A while back, I wrote a short piece called Conceptual Ultimate describing how the sport seems to be heading more towards loose offensive concepts than to rigid play calling. A few examples like the 'fast break' and 'end zone' came to mind, which I discussed briefly. These concepts are what interest me most for the upcoming year. In future posts I hope to include more of these situations, times when a single word can tell the entire team how to play, regardless of prepositioning or assignments. But first, I feel that the basics are getting short shrift. So let's get simple.
Every team should have at least two kinds of players on the field at any one time: handlers and goal scorers. If you have only one or the other, stop reading now and trade a few of them for the other... soon. There are mids too, with definitive roles, but let's forget them for the time being.
This game is really all about handlers and scorers. Handlers: the guys who you can TRUST to get open around the disc, the guys with the solid throws, the guys who can repeatedly break the mark, the guys who have the lowest turnover to passes thrown ratio (gee, I'm even starting to sound like those MIT types). Goal scorers: the guys who you DEPEND ON to get open for big yardage and/or in the end zone.
Broken down to its most basic level, Ultimate is nothing more than handlers playing keep-away until one of three things occur: they turn the disc over, they advance the disc all the way up field, or a goal scorer breaks free for a substantial gain. If your team is only doing the first two, stop reading now and practice longer throws. Even if your handlers are the best in the game and can repeatedly get the disc up field, chances are they don't catch too many goals themselves. You will still need goal scorers to actually cut for goals.
There is one other vital part to all of this: the stack. Where the rest of the team positions itself when not directly in the play is both the most basic lesson of the sport, and the most widely ignored lesson... at all levels. Ever watch 8 year-olds playing soccer? They all follow the ball, both teams, twenty players. Getting them to spread out is as difficult as getting Ultimate teams to stack effectively. And the stack isn't just a straight line down the middle of the field as your guy walks the pull to the line. The stack is constantly repositioning, moving from side to side, creating space, pinching in close to open the deep game... Think one-on-one isolation, and get everyone else out of the way. The stack can not be ignored, but too often is. Back to handlers and scorers.
As the leader of your team, it's up to you to find out who does what, regardless of what these individuals are telling you over large quantities of beer. Everyone wants to handle, and many players can get open. But who on your team VALUES that disc? The players who make the right choices -- choosing easy completed passes to open players over risky passes to covered players -- are handlers. The other guys are mids. You need two or three handlers on the field at a time.
The goal scorer is easier to identify. He or she, is the player you see spiking the disc in the end zone at practice. He's the guy you can't cover. He's the guy who wins wind sprints every night. There's no denying that he runs faster, jumps higher and has better hands than the rest of us. DON'T LET HIM HANDLE, no matter how good his throws are. And believe me, he'll want to handle. Resist! You need him down field. Good goal scorers are hard to find, so buy this player a new car. You really only need one of these types on the field at a time. Two is a luxury. Three is too many 'cause they have HUGE egos and usually won't tolerate others making the big cuts or scoring the goals.
Handlers should lead the team in passes attempted and goals thrown. Goal scorers should lead the team in goals caught. Now for the not so obvious: Handlers and goal scorers need to know that they are just that. In fact, everyone on your team must be aware. Why? Because with this broad awareness of who's doing what, the game becomes much easier. What was once seven players all out there running random patterns trying to get open, is now a couple of handlers (with supporting cast: mids) playing keep away until a goal scorer breaks open to receive a BIG pass of some kind. It is that easy. What makes it interesting, and often difficult, are the defenders.
The challenge for your team is to get good at identifying when certain types of cuts are more likely to work. When to throw it long on the first pass? When to break the mark to a handler cutting down the line? When to be satisfied with a dump and swing? None of this needs to be drawn out formally on a chalk board, but all of this needs to become second-nature. How? Repetition. It's no coincidence that the top teams have only 7 or 8 players who play O. You can count on these players being in the game when the game is on the line (unless injury or horrendous performance forces a change in the line-up). These same teams have as many as 12-15 to rotate in on D. It's no wonder that the D's offense is weaker. What do you expect when your constantly teamed with different players?
Let me make a few points with regard to the defensive O: handlers and scorers in transition that is. Here, more that ever, these roles are critical. Why is it that after a turn, EVERYONE's a handler, or no one's a handler? The answer is lack of discipline. Call a time-out and get your ducks in a row or you'll be back on D before you can count to ten (actually, before they can count to ten).
So it's that simple. Really! Try a game at practice where one of your goal scorers is assigned to catch EVERY goal in the half. You will be surprised at how easy the game becomes. Why? Because everybody is suddenly looking for the same thing, setting up plays that result in your best receiver catching the goal. Make the game simple and deliberate, you will be pleased with the results.
I hope this wasn't insultingly basic.
Bill Walton made an interesting point when talking about Charles Smith's difficulties with having to play the 3,4 or 5 position during his career in the NBA. Walton wished that Charles would stop thinking and just step up and play, saying: "Players make plays, plays don't make players."
P.S. Almost forgot. Hey you mids, it's your job to support the handlers and scorers... bail them out... cut at high stall counts... cut after the scorer receives a pass down field... fill in when you see an opening... but NEVER cut a handler or scorer off... you're sure to get an ear full.
To clarify something that a few of you have poited out. My post IS NOT a lisence for the handlers to clog and squirrel around the disc. On the contrary.
If you consider that a team should ALWAYS be working towards getting the disc to your goal scorers, wouldn't it then demand that handlers and mids not clog. I am a handler and it is MY RESPONSIBILITY to look down field before cutting. If Jimmy P isn't cutting, or if another WIDE OPEN players isn't cutting, then it's my job the get the disc.
Handlers should never clog. Handlers should be able to get open at anytime. Handlers should throw sick passes for goals, not turnovers!!!
Use the post as a loose guideline, but make it your own. Adjust to your team's strengths and be creative. That's the beauty of this game: it's free flow.