Ultimate Frisbee Strategies

Ultimate Frisbee: The Basic Rules
(entire rulebook at: http://www2.upa.org/ultimate/rules)

The Field -- A rectangular shape with endzones at each end. A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with endzones 25 yards deep.

Initiate Play -- Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective endzone line. The defense throws ("pulls") the disc to the offense. A regulation game has seven players per team.

Scoring -- Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense's end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score.

Movement of the Disc -- The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc ("thrower") has ten seconds to throw the disc. The defender guarding the thrower ("marker") counts out the stall count.

Change of possession -- When a pass in not completed (e.g. out of bounds, drop, block, interception), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense.

Substitutions -- Players not in the game may replace players in the game after a score and during an injury timeout.

Non-contact -- No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited. A foul occurs when contact is made.

Fouls -- When a player initiates contact on another player a foul occurs. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with the foul call, the play is redone.

Self-Refereeing -- Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.

Spirit of the Game -- Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.

Terms of the game:

Pull: This is the name of the ‘kick-off’ when one team throws the disc to the other teamto start a point. If you are on the throwing team, each person will identify the person on the other team that you will guard. You will guard (and be guarded by) this person the entire point. Likewise, if the other team is throwing to us, they will choose which one of
us they will guard. The person that guards you is the person you will guard for that point if our team makes a turnover and we have to switch from offense to defense.

Force: this is the side of the field that the defense wants to ‘force’ the offense to throw to. For us, we will be forcing school or forcing hills and the team will decide ahead of time which to do. Normally we will force teams to throw a forehand throw instead of a backhand. (I don’t know how to explain the difference other than most people learn how
to throw a Frisbee using a backhand throw and thus have a weaker forehand.)

The Stack: this is what the offense does while the disc is not in play. It involves the team lining up in a somewhat vertical fashion starting about 15 yards beyond where the person with the disc is.

Cut: this is what you do on offense to get open (e.g. cut to the open side of the field, cut in toward the person with the Frisbee, cut long (go run long away from the person with the Frisbee)

Huck: this is the term for a very long throw. You can cut long if you think one of our longer throwing players is in a position to huck it to you.

Clog: what you are doing on offense if you are just standing around in the wrong place or running to the wrong place putting you and your defender in the middle of the action in a bad way. “You are clogging the area, clear out.”
Clear: What you need to do if you are clogging up the field and making it hard for the thrower to throw to someone. You can clear by running away from the disc or running to the opposite (horizontally) side of the field (the dead side). You clear when you have not been able to get open after making a cut. By clearing, you not only get out of the way for
another of our players to get open, but you also take your defender away as well. Sometimes, just taking a defender away from the action is as good as you yourself getting open.

Dump: if you have the disc and are trying to throw it within the 10 seconds you have, but are having difficulty finding someone open, you can dump the Frisbee or throw the Frisbee to your dump. The dump is a person on our team who will most likely be standing slightly behind you or just to your side, making him/herself available for an easy throw. It is important to note that it is not wimpy or a sign that you suck to throw a dump pass – a dump pass gives our team more time to make the next throw, and often the dump pass opens things up down the field.

Swing: this is what it’s called to throw the Frisbee horizontally (often against the force). Imagine being on the right hand side of the field and having everyone all bunched up there. By swinging the disc to the lefthand side, the field is much more open.

Dump Swing: Predictably, this is when you throw a little pass backward to your dump,who then immediately throws the disc across the field horizontally (swing) – this is an extremely effective strategy because it breaks the force and leaves our team open all down the field (see diagrams)

Last back: the defensive player closest to the opponent’s end zone – the last back must always play behind the person they are guarding so that he/she can’t run for a long pass.

Strategies of the game:
Ultimate Frisbee is both simple and complex, and therein lays its beauty. Here are some basic components that will help us be on the same page out there in the field:

Defense first: For many beginners, the best way to learn the game is to focus on the defense. It is much easier to follow the person you are guarding than to figure out where to run when on offense.

Stand on the correct side of the player you are guarding: You can accomplish a lot on defense simply by ‘cheating’ to the correct side of the player you are defending. See the diagrams below on what to do.

Make hard cuts: when on offense and are trying to get open, there are four basic strategies for now, but each demands that you run really hard to be effective: Run straight toward the person with the disc – if your defender is behind you then you will be open. Note: always run to the disc instead of waiting for the disc to come to you. By waiting, you give the defender a chance to block it. Start running toward the person with the disc, then cut or run toward the ‘live’ side – the side that the defense wants us to throw it to in either of the above situations, if you are not open (you’ll know if you’re not open either because you’ll see your defender in the way between you and the person with the disc, or the person with the disc will ‘look you off’ – in other words, the person with the disc will determine that you are not open and give you some sort of eye or voice signal that you’re not open), it is extremely important that you run just as hard either to the dead side if you were running right toward the disc, or run up the sideline if you were cutting to the open side. By taking yourself out of the area, you are making space for someone else to get open.

Use your dump: When on offense, if you don’t see someone down the field to throw the disc to, throw it to your dump. At about the 5 second mark, you should start looking for your dump. Remember, you are not a wimp for throwing a dump pass.

Flow and anticipate: when on offense and you see a throw being made to one of our players, anticipate the catch and start running to an open part of the field even before the catch is made. Ideally, you want the person who caught the disc to look up and see you open within 1-2 seconds of catching it. The process of throwing and catching when no one holds on to the disc for more than 2 seconds is called ‘having good flow’ and is beautiful to behold.

Don’t get too excited: Especially when near the endzone, it’s important to be patient and make a good throw. It’s easy to get excited at making a throw for a point, but often that excitement clouds your judgment. Also, if you make an amazing catch, chances are you
will then make a terrible throw, so please do make the amazing catch, then remember to be patient on the throwing part and make a good decision.
Ultimate Frisbee
In the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, it has been said that defense makes the game. Only two people are necessary in order to have a successful offensive attack-- the handler (the person with the frisbee, who is the passer), and the receiver. However, when playing defense, every single person on the team must be performing at their highest level, or the whole team unit is vulnerable and the team will lose. It becomes necessary to "outsmart" the opposing team, and come up witha superior strategy for defensive play. Therefore, it is said that whichever team has the strongest defense will be the better team on the field.
Man-to-man defense is the most basic type of defense. Each person on the defending team chooses a person on the opposite team, and does his or her best to prevent the person from catching the disc, or from throwing the disc to another reciever. This involves constant sprinting, and after a long game this type of defense can break down and cost a less athletic team the game.
Zone defense, an alternate form of defensive strategy, is more practical and useful for a number of reasons. For one, zone allows each person on the defensive team to cover an area of the field, as opposed to one specific person; the defense therefore does not have to run as much, and a team with decent "field sense" (the ability of an experienced player to predict and comprehend phenomena specific to the game) can use the zone with a very economical expenditure of energy.
The wind also plays a factor here. The wind can wreak havoc on the frisbee, by nature of its design; a steady breeze can limit a player's passing abiliity by 20-30 yards, and make high throws extremely dangerous and unpredictable. This is the kind of environment in which the zone thrives, because opponents are forced to make shorter, more numerous passes.
The University of Maryland Ultimate Frisbee Team was the first team in this area to take advantage of the zone defense, because of its effectiveness and overall utility. The first year we used the zone, we almost went undefeated in the Sectional College Series!
Unfortunately, teams have learned to "fight fire with fire," and have employed various zones against us. They have also adapted to our traditional zone defense, making it necessary for us to develop new defensive strategies. I have researched various different kinds of defenses, as well as strategies for defeating them, and have outlined them below.
GLOSSARY: I understand that most people have not heard of Ultimate Frisbee, and are not familiar with the terminology. I have included a brief description of the relevant terms used here. For a complete description of the rules of Ultimate, the Ultimate Player's Association has a homepage (http://www.upa.org/~upa).
HANDLER: The person with the disc-- like a quarterback in football, only in Ultimate, everyone is the quarterback.
DISC: the frisbee-- "frisbee" is the brand name of the original Wham-O frisbee, which is no longer used in Ultimate.
DUMP: a backwards pass
SWING: a sideways pass
FORCE: a defensive tactic, in which the defender posistions his/her body to disallow throws to one side of the field
MARKER: person covering the handler, who forces and counts the stall
STALL COUNT: the handler has ten seconds to throw the disc; failure to do so results in an immediate turnover. It is the responsibiliy of the marker to count the stall.
TURNOVER: when the team on offense (in possession of the disc) either drops the disc, throws the disc into the ground, or the disc is intercepted by the opposite team, the opposite team gains possession of fhe disc immediately, where the turnover took place. -------
THE 1-3-2-1 STANDARD ZONE (figure 1)
This is the most basic zone in ultimate. One person, called the Chase (usually the fastest person on the field), literally chases the progress of the disc from person to person, marking the man with the disc. Also following the disc is a 3-man formation known as the Cup. The Cup's primary goal is to prevent upfield passing, and to force either backwards progression of the disc, or to force the handler to throw the disc away, causing a turnover. Although the positions of Chase and Cup are strenuous and require constant sprinting, this position does not require a great deal of expertise, and is very effective in high winds.
The next group of positions consists of two players, called Hammers or Wings. The main responsibility of the Wings is to intercept any midfield passes that get past the Cup. For example, if the handler manages to throw past the Cup, it is the responsibility of the Wings to either intercept that pass, or to prevent a continuing pass so that the Cup can reset on the man currently possessing the disc.
The final position of the 1-3-2-1 zone is the Deep. The Deep covers the entire backfield, and is responsible for intercepting deep passes. This is the easiest position in terms of running, for the Deep can anticipate and position himself to intercept long passes without a great deal of running.
ADVANTAGES: The 1-3-2-1 zone is an excellent zone in high wind conditions, and when the opposing team has weak handling skills. It is difficult to throw well in high winds, and the high-pressure nature of the Chase combined with the Cup forces many turnovers.
HOW TO DEFEAT THE 1-3--2-1: This zone is not exactly the best, when playing against teams with patient and well-skilled handlers. In figure 1.1, you can see how a series of quick dump-and-swing passes can manuever around the cup, and then accelarate into downfield motion, where the deep field is less protected. Because there are so many people in the immediate field on defense, it takes too long for the Cup to set up again once it has been broken. Use dump-and-swing passes to tire out the Cup, who will be exhausted after sprinting back and forth across the field for awhile. Then, punch the disc upfield to the unprotected endzone.
------- THE 2-3-2 ZONE (figure 2)
The 2-3-2 zone is slightly more practical, as it is more useful against more skilled opponents. When the wind is not quite as strong, and the handlers would ordinarily throw over and through a normal Cup formation, this zone only uses two people up front in the Chase position. This is only enough pressure to force the throws in a certain direction, but the real power of this zone lies in the midfield. There is an extra Wing in the middle, to prevent fast upfield progress, as well as an extra Deep, to prevent the offense from throwing "Hail Mary" passes that would have more success in lighter wind.
ADVANTAGES: This zone is extremely successful against teams that rely on long passes to beat a zone. The pressure is mostly in the midfield and backfield, and invites the offense to take risks in long throws. When the wind is not as great, this zone is perfect, as it does not require as many people to play the Chase and Cup positions, thus conserving energy for long games.
HOW TO DEFEAT THE 2-3-2: (figure 2.1) It isn't easy, but it is certainly possible. The best way to beat a 2-3-2 is by "popping," or making fast, short cuts to quick throws. It requires that the offense have fast, reliable throws, and that they be very fast-moving and cohesive as a team. Once this zone sets up, it is difficult to defeat. However, a fast-break offense can take anvantage of this zone when it is scrambling to reset itself.
------- THE 3-2-2, OR "UMBRELLA" ZONE (figure 3)
This is the University of Maryland's favorite zone defense. A three man Cup, or "UMbrella" (get it?) follows the progression of the disc, while two wings and two deeps protect the backfield. This is a combination of the two previous zones, and is considered to be all-purpose, and good for all weather conditions. The Wings are considered to be the most difficult position to play in this zone, as they have a large area to protect, and must be willing to dive in order to make a defensive play.
ADVANTAGES: This zone is by far the most versatile. The Cup plays just tight enough to allow no upfield passes, and the Wings provide protection on the sidelines. The amount of pressure the Cup places on handlers is sufficient to prevent the handler from making risky throws, and the chances of the handler making a mistake after too many dump/swing passes are very high in windy conditions. HOW TO DEFEAT THE 3-2-2: (figure 3.1) The name of this game is "dump, swing. pop, score." Handlers throw back and forth to tire out the cup, and eventually there will be space for a "popper" to recieve an upfield pass. PATIENCE will win against this zone every time-- rushed throws are just what this zone defense craves.
This is not really a zone, it is a defensive tactic that is worth noting. I retrieved this from a team called Death or Glory, which won the 1995 National Championchips. It involves starting off using any of the above zone defenses, and allowign the offense to set up their "zonebreaker" formation (also, any of the above tactics) But THEN, after a pre-designated number of passes, the zone immediately switches to man-to-man defense. For example, if the call was "4," the zone would allow the offense to throw 4 passes, and then the zone would immediately switch to straight man defense.
ADVANTAGES: this tactic is so effective, it's almost to cruel to use. Your opponents have set up their offense to play against a zone, and suddenly POW-- it becomes a defense that requires a totally different offensive strategy. This is especially effective against teams that play against zones often, and have settled into a zone-breaker offense. It requires a great deal of skill, however, and without good communication between teammates, this strategy will fail.
These are just a few of the defensive strategies that Ultimate Frisbee teams use. There are many more, but generally they are tightly-guarded secrets of well established teams. Defense really does make or break an Ultimate team, so if you are going to play, you had better be prepared.