Monday, October 26, 2009

The Vertical Stack

The current trend is to play horizontal. Do you know why?


Without a proper understanding of the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of a particular offensive set, offensive players will not be able to maximize efficiency and defensive players will not be able to achieve their potential. At the beginning of the season when I am explaining plays to my club team, I always preface the explanation with the underpinnings of why we are employing a specific offensive structure (e.g. vertical, flood, split, horizontal, iso, etc...).

I don't have a full understanding of the vertical stack, but I do know a thing or two. The purpose of this article is to examine the vertical stack: its advantages, its disadvantages, and the trend that has led our sport to near universal adoption of the horizontal stack. 

Once upon a time everyone waged war with the same weapon: the vert. Usually the distribution of players sees two handlers back with five cutters in the stack. The 'top' of the stack (i.e. the person on whom the stack is set) is the third handler who can come back and help if need be. 

The Advantages

The vertical creates two clear lanes on the field, namely either side of the stack. The cutters isolate themselves on one of the sides, typically making long, pounding cuts ('V' cuts). Successive, well-times V cuts create flow up one side of the field. 

If this flow is on the force side, the disc will eventually end up on the sideline. At this point, the disc is swung to the middle. Rinse and repeat.

If the break comes out, all the defenders are out of place and the field should be shredded up the break side.

The vert is good for isolating players. It is hard to poach in the vert because your man can easily slip to an open space and burn you. 

The vert certainly facilitates the long bomb, but I would argue that it is more of an in-cut offence. The one place players always cheat is at the back of the stack where the defensive player will customarily 'cap' the stack (i.e. stand behind his man on the open side to provide help should there be a deep look). As such, going deep usually requires the back of the stack to be in motion, negating the defensive player's positional advantage. That being said, the very structure of the vert (a deep line of players extending towards the endzone) makes the deep look that much harder. 

I think the vert is particularly amenable to set plays. The players are more spaced out. The throwers have clean lanes to work with. As mentioned, it is hard to poach. 

One problem with set plays is that they tend to take longer to materialize because players are so spaced out. This allows the defense more time to adjust. 

The Disadvantages

If your team cannot break the mark well, the vert will be tough to run well. Think about one of the primary advantages of this formation: you have two clear throwing lanes. If you can't get the disc to the break side of the field (i.e. 50% of the throwing lanes), you are going to get stuck on the sideline - a lot. There aren't a lot of places where the disc can go in  a vert, so the defense (and marks) have the potential to be more effective in controlling the location of the disc. This can be problematic.

The deep shot is not always available in this formation. Not everyone is a threat to strike at any given moment (as they are in the horizontal), and the defense knows this. 

In the vert there are only two handlers back. The means the reset can be more problematic if the primary dump is shut down. 

As plays tend to take longer to materialize, and the primary option is often isolated, the defence can read the offence more effectively.

I think the combination of improved marks (and defensive play in general) resulting in offenses getting stuck on the openside sideline led people to rethink their formations. It is hard to speak about the vertical stack without comparing it to the horizontal, which, in my opinion, provides a far more dynamic offensive structure. But I will leave the horizontal for another post. 

Writing this article makes me realize how little I know about this offence. The way my teams have traditionally used the vert is to execute a set play, then to morph into horizontal once the play is completed (or abandoned). My teams almost never stay in the vert for the whole field. 

From what I remember, JAM still relies heavily on the vert. Not only are they reigning UPA Champs, but I believe they have been in the semis or finals each of the last ten years. Coincidence?

I think that it is a huge disadvantage to remain ignorant of the vertical stack. There are many top teams that have used this formation to succeed at the highest levels (JAM, DoG, and Sockeye to name a few). The vertical is far from a lost art, but it's moving in that direction. If you don't understand it, you can't take advantage of it or defend against it. 

A last note: the vert is much better than the horizontal for players who are not very experienced. This is simply because it avoids having people scattered all over the field. It creates two clear lanes for players to cut and thrown in. 

those are some of my thoughts.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Second Place

Finishing second means you lost your last game.

Catch your Ds.

My university team, the Western Sharks, played at the Canadian University Ultimate Championships this past weekend in Montreal. We suffered our only loss of the season in the finals, and with a final score of 15-11 it wasn't really even close. 

There were obviously some very long faces as we were given our silver medals. The thing about losing the championship game is that you lost. Sounds obvious, but it's true. You win third. You win fifth. Hell, as my club team found out in Boston this year, you win 27th. But you lose second. 

So what are the lessons from the weekend? There are many, but I'll focus on a few:

1. Dominating the field has its downsides.

We never had a close game all season until the semis. That sounds like it would be a good thing, but there are some negative consequences, namely that while it means you are performing, it also means you are not being tested under pressure. There is a much different feel on the O line when you know you have to score. There is also a much different feel on the D line when you know you are running out of time to break. 

2. Tournament Strategy.

This is what leading and coaching is all about. I have heard about NBA coaches who micromanage like all hell and stay up at night thinking about what they could have done differently to put themselves in a position to better control the precious final seconds of a game. This type of reflection (and the "what ifs" that accompany it) always permeate my thoughts after games and tournaments. I think we were more tired than we should have been in the finals. If I could go back and change one thing, it would be to rest our starters far more in the blowouts, ensuring that we had stronger legs in the final. 

3. Canadian University Ultimate.

The calibre of teams out there this past weekend was impressive. I started on the university scene with Tula 4 years ago, and the increase in level of competition is very noticeable. Gone are the days where there are really only 2 or 3 legitimate teams at Nationals. Well done to those who have invested the time and effort to build programs. 

4. Our Competition.

First and foremost, congratulations to the Carleton Ravens; a well deserved title.

I want to thank the UBC boys for making the trip out. Going as far as you did with a true skeleton squad demands a lot of respect. Our semis against you was a very memorable game. Well played. 

I look forward to taking the field with Western next year. Losing makes the off-season less enjoyable, but it also lights the fire. Championship game experience is not something easy to come by. If you aren't able to capitalize in the moment, all you can do is take that experience and use it to make you the best player you can be. Anything less is unacceptable.

Losing hurts. You cannot change the past. The future is all that is left.

those are some of my thoughts.


P.S. - Shout out to my boy Jesse Mighton who played competitive ultimate for the first time and made some huge grabs and Ds at Easterns and Nationals. He also may or may not be the best trash talker in the game today. 

Monday, October 5, 2009


Why are you on the field?

Western Sharks. Eastern Champs 09.

One of the beautiful aspects of our sport is the versatility individual players possess. Even at the elite club level there are those who reduce the categorization of their style to silence; their talent allows them to play either side of the disc against any player, as well as enabling them to be equally efficient as cutter or handler. 

You likely aren't one of those players. And the truth is that as our sport develops those players will become far more rare - and this is a good thing. Specialization is evidence that skills are being broken down into discrete categories that individuals are mastering. It means we are getting better at what we do. 

Each player has to understand their role. After all, ultimate is a team sport. You need to identify what purpose you serve. There are plenty of players who compete with top notch teams, not because they are better all-round players then they guys who got cut, but because they do one thing really, really well. 

What is your purpose on the field? Don't tell me you are a handler or a cutter - tell me specifically what kind of handler or cutter you are. Are you the unstoppable reset? Are you the timing striker who simply pounds the endzone? Is your help D the best in the league?

Two weekends ago I played for Western at Canadian Easterns. Before taking the field, I told the boys to look to themselves, identify what they do best, and then go out there and do it better than anyone else on the pitch. I find that this type of focus is precisely what is needed to keep players on track.  

Everyone is on the team for a reason. Don't overextend yourself trying to play beyond your means (note that this will often require an ego check). Know why you are on the team, then prove that you were picked for the right reason. 

Why are you on the field?

those are some of my thoughts.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pool Play

The finals of a tournament is arguably the most important game. But you have to get there first...

Me throwing a dump to Arj at Nationals in Pool Play. Yes it was a turn. Yes Arj called a foul. Yes he took it back.

This past weekend my team, Grand Trunk, played at Canadian Nationals in Winnipeg. For the second year in a row we shit the bed in pool play. As a captain, there is nothing harder than seeing your guys go out there and make mistake after mistake. It's not that I was angry, but knowing that you aren't playing up to your potential is a hard pill to swallow.

There is always going to be an adjustment period in a tournament. There are certain parts of your and your team's game that will need to be tweaked, but it shouldn't be fundamentals. Of course, being on a young team will cause many a wrench to be thrown into your plans. The reality is that it makes your path to the finals considerably harder if you let any opportunities slip by.

Pool play and power pool play are kind of like the opening rounds and the cut at a PGA event. You need not be out in front to advance as long as you take care of business. The difference is that in golf you aren't jockeying for position in anticipation of who you will face. In ultimate, that is precisely what you are doing. Sure you can make power pools based on an OK record, but that OK record follows you and forces a tough quarterfinal matchup.

It is imperative to come out focused and sharp in pool play. Every team will require something different to get them in that space. It is on the leadership to properly prepare the team, but on the actual day I believe it is only the individual who can bring their A game to the fore.

Something I have learned from being priviliged enough to have played in Florida last year is that every single point against every single opponent is sacrosanct. The only way to avoid dwelling on what could have been is to know that not only were you prepared, but that you executed to the best of your abilities in the moment. Admittedly, it will take more than a few failures for this lesson to taken hold. 

You cannot choose your opponents, but you always choose how you play. Perhaps this is just an elaboration of the maxim that perfect practice makes perfect. Regardless, what is important is that you take full control over that which you can.

And that means winning in pool play.


those are some of my thoughts.



PS - For those of you who care to know, GT went 3-0 in power pool play to advance to the quarters. We suffered an 11-9 loss to General Strike and finished 5th in Canada - one of the best finishes in team history. Great season Trunk.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Dump

In ultimate, possession is 10/10ths of the law.

I heard he's good.

You must be able to maintain possession of the disc. The easiest way to do this is by dumping. If your team is unable to consistently:

1) Look for the dump by stall 4, and

2) Successfully execute the proper cut + throw

then you will not win games. Period.

I want to say a word about the different kinds of cuts I have been exposed to.

The Berkley

This is the standard off-the-line cut. There is no secret to it. The defence knows what you are going to run, but can't stop it as the defender is forced to make a decision first (allowing the offensive player to then exploit that decision).

The player running the dump cut starts about 15 yards out from the player with the disc. The cut is run at a 45 degree angle, upfield and towards the sideline. If the defender commits to taking away the up-the-line (which they should as it presents a far more dangerous continuation throw), the cut is reversed. The player goes back on the same plane, but curls away from the disc to the middle of the field.

The thrower hits the up-the-line if the defender allows it, or puts in a hard fake if he sees the cut is going to be reversed. The throw on the back-field cut is a leading throw out to green space. Do not throw it at the receiver. The defender will be behind him, so put the disc out with lots of spin to allow the receiver maximum space and time to get off a continuation throw.

If you want to know how to run a berkley properly watch Boston. They do it with devastating efficiency. In effect, they turn a dump cut into a powerful offensive weapon. The reason why is that the backfield throw is so aggressive. They really lead the receiver out to space and that receiver immediately hits a streaking upfield cutter for a big gainer. It was the combination of the backfield cut curling towards the middle of the field, the throw out to space and the cutter timing things perfectly that allowed them to shred us at Regionals last year in the finals.

Aside: the dump (and the berkley in particular) is one of the rhythms of the offence. It happens so often that everyone on the field should be aware and anticipating. This rhythm is a cue for the other players - a spacing and timing cue. Dumps shift from merely an act to retain possession to a powerful offensive weapon when the continuation throw is more than a simple swing. A dump should provide a solid opportunity to gain yards on the continuation. That is up to well timed cuts. When the disc hits the air, that is when you know where you will have to be in order to set-up a proper continuation cut.

I'm not going to go into detail about how the far-side handler and cutters move in the event the primary cut is shut down. I have my strategy as I'm sure you have yours.

The Jam

My new favorite dump cut. This is used basically anywhere on the field except the sidelines. It can be run from either side of the disc, but you might as well run it for the open-side handler because then you break the mark.

The player running the cut streaks behind the player with the disc. As he does so, the thrower turns, boxes out the mark and flips the disc to the player running the cut. This short pass is very, very effective and, as already mentioned, can result in a mini-break basically whenever you want.

Go find some UPA tape and watch ... JAM. They do this constantly. I love it.

A few points on how to run it properly:

- do not cut too close to the thrower

- the thrower must not be lazy - box out and extend to avoid getting point blocked

- the thrower must lead the receiver to space (this is what makes it a break-throw)

- defensively: if you are marking against a team that resets with the JAM you must adjust the mark so that when the thrower turns to initiate you are marking upfield, taking away the throw.

Ze German

Simple but deadly. A German situation comes up when the defender covering the dump is staring directly at their guy and not paying attention to the thrower. This is a scenario where the dump is thrower-led. All the thrower has to do is make eye contact, then loft the disc out to space. I usually tell my guys to imagine that the defender is standing with their arms fully extended at 45 degree angles - you must throw outside that range.

Often German situations come up only for a second, but that is all you need. They are very easy to exploit.

A similar situation is where the defender is trying to peek at both his man and the thrower. In this scenario the dump is receiver-led. The receiver should be able to lose his man through solid fundamentals.

Having gone through some of the different types of dumps I want to close with a few general comments.

Commit: you cannot bounce between different dump options expecting them to be open immediately and freaking out when they aren't. You must commit to the dump and trust that they will get open. Physically turn, square yourself and let them do their move. Communicate through eye contact and pump-faking. Often you must be patient in these situations (and that is precisely why you must turn and look dump by stall 4).

Spacing: as so often in ultimate, this is the key. Tight dumps (laugh away) are useless. You will turn it, and if you don't you are in the same position on the field as you were before. Remember, good teams do not simply utilize the dump to retain possession; they turn the dump into part of their offensive arsenal. If you think you are spaced out enough, you aren't. The more space, the better. Further, the throws themselves must always be longer than you think. You must lead the receiver out to green space.

Team Habits: every team has conditioned themselves to dump at a certain time (Dante, I know I'm losing you to laughter here, but try and stay with me). If you know when a team turns to dump (be it at stall 2, 5 or 7) you can wreak havoc on them. Know when they want to dump and adjust defensively to take it away. They won't be able to do what they are used to and will give you the disc while they try and re-adjust to your strategy. The dynamism of your marks is never good enough. The spacing and positioning of the mark should be a constant ebb and flow.

Good dumps are one of the fundamental pillars of winning ultimate. From what I have seen, Boston, JAM and Bravo are the best. There is no reason to ever turn it on a dump throw.

Finally, the dump is not a two-man sequence - all seven players should be involved in the cutting, throwing, clearing, filling, continuation ... in a word, the rhythm of the reset.

those are some of my thoughts.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Breaking the Mark

Confidence pays dividends in competitive sports. 

One of the best.

I can think of a lot of players who should be able to break the mark in-game far more regularly than they do (I'm probably one of them). The reason they don't is simply that they aren't familiar enough with what it feels like to break. You have to be comfortable with contact, know how to throw through someone, and believe that you can successfully execute. 

Easier said than done.

Good technique - full extension, leading with the wrist and not the disc, making an explosive move to your 'spot' - is obviously important. But we all know that some people just seem to be able to break much easier than others. Being tall doesn't hurt, but that is not a pre-requisite. Some guys expend very little effort because it's just natural. I'm not one of those guys. I have had to work hard on my break throws, which, I suppose, puts me in a position to say a little something about how to break and what to think about.

I'd like to go back to the point about knowing what it feels like to get a break off. You have to find a comfort zone, and frankly the only way you are going to get there is by failing a few times. Keep in mind that ultimate favours the offence largely because it is the offence that gets to decide what is going to happen (while the defence has to react). So ... commit. Don't hesitate. When you see a cutter blazing into a nice open space on the break side, put your head down, step around aggressively and commit to throwing the break. Find out what it feels like. 

I think that one of the best attributes of a good break-thrower is their ability to not throw at the receiver. You want to put the disc out to space and let your teammate come in and devour it. (This applies to many non-break throws, but that is not the focus of this article). Putting the disc out to space opens up the break angle, therefore making the break itself easier (as you don't have to throw through the mark as much). Obviously, this isn't always possible. Many times you want to get a quick zippy break out due to spacing, timing, wind, defence, etc...

Release points are key to breaking the mark. Lefties find breaking easier for a reason. One of the reasons some guys are so good at breaking is perhaps because their natural release points are hard to mark. I think of a former teammate of mine, John Hassell, who, at 6'4+, just throws over you. Or Dime who, at about 6'2, steps backwards, extends out and releases from a half inch off the ground. Good luck stopping either. Release points are something that you can put a lot of work into. Do not warm up throwing from the same spot. You are doing yourself and your teammates a disservice. You need to, at a minimum, know how to throw your backhand from a low, medium and high plane, and your flick from a low and medium one. The possibilities after that are endless, but that is foundation. Due to my injury I am developing a solid lefty which I look forward to putting to use as a quick break. The more options you have in your arsenal the better. But make sure you have each one game ready before adding something. Flash will get you nowhere. 

A last word about breaks: many times they don't work because the receiver isn't expecting the throw. Here I have over the top throws and IO flicks in mind, but the principle is broader. I remember quite clearly a turnover I had playing against the zone in scrimmage about 3 weeks ago. One of the handlers was streaking upfield and I threw one of the best scoobers I have ever thrown, which promptly resulted in a turnover. In a vacuum, the look was good. When talking to my teammate after the point he told me there was no way he was expecting me to loft a lefty scoober at him at that moment. There is a time and place for improvisation, but it all comes back to how your team plays. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. It's throws like that that will cost you a game on universe. 

Disc skills don't come easily or quickly. My old captain told me that you can't handle properly unless you have been throwing for 10 years. I think there is a lot of truth to that. The first step is getting out and throwing an unbelievable amount. But you need the experience. You need to know that you can break, you need to know how, and you need to fail in games. I know guys who can annihilate the mark in 3-man but wouldn't dare throw a break in a game. It's one thing to throw at a stationary target through a straight up mark and quite another to put the disc out to space for a cutter while your heart is racing. 

Ok, my actual final point: fakes. I used to use huge fakes because I wasn't able to simple break the mark. I think the best throwers don't really need much of a fake, if any. You should be able to go from your neutral 'steering wheel' position and just break. If you can't you probably have no business being a handler. Fakes are nice, and even the best use them, but the mark of a true thrower is their ability to fearlessly and efficiently break without the need for them. When I think of those guys, I think of Derek, Toly, Gabe, Oscar, Kurt, Dime, Idris ... 

those are some of my thoughts.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Red Zone

People often treat the red zone as sacred. A red zone turn is "unacceptable". Red zone D requires a "heightened awareness". This is the wrong approach. 

Our guy with 'that throw'

It's not that the red zone isn't sacred, but rather that the whole field is sacred

A turn is a turn; a D is a D. The fact that individual players put more or less emphasis on certain areas of the field is the result of psychological pressure, not logic. 

But that's not to say that the dynamics of the red zone aren't quite different. Players do treat it as though it were special. 

The result on D is usually one of two things: great pressure and coverage, or, over-pursuance resulting in a score. The result on O can often be something like this: "holy shit I need to score right now" . . . turn. 

The interesting thing about endzone offence is that you need only advance the disc a few yards. A lot of what happens on the field before you get to the redzone is predicated either on flow or on set plays. The object of a set play is, arguably, to get the disc to a power position from which there is a high percentage devastating throw. Flow is what follows after that devastating throw or when the play breaks down. Either can be utilized on the goal line. 

Set plays are often great at getting the disc upfield. One of the major advantages that the offence can have over the defence is that they already know where the disc is going, what is about to happen. It's very common for the first throw of a set play to get off cleanly - after that, good defences smell it out and can adjust in time to stop the aforementioned devastating throw, but that first throw usually comes out. (Note: this is precisely why teams flash zone after the pull). So, set plays are a good start for how to score in the red zone. I need not go into specifics, but the general 'show one thing, then do the opposite for the score' is quite effective.

The problem with set plays is that we tend to know them. We've seen them. While there are some unique ones that will get you a score or two, they probably won't do more than that. 

Flow is also an effective way to score in that the longer you force the other team to play D the more likely they will breakdown under pressure and open a throwing lane. However, the more throws you make, the wider the margin for error. 

A variation of the set play is the guy on your team with that unstoppable random throw. Maybe he's a lefty. Maybe he's got the high release flick. Whatever he has, it works. This is set play-ish because you are expecting the throw and your opponent isn't. Use that guy on the goal line.

I guess what I'm trying to get across in this post is that red zone play shouldn't be different from 'normal' play in that you never want to turn and always want to complete the pass. It is different in how people decide to react. Because you know how they will react, you can exploit them. 

Your options are more limited in the sense that there is so much less space to work with. Nobody runs horizontal in the endzone. Few run zone. Think about why.

It doesn't matter how, but you must score in the endzone. For me, that sentence is the same as saying, "it doesn't matter how, but you must complete an upfield throw." 

There are two unique factors in the red zone: 

1. How much space you have to work with;
2. How players tend to react. 

Figure out how to exploit these factors. Then take what you've learned and implement it everywhere on the field. Your O will be better for it.

Those are some of my thoughts.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mark

Marking is often an afterthought. Not many people realize the vital role a good mark plays in team defence. 

If I can, I'll take a moment to note that ultimate is a team game. There just aren't many players out there who can actually take over a game. This is perhaps especially true on the defensive end. While two good O players can force the issue, rare is the defensive pairing that can dictate the flow of a game. Too often there are only 4 or 5 guys playing good, strong D, while the miscues by the other players will cost you the point. That is the reality in a sport where the offence is so heavily favoured. But I digress...

Dirty break.

And here is where the mark comes in. You must have good marks in order to give your defensive unit a chance. 

You will get broken. Actually, the higher the level you play the more likely it is that a given player can make quick work of your mark. The point is that you want to make the thrower work, forcing them to their second or third option. Good marks dictate the play of your opponents O by effecting the timing and spacing of their disc movement. 

It's pretty obvious that you can't stop all throws at all times. You do want to be able to influence as many as possible though. Effectively closing down the breakside while simultaneously challenging the huck is not just any skill. You have to know:

1. Where the holes are in the way you have chosen to mark.
2. Where the holes are in your own mark.
3. What kind of thrower you are up against.

Whatever you prioritize comes at a cost. If you want to challenge that huck, you will be giving up a little more space for the breakthow. This is what I noticed when playing against JAM at UPAs last year. They were able to break the mark so well that they just abused elite players. They made up their minds that if the marks were going to play aggressively, they would simply take that extra little space, looking to break on what seemed like every throw. (Note that this is a wonderful example of the offensive theory of 'take what they give you'). Oh yeah, JAM won UPAs.

You have to choose a balance, based on numerous discrete factors. But the theory behind the mark, in my mind, is to lower the offense's percentages by forcing them away from their primary objective. It means that instead of being victimized by a thrower who can move you out of position, you clearly identify what you want to take away from them and you will yourself not to get beat. 

Anticipation, both in terms of knowing what they want to throw and in terms of knowing what your defence is giving up/taking away, is paramount. Marks are predicated on physical conditioning, reaction time, ultimate IQ, and execution. They often need to be far more dynamic (varying the spacing and positioning depending on the count). They often need to bite less. 

You can't win with bad marks. You just can't. Offences are too good.

And marks aren't individual either. Try screaming at the guy on the mark, telling him where the disc is, reminding him to stay active and work harder, and giving him the close call. It's a team game, remember. 

Those are some of my thoughts.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Zone O

As a cutter, playing zone O is one of the harder tasks. There aren't clear cutting lanes, the timing has to be perfect, handlers start to get frustrated, etc... 

I am going to mention a few thoughts on running the zone O, from all positions. I think the most important thing to keep in mind at all times is that there is no single answer to a lot of questions about how to deal with, or react to, a given scenario. The offence must remain dynamic and be willing to exploit any weakness without being stifled when forced to throw extra passes.

Toly Throwing Against McGill's Zone

Assume that the defence is showing 1-3-2-1.

I favour a 2-2-2-1 offensive set. This means that there are 2 handlers, 2 wings, 2 poppers, and 1 deep. 


These two should be spread quite wide across the field. You must realize that a common, and effective, method of exploiting the zone D is by creating seams in the defence by forcing the players to get out of position. There are a number of ways to do this (e.g. faking hard, popping into the cup, reversing the field quickly), and one is by tiring out the cup. If the two handlers are spread wide, then the cup has a longer distance to run. This results in a more tired cup, more likely to not move as a unit and therefore create throwing seams. 

Handlers should aggressively dictate the offence when playing against the zone. Throw and go is a must. By sprinting after their passes, handlers keep the defence on their toes, chasing rather than dictating the flow of the disc. An added bonus is that defenders will often follow the handler who has thrown and is now going (which, again, drags them out of position and opens seams for the player with the disc).

One last point for the handlers: the easy open-side throw should not be the first look. Always move against the mark to the upwind side. Realize that the defence wants you to throw to the downwind sideline and is often baiting that throw in order to clamp down with the trap. You certainly can take that throw. However, use the first couple stalls to try and get something better. And if you do throw it to that weak side, the receiving player must get it off quickly to avoid the trap. 


The wings are placed quite close to either sideline. Do not be level with the handlers. You want to be catching for yards - every time. Recognize that the handlers (and poppers) will be doing a lot of the work, flipping little passes and breaks to each other. The wings are more a spacing position. If they are placed correctly, then they should be able to receive the disc in a power position. Both wing players must be able to make quick decisions and throws. Once they get the disc, if there is a well timed cut, then there should be a good up field look. If not, get that disc back to the middle. 


Poppers play a rather opportunistic position. When I mentioned at the beginning of the article that I find it quite difficult to cut in the zone, this is the position I had in mind. I find it difficult because it's almost like a combo of what the handlers and wings are doing. Many times it is correct to simply stand in a gap or right behind the cup, waiting for the thrower to break or lift something over to you. Other times you want to be darting around, forcing the mids in the zone to make a decision about who they are going to cover, or crashing the cup in order to then quickly turn and throw through it. 

One thing you always want to do is keep your eye on the disc. Never turn away when playing zone O because you really could get the pass at any point. 

If you receive the disc through the middle, you are now in a power position. Think about it. Four of the opposition's 7 defenders are behind you. Try not to rush throws, but know that if you keep the disc moving quickly the defence will be scrambling to catch up. This is precisely what you want. 

Note also that the poppers should take the opportunity to switch with the deep if the timing works out. As with everything in ultimate, you have a given position, but you should be dynamic and flexible enough to change on the fly. 

A last thought is this: timing is crucial for the poppers, both to set up their own cuts and to set up continuation flow once a dangerous throw has come up the middle or out to the break side. Be aware that there is a deep behind you and that he may be coming in for a big gainer (this is usually the case when the disc comes out to the breakside wing). Don't cut him off. 

The poppers and handlers are essentially probing the zone to see, 

A) Where its structural weaknesses are (i.e. the theoretical weaknesses of the particular zone itself), and, 
B) Where the actual weaknesses are (note that these may be different as the defence may make mistakes/strange decisions, or you may have a special thrower, etc...).


When running zone O, I'd be happy if the deep touched the disc once, when catching for the score, or never. Now, that is probably an exaggeration but I think you take my point. The deep is not looking to actively get in on the action. All too often this creates clogging and draws in an extra defender. The guys up front need space to work, space that is generated by the deep staying back. Keep your defender busy by moving and trying to get behind him at all times. This is a great position to practice timing your cuts as you can clearly see all the action. You should be shifting from side to side, opposite the disc, and when the big lane opens up, feel free to take the big gainer (note, as mentioned above, this will likely happen when the disc quickly swings out to the breakside wing). If you do come in for that gainer, it could be a good time to switch with a popper. Be vocal. 

That's a basic rundown on some zone O thoughts. Nothing is ever set in stone, though there are some principles that should be adhered to more rigorously (e.g. handlers spread wide, don't take the easy openside throw, etc...).

Be aware that the reason teams throw zone is usually two-fold: 

1) They want to break up a set play
2) They want to force you to throw a greater number of passes. 

Take some time to think about this second reason. No pass is 100%. By forcing you to throw multiple passes, the defence is using math to lower your completion percentage. It's not good enough to complete the first 20 passes, then gaffe the 21st in the red zone as the zone is melting because you want to score as quickly as possible. A lot of throws will be 'easy' against the zone because they are very short. Make sure that your focus is high and that you don't get ahead of yourself by thinking about the next throw before catching the disc. The only thing that matters at the end of it all is if you scored, not how close you got.

One last comment is on defensive adaptation. Just because throw X worked the last 4 times, does not meant that it will work time number 5. Just as the O is probing the D, so the D is probing the O. They are waiting and watching to see exactly how you go about beating their zone. Good teams won't come out of the gates laying out for everything (that's the stuff of college boys). They will hunt the throws they think they have a chance at, then pounce when a lazy one comes out. This is yet another reason why it is imperative to fake and be hyper-aware when throwing in the zone. 

those are my thoughts.