which presents a bigger target and makes it easier to see successful shots. One of our players, Cisco Puga, has also rigged up hoop targets, made from rebar and a few PVC pipes, that work well too.

Like Vertal, first bounces are live to minimize the effect of the distancing limitations. Seven-second count.

Because it doesn’t require as many field markers, Zontal is more flexible for larger groups. You could easily add more midfield lines to run a 5v5 or 6v6 game. Video of the game:


Disc Tennis is a whole different animal, and one I’m particularly fond of, especially for smaller groups. You split into two teams of two players, and each player patrols a 10’x30′ box, with the four boxes laid in a row, separated by 15 feet. Each team’s goal is to score points by intercepting a pass or striking one of the other team’s two target cones. For example, it’d be Red Team Box 1, Blue Team 1 (with two target cones), Red Team 2 (with two target cones), and Blue Team 2. Like the other games, the first bounce is live, but additionally, if a player can retrieve a stopped disc without stepping out of his box, that disc is live and can be picked up and immediately played from that spot. Play only stops when someone calls time or the disc stops in a dead zone.

In this game, you’ll see lots of quick action, especially if, for example, Blue 1 gets the rhythm of throwing sliding upside-down shots at Red 2’s cones that can be retrieved by Blue 2, and vice-versa. Since play doesn’t stop on a score, Blue 1 can strike a cone with a shot that rolls into Blue 2’s box, and Blue 2 can immediately pick it up and take a shot at the remaining cone in Red 2’s box.

Prango Pro is a fun 4v4 game that looks like Zontal in the scoring department, but plays completely differently in the midfield. Each of the players (handler, box defender, goalie, and receiver) has a distinct role, and there are also two cones at the center of the field that either team can score on, so there are lots of opportunities for smart plays and surprises. The end result is a game that feels a little like basketball crossed with ultimate. The box defender role is one of my favorites; you need to defend the central cones, but you can also interfere with the enemy handler’s passes and catch your handler’s missed shots to keep your possessions alive.

Hot Potatoes is the last game I’ll describe here. This is a goofy but demanding game that requires no setup and nothing but a few discs. Your group stands in a loose circle with a disc for every two players, and everyone simply throws a pass to the player to their right. The complication? You have to throw two seconds after catching, and if you drop a pass, both you and the thrower lose a point. After ten points, the player with the most points wins. Some entertaining variations are moving targets (players are running between cone markers), stationary targets (players cannot move their feet to catch a pass), and long distance (30+ feet between players).

The other games on the site right now are Prango Lite, Sniper, Hands, and the classic HORSE, which plays just like the basketball version of HORSE.

With a large group, our favorites are Vertal and Zontal. Vertal incorporates more open-field running and plays better with a lot of flat marker discs; Zontal is a bit more balanced, can easily accommodate more players, and can be set up with regular cones and fewer of them. I also like Prango Pro, which has four distinct player roles and feels a bit like basketball.

For smaller groups, the best fits are Disc Tennis (2v2) and Hot Potatoes, which is every-person-for-themselves and can be played with as few as 3 and as many as you can fit on the field. And of course, we encourage players to make up their own house rules and come up with variations. We’d love to hear from people about their variations and suggestions — there’s a contact form on the website for that purpose.

Of course, “covidimate” games are more risky than staying home, even though we’ve designed them specifically to be safe. We recommend wearing masks. Be smart, don’t play if you feel sick or have pre-existing conditions, and track attendance just in case contact tracing becomes necessary. (No one has caught COVID in our group.)

Visit the site at covidimate.wordpress.com and find out all the details there. And if you’re passing through Austin, you can find our pickup games at frisbeeish.wordpress.com. We’d love to have you join us.

Others have created socially distant frisbee games as well. Check out Space Disc, created by players in Portland!

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