Ultimate Analysis

I missed yesterday’s baseball game, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about my favorite sport to actually play: Ultimate Disc (sometimes called Ultimate Frisbee). There are three offenses in Ultimate Frisbee, and in this post I’m going to analyze all three of them and discuss the relative merits of each. The first is your standard vertical stack offense: Players make a vertical line going down the field and then proceed to cut in and out in tandem with one another. An alternative to this is the horizontal stack, where you have a line of handlers in the backfield (3) and a line of cutters upfield, both in lines running perpendicular to the sideline. Lastly, you have the zone offense, where you have 3 handlers in the backfield, two poppers moving through the middle of the field, and two wings moving up and down the sidelines.

Vertical stack (vert) is the traditional offense, and for good reason. You take the half of the field the defense gives you amd you work with it as best you can. If you can beat the defender, you have pretty much the entire forced-side of the field to work with. The main reason to run vert is that if you have good enough handlers, you actually can use BOTH sides of the field to run your offense. A handler who can either break the mark or dump it to another handler on the break side will open up the other half of the field, the half the defenders upfield are not covering. Once you’ve done this, the whole field is yours, and you can usually gain half to three quarters of the field before the defense has time to reset. The problem is that if you can’t get to the breakside, you’re stuck with at best half of the field, and the defenders are positioned to always have a half step on you, no matter what you do. All in all, I don’t like vert as much as horizontal (ho-stack) or zone because you tend to get too much of people cutting each other off, and you really only have one viable cutting lane, whereas with the other two offenses you have two to four.

Horizontal stacking is the less traditional one-on-one offense, and that means defenders won’t be used to it. This always gives the offense an advantage. The four upfield cutters try to work opposite to each other, like engine pistons, one moving away as the one beside him moves in. Generally, this isolates the cutter and gives him more space to work with. All you need are three handlers capable of breaking the mark. This is where ho-stacking becomes more complicated, because you have to field a team with enough handlers to make up the backfield. The center handler must be excellent, and the side handlers must be at the very least capable of duming the disc back towards the center before they get stalled out. If they can make upfield passes all the better, but since the outside cutters tend to move away from the disc, the outside handlers should really be throwing upfield only if they can huck (throw long distance). The isolation element of this makes it the more viable offense, in my opinion, but it requires more from your team and takes three very solid players to make work.

Zone offense also requires more handlers than vert stacking (3), but here you have the advantage that if no one is open upfield, you have an open throw to another handler every time (unless the cup shifts to cut off swing passes, in which case a popper HAS to be open up-field somewhere). With ho-stacking, that handler will be covered. Zone offense trades off vertical movement for lateral movement, though, because it’s really difficult to throw it deep in zone conditions (windy) and the defensive cup is designed to shut down the necessary passing lanes that the poppers can move into. It also requires extreme patience by the handlers, more so than with either linear stacks, since players will be open far less often, and dumping and swining will often be the only option available.

All in all, I like horizontal stacking the best. It has zone’s lateral movement but gives you more passing lanes than either zone or vertical and allows for better isolation for the cutters at any given moment. Toss in the unexpectedness of it and you have Ultimate Disc’s most effective offense.

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