Some players just “get it.” They don’t necessarily dominate team sprints, kill the bench press, or even “look the part,” but damn if they’re not going to be on your double-game-point line. Players like Al “Al Bob” Nichols come to mind, who get incredible blocks by reading plays early, great positioning, and superb timing. If he can react to a play a half-second before another “faster” guy, who’s really faster? I call this Game IQ, and it’s definitely something I look for in a teammate.
Now, there are two parts to Game IQ. The first is recognizing overall game patterns and trends. A simple example: when a disc is dumped, it is often swung. Another: when a handler gets catches an upline forehand pass, they often huck. These are simple examples, but the earlier you can recognize them occurring the better, and you are able to set up your cut offensively that much earlier to create that much more separation (or clear space for a person in better position). Conversely, on defense you are able to react to the play and put yourself in a better position to get the D. Playing in the finals of the TEP tournament in Colombia, Al Bob recognized guys setting up in-cuts incredibly early against us and was subsequently able to poach off of his man successfully to get multiple blocks, all after coming back from retirement at an age that sees most people playing Masters or on their couch.
The second part of Game IQ is recognizing individual players patterns and trends. Offensively, this means knowing what your teammates do, and in my opinion comes solely from time on the field with them. This ranges from what their preferences are (big forehand hucker, or loves the around backhand break, or always sets up his cut this certain way), to subconsciously recognizing their body positioning to know they are about to fake instead of throw.
An anecdote: I played in a college sectionals game with a strong team against a far less experienced team. Their game consisted mainly of poor in cuts, no dump option, and big, high-stall-count blade-y cross-field hucks to the weak side. However, this was working, they were catching these “50/50” shots far more than that ratio would suggest, and were scoring consistently- simply because they’d done it all year, knew what to expect, and at this point could read and catch those discs very effectively. See also: Florida Ultimate. They knew each other inside and out because they have that many more touches with each other as a small rotation on offense. High Game IQ from experience together.
Defensively, it can get trickier. Against an opponent you’ve never seen before, you will only have each point that you guard them as a reference. If he throws a high release flick, store that in your brain and know to expect it. Does he always pivot to a backhand then back to forehand with worthless fakes before actually looking downfield? Don’t respect those fakes. Further, if you know you’ll be guarding him, watch him specifically when you take a sub, and at halftime, watch him throw, catch, pivot, etc. These are all opportunities to know what to expect and better prepare and more quickly react.
If you’re lucky, you will have one or multiple games of history to go from against that handler, and it can often become a game of cat and mouse, with both of you knowing each others’ strengths (and maybe weaknesses) and each trying to take advantage.
Finally, increasing your own Game IQ all comes down to experience. The more, the better. I highly recommend playing at any and all opportunities you can, from random local tourneys to team events to pickup games to Goaltimate to 3v3 Mini. Play with your teammates (creating chemistry and that subconscious understanding of what you “know” they’ll do), play with people you’ve never met (introducing you to new strategies, approaches to the game, timing, or just showing you what not to do), and just play, without stressing the “thinking” aspect. Soon, you’ll get more open, make more plays, and feel more comfortable with the disc in your hands, and maybe be that indispensable player on the double-game point line.
Check out Tyler’s last article on Ultimate Training Fundamentals.
Photos by Kevin Leclaire (UltiPhotos.com)