This is part three in six-segment article is the last in our four-part series offering advice to players on the steps necessary to create a championship caliber Ultimate team in their area.
Practice 2. Getting in Motion
The next day I had the players warm up with the 3 drills I introduced the previous day. I had the students practice the three basic throws in each drill. I then called the players in for the day’s plan. The first thing I spoke about was that the team needed to pick 4 captains for the year. The players could choose whoever they wanted with the understanding that there could be a maximum of 2 seniors. The players had until the first practice of the next week to choose their captains. The next item was cleats. Cleats are a necessity.
Coach Tip: Players who have them know they need them, players who don’t have them don’t think they need them. Trying to convince those who don’t have cleats to get cleats is insanely difficult. What really makes it difficult is that even though everyone in charge of Ultimate (WFDF, USAU & DiscNW) says it’s much better if you have them, no one will say you must have them. My position as a coach is that you don’t need cleats to practice, but you must have them to play in the league. To be honest, it’s not safety that is my concern here. I can acknowledge that it’s certainly possible to play Ultimate without cleats and to have little risk of injury. What bothers me is that some players are willing to put their team at a disadvantage because they don’t want to wear cleats. A true team player wants what’s best for the team and that includes having the proper game gear to perform at their best. If there’s an issue with finances, I’m sure there’s a way to work things out.
The third pre-practice point was to make the offense a bit more structured. To that end, we walked through our offensive flow formation. In keeping with the desire to implement a motion offense, I introduced the QB Weave to the team. I don’t know the history of the QB Weave or how it got its odd name. I do know I learned it 25 years ago and its effectiveness in teaching the dump swing.
When you implement an offense, what you’re doing is trying to make players predictable to their teammates and yet very unpredictable & difficult to stop to the opponents. We want our players to always know what to do next in any situation. Whenever a player catches the disc, we want them to know where to look for the next passing opportunities. When a teammate catches the disc, we want the cutters to know where to run for the next pass. The trouble is that the more predictable an O-line is, the easier it is to defend. Predictable O-lines work fine for the better team because the better team is able to use their practiced skills to their advantage. For a weak team or an inexperienced team, being predictable really isn’t a recipe for success. Because of this, a patterned offensive flow based on a drill is problematic; it just doesn’t work. To be effective, an inexperienced player must focus on developing the skills to exploit whatever opportunities develop. A patterned offense is just something you do until you can do something else. The goal for an offense is to dump/swing until the defense breaks down and then to execute a free form attack towards the end zone. Against weak teams, the defense breaks down rather quickly and your team may not need to even establish an offensive flow. Against strong teams, it may take 5-6 dump/swings before the defense stumbles.
This swinging of the disc reminds me of college basketball before the shot clock was added. In those days, the guards would pass the ball around the top of the key several times before they made a pass into the middle. It wasn’t the pass around the top of the key that was the important thing; it was the pump fake into the middle after the swing. This pump fake did two things it gave the basketball guards multiple opportunities to read the defensive reaction to the pump fakes and the forwards learned what passing lanes would be open. With the addition of the shot clock into all levels of basketball, the patience exhibited by the pass around the top of the key has been lost. Fortunately, it’s found a new home in Ultimate.
There are two major philosophies to consider in establishing the offensive flow for an Ultimate team. This selection of the offensive philosophy is important as it will define the style of play of the team. One philosophy prioritizes on yardage gains and the other prioritizes on disc movement. Prioritizing on yardage gains relies heavily on physical and skill mismatches in your team’s favor and takes years to master. The rapid-disc-movement prioritized offense relies on passing to the first available person. I like the rapid motion offense because it rewards quick cuts and precise routes; whereas the yardage prioritized offenses will often look off open throws early in the stall count in hopes of finding a longer pass later. If you get that better cut later in the stall count, that’s great. But if you don’t get that better cut, things can really go south. Yardage prioritized offenses pose another problem; I know as a player that when the thrower always looks off early cuts, I stopped cutting for them until the stall count reached six. I can remember getting really annoyed when a handler constantly looked off my cuts and then threw some swilly-ass turnover deep. Yardage prioritization can work at the elite level where the players are disciplined; it’s less viable at the lower levels.
For the defense, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two styles of offense by observing what happens whenever a player catches the disc. If the player always turns around and looks downfield for the next throw, the offense is yardage prioritized. If the catcher looks to throw quickly to someone already looking downfield, that’s a motion offense.
Now back to the QB Weave. The QB Weave is merely a pattern of movement for the handlers that is designed to facilitate swinging the disc from one side of the field to the other. Essentially, the three handlers swing the disc from one sideline to the other. Once the disc has reached the far wing handler, he or she fakes up field while the near wing handler and center handler switch positions. The swing is then repeated, with all handlers touching the disc, back to the original sideline. The drill then repeats for as many reps as necessary. As easy as that sounds, the QB Weave turns out to be quite difficult. As it turns out, any sort of motion offense is difficult to teach. When I looked out on the web for other examples, I noticed that they were generally considered as intermediate or advanced in the required skill levels.
This drill teaches three things: One, the center handler never pivots to look downfield. Two: the center handler must cut immediately after throwing the swing pass and three: the wing must sell the fake of a throw downfield. It’s a simple drill that establishes the cadence and rhythm for the handler pattern. Establishing this cadence is key for the synchronization between the handlers and cutters. I had the entire team, regardless of their position, practice this drill. As we finished up, I reinforced the importance of the dump swing.
We divided into two teams and begin our second scrimmage.
In this scrimmage, I assumed the role of the Greek chorus for the team. As before, I stood in middle of the game and offered running commentary, shouting things like “clear”, “swing”, “good”, “great”, “keep the disc moving” and so on. I noticed two tendencies with the team: One, the offense tended to collapse in to the disc. There were lots of cuts towards the thrower, but not so many cuts away. This resulted in everyone dancing within a 20-foot circle while calling for the disc. Secondly, there was a strange attraction to the middle of the field. There were just so many soft floaty throws 15 ft downfield into the middle. I could say whatever I wanted, but three passes later, the disc went into the middle. You can guess how many were caught by the offense. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this three pass tendency is common at the HS level and can be used to your defensive advantage.
This 3-passes-and-a-turnover routine went on for about 45 minutes. Suddenly, a miracle occurred. The offense strung together six consecutive passes, and a cutter stood in the end zone holding the disc. AHS had just scored its very first goal ever. There was a level of cheering that would not be repeated until the last game of the season. The rest of the scrimmage was scoreless, and at 5:00, practice was over.
Part 4 goes over cutting roles, cutters and defense.
Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire (Ultiphotos.com)