Ultimate Strategies

by John Harris


It is widely accepted that our team cannot be successful without a strong defense. The phrase "defense wins games" will be a motto of our team. At the same time, we must keep in mind that the last team to score wins the game. So to win games we must have a strong offense. Everyone knows that on defense all seven players have to be playing hard all the time; this is true on offense as well. You can rest on the sideline - Not On Offense! Our offensive strategies will involve all seven players at all times.

Our main goal on offense is to score. But we will have other goals as well. On some points we will have called plays (e.g. Bowling Alley) while on other points we will plan to work the disc slowly upfield, thus tiring our opponents. While it is sometimes true that the quickest way to score on a given point is to huck, we want to win games not just points. One way to win games is to beat our opponents on time of possession. Since defense is usually more exhausting than offense, we want to be on offence more than our opponents. We will learn to play POSSESSION OFFENSE -- if we don't turn it over, they can't score! There is only one (extremely rare) scenario where a team can lose a game without throwing any incompletions.

We must never panic on the field no matter how rough the going. And we should NEVER feel that we have to force a throw that we're not 100% confident of completing. A perfect example is "punching it into the endzone" by throwing a bullet at the ankles of a teammate going all out. Admittedly, it's a great play if he catches it, but it's not the smartest way to play and it's not the way we will play.

As the year progresses, we should identify our weaknesses and learn how to deal with them. For example, we should have an OUT planned if player X, who isn't 100% confident of his forehand, gets caught being forced on the sideline against a stiff wind.

Here we describe a number of positions, cuts, and offensive strategies. There will be a number of terms, and you should know all of them. Nothing is more frustrating than having someone on the field who doesn't know the play that has been called.

Individual Skills

Throwing: We must all be able to throw a variety of throws from a variety of positions with confidence and with composure. The standard throws are: Forehand (inside out and outside in), Backhand (inside out, outside in, and air bounce), Overhead (short and long), and Dump Throws. We must all be aware of our own and our teammates strongest and weakest throws. And, as mentioned above, we must develop strategies so that our opponents can't exploit our weaknesses.

Leading The Receiver: In most situations, you are expected to throw your passes way out in front of your receivers. But how far out? The rule of thumb is: throw the disc so that your teammate can get to it before any defenders can. If the receiver's defender is right on him, it's still O.K. to throw, as long as you can put the disk on the side away from the defender and you are sure that the receiver can get to it first. Note that to do this, you must look at the defenders as well as the receivers. The key here is Field Awareness. You should know where everyone is and which way they're moving at all times. More on this later. A word about poaching here. If you throw the disc to the other team, IT IS YOUR FAULT!

Pivoting, Faking, and Breaking the Mark: Do these!

Catching: The most important word here is CONCENTRATION. How many times have you seen someone look away from the disc at the last second to see where he is going to throw it? It's interesting that some players find it easier to dive for a catch than to catch one right in the chest. It's because they don't CONCENTRATE on the easy ones. It is NEVER a good idea to look for the next throw just before you catch a disc. In most situations you should plan to make a two hand pancake catch. This is the safest catch for a number of reasons: 1) two hands on the disc are better than one, 2) body position and balance are generally better, and 3) from a pancake catch, you can't make the next throw quickly (so you won't be tempted to look away). An important note - pancake catching is learned, not inherited. You must practice this all the time if you want to master it. The second most important word in catching is GO TO THE DISC (O.K. so it's four words).

Reading The Disc: There are (at least) three situations when a pancake catch might not be appropriate: when diving, when skying, and when reaching back for a disc thrown behind you. (The last of these shouldn't have been thrown in the first place.) Again the main thing is to CONCENTRATE. There are two main ways to dive: straight ahead landing on your chest and sideways landing (and rolling) on your shoulder. In a straight ahead dive, it's quite possible that you can still get two hands on the disc; this is desirable. (However, it might not be desirable to pancake in this situation unless you are sure the disc won't be jarred loose when you land.)

Drills: There are a number of ways to improve both throwing and catching.

  • Two man huck. Stand 60 yards apart (or some other appropriate distance) and practice pulls and skying for the catch. Throw both forehands and backhands. This builds strength in your throwing arm and teaches you to read the disc.
  • Two man guts. Stand 40 yards apart and play catch throwing as hard as you can. Throw both forehands and backhands. This builds strength in your throwing arm and confidence in your ability to pancake catch.
  • Two man Kill Drill and Yo-Yo's. Learn to throw to lead a moving target, learn to throw when tired, and learn to pancake catch.
  • Two man speed throw. Try to get the most throws and catches in 60 seconds. Aids in learning to concentrate, both on throwing and catching.
  • Two man sideline give-and-go. Practice leading receiver up the sideline and accelerating after throwing. Can be done with defenders.
  • Dump-and-Go (Sweet). Practice accelerating right after throwing, leading receiver. Should be done with one, maybe two defenders.
  • Two man pivot drill. Two concentric circles. Pivot for 10 count, shift one, continue.
  • Fake & pivot drill. Two lines 30 yards apart. "Hockey stick cuts" with a marker. Learn to fake out straight-up marker, to break the force. This should mostly be done with defenders on the receivers.
  • Two corner. Learn to lead receiver & to go to the disc. Can also vary the angle, or the position on the field.
  • Four corner. Three players. Learn to lead receivers.
  • Bowling alley. Two lines 70 yards apart. Learn to throw around the force and to go to the disc. Can be done with a trailing defender.
  • Huck drill. Either one line with one receiver or two lines with two receivers. Learn to throw long and to either run down a disc or sky for it.
  • Flow (Anti-Flow). Cones set-up where players initiate cuts and where they clear to after throwing. Learn to time cuts based on when the thrower is prepared to throw. Learn to clear after throwing.
  • Four man zone handler. Can be done with three man cup or six man defense. This is the standard pattern we will use when playing against a zone defense. Learn to run the pattern many times without losing ground.
  • Berkeley/Stack cuts. Three on three. Two receivers have three cutting choices. Thrower get a first throw off to one of them.
  • Buddy cut. Learn short little throws that can be used to get out of time trouble or to initiate play.
  • Burst, UVA, & Fetch on the goal line. (Or mid field.)
  • John's Endzone. This play worked the one time we tried it last year at Regionals.

Man To Man

We will break up our discussion of man-to-man offense into two parts: offense in the open field and offense near the goal line.

First a few general remarks. Dynamics on the field are very complicated. One thrower, six receivers, seven defenders. Can be pretty confusing. Two main ways to deal with the complications: play a static offense, like the stack, where only one or two receivers are moving at a time, or play a dynamic offense, where everyone is moving all the time. The first is boring, easy to defend, and tends to discourage flow. The second is exciting, more challenging to play, and much harder to defend. We must be able to play both ways, but will concentrate more practice time to the latter.

To be able to play with everyone moving on the offense, requires that each player reacts to what each of the other players is doing. To do this requires AWARENESS. When we're on offense (and defence for that matter) everyone must be aware of what play has been called (if any), where the disk is and who has it, where the other receivers are and which direction they are going, who's open, who's not, who's making real cuts, who's making clearing cuts, where the disk is likely to go and to whom, where the defense is, and what the stall count is. All the receivers will be moving (even just walking) and will be watching the thrower and each other. The main decision each receiver has to make is whether to make a cut, to clear for someone else's cut, to move to a new position from which to make the next cut, or to move to a position far away from the play. This isn't easy, but when we learn to do it, we'll have an awesome offense.

Except for scoring, our main goal on offense is to keep the disk moving all the time. This is called FLOW. When the disc is moving, it's very hard for the defense to set-up. Because we have AWARENESS, we will create opportunities to move the disc toward our goal line and to score. For example, if the disk swings to the right, then the next throw might be up the right sideline (with the flow) or back towards the middle of the field (against the flow). Since most teams try to force middle, a pass up the sideline must usually be made fairly quickly; however, don't rush it. It's often better to give a big fake up the side, and then throw back towards the middle (after your marker goes for the fake).

To reach our goal of forming a POSSESSION OFFENSE with FLOW, we will need two more ingredients: PATIENCE and TRUST. We must be patient in waiting for a throw which we're 100% sure to complete, and we must trust that our teammates will get open. Generally, we will throw to the first receiver that we can throw to safely. This doesn't mean that we throw before we've made sure the throw is SAFE (no poachers, etc). We will trust that everyone on the team can make a good catch and a good throw. We must not allow ourselves to look off a teammate because he has less experience - this would destroy our FLOW (not to mention destroying each others confidence). We must take the attitude that a completion is more important than anything. As long as we keep throwing completions (backward, forward, sideways, etc) our opponents won't score. Also, since defense is harder than offense, they will be getting more tired than we will.

There are a number of standard offences against a person-on- person defence: stack, river, handlers-mids-deeps, anarchy, etc. In this article I will discuss the handlers-mids-deeps offence.

Initial setup

In this offence players are divided into 3 handlers, 2 mids, and 2 deeps. To begin the offence, one of the handlers has the disk, the other two handlers are 5-15 yards from the disk (in any direction), the two mids are 10-25 yards downfield, and the two deeps are 15-30 yards downfield. Downfield players should be fairly spread out; this allows the offence to use the entire field.

Player responsibilities

Handlers are responsible for receiving the first few throws, that is, for getting the disk moving. This is accomplished using short quick cuts, give-and-go's, dumps, etc. Handler cuts tend to go in all directions. Handlers are also responsible for making "dump" cuts. A dump followed by a "swing" is often the most efficient way to move the disk upfield.

Mids are responsible for cutting off of the handler receptions. The timing is extremely important - the mid should become open just as (or just after) the thrower is ready to throw, and the mid should remain open long enough for a safe throw and reception. Mid cuts tend to go horizontally to the right or left of the field: either a "mirror" cut in the same direction as the previous receiver or a "cut-back" cut in the opposite direction. Once a mid receives the disk, his/her first option is to throw downfield to the other mid or to a deep. If no such throw is available, the mid should throw (forward or backward) to one of the handlers.

Deeps are responsible for cutting off of the mid's or handler's receptions. Again the timing is important. Deep cuts tend to be vertically up or down the field: either a "strike" cut downfield for a long throw or a "bowling alley" cut upfield into the throwing lane. The deeps throwing responsibilities are similar to the mids.

Player attributes

All players should by aware of what's happening on the field at all times: who's cutting, where the next throw is likely to go, how the defensive players are setting up, etc. Also players (except the thrower) should be moving, even just walking, most of the time since it's easier to begin a cut while moving. In addition there are skills that are particularly useful in each of the positions.

Handlers should be especially good at throwing and catching, and they should be good at making quick, short, change of direction cuts. Also handlers should have a lot of stamina. Handlers must be able to get open when needed.

Mids should have especially good timing and a good sense of which handler receptions to cut off of. Also, mids should have good acceleration since often they and their defender will realize where the best cut is at about the same time.

Deeps should be especially good at reading the disk, should be able to jump/dive for the catch. It is more useful for a deep to be fast than to be quick.


One of the main advantages of this offence is that players can work on the position(s) that best suit their individual skills. Another advantage is that this offence is easy to learn: new team members can learn one position at a time - usually the position that most fits their strengths.

Probably the most common problem with this offence is "clogging". This happens when players are caught flatfooted right in the throwing lane where other players want to cut, or when too many players cut to the same place at the same time. To avoid the first problem, all players should learn to make "clearing" cuts; that is, cuts out of an area which is about to become the throwing lane. To avoid the second problem, players must be aware of when and where their teammates are cutting and must decide how to avoid "double" cutting.

In double cutting situations, the rule of thumb is that the deeper cutter has right-of-way. There are two reasons for this: 1) the deeper cutter usually has a better view of the situation and has decided that he/she is in a better position to cut than the mid (otherwise, the deep shouldn't be cutting), and 2) the deeper cutter will probably receive a longer throw (thus moving the disk further downfield).

Here is an example where double cutting might occur. A handler is about to receive the disk near the sideline, a mid wants to make a mirror cut to the same sideline while a deep wants to make a bowling alley cut. As above, the deep must assess the situation and decide whether or not to cut or to clear. If he cuts, the mid should begin his/her mirror cut, see the deep cutting, then change to a cut back or clearing cut. After playing together for a while, your team should be able to work out cutting priorities that best suit your players.

Open Field Offense

Field Positions and Standard Cuts

Dump position: Behind the thrower off to one side or the other. It is unusual to set up in this position, but this position is really very common. Whenever you throw up field you will find yourself in the dump position. Generally speaking, you should never stand still on offense; this is especially true when you are behind the disk (your defender can too easily poach from the blind side of the thrower). Cutting options include: a) Don't Cut. Hangout behind the disk keeping yourself and your defender out of the play. b) Clear Out. Run up field as fast as you can. However, be aware: don't cut off the next throw or allow your defender to cut off the next throw. Be sure to call POACH if your defender has a chance to block the throw coming from the blind side or if you are open because your defender has poached.

Berkeley position: Even with the disk and approximately 15 yards toward one side. It doesn't matter which way the force is; however, this position is especially useful when the thrower is on the sideline and is being side forced. There are three main cuts: a) Berkeley Dump. For this you run straight at the thrower, then cut back for a dump. This cut shouldn't be made until the thrower is ready. b) Berkeley Cross. This starts the same as the Dump, but the receiver crosses the position of the thrower and looks for a leading pass upfield. The upfield area must be open for this to work. c) Berkeley Strike. Sprint straight down field into a large open area. This works especially well if your defender has started to poach.

Buddy position: Within 5 yards of the thrower, preferably behind the marker. From this position you are probably the first cutter; however, I did see "Big Brother" put a man here who didn't usually move until the count was high or until his defender got sleepy. This should also be a very effective position when the thrower is right on the goal line. Cuts: a) As a first cut, you want to run directly away from your defender and the thrower should give you a leading pass. Let's agree to call this a Fetch. b) As a very short outlet, you want to make your defender lean one way then go the other, call this a UVA. c) Stationary Cut: if your defender is fronting you, the thrower can just throw and you'll get there first.

Stack position: Straight downfield from the thrower when the thrower is more or less in the middle of the field. Usual cuts: a) Fetch. This is a cut downfield towards the sideline. Works best into an open field with a leading pass. b) Bowling Alley. Begins like a fetch, but then cut straight up field into the alley. Thrower puts the disk about chest high and receiver beats his defender to the disk. c) Burst? This looks the same as a Berkeley Dump, but comes from the front of the stack instead. At the end of this cut (if you haven't gotten the disk) you should be either in a Berkeley position or a Dump position. In general, you shouldn't start this cut and then turn downfield to clear out; this clogs up the throwing lane for the next cutter. d) Side Cut. Cut straight to the sideline. Not usually very effective, the sideline is too close. e) UVA Cut. This is the right sideline cut, first fake one way, then cut toward a sideline.

45 Degree Stack: A 45 degree angle from the thrower. This should leave a huge area of the field open, unless the defense poaches well. Cuts are the same as above.

Deep position: This is further downfield than the stack position and toward one side, not in the middle of the field. There are four major cuts: a) Strike. Sprint straight downfield for a long bomb. b) Fetch. Sprint downfield at an angle toward the far side. c) Side Cut. Sprint more or less straight toward the far sideline. d) Bowling Alley. Either the same as above, or just a straight cut upfield without the Fetch fake.

Here are some formations which we will use to initiate play, for example, when we receive the pull out-of-bounds and start in the middle of the field. It is important to remember that these are only initial formations, after the first couple passes, the FLOW is what is important, not how many players are in which positions.

  • Stack. All six players in a spread out stack. The first/second cutters may be preassigned or called either by the thrower or by players in the stack. This is John's least favorite formation. (Can also be 45.)
  • Stack + 1. Five players in the stack and one Berkeley or one Buddy player. (Can also be 45.)
  • Two Berkeley, Two Stack, Two Deep. Two Berkeley players (to same side), two stack players, and two deeps (one on each side).
  • 90 Degree Stack. All 6 players in the Berkeley position.

When receiving the pull, we will always begin close together on the line and the designated field captain will call positions, plays, defenses, etc. If our opponents pull out-of-bounds to gain an advantage, we will always call for a repull.

  1. Bowling Alley
  2. Rice-A-Roni (Rock-n-Roll, etc)
  3. First three throws
  4. Huck
  5. Wind Sprint Play
  6. Isolation

Goal Line Offense

The main point here, is we must score when we are close. We should avoid "punching it in" and instead hang onto the disc. We are certain to have an easy scoring pass open up, if we just dump and swing the disk to the open receivers. Patience is a virtue on the goal line. We don't ever want to force a throw that we aren't certain to complete; this is especially true on the goal line. Keep in mind that it's usually pretty easy to throw a swing pass or a dump on the goal line, since the defenders are concentrating on stopping the scoring cuts, more than the dumps or swings.

  • Main Scoring cuts: Fetch, UVA, GoalLine, Burst.
  • Main Formations: Stack (regular, 45, or 90), John's.
  • Main plays: Sweet, Thrower calls, Receivers call, Moses, John's.

Zone Offense

This is tough. It's not fun to play well. In fact it's boring. But to be effective, that's what you have to do. Most zones involve some sort of cup, middles, and deep backs. To begin we need to tire out the cup. This is done by moving the disk quickly from sideline to sideline. Our general set-up against the zone can be described as 4-2-1. The main goal is to move the disk up the field slowly and methodically, hence we don't need more than three downfield players. There are no magic formulas for playing zone offense. The main reason teams have difficulty is lack of disk skills. Throwing and catching in the wind are terribly difficult. It's when playing zone offense that we really need to trust each other. We have to really believe we can complete 40 passes in a row if we need to. Otherwise, we will throw something crazy in hopes that it might work. This will often result in a turnover and we've decided not to allow any turnovers. So Good Luck.

Practice Drills

Warm up:

  • Line throws/ Corner throws
  • Kill drill/ Yo-Yo's (two person)
  • Four corner (three person)
  • Pivot (concentric circles)

Other drills:

  • Long Cuts
  • Stack (Berkeley) Cut (three on three)
  • Sideline Give-and-Go (two person)
  • Overhead up the field
  • Huck (one or two receivers)
  • Buddy
  • UVA/Burst/Sweet/Fetch/Chaos
  • Flow/AntiFlow
  • ZoneHandler