Agility For Handlers

by | October 13, 2016, 7:30am 0

Chop your feet! The cutting knowledge of most ultimate players could be summed up in these three words. But there’s a lot more to cutting than just chopping the feet. In fact, chopping the feet without an awareness of foot placement and hip orientation can cause players to awkwardly make 180 degree turns of the hips too late in their deceleration process.

This complicated process is an essential movement at the heart of our sport. All ultimate players are required to make sharp angled high intensity cuts on offense and to anticipate or mirror those cuts on defense. Because of the sharp angle of cutting, ultimate players need to pay close attention to hip stability and be able to absorb lateral (sideways) force on one leg.

Today I’m going to talk specifically about the basic handler movement most commonly used to get open for resets and up the line. The drills and cuts are more handler-oriented. But the idea of hip opening and footwork in a turn can also be applied to the comeback cuts that cutters make. The main difference between handlers and cutters is that cutters are more likely to reach top speed and will need more time for deceleration and more breakdown steps than what will be practiced in the drills below

So, what’s unique about the movement patterns of the handler position?

Handlers do more of their work in small spaces. This means they don’t reach their top sprinting speeds as often as players downfield.. Handlers rely more on quick changes of direction to get open. Defending a handler requires equal or greater agility along with an ability to read the hips of your person. A defender needs quick footwork to remain balanced and avoid overcommitting to fakes.

Breaking down the cutting pattern

A common cut or juke for handlers involves faking 1-5 yards in one direction, stopping, and then reversing direction in order to get open up the line in power position or earn a reset toward the middle of the field.

This type of movement is similar to the first half of the 5-10-5 agility drill.

I want to help you develop more intelligence around the physics of changing direction, as well as create more awareness of what your hips and feet are actually doing during the movement. Below are a few tools to help you develop this movement intelligence.

The Hockey Stop Position

In order to push the body in any direction, the feet must be outside the center of mass. To change direction laterally, your body ends up in what we call the hockey stop position. The center of mass is over the inside leg. As you decelerate into the turn, force is absorbed by both legs. The outside leg is used to absorb a lot of the sideways force. It’s important to work on this position with the outside leg ideally bent at about 120 degrees. As force is being absorbed by this leg and hip, the leg itself doesn’t move. And importantly, the center of mass stays over the inside leg.

At lower speeds, the outside leg can even perform in a plyometric fashion with a short bounce that quickly absorbs and redirects force. Let’s start with a drill that dives into what happens right before you change direction.

Two steps to a quarter turn and stop

For efficient change of direction you need to open your hips. This drill explores the feeling of foot placement and hip opening into the turn. Notice Will’s foot angle in the step before the plant. The right foot toe starts pointing towards the camera instead of directly at the line. Where the toes go the hips follow. This foot placement is what we’re talking about when we are opening the hips.

Changing Direction

Now that we’ve increased our awareness of the position we want to be in at the moment of change of direction, let’s get more dynamic. The next two drills will help you experiment with the relationship between your feet and center of mass as you change direction.

Short shuttle with cone touch
When doing shuttle runs and suicides, players are often taught to touch a cone or a line with their outside hand, and I think that movement encourages bad form. Touching a line makes athletes bend at the waist rather than hinge at the hips. It also encourages shifting weight to the outside foot rather than keeping the center of mass over the inside foot. Shifting your weight to your outside foot will make you all kinds of slow in the turns.

In the drill below, the focus is on both form and speed. Touch the cone with the inside hand and allow the feet to get outside the center of mass (beyond the cones.)

Short Slalom
The purpose of this drill is to emphasize staying low and help you experience the feeling of having your feet laterally outside of your center of mass. Just like the lean, fall, run drill helps you experience the position required for acceleration forward, the slalom helps get you in position for accelerating out of sharp turns.

You’ll know you’re doing this drill (and the lean, fall, run) correctly if you feel a little off balance and maybe you hit the dirt once in awhile. If you are pushing the edge of your comfort zone properly, you will fail occasionally.

The 5-10-5 Drill
The 5-10-5 drills is a standard agility drill used in American football combines. I like this drill because it develops hip awareness and the types of changes of directions made in small spaces.

The 5-10-5 works on all of the phases of hip action –staying open, committing, opening early into a faster turn. This is a more advanced drill I’d recommend working on after you’ve played around with and mastered the movements above.

Join the Experiment

Film yourself doing the 5-10-5 now. Spend a few weeks working on the above drills. When you try the 5-10-5 again, your turns should be faster.

If you want to participate in this experiment, join my Handlers in Ultimate group. I’d love to see some of your 5-10-5 and cutting footwork. I am happy to give feedback on what I see for as many of you as possible.

We’ll address other hander specific footwork, throwing experiments, and handler specific situations. Open to anyone wanting to talk about all things handler specific. As a bonus, Mario O’Brien is there and available to discuss his Handler Success series.

Coming up next

If you’re interested working on your footwork, I have a handler agility pack of drills coming out in a few weeks. It will likely be a simple 3-6 week program of multiple drills culminating in the 5-10-5 drill and handler specific cuts. It will cost less than your trip to the bar last Friday and I’ll let you know when it’s ready in the Facebook group. If you’re a member of The Ultimate Athlete Project, you’ll have access to all of these drills and programming as we get into the preseason phases.

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