The Beginner's Ultimate Strategy Guide

The Beginner's Ultimate Strategy Guide

written by Athan Spiros

This guide was first put together in 1996 to help describe what we wanted to have happen on the field without having practices. The most advanced players on the team had just three years playing experience. In the end, things worked out quite well.

Person-to-Person Defense

Playing person-to-person defense starts with a good force and everyone denying the person that they are covering to get open on the forced side of the field. The following figure explains.

Often times when playing person-to-person defense, the disc will begin on the sideline or work its way there. A team may take advantage of this by forcing the disc up the sideline and allowing one person to play in the narrow passing lane. This set up is called a sideline trap and is shown below. When a defender sits in the passing lane guarding no specific player while the other defenders still play person-to-person, this defender is said to be poaching.

Zone Defense

When playing person-to-person defense, the defender must always react to the offensive player. If everyone is able to keep up with his/her check, this works well. However, playing a zone defense forces the offense to react to the specific defensive set up. Here is a listing of several different zone defenses.

Perhaps the most important thing with a zone defense is good communication. Each line of the zone defense will talk to the previous line letting them know who is behind them. (e.g. The deep(s) will talk to the middles.) The players who are not playing can also help a great deal with communication.

(Note: the left middle and right middle are also called the left hammer or left hammer stopper and the right hammer or right hammer stopper.)

Rabbit Zone

This is a zone that our team has used to great effect. It's kind of like a rotating 2-3-2 zone. We haven't seen many experienced teams face it, so it's going to be very interesting to try this at potlatch. This is a lazy (but smart) man's zone where only one person runs their butt off chasing the disc.

Note: strong-side = same side of the field the disc is on. weak-side = opposite side of the field that the disc is on.

Standard Zone

The cup will always chase the disc. Only one of the sides of the cup will mark the disc and call out the stall count. (Nobody else may do this.) The other people in the cup play exactly ten feet off the disc unless there is an offensive player within ten feet in which case the defender may follow him/her in. When the disc is swung, the cup tries to contain passes from getting up the field before tightening up again. The middles look to cover offensive players in their zone paying special attention to the passing lanes through the cup. The deep watches people behind the middles.

The zone described here is called a 3-3-1 zone because there's 3 people in the cup, then 3 people in the middle, and finally 1 person deep. Another standard zone is a 3-2-2. I'll let you figure out that one.

Note: Communication is very important. The top of the cup talks and directs the other people in the cup. The middle-middle directs the top of the cup. The deep directs the middles. The players sitting off help the hammers and warn the deep when someone is behind him/her.

Salmon Zone

I first experienced this type of zone playing against Sockeye. It was quite a gruesome experience. The UBC team also used a modified version of this which seemed to suit all of us quite well (at least it was better than the clam for us :). In honour of Sockeye, I call the person who chases and marks the disc the fish. (This zone has also been called a 1-3-2-1 zone, a 1-3-3 zone, or a rabbit zone not to be confused with our other rabbit zone.)

This zone is particularly devastating when the trap is set up as shown in the figure on the right. Thus, one of the goals of this zone is to force the disc to the sideline without giving up to much ground. If there's any kind of cross wind, then the fish should force the disc towards the sideline that is in the downwind direction. This makes getting the disc out of the trap situation even harder.

Note: strong-side = same side of the field that the disc is on. weak-side = opposite-side of the field that the disc is on.

After playing this zone almost exclusively now with my league team La Guarapachanga in the summer of 1997, we've come up with a slight variation. The idea is the same -- force the other team into a trap situation, but the set-up is slightly altered as shown in the figure below.

The main difference is that the person playing the weak-side position has a lot of flexibility and can either play up or back depending on the situation and how the other team has been beating you. It also puts a permanant player in the middle of the field, the middle-middle. This person now becomes responsible for positioning and communcicating with the short middle which is also very important. The final twist is that the short-middle will mark the disc and take away the dump in the trap set. The fish then cuts off the swing pass. This has the added advantage of giving the fish a bit of a break and making it easier for the fish to mark the disc once the other team gets out of the trap situation.

Endzone Set

When the disc gets to close to the endzone, the regular salmon set-up is not necessarily the best, because it does not collapse very nicely in the short space. However, without to much trouble, the zone can be reconfigured as follows:

It's not really important where everyone lines up in the line of four. The important thing is to have the right (or weak-side player) take one back corner and the deep take the other. This is done because next to the deep, the weak-side player should be able to cover the most ground and read plays the best. The line of four listens to the people behind them for directions. The player on the disc will mark the disc back towards the middle of the field. When the disc gets moved, the marker and the four defenders in a line will rotate much like the
wall zone. When leaving the wall to mark the disc, it is important to approach the disc cautiously, trying not to allow the thrower to throw to the space you just vacated, because the wall will need a few seconds to adjust.

This is still in its experimental stage, but I have played on teams where we have done a wall 1-4-2 set all the way down the field with much success.

The Wall

This is only used for fun and on very windy days. One person will mark the disc and one person will play back. Everyone else forms a line across the field. When the disc is moved, the player closest to the disc will go to mark it and force it back towards the middle (and a little foward). The player that was marking the disc will go back into the wall. Everyone else will adjust to make room for the old marker and take up the void left by the new marker.

4-person cup

The standard zone uses a 3 person cup. A competent group of handlers can usually move the 3 person cup around a lot. In order to give a different look and make the handler passes more difficult a 4 person cup can be used.

4-person cup preventing the swing

The cup plays fairly loose. The top of the cup almost plays even with the disc, sometimes even cheats towards the sideline. This makes for a very small opening through the cup towards the sideline and for the middle on that side to ignore it and instead cover the zone between the top of the cup and the other top. When the thrower passes the disc back for a dump, the other side of the cup immediately goes to prevent the swing pass and the other people in the cup converge on the dump. The middles play the zones in the obvious holes. The deep does a lot of praying. This is best used for only a few passes. After the offense has lost a bit of yardage one of the top cup players should drop back and play middle middle as the team changes to the standard or rabbit zone defense.

4-person cup preventing the dump

This cup plays fairly tight and forces the disc to the sidelines. The back cup plays person-on-person with the dump denying the disc towards the centre of the field. When the disc is on the sideline the cup changes formation into a hard trap as shown on the right. The middles cover the zones through the obvious holes in the cup. The deep does a lot of praying once again.

The Clam

The final defense is one that is disguised as a person-to-person defense, but is really a zone defense. In this form, it is usually only effective for one or two passes. It is loosely called the clam and is shown below.

Everyone marks an offensive player so that the offense believes it's a person-to-person defense and stack up. The player marking the disc marks straight up (usually a no-no). What area a defender will cover depends on what position his/her check takes in the stack. As soon as the disc is in play the first two players in the stack get ready to poach on either side of the disc. As soon as any offensive player moves, these players take a position in the passing lanes. When the offensive players notice something is wrong, the next two people in the stack take positions behind the poachers. They stay about 10 yards behind the poachers no matter where the poachers go. The last two people in the stack will decide who should watch long and who should patrol the middle of the field. Since the force is straight up, a huck should be very difficult to get off.


Patience is a virtue, especially when playing offense.

In ultimate, unlike most other sports, the person with the disc can't move. This means that the receivers must work extra hard to get open for the thrower. The best way to work the disc up the field is to create open space for the disc to be thrown and for people to run. One way of creating lots of space is for everyone to line up in the centre of the field. This is called a stack and is diagrammed below.

The stack is used to create space for people to run and the disc to be thrown. There should be enough room between players in the stack so that any one of them can run from the stack without risking having their defender run into anyone (called a pick). Take note of the areas that are shaded. These are the areas that the receiver should expect the disc.

This creates two open spaces for the disc to be thrown. People may then leave the stack (ideally, one at a time) and run to one of the open areas. The best throw to the receiver would be one that curves from the outside and goes in towards the receiver (see the diagram below)

The thrower wants to make a throw that allows his/her teammate to run in to the disc while making it hard for the defender to touch the disc. This leads to putting a certain edge on the disc depending on which way the thrower is being marked.

If the receiver does not quickly get open, he/she must clear the area by either running long down the sideline (the usual clearing cut) or going behind the thrower (done less often). (The entire cutting process is shown below.

One person will leave the stack and try to get open. If they don't get open they must clear the area to give room for another person to cut.

If the defender doesn't follow the receiver (i.e. poaches), the receiver should look to get open from everyone for an easy immediate pass or a later pass (usually by running down the field, keeping to the sideline). This player will yell, ``poach!'' to let the thrower know that there is a defender sitting in a passing lane and to draw attention to his/herself. To summarize, the role of the receiver is to

The key is to keep lots of space clear for the disc to be thrown there and for people to run there. The role of the thrower is to
Throwing a dump is usually easy because the defense is not concerned if the offense moves the disc backwards. Dumps take place in the region behind the thrower as diagrammed above. Once the thrower decides to throw a dump, he/she will pivot so that his/her endzone is now to his/her back. He/she will take note of which side of the receiver the defender is positioned and look to throw the disc to the opposite side. He/she will then make eye contact with the receiver and throw a short pass to the open side of the receiver allowing the receiver to run to the disc. In most cases, dumps can be used to break the defense's force or to initiate a give and go cut.

The give and go play is simple but dynamic (see above figure) Usually it is run off of a short pass. The cut begins with the thrower. Once the disc leaves the thrower's hand, the thrower is running. The release of the throw and the beginning of the run happen instantaneously. Since the thrower knows when he/she is going to throw the disc (unlike his/her defender), he/she will usually be open after his/her first step. The receiver of the short throw then looks to throw the disc back to the original thrower. (Note: Running right after you throw is a good idea no matter what the situation.)

	Three players may try to work the disc up the field by
	themselves if the other players give them room.  So as not to
	tip the play too early, the four remaining players usually
	stay stacked and within about 25 yards of the disc, moving
	back as the disc is advanced.

There are other ways to create space besides using a stack. One way is to have four of the seven players run down field. This leaves lots of room for the remaining three players to run (see above figure). In essence, you have isolated three players to move the disc up the field and hence this play is called the iso. The players in the iso are then free to move the disc anyway they can to at least half field. Usually, many give and goes are used to move the disc.

Zone Offense

When running a zone offense, looking for and creating open space is still necessary, but patience becomes even more important. There are three different roles for players in the standard zone offense: handler, popper, and long. The handlers work the disc from side to side creating and looking for holes in the defense. The poppers move in the middle of the field, timing their cuts off of the swings by the handlers, hoping to receive passes through the holes in the cup. The longs move along the sidelines. They alternate coming in and going out as the disc leaves and comes towards the sideline that they are on, respectively. (See the figure below.) Once the disc is moved up field, the receiver may quickly look for an easy open pass or (in most cases) be patient and look to dump the disc (the dump is usually available) and the pattern is repeated. (There are other methods as well that you may discover on your own.)

The set up of the standard zone offense is shown on the left. One way for the offense to move is shown on the right. This movement usually begins when the disc is dumped back. If the swings don't happen quickly, the poppers should be moving (usually one following the other through an area) trying to get passes through the holes of the cup.

The Berkeley

Often times the disc will start on the sideline or be moved to the sideline because of the flow. If the defense is forcing the disc to be thrown on the sideline (i.e. trapping), the offense does not have a lot of room with which to work. In this case, a special formation is used to get the disc off the sideline and to break the force. This set up is called a Berkeley. (See figure below.) One player, the berkeley, will initiate his/her cut about ten yards from the disc, even with the thrower. Usually, the berkeley looks to cut towards the dump side of the thrower. Once the throw is made, a person from the stack will cut to the break force side of the field. The berkeley will receive the disc and proceed to throw the disc to the cutter from the stack. If a Berkeley is called, the berkeley cut must get open and the number one priority of the thrower is to get the disc to the berkeley.

The berkeley is lined up even with the disc to allow the thrower to throw the disc on either side of the mark. The berkeley will primarily try to get open for a dump and swing play, but if the sideline is open and so is the berkeley, a pass up the line is also good.

Endzone Offense

A team should eventually be able to work the disc close to the endzone. However, at this point less space is available with which to work and the defense usually tries to play a little harder. Therefore, having some special plays set up for when the disc is within 15 yards of the endzone is a good idea. The figure below explains the setup and a few plays.