Tuesday Tips: Alternative Games For Low-Turnout Pickup

Don't have good numbers for pickup? No problem. Never cancel again with these games you can play with a disc, some cones, and a few hardy souls.

A player goes up for the disc at the Harrisburg PickUp Tournament in May 2021. Photo: Sandy Canetti — UltiPhotos.com

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Back in the ancient times before there was email and social media, we had a great bi-weekly pick up game at the park. Turnout was good most days, but when the weather got iffy — cold, thunder, or rainy — no one knew if the game was canceled or not. Later, people would say things like, “I would have gone if I thought others were going.” Thus, games were canceled for no other reason than people thinking other people wouldn’t show up.

A solution was decided upon: Never Cancel. Everyone knew the game was always on. In this way, we got through the summer and deep into the fall without canceling a single game. We found that rain and wind were not impediments to spirited play and a good time. When daylight savings came, which was the traditional end of the season, we decided that we would keep playing on Sunday afternoons. No matter the weather, we played. Winter set in to New England, and we just kept going. We played in sub-zero temperatures, biting wind, deep snow, and icy fields. The icy field presented a unique situation, because if you threw a hard pass and no one caught the disc, it would hit the ice and slide and slide; the wind might pick it up, and it would slide some more. Thus we created a new rule: whoever threw it, fetched it. We learned that all conditions could be fun to play in.

So we went on like this, and never missed a single game. My friend, David, explained: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.”

There was one more problem to solve: numbers dropped off in the winter. We could not muster 7-on-7, so we had to invent different types of games. The challenge was to make the games interesting, fun, and competitive. Below are the games we came up with:

Seven-Person Dynasty

This game is played when seven people show up. The stall is seven, the field is about ⅔ of a normal sized field, there are half field bricks, and play is 3-on-3. Whoever gets scored on gets the substitute. The team that scored pulls and keeps their team together as long as they keep scoring. If your team scores four straight goals then you have beaten all the possible combinations and that gets you a Cycle — but no bragging rights. To achieve that, you then have to play 3-on-4 and still pull. If you can score then, you have a Dynasty. The team stays together until the team with four people scores or surrenders. Then the Dynasty team is broken up.

The advantages of this game are that every point is competitive. Each point is the potential beginning of a Dynasty. The teams keep changing, so you get to play with everyone. There are lots of touches. The intensity is high. Above all, it is fun. This game is a favorite.

Nine-Person Dynasty

Same principles as Seven-Person Dynasty except harder to accomplish, as you have to win five points to achieve a Cycle.

 

Then there was the problem of six people showing up. Alas, no way to play Dynasty. Enter:

Combinations

In this game, everyone keeps their own score, and you play games to one or two points and then change teams until all the possible combinations are played with and against each other. For instance, each person gets a number 1 through 6. Round 1: Players 1, 2, and 3, versus players 4, 5, and 6. When a team scores each member of that team gets a point. Round 2: 1, 2, and 4 versus 3, 5, and 6. It takes ten rounds to play all the combinations.1 You then tally up your individual score.

 

Some days the numbers dropped even lower as the weather got worse, and for some strange reason some people thought the conditions weren’t good for playing. What to do when only five people showed up?

Bizarro

Like Combinations, everyone is playing for their own individual score. You play on “almost a full field”. How’s that for precision? For every round, there is one thrower, two receivers, and two defenders. You have four throws to move the disc to the other endzone. The thrower hits the receiver with a pass. The receiver immediately drops the disc and runs up field to receive the next throw. The thrower must sprint to the disc because the defenders, although not marking, are stalling the thrower the moment a catch is made. (Beware! If you like to stand there and admire your long throws — and you know who you are — while they are being caught you will be in for a rude shock as the defenders will keep counting and you may forfeit one of your plays before you reach the disc.) If the throw is incomplete, the disc goes back to where the previous completion was. If you can work it over the endline in four plays, the thrower and the two receivers each get a point. If you fail to work the disc past half-field the defenders get a point. If the defenders intercept any pass, they get a point. If you can score in less than four plays then you get a bonus play and can try to work your way back up to the other end zone for more points. Every player must play every position, which takes five rounds. I guarantee that after a few rounds of this game, you will notice that you are in the midst of a serious workout.

 

But what about when the wind is howling and the snow is outrageous and only four people show?2 No need to despair. Time for:

Hot Box

Two teams of two, trying to score in the same five yard by five yard box. You are only allowed in the box for three seconds, then you must clear out. The stall count is to five. Every time there is a turnover, the disc must be cleared out about ten yards away from the box. Then you try to work it in. I prefer this game with boxing-out allowed. Way more fun, and a good upper body workout to boot.

 

Alas, the day comes that is cold, raw and windy, the rain coming down in sheets. Only two or three people show up. Not a problem. Time for:

Frisbee Golf (as opposed to Disc Golf)

No need for baskets because benches, signs, and trees make fine targets. Each person takes turns naming the next target, the obstacles you must throw around, and the par to get there. (There was a question about whether roots or branches of trees counted as hitting the target. We settled on “Tommy’s Rule,” which he says came out of Albany in 1979: the roots are part of the target but the branches are not.) Once the throw is made, you jog to your disc (to keep from getting cold) and throw until you hit the target, and then on to the next hole.

——-

Our streak of uninterrupted outdoor games ended after six years when a dome was built in our town, and we moved the game indoors in the winter. Better conditions, less fun, and more money. The game was revived 22 years later when Covid-19 came and the dome closed. We are now up to a year and a half without canceling. I am glad to be back outdoors.


  1. The 10 rounds for Combinations are:
    1, 2, 3 vs 4, 5, 6
    1, 2, 4 vs 3, 5 ,6
    1, 2, 5 vs 3, 4 ,6
    1, 2, 6 vs 3, 4, 5
    1, 3, 4 vs 2, 5, 6
    1, 3, 5 vs 2, 4, 6
    1, 3, 6 vs 2, 4 ,5
    1, 4, 5 vs 2, 3, 6
    1, 4, 6 vs 2, 3, 5
    1, 5, 6 vs 2, 3, 4  

  2. Any Bob Dylan fans out there? 

  1. Terry Plotkin
    Terry Plotkin

    Terry Plotkin has been playing ultimate for over 40 years and still loves it. He has been coaching youth ultimate for over 20 years. He is currently working on his book, Ultimate Matters, which will be coming out soon. It is a true to life novel packed with the insights he gleaned over the years.

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