Creating separation is necessary to get open in ultimate.
There are so many ways to create separation, and different players use different advantages to do it. Some players use excellent timing and deception to create separation. Some players are so quick that they can just accelerate by you. Some players create separation after the first 10 yards of a race because their top speed is incredible. Other players have incredible footwork that allows them to manipulate the defenders position, get you committing in one direction, put you on your heels, and then whiz by you.
Elite ultimate players are great at all of these methods, but every player has one that they are best at. This post will dig deep into how to use footwork, otherwise known as Rehearsed Movement Patterns (RMPs), to create separation.
Other ultimate strength and conditioning coaches, specifically Tim Morrill and Melissa Witmer, have spoken and written a lot about movement patterns in ultimate. Morrill uses his IFP/OFP model to teach athletes how to move well on the field. From the Ultimate Athlete Project, Witmer talks about the importance of being able to perform footwork drills without an agility ladder. They are my main influences on my philosophy of RMPs, and I have some influence from S&C coaches from other sports.
RMP are more skill based than functional performance training based. FPT does help improve your ability to perform the skills, but as Tim Morrill says it is a combination of both that gets us to our peak athletic performance. In order to practice and master RMPs, you need to challenge an athlete to improve footwork and body control.
The basic footwork patterns that Morrill and Witmer have talked about that are the most common are the cross-over (OFP) progressions and the jab step/icky (IFP) progressions. Those can be practiced on an agility ladder to get the initial footwork down. Some examples include the cross in front icky shuffle (OFP) and an icky shuffle (IFP). A lot of athletes have practiced those basics and are ready to move to more complex movements. It should be noted that even though some athletes are ready to move to more complex RMPs, the basics are always important to practice.
To level up, there are a few ways you can think about making those progressions more technically difficult. First, you can come into a ladder drill from a slow jog, fast jog, or sprint. Starting with forward momentum going into the drill requires greater body control than starting a ladder drill from a standstill. Pittsburgh Coach Nick Kaczmarek told us at practice last week about Marvin Harrison of NFL fame. Bill Belichick claimed that Harrison was the hardest receiver to game plan against because every single one of his cuts started and looked exactly the same. Learn to start any footwork and agility drill looking exactly the same.
Next, you can approach the ladder with forward, backwards, or lateral momentum from different angles. Jogging or sprinting into the ladder from the side of the ladder and then performing a front cross-over icky shuffle requires greater body control because the athlete must rotate from the sprint into the drill to go down the ladder.
Basically, in order to challenge an athlete’s body control and footwork, you need to put the athlete in difficult situations that require multi-planar movement and transitions. Movement on the ultimate field is never takes place in one plane. Every second of play requires movement in the transverse, sagittal, and frontal planes and rotation around the vertical, sagittal and frontal axis.
One example of this on the field is off of a pull play. The cutter starts in a side stack, cuts out into the lane, and then makes some type of move depending on the defender’s positioning to get open. Sometimes that move might be a pure acceleration to the disc because the defender is backing the cutter. When the defender is playing more honest it might not be possible to simply accelerate past him or her. Just like you jog or sprint into the agility ladder, you jog or sprint into the lane. Then you take one step deep, three steps in, and finish deep. The footwork you need for that is going to look very similar to a cross in front, icky shuffle, then sprint.
In the video above you can see RODU athlete Miranda crushing a ladder drill. She starts by fast jogging into the ladder then on the ladder performs a cross in front, a few icky shuffles, then a sprint!
Another example is from the handler position. Let’s say you are the reset and your teammate with the disc completes a throw to an in-cut. He or she clears out and you burst upfield to get into position to become the reset for the new player with the disc. By the time you get there it is stall two or three, and the handler is probably about to look at you to get open. Here we see another example of a sprint into a situation where footwork can get you open. You might see a sprint into a cross in front forwards, then a cross in front backwards, then a sprint upline.
So now you can visualize two examples of when an ultimate player needs to be able to go from a sprint into intense footwork to get open. Once you get the footwork down from a sprint into a ladder, you should take the ladder away. Continue to perform similar RMPs. Doing them without the ladder will help you transition from looking down at a ladder to see where to put your feet to doing the movement instinctually. Having patterns ingrained in your brain is what will help you on the field.
When your body and mind are prepared for the chaos on the ultimate field, you can control the chaos.