Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Land on One Foot - Bailey's Two Step

I played college in what was the Metro East and there was a time when Princeton’s Clockwork Orange was pretty much the cream of the crop thanks in large part to this lanky kid with a visor named, Bailey Russell (some of the best ever Callahan hype on RSD was from the Clockwork PR machine).

I remember one year where their zone offense involved Bailey throwing scoobers over the cup to this ex-basketball player, grad student whose claim to fame was having dunked on Greg Ostertag.  They’d eventually dump it to Bailey again and they’d repeat.  None of that is really relevant to my point (we old folks ramble a bit) but the interesting thing to me was the way Bailey gained yards on the dumps.

Bailey would hop up and slightly forward as he caught the dump, then land on one foot – specifically his right foot.  When his left foot then landed, he was landing in a big forward step, and then he’d take another big step forward with his right leg.  Having long legs, Bailey's two step gained him a good 2 yards easily.

The keys here:
  • Having some forward momentum in the air so that first step is not just a blatant travel.
  •  Landing on your non-pivot foot (Bailey is right handed).  By landing first with his right foot, his other foot lands in a forward step with his left established his pivot, making the next step a pivot step, which as a pivot step can be in a different direction and/or speed.
Bailey’s stork like legs and floaty-ness make those two steps look natural and legal.

Where is the best application of this move?  When you’re a middle handler in a zone offense that uses a handler crash from in front of the cup, this move will get you deeper into the cup.  Unlike a crash from a popper coming from behind the cup, this type of crash comes at the cup from the front.  Ideally, this crash puts the disc in the handler’s hands with forward momentum, vision of the field, and a cup out of position (likely too close to stop throws through itself).  And it is this last regard – getting deep into the cup to allow throws through– where Bailey’s two step can be most deadly. 

All together:  See your poppers before you move.  Jump into the cup as you receive the disc.  Land on your right foot.  Land on your left with a smooth, big, forward step.  Then take another step/pivot forward to get you right up to the cup and throw through the cup to a popper.  Do this smoothly and quickly before the cup can step back to maintain their spacing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Land on one foot - part 1

I remember a long time ago reading an article of Parinella’s somewhere where he explained a better way to toe the line is to only keep one foot down to maximize your reach rather than trying to dig both feet in.  Such a simple tip, and it reminded me of my days before ultimate.  Before frisbee, my previous love was volleyball.  I used to subscribe to a volleyball magazine and there were always these quick 1 page articles with a  handy little nugget of wisdom (think Zip's Tips minus the sandwich eating suggestions).

So one of those tips I remember was for playing volleyball doubles.  When you’re the blocker, you have one other teammate behind you in the backcourt covering the entire court on their own and they’re typically backed up to receive a hard driven spike.  Imagine as the blocker who’s jumping in the air, the spike hits off your hands, pops up, and dribbles just behind you.  That’s a hard ball for your teammate to get to if they're positioned fairly deep.  The key to helping your partner out is to land on one foot.  By landing on one foot, you can land already turning toward the court, and hit the ground running giving you a better shot at making the dig.  If you land with both feet, you lose the time it takes your foot to hit the ground and pick it up to take your first step behind you.

Application to frisbee?  On a hanging huck where you mistime your jump.  How often do you see the disc hang, the receiver and defender both jump and miss (or tip the disc) and the disc lands softly just a few steps away?  Try land on one foot and hit the ground running with your other leg to make that second effort grab or D.  By hitting the ground running you’ll also increase your chances of avoiding getting landed on and being taken out in a pile up.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Throw it early

So to follow up on checking your shoulder on buttonhook cuts, let’s talk about when to throw to those cuts.  In general, you want to put the disc up as early as possible.

There are a lot of factors involved in decision making, but in an ideal world, you want to be releasing your throw after the cutter has planted and has started their first step back toward you.  Putting the disc up early has various benefits:
  • Maximizes yardage on the incut.  The longer you wait, the closer to you the cutter gets and the less yardage gained on their incut. 
  • Creates the most predictable separation from the defender.  At the moment the cutter changes directions on their buttonhook, they have a slight advantage of a headstart running in that direction.  In another 5 steps, maybe your cutter gets more separation or maybe the defender closes the gap, but on their turn, you know what space you have. 
  • Gives you greater margin for error.  If your throw is a few degrees off target, it will be easier for the receiver to adjust not only because they’re farther away and have more time, but because as they plant, their speed is zero and they can adjust the angle of their incut.  Even from 30 yards away, it’s hard to adjust to a throw that’s off target if they’re in a full sprint.
Some other notes:
  • If your cutter isn’t checking their shoulder, your throw might surprise them.  They turn around to see the disc is already half way to them.  Checking their shoulder will solve that problem and allow you to throw early while still allowing them to visually pick up the disc early.
  • In slippery conditions, you’ll want to wait an extra step to make sure your cutters are balanced after their turn.
  • Put some zip on your throws.  Don’t gun it in so fast that it’s hard to catch, but the faster you throw, the more yardage gained and the less time for the defender to close.  If you notice in football, wide receivers tend not to go to.  They usually sprint deep, plant, turn and wait for the ball.  The ball just gets there so fast the defender can’t usually get there.  In Frisbee, the disc moves too slow for that.  So find the right balance between making it catchable, giving yourself a margin for error, and getting it there quick.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Check your shoulder - Give-Go

I need to pace myself on these posts, or i'll be out of content in a week.  Plus, i'm actually supposed to be working.

Last example for now.  Give Go.

Handler's at the brick with the disc.  Ho-stack setup with 2 dumps and 4 across.  A few cuts get looked off, open side dump's defender sags into the lane.  Handler swings to the poached dump and immediately runs up line for the give go.

Give go handlers in this scenario tend to watch the thrower expecting the disc back.  Good handlers will still take off immediately after throwing the swing, but will take a quick look over their shoulder at the lane while they're in motion.  Check your shoulder!  Why?
  • Your give go cut that will net your team a 5 yard gain might be cutting off a 25 yd gainer from a receiver.
  • There might be a poacher waiting for you in the lane ready to clean your clock.
Again, the idea is to turn toward the action.  A quick peek let's you know whether you should continue your route, break off your cut, or break back toward the middle (or something else).

p.s. If you're a receiver and you've set up a beautiful in cut only to have some stupid handler blindly running into your lane and it's too late to yell, be the bigger person and turn deep.  If they haven't looked already, they're not gonna see you and your gonna get in each other's way.  That might lead to a turnover or collision.  Just turn and run deep and be the continue, but... check your shoulder!  Your defender probably also saw the handler coming and may have decided to poach.  Help your stupid handler out by yelling out the poach.

After the point, let them know what happened, but be gentle.  We handlers don't take criticism well, especially from receivers.

Check your shoulder - Buttonhook

Ok, another example.  Check your shoulder on buttonhook cuts.

When cutting away, look back at the thrower (aka "check your shoulder) before you plant to come back or even start to slow down.  You see it all the time when you set up a drill that involves a buttonhook cut that cutters run toward a cone facing away, then plant and whip their head around all at once.  Perhaps the thinking is that by running deep and facing deep that looking back will tip off the defender that you plan to cut back... or maybe this comes from timing routes in football.

The way i teach this type of cut is to put your head down for only a few steps as your accelerating, but then look back at the thrower to see what to do next.  Why:

  • You and the thrower are on the same page.  Ever see someone cut in and the disc is sailing deep to nobody?  That's why you look back before you even start to decelerate.
  • You'll visually pick the disc up earlier and the thrower can throw it earlier.
  • The thrower can give you a non-verbal cue (i.e. pump fake, shake of the head, point).
  • You can time your cut better.  If the thrower lays out, bobbles, or does something to delay their preparation to throw, you can delay your in cut by taking two more steps or throwing a hitch in your run or whatever.  This keeps your from being too early.  You'll maximize yardage on your in cut and avoid being on top of the thrower and being looked off for being too close.
  • Your awareness increases.  Usually when you're cutting deep there's very little in front of you, the action's behind you.  When you turn toward the action, you can better decide what to do.  Maybe someone else is going to that space already and you should continue deep.  Maybe the disc quickly swung to the other side of the field.  Maybe your defender has poached off you or fallen down.
  • If the deep throw goes up, you will see the release and get an early read on it.
I'm sure i can think of other good reasons, but these should be plenty for now.  Never blindly buttonhook back.  Don't let your teammates practice bad technique in drills where there's a prescribed buttonhook.  Always check your shoulder before turning.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Let's compare two similar players with the same quantifiable skills and dimensions.  One of the intangible differentiators is experience.  We've all seen those tall, fast kids who are always open at the wrong place or wrong time... or the squad of youngsters who can't keep from throwing into the lazy old guys' poaches.  We often chalk this up to a lack of experience.  Well, i've been working on a definition for this type of experience.  You can let me know what you think.
  1. Experience is knowing where to look
  2. Knowing what you're looking for.
  3. Recognizing what you see.
  4. Knowing what to do.
  5. Doing it.

Now this process gets smoother, faster, and more reflexive with time and "dedicated practice."  Spotting a poacher in your peripheral vision starting to peek over her shoulder and lean toward the lane as you're winding up is like a chess master recognizing patterns on a board.

However, the development process can be sped up.  The amazing thing is that the impediment to player development in ultimate comes often in step 1.  They're just looking the wrong direction, and that should be the easiest part.  Blame it on a lack of coaching.

So a few quick examples i see ALL the time:

Zone - break containment:  You're in the cup and you have the disc trapped.  They get off a dump and swing.  The zone's goal here is to contain downfield yardage and reset itself.  Too often the cup players are running across the field watching the disc.  If you're the first cup player across, you should be looking across and behind you to pick up the threats.  I call this looking behind you "checking (over) your shoulder".  As your running, you can see almost the entire field and there are seldom more than 3 downfield threats downfield in this situation.  See what your downfield defenders are taking out, communicate with words and pointing, and match up.  Once you've contained, you can reset your zone.

It's called "flex and contain."  When your zone is trapping, you're packing your defenders in.  When the trap gets broken, you need to "flex" by expanding the defense, scrambling to contain threats, and then reset.  And the only way to "flex" well is if you're checking your shoulder to find the threats.  May seem obvious, but i swear i've been on nationals level club teams that did not do this even close to consistently.

Ok, i've written more than i expected.  2 more examples to come.


So i've thought about starting a frisbee blog for a long long time.  I like talking and thinking and writing about frisbee.  At the same time, do i have enough content in my head and enough space on my calendar to keep something like this going?  Probably not.  I see this endeavor having the enthusiasm and lifespan of my ventures into car modification, homebrewing, or Wicca... which is to say, i'll probably go the way of most frisbee blogs: start off with a full head of steam only to peter out after a few posts.  Oh well.  That in itself is not a good reason to not give it a whirl.  At least i'm not shelling out $800 for ground effects on my Corolla only to find i don't like getting grease on my jeans.

I started playing in New Jersey in the 90s, and in those formative years, i remember devouring every possible piece of information i could find on ultimate, whether it was from the UPA newsletter (on newsprint!), RSD, Parinella's website (pre-blog), or Above & Beyond videos, etc.  DoG was the equivalent at the time of Phil Jackson's Bulls, and to a young player, their philosophies were treated nearly as gospel.  To this day, i can see how a lot of my attitudes on ultimate are still colored by those early lessons.

At the same time, after playing club for a while, there seemed to be less and less new things to learn as a player.  Now i don't think that's because i knew/know it all, but because there are few resources in our sport.  And the few resources out there are so often geared toward newer players.  With the lack of coaching in ultimate, the finer points of technique and tactics and strategy are often left for people to learn on their own (or bring over from their past sporting lives).

Well, with this blog, i'll endeavor to throw my 2 cents out there on a few things, and i hope some young player can parlay that 2 cents into a something valuable.  Who knows?  We'll see where this goes...