by | August 28, 2013, 9:56am 11

In this day and age of ubiquitous video, access to footage is easy and it is entirely possible to spend days and days watching film.  Film has its uses, particularly analysis of yourself and other teams, but it isn’t necessarily a great tool for new and creative thought.  For that you need outside inspiration.  I’ve always been an omnivore, pulling ideas from any and everywhere.  Here are three examples:

Offense: Asa Mercer v Washington

About ten years ago, Spring Reign, the Seattle middle school tournament, invited a bunch of Sockeye and Riot players out to come, hang out, play a showcase game and generally provide some prestige to the event.  It was fun.  The finals featured Asa Mercer and Washington middle schools.  It was a good game.  Mercer was lead by a rugged defender, who by poaching on Washington’s deep shots was able to keep her team hang around.  Unfortunately, Mercer didn’t have the offensive chops to keep up as Washington literally ran away with it.

Washington was led by two tiny handlers who used a unique space and cutting style.  (Remember that this was ~2001 during the heyday of the vert.)  They took their five downfield players and spread them out all around the field, but were careful to keep the area in front of the disc clear.  The two handlers then ran a wide open attacking set that gained huge yards for advantage.  After catching the big runners their work had created, they’d pick out their shots to the downfield players who were open by the dramatic repositioning of the disc.  This offensive concept – spread everyone out, create attacking motion with your handlers and then take shots downfield – became the foundation of Oregon’s 2010 national championship offense.

Defense: Grantland

I’ve always loved this blog – it is far more analytic than most and therefore most interesting.  I won’t go into too great of summarizing detail because you can (and should) read the article.  I saw two really great implications to take out of it.  First and tangentially, is the futility of statistics in ultimate.  Statistics are dependent on a large sample size, both in prediction and application.  Another way to look at it is that you need a lot of data to say anything meaningful and you can only predict across a large number of events – a single event is just gambling.  So until we get SportsVU in ultimate (wow!) a lot of statistics is guess work and horribly prone to confirmation bias.

There is also a defensive takeaway in here as well: help more.  Defenders spend far too much time and effort covering people who aren’t doing anything.  Yes, ‘just-guard-your-guy defense creates clarity.  Yes, it helps your team build a ‘man-up’ attitude.  Yes, it fosters accountability for your defenders.  But it is rarely the most efficient thing to do.  Go back and look at the film of the Japanese women from WUGC 2012 (here‘s pool play vs. USA) – that’s the textbook film on using help to constrict space.  There is a great deal of defensive growth to be made by adopting a basketball mentality of help and rotation.

Leadership: The Tyranny of Structureless

The lack of resources in ultimate force us into all sorts of weird leadership structures.  Although most teams have settled into the now-standard captains plus committees system, I am constantly looking for was to improve leadership structure and to ensure the sustainability of it.  (College teams in particular are prone to collapse with the graduation of institutional knowledge.)  This article really does a great job of laying out the issues around building leadership structures and the possible solutions.  I also stretched to consider whether the kind of issues discussed here extended onto the field – that is, if you use a structureless system of offense or defense are you just creating informal playing structures and making it that much harder for the uninitiated to figure out?  As a bonus, for those of us interested in feminism and radical politics, the middle portion offers a window into the early development of the women’s rights movement.


Starting in a couple weeks, the Win the Fields blog post is going to transition to an advice/Q&A column.  You will still see big opinion/news features ala last winter’s NexGen stories, but they will run separately.  There is no particular type of question I am looking for – I’ll take technique, tactics, strategy, leadership, culture…anything, really.  So send me your questions, I’ll answer them.  Email

Feature photo by Alex Fraser –

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at]

  • Thanks Lou! Got so much reading to do on top of college studies… Wonder which I should do first?

  • Andrew

    "Oregon’s 2010 national championship offense."

    What championship? Ego made a pre-quarters exit at 2010 USAU College Championships, 15-17 loss to Cal.

    • Andrew

      Oh wait….you are referring to the ladies, who did win that year. My bad.

  • Dominick

    Similar to the rotation in basketball defence, I'm always looking out for aspects of other sports that can be incorporated in to ultimate. My theory is that if a skill, approach, mindset has developed in that sport over it's longer existence than it is worth trying in ultimate given its youth. Things I've noticed are 'off loads' from Aussie rules converting to fast disc movement; through ball in soccer converting to lead pass; passing out of a tackle in rugby converting to breaking the force; a scrum half's (rugby) ability to get quick ball from a ruck converting to a handlers ability to swing the disc after a dump.

    I'd love to hear if people have thought of other things that could be incorporated.

    • Pick and Roll from basketball against a zone defense.

      • Smellis

        I love how you haven't stopped arguing for this. I think it was at least 7 years ago when you 1st mentioned it to me!

    • Burruss

      I've get through balls, but I don't know enough rugby or Aussie rules to grasp the other three. Would you mind a bit more explanation?

      • Dominick

        Aussie rules off load – player A is running in a direction other than towards the goal he is trying to score in. When he catches the ball, instead of attempting to turn around and continue play, he simply passes the ball to a team mate who is already heading towards the goal. Convert to ultimate and it becomes off loading to an up rushing handler after making an under cut.

        Rugby passing out of a tackle – when a player gets tackled, other defenders are able to establish their defensive positioning relative to the location of the tackle. By passing out of the tackle, any defenders who have started to take up position are now caught out and forced to react. Convert to ultimate and it becomes baking the mark to change the point of attack and force defenders to scramble and re-establish a force.

        Rugby quick ball – frequently in rugby when a player gets tackled a ruck will develop. This is any number of players from both teams attempting to get the ball back on their side (picture players diving for a fumble but all trying to push the ball back to their own quarter back). Once it becomes clear which team has gained possession, the other team will set up their defensive positioning. A scrum half (the quarterback from my apology above) can make this positioning difficult by moving the ball away from the ruck as quickly as possible and enabling another attack to take place somewhere else on the field. Convert to ultimate and it becomes a dump receiver quickly swinging the disc to the other side after play has become stagnant in one location. If the dump receiver had held on to the disc, the defence would not have had to change their positioning other than by moving forward a few metres.

        • Jonno

          Great explanations! Coming from NZ/UK I understand rugby / aussie rules but haven't grown up with basketball. So would anybody like to explain what a pick and roll is for me?

  • I love your reference to Jo Freeman's classic essay, "The Tyranny of Structurelessness." <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”>( I also think Cathy Levine's less well-known but cogent response, "The Tyranny of Tyranny," <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”>( has a lot to say (about group dynamics, the danger of burnout, and the danger of relying on a small group of leaders.

    Starhawk has written beautifully on this topic, and would be of interest especially to those of us who are interested in creating participatory ultimate teams (and social change groups) that encourage groups to become, as Starhawk says, to become "leaderful" rather than "leaderless." See a summary of the concept by Matt Smucker at… and Starhawk's page at A short essay by Starhawk on leadership is at…. Her book Truth or Dare on this topic is excellent, and she has a new book that I haven't read yet, The Empowerment Manual.

    • Burruss

      Thanks for the links – I'm psyched to check them out.