We say lots of stupid things on an ultimate field.
I can tell you until the cows come home that you need to take more care when you throw in the wind, but if it were so simple as simply saying to yourself, “let’s throw better in the wind,” it wouldn’t be a mantra amongst college teams in New England year after year.
What really needs to happen, is that people need to develop a checklist of tweaks to their throws that can be applied to varying degrees in various circumstances to ensure good throwing.
What do I mean? I mean things like:
- stepping out
- flicking the wrist harder
- gripping the disc harder
- tilting the nose of the disc downward slightly to keep the lip from being exposed to the wind when throwing upwind (“staying over the throw,”)
- tilting the disc upwards slightly to avoid the turf (“getting under the throw,” though this is more often an error than a correction in my experience)
- throwing from a lower release point (“getting low”)
When my throws suck, I run through my checklist–are my throws working differently than I wanted because I’m swinging my arm (“hooking it” on an arc) instead of coming through in a straight line ? Is it something as simple as needing to grip a little more tightly?
Learn to debug your own throws. And learn how to teach other people to debug theirs. Part of my pre-game routine is tuning my throws for the day’s conditions (the day’s conditions include my own condition), running through a mental checklist that includes all of the things mentioned above. If it’s windy, I put a lot of effort into adjusting my tilt to compensate during warm-ups, so I don’t have to think about it when I catch a swing pass and only have a split-second to decide whether to throw the continuation or not.
When you get comfortable debugging the mechanics of your throws, think also about things like how the weather is affecting touch, how gusty it is (as I alluded to in my post about hammers, consistent wind can be accounted for–gusty wind, being harder to predict, can wreak havoc. Recognize which throws are less havoc-prone in these conditions), and even things like how your cutters are running today and how you expect the defense to match up (do you want to err on throwing with more float for your receiver to sky for, or with more lead for him to run on to/bid for? Do you laser the pass to the in-cut to minimize the window a defender can make a play, or do you lead with float to give your receiver time to catch and set up his continuation throw more effectively?). How confident are you in your ability to place a throw with touch?
Run through your checklist, fix what you can, recognize what you can’t, and adjust your in-game decision making accordingly.
Bring the disc back as far as you can as soon as you can.
As you pivot, or as you stand trapped on the sideline looking for an open cut to throw to, don’t think about just getting the disc over to your forehand or backhand side–think also about getting the disc (your arm) to the point from which you only have to move forward to throw.
In other words, seek to eliminate the windup from your throw–who do you think is more likely to be point-blocked or forced to adjusting their throw last-second: the girl who puts her head down, steps out, winds up, and releases, or the girl whose step, wind-up, and release are one fluid motion? Don’t allow your body to hesitate.
As you pivot over to your backhand side, take the step one step (pun intended) farther by torquing your body before your foot hits the ground. Thusly coiled, all you have to do is pull the trigger if the throw is there–no second is wasted on the gap between evaluation and execution (assuming you can wind up and look upfield to evaluate at the same time, which you damn well better be able to). Similarly with a forehand, aim to land from your step with the disc already coming back into your windup so that all your motion explodes forward upon touchdown.
If you are always preparing your body to throw, your pivot is always a threat and every fake must be respected. Developing a repertoire of convincing, effective fakes will follow naturally if you work to make your pivot, windup, and release more efficient.
Talked about this a good while ago here, but you probably never read that one.
Do you like catching the frisbee? Do you enjoy stopping others from doing so? Would you enjoy doing both more consistently in the air?
Work on your jumping form. A couple things to keep in mind when you go up for the sky:
- Accelerate into the jump. Part of jumping is redirecting your horizontal velocity into vertical velocity–this is why most people can jump higher off of a run than from a standstill (and those who can’t should be able to with a bit of plyometric training). Leave yourself space on a floaty disc to really accelerate into your jump and attack the disc at your highest point.
- Lower your center of gravity. This occurs on the penultimate (second-to-last) step, and helps with the redirection of velocity (it also allows for more complete utilization of your plyometric ability, as the slight dip engages your stretch-shortening cycle to explode upwards on the next step).
- Use your arms to help with takeoff. You’ll usually see some kind of windup going into a jump by the best jumpers–the extra force you can generate from your arms will help with redirecting your momentum as well as provide a bit more force to propel your body upwards. If you’re on the run, this will typically be a one-arm windup (whichever is in the backswing phase of your run); if you’re doing a two-legged takeoff, you should be able to get both arms into it a bit more (I find one-legged takeoffs far more common in ultimate, however. this may just be my own bodily preference made manifest, so your mileage and results may vary).
- Reach for the disc with the arm opposite your takeoff foot. This will vary depending on the specific situation, but as a general rule you can reach higher with the opposite arm. Keep this in mind when you practice your jumping and it will become more natural for use in-game.
- Absorb the impact of landing in your hips, bending your knees. This is more of a recommendation for the weight room, but landing stiff-legged will lead to a lot of force being applied to one’s joints. The more you can absorb on landing via squat (incidentally, the muscles you use to take off are also the ones that should be used to slow you down on landing–you’re simply using them eccentrically, to slow movement in one direction, rather than concentrically, to create movement in the other), the less likely you are to have aches and pains accumulate.
Also note the comments. As Dusty points out, your athleticism can only carry you so far–also think about positioning and preventing the other guy from doing the sorts of things that let him comfortably make a jump to make a play on the disc as you try and set yourself up for success. Remember, if you’re on defense, all you have to do (barring multiple receivers or unpredictable winds) is keep your man from catching the disc to get the turn.
I’m just going to stop commenting and tell you to read Gwen’s stuff. She nails it.
Be a good thrower for your decisions, not your throws. Put your throwing practice in the context of a game-time decision to make it that much more of a seamless process in high-pressure situations.
My two cents on forehands…first, read what Miranda Roth has on long backhands (she covers it very well–all of the articles in this issue have gems):
I’m all about maximizing torque when throwing—using rotation to generate power flowing into your throw. On a long backhand the first point is to step out so that when you twist your body you’re not killing your defender with a giant elbow to the face (this is easier for tall players—shorter players should focus on a quick stepout). While stepping out, I also reach the disc out as far as I can to create the longest lever possible (thus creating the most force). The last major step is to rip it—use your abs to pull your arm across and really focus on opening your body all the way toward where you are throwing.
A lot of the same rules apply for forehand hucks. Take into account your grip and your arm action, but the power all comes from the torque of the hips and torso transferring to the disc (this occurs through your arm and grip, so those things are not trivial: refine your mechanics if you find your best effort still yields poor (wobbly) results), with your core as a mediator (and mover–train your core rotationally).
The key difference between the backhand and forehand hucks is how the body generates power and how power is transferred. Forehands are much more of a finesse throw, but you can still generate a very significant amount of power using your body properly. For me, this means stepping out to the side, even slightly back, as I torque my torso back slightly, particularly at the shoulder (to load the scapula). Using my step slightly, I use the momentum and transfer that energy up from my foot to my body, as my body undulates–leg, then hip, then shoulder torque forward in time, and as the next link in the chain comes forward the previous link comes back, creating a whipping motion (Which is to say, as my shoulder is coming forward, my hip has begun to move back).
The essential component is to relax. Whereas you can usually brute force a backhand, too much tightness on a forehand will sap your power. Allow your body to flow, to seamlessly send the energy up through your body and into your arm. You will be tense at the core, but your arm will be very loose up until the moment of release (but your grip will remain tight throughout). Unlike the backhand, where the arm can do a lot of work, the arm can really only hinder a flick. You’ll see a lot of people throw with their elbow on the hip, which displays the lack of necessity for the arm very nicely–the ideal, however, is to get the elbow off the hip and leading the throw, much the same way a pitcher like Chad Bradford throws (but with more upright posture). Get that extension, but relax and let your body (esp. your shoulder) whip the disc.
Undoubtedly there will be some long flyouts over the course of a game–watch the way an outfielder keeps his eye on the ball and keeps his head stable as he tracks it on the run, even while sprinting. Their heads don’t bounce every which way; think about how hard it would be to know consistently the position of the ball if it was constantly shifting in your field of view (or rather, if your field of view was constantly shifting around it).
The Pittsburgh pirates have their minor league outfield pirates run on treadmills with laser dots fixated on their foreheads so they can work on keeping their head still even while sprinting.
The same holds true in ultimate. Have you ever seen the disc, and then suddenly missed the catch at the last moment? If it’s not the wind, it’s probably a subtle shift in your head position that threw off your sense of where the disc is.
Keep relaxed on the run. Let your body flow, and let your head float. Keep your eyes fixated on a single target when you do track workouts (on the straightaways, at least) and keep your head still. Translate this to the field, and find your catching (and D’ing) consistency improved.
EDIT: CP brings up an excellent point–this applies not only to catching, but to throwing too. Check the comments.
Jim Parinella lays it out in simple terms that belie his wisdom (emphasis mine):
Individually, cutters today may give themselves two options and make a hot read, but it’s not that hard to pick up from the sideline who the first and second downfield cutters are going to be from the way they set themselves up (or the way the others take themselves out of the way). When not in the play, I often try to mix it up by acting as if I am the primary cutter, but definitely not every time.
Simple, but potent. This is similar to something I’ve done as a cutter for a while now. Cutting is as much about fooling your defender as it is about flat-out beating him, and one man’s cut is enabled by the work of six others making space for him to have a play.
The value of confusing the defense’s expectations is rather large for the offense. Wiggins gets the value of a predictable offense to the defense:
…[Truck Stop has] an extremely efficient offense, but one that basically keeps their players in their strongest positions for the entire game. Advantage; they are always using their strengths (Moldenhauer going deep, Morgan cutting, McComb handling, etc). However, this does make it easier to match up in important, late-game points; you can adapt your matchups to focus on the places on the field that they are going to be.
(And you can poach intelligently if you know who the playmakers are and aren’t).
One strategic notion that I think is very undervalued and underutilized is to use variety in offensive options to keep a defense guessing and continually exploit their weaknesses. Seigs was (and is–any Dartmouth O guys from last year read my blog?) probably the best play-caller I know because he takes efforts to use the variety of options an offense has and uses–just varying the 3-4 (in terms of who’s cutting in a given 7, which 7 are on the line in the first place, who’s the 3 and who’s the 4) on a semi-regular basis allows you to put rested legs on display and potentially exploit the weaker defenders on the opponent’s team. What good does a stud defender do if she’s out of the play?
Similarly, if you’re being covered by Stud Defender or Lane Poacher, keeping her busy thinking you’re the immediate threat when you’re not is a big part of “making space” for your teammates. And the converse–making her think you’re out of the play–can be valuable for setting up opportunity cuts when the look to help elsewhere.
This is especially important in spread offenses, which are designed to create isolations and use the matchups advantageously. If you man knows you’re not in the play right now and can drop off to poach, it’s killing your team’s offense. If you’re not going to set up and act like you’re about to cut, at least force him to keep repositioning or looking to you instead of the play–things like a slow jog to his blind spot, with the occasional start-stop (like you’d see a base stealer do during pitches to throw off the pitcher/catcher)…demand attention, and if it isn’t given to you…go where they ain’t, and get the disc.
Think about the opportunities that are created (and taken away) by your opponent’s attention on an ultimate field (if you’re really thinking, you could extend this to disrupting a team’s sideline help, too–but don’t be a douche), and strive to use that as much as you would use their acceleration or your patented drop-step shoulder juke.
Grip. If you can hold a frisbee to throw a forehand as I’ve described previously, you’re probably in good shape. As I touch upon briefly in the video, it’s not so much the grip that matters as the fact that the grip allows you to hold the frisbee in line (parallel) with your forearm. If you can hold the disc, however you can manage, parallel with the forearm, you’ll be able to learn and maintain a consistent hammer.
Grip is also essential for throwing in the wind or throwing for distance. You have to be able to hold the disc firm in windy conditions, lest it be blown off-track before it even leaves your hand, and you also need to grip the disc tightly enough to transfer power to your throw.
Arm angle (tilt). This will change depending on the situation. How much you adjust this angle will affect the flight path of the throw–do you want a low, fast trajectory? A double-helix that floats? Something closer to a blade? Develop this sense with trial and error. This also affects how the disc flies in wind. Throwing upwind, you want to stay over a hammer like you would any other throw–this means a slight alteration in the tilt and follow-through of your throw so it flies lower (see arm action below). In a downwind, you want to throw with a bit more touch so the wind doesn’t turn your hammer into a sinking rock. Crosswinds are perhaps the most difficult to gauge–depending on the intensity and direction of the wind, you will need to tilt the disc so it comes out more like a blade (if the wind is blowing from your left for a righty) or with more of a flatter profile (if the wind is blowing from your right). As a general rule (this applies with “normal” throws, too), try not to expose the underside of the disc to the wind. If anybody has more insight to offer to this end, feel free. I find I have to calibrate my hammers for the wind more often than not instead of knowing right off the bat, but it doesn’t take more than a handful of warm-up throws to get to that point.
Related note about the wind–wind is not a nonstarter for over-the-tops or hammers; GUSTY wind is. The change is what makes the throw unpredictable–if the wind is consistent, you can make a consistent adjustment and maintain effectiveness.
Body angle (tilt). I’ve found a slight lean (to the left for righties) aids in-wind adjustment of the disc’s flight path. This follows pretty naturally from the footwork of the push-off described below.
Arm action (trajectory). This ties in to the above. How you project the frisbee–in my mental lingo, I cue myself to “project” rather than throw the disc–makes a big difference. Again, how do you want the disc to fly and arrive at its target? You can project the disc with a higher trajectory so that it takes longer to arrive at its target or a lower trajectory to try and speed it along. This is critical to throwing a hammer successfully in a game (particularly outside of zone situations with stationary targets). You have to learn to appreciate not only the spatial aspect of the throw–throwing to your target–but also the temporal aspect–throwing to your target in such time that it can be caught. I feel like, with hammers more than any other throw (ok, I’m really just talking about forehand and backhand) in ultimate, you need both to be successful. This is why defenses will concede the hammer more readily than the rest–the skill and sense to consistently place these throws is hard to find, and the margin for error creates easy turnovers/turnover opportunities.
I emphasize placing the hammer and projecting the disc here, because hammers are all about touch, in my opinion. This is not a throw that can simply be “gripped and ripped.” You might get the disc to fly somewhere close to where you intended by doing so, but you have to be able to control for the temporal aspect–putting the hammer in such a way that it is catchable by your receiver, ideally in uncontested fashion. A quick-moving hammer is one of the hardest catches to make for a moving receiver unless it’s placed perfectly (hi, Misha!).
Release point. I snap my wrist and release somewhere above my head/right shoulder. How soon or late you release determines in part how much (or how little) touch the hammer will have, so keep that in mind when you project this throw.
Footwork and Shoulder Use. I’ve seen/heard a few different schools of thought on footwork. I’m of the opinion that you should be able to throw a hammer from a standing, balanced position, and also capable of throwing it out of a forehand pivot. For me, my footwork requires pushing off with my right foot a little (really, it’s more of a shift of weight to the left), usually ending on my toes or with my foot slightly off the ground. I find, however, that the importance of footwork tends to pale in comparison to the importance of loading the scapula. A hammer more closely approximates a football or baseball throwing motion than a forehand or backhand, so the shoulder loading really enables one to put a lot more power behind the throw. When you generate power from the shoulder, rather than the arm, it allows you greater control over how the disc is projected–it allows you to put touch on a powerful throw.
Wrist snap. Remember that the wrist snap is what puts rotational force on the disc–it does not project the disc forward. That’s what your body and shoulder are for. Impart a velocity to the frisbee with your body and shoulder, and then snap your wrist when you’re ready to release and not sooner. It’s a nice, compact motion (as it is for all throws, but it’s harder to get away without doing for a hammer).
If you find your throws wavering or wobbling (in the wind), examine your wrist snap, but also examine your grip to make sure you’re holding the disc in proper, parallel alignment with your forearm.
If you find your throws double-helixing when you don’t intend them to, or doing just the opposite–too bladey, mind the wind first, and mind how much you’re tilting the disc second.
The Huddle’s Andrew Fleming has a great analogy for this, in his article on being the deep defender when you hear the “Up!” Call:
Have you ever sat a stoplight and watched the light for the other direction turn from green to yellow to red? When your light finally turns green, it’s just a confirmation of what you already knew was about to happen. How much quicker are you off that line if you’re peeking at the other light versus waiting for yours to change? That’s the difference between reacting and anticipating on D. When I hear that “up” call, I want to already know what throw is coming and already be poised to jump on it.
He very succinctly summarizes the components of good, anticipatory D.
Anticipation means not only knowing the current situation and recognizing which throws are most likely, but also learning how to read people and recognizing opportunities to make the play.
General things you should be aware of as an anticipatory defender, as much as possible (in rough order of importance–feel free to dispute my rankings or add others in the comments)
- The position of the disc on the field relative to you and your man
- How long the disc has been in that position–is it in motion for a potential unmarked huck/throw? Is it stall 7 or 8, so you should really be heads-up for a swilly bail-out throw?
- The capabilities of the thrower. Is it the stud thrower, who can not only jack it, but break the mark to do so? Is it somebody who’s only going to throw to under cuts?
- The force (the person on the mark). Which side of the field should passes be going to? How likely is it that the mark will hold and not get broken?
- The conditions. Is it rainy? Are you going upwind and can dictate out with more confidence? Is there a crosswind that would cause a throw to your expected side of the field to float or sink more than usual?
- Your man’s preferences. Are they a relentless deep threat? Do they prefer to stick around the disc? Keep in mind they may still take what you give them, even if it’s not what they prefer.
- What, if anything, has the other team as a whole been beating you with? If they’re exploiting the around break, be prepared to pounce on a somewhat floaty around throw (and adjust when you’re on the mark as well). If they love to jack it, start backing your man or otherwise make sure you’re always in a position to strike on the huck.
All of these bits of information, summed together, should allow you to make a few adjustments:
- What cut you choose to defend primarily–what’s the biggest (and most viable) threat at this moment?
- What cuts you choose to respect–if it’s really windy and the player with the disc does not look confident in her upwind forehand, you can give a cushion of at least a few steps when your woman goes deep (but beware the dump/swing to a more confident thrower in motion).
- Where you expect the throw to go to. This is particularly important at high stalls, when a less-than-perfect throw might come suddenly and surprise you. If you expect to see a throw to the forehand side of the field, allow for the possibility of a stall-9 blade.
- Whether or not you poach off of your man (!). If you’ve evaluated your man to be less of a threat in their current position than some other play–your man prefers to cut under, but their big thrower has the disc and you see somebody setting up the deep cut–you can sometimes get away with devoting less attention to your man and more attention to the play in action.
This is a lot of information to process at once on the field. It’s impossible (In my opinion) to consciously take in all of this information and still play at 100% intensity (you’ll be thinking too much). However, you can learn to intuit things, or give yourself reminders before the point. The disc’s position should eventually become a natural sense; for me, I can often discern where the frisbee is by the sound of a catch or reading my man and, if in a straight stack, the other men on offense (be wary of eye fakes). You can cultivate an internal stall clock to anticipate high-count situations (or perhaps your teammate will count loudly enough for you to know with certainty). Conditions and the force, you should be aware of before the point begins(or at least before the disc is tapped in on a stoppage). Strive to cultivate an intuitive sense of what space is threatened and in which space (and at what times) your opponent is not a threat to get the disc. I find it usually helps to remind myself of the force on D just before the pull goes up (if I’m starting on D or O), and to spend some time (doesn’t need to be more than 10 seconds or so) trying to visualize the wind vector and anticipating which throws will float or sink on D (and how to compensate with my own throws).
You can, of course, rehearse a lot of these situations through visualization. Cutting schematics can go a long way towards guiding you here–draw up novel situations, impose different conditions, and then try and picture yourself in them.
In addition to recognizing situations in terms of general expectancies, strive to learn the signs that a play is coming–learn to read throwers. You can do this on a team-by-team basis if their system is transparent; you can also learn to read individuals. Eventually, you will start to pick up on tells that are more across-the-board; players who are not skilled in showing fakes or making quick decisions in particular become easy reads with enough attention. There’s a certain look–not quite “Deer in the Headlights”, but a similar single-minded tunnel vision, when a thrower goes from “scanning/evaluating” mode to “preparing to throw” mode. Mid-level cutters get a similar look when they’re in the lane, if you’re trying to read their fakes.
Don’t think too much on the field; simply pay attention and make associations through experience. Eventually, you’ll develop an intuitive sense and good defense will become more automatic (it never becomes fully automatic–invariably there’s always some external condition you should be taking note of). Learn when you can afford to think on the ultimate field, and learn when you need to stop thinking and just make the play. Anticipation will put you in position, but you still have to execute.