I used to think Camaros were cool when I was younger, so I’m not going to begrudge someone his preference for muscle cars. I don’t really like Indian food, but hey, I can see how some people like a little kick. But olives? How can anyone snack on those like popcorn? I just don’t get it. The same goes for ultimate tastes. If you want to play ho stack or vertical or a six-handler offense, go knock yourself out. But there are certain olives out there in the world of ultimate that I just don’t get.
Huck and hope. I coined this phrase in 2006 to describe some of the horizontal stack offenses’ propensity to throw it long without seeming to have an open receiver. The cuts themselves were as much to blame, as they seemed to be five yard up-and-back cuts until they got six inches of separation. The throws were flat and straight down the field, violating the rule of thirds (on a long pass, either the cut or the throw should cross into a different third of the field). Completions required either an extremely fast sprint or a great leap.
DoG had the reputation for being ultra-conservative, but we would gladly throw it long if the cut was open. I guess our definition of open was closer to “has several steps on his defender” than “might be ahead of his defender but is an awesome athlete.” The main benefit of this was that it allowed for plenty of margin on the throw, and if the throw was garbage, we still had a chance because we also had awesome athletes going for the disc. At the Future of Ultimate Panel at the Ultimate Players and Coaches Conference in 2013, I said that I preferred catching my goals chest-high instead of having to outleap someone (not that I couldn’t, of course).
SportsCenter Fallacy. Everyone loves watching highlight reels. They’re exciting, they give up-and-coming players something to aspire to, and they can make our beloved sport look more appealing to regular sports fans. But there is danger in falling victim to the SportsCenter Fallacy of equating these plays with good ultimate.
One play that applies to both of these categories is a Brodie Smith huck to Jimmy Mickle at the Dream Cup in Japan in 2013. The throw was impressive and the catch was athletic, but everything else about it was bad ultimate. There was no effort at setting up the cut, just a small stutter step followed by a sprint. There was no separation, and the defender had inside position. Another defender was in position to poach deep. It was pretty clearly a called play but there was no Plan B if the huck wasn’t thrown. The receiver never considered cutting under after his defender matched him stride for stride going downfield. Though the receiver had a height advantage, the opponents were athletic enough that a perfectly placed throw was still at best a 50/50 chance for the offense. We can do better than this.
Inside/out. I got together with some old DoG teammates to watch the MLU championship last July. My first thought was that it would be a matter of seconds before one of us commented, “Arrgh, we would have easily beaten these guys,” and I was right. After we pushed our egos out of the way, we settled down to watch for real, but couldn’t help but being appalled at some of the turnovers. In particular, the inside/out forehand was being misused and led to numerous turnovers and near-turnovers. Understanding Ultimate did a three–part series on the dangers of the inside-out, but to me, it all comes down to margin on the throw. Simply put, these throws had to be perfect and the receiver had to make an awkward catch in stride. It seemed that these were concentrated in the red zone where the stack gets squished together, leaving less room for the cutters to create a favorable throwing angle. Any pass that is going away from the cutter is going to be a tough one to complete, as it could be blocked, dropped, or zipped past the cutter. The cutter should have enough room to square up to the disc prior to catching.
The “autofake.” Some players will catch a swing pass and then continue with a big huck fake, an action I refer to as the “autofake”. What does this accomplish besides wasting two seconds and eliminating any hope of getting an immediate continuation? Instead, catch and turn ready to throw that continuation pass. If you see it’s not open, a quick wrist snap can be enough to move the mark over in order to free up an inside-out continuation or to turn the disc back across the field. Players should fake with an immediate purpose. This can set up something in particular, such as by lifting the disc quickly to get the marker moving up in order to throw a forehand underneath his arm, or it can try to force the defender into overcommitting, as in a series of handler jukes to get open for a reset. In Ultimate Techniques and Tactics, we refer to these as “quick fakes” or “slow fakes”.
“One.” Some skip the word “stalling” and start in with “one.” When I’m in a bad mood, I’ll call fast count. I guess the stall count isn’t short enough (especially in goaltimate where the count is five). This kind of systematic shaving of the rules drives me crazy. Similar actions with marking, pivoting, and offsides are frustrating, though the presence of observers can prevent these offenses from affecting the game as much.
Landing on the line. If a wide-open receiver catches the disc in stride and lands on the goal line, I feel as a matter of principle that it ought to be ruled a turnover. Though “make sure you catch the disc” is a top priority, a player needs to have enough field sense to know he’s close to a line and adjust his stride or take an extra hop to land in. Even though there is some additional risk of dropping the disc, it’s smart to take this risk since teams will turn it over perhaps 10-20% of the time with the disc on the goal line. This will result in additional cost to the individual (more likely that the player will turn it over) but an overall reduction in cost for the team (less likely that the team will turn it over) so the team culture should not punish the smart risk-taker just because the outcome is bad.
This is just one example of ignoring easily-attainable small advantages that can add up over time. This is a bigger deal in a game like goaltimate, where an extra two yards of position can double your chances of scoring. For instance, a swing pass to someone in the goal mouth should be to their outside hand so he can catch the disc away from his body and then pivot even closer to the goal for a much easier throw. But there are also opportunities in ultimate such as catching the pull instead of letting it hit the ground. Most of the time you might only gain a couple of yards or an extra second on the stall, but occasionally taking the “safe” play of letting the disc hit will let the defense set up on the first pass and kill the called play. I would much rather have the occasional dropped pull, and when it does happen I make sure to let the dropper know that it’s just part of the cost of doing business.
USAU promoting USAU ultimate, not ultimate. I’m disappointed that USA Ultimate has become so aggressive at battling its “competitors” in professional ultimate who are providing valuable services to USAU members. I was on the Board of Directors for the Ultimate Players Association for six years and understand that the Board members and employees have a lot of information on the state of affairs, so I am hesitant to claim to know what the best track is. However, this all strikes me as a big power play to promote the product of USAU ultimate. What also strikes me about the “product” is that it’s not the same product that I grew up with. Ultimate is moving closer to the single-game format instead of the marathon tournament format. As a fan, I like it, but as a former championship-level player, I wouldn’t have wanted it. I was there to play serious games, and the more, the better, and it seemed that it was only moral that you had to fight to earn your way into the elimination rounds.
But maybe the single-game format is the Indian food of ultimate. If the kids are willing to put up with a little bit of indigestion and not feeling full, who am I to tell them they’re wrong.