Cutting is the art of getting free from a defender at a time and in a position that enables the cutter to be thrown to.
There are a few fundamental points that a cutter should remember:
- Firstly, a cutter should ‘know the thrower’. This means knowing what the thrower likes to throw and what they are capable of throwing: it is no use being 10 metres free on the break force side if the thrower cannot complete an inside-out or hammer!
- Secondly, a cutter should know what the thrower is expecting to throw (as determined by the team’s offensive structure)
- Thirdly, a cutter should be aware of cutting space and stay alert not to clog-up the areas that their teammates are trying to exploit: they must clear out if they cut but do not receive the disc, and must actively try to avoid cutting at the same moment as a teammate, especially if that cut is more advantageous!
For the most part the physical attributes of cutters and defenders will be similarly matched, so the offensive player needs to use their wits to get free. In general terms the offensive player tries to con the defensive player into believing that they are going to do something that they are not. This deception can be:
- Physical e.g. a rapid change of direction and/or acceleration
- Mental e.g. feigning disinterest, allowing the defender to relax and then exploiting that laxness
- Simple timing e.g. waiting until the defender looks away, to check the disc for example, and then cutting
Cuts can be divided into two broad categories; those from static positions, after a pull or a stoppage of play, for example; and continuation cuts which, are carefully timed so that the cutter is free to be thrown to just as the previous receiver has completed the pass and are free to throw. Cuts from static positions are essentially first cuts or initiation cuts. Initiation cuts, initiate the movement/flow of the disc, whilst continuation cuts seek to prolong and extend the movement/flow of the disc.
Timing, guile and deception are the keys to getting free from a committed defender, combined with the ability to plan and execute the correct cut at the right time. These attributes will allow a cutter to defeat a better-positioned, more athletic defender.
The position of the cutter should offer at least two viable cutting options otherwise the defender will have the upper hand by taking the optimum position on the route to the one place that they can cut to. Starting somewhere that provides opportunities on either side will allow the cutter to fake one way and cut the other. Also it means that the defender will favour one side, probably the side that the forcing defender is allowing the thrower. A good general principle of cutting is to take what the defender is giving, that means cutting to the side that the marker is less intent on defending. Of course a cutter must be able to beat the defender to the side they are denying as well but this battle will always be more hotly contested, so there is a trade-off between offering a harder, break-mark, throw to a freer cut, and an easier throw to a more tightly covered cut.
Here are some tips on opportune moments to cut, things that will enable a cutter to spring free of their marker:
- Players should cut when their marker is off balance, back on their heels
- Players should cut when their marker isn’t looking, as they look back to check the disc perhaps
- Players should cut when their marker gets their body position wrong or their feet crossed
- Players should cut after having made the marker move away from the space they wish to exploit
Having established an opposite position, the first thing the cutter should do is move the defender. They should back them up or drag them to a space away from the target of the cut. If a cutter is at the front of the stack the defender is almost certain to setup between them and the thrower, probably shading to the open side. By walking (or jogging, whatever) forwards, the defender is forced to back up to maintain their position between the cutter and the disc. Moving directly towards the thrower optimises the space on both the forehand and backhand side and keeps the marker guessing. The initial direction of the movement does not have to be towards the thrower but from the front of the stack it definitely opens most options. However, consider a first cutter starting from deepest in the stack, the market is probably deep of them protecting the end zone, in order to back them up the cutter would move away from the disc before faking and cutting hard back towards the disc.
Any cut will usually contact a distinct and swift change in direction, allied with rapid acceleration and is often preceded by a fake to further unbalance the defender. Some examples of different types of cutting techniques are:
- Head and shoulder fake – this can be very effective if the receiver has a defender guarding them very closely. By faking one way with their head and shoulders, this will help them gain separation from their defender and will allow them to get an open cut
- Out/In or In/Out – this cut is one of the most often used cuts in Ultimate. It involves the cutter running hard 3-5 meters in one direction, planting hard and cutting back the opposite way. Done properly, this will catch the defender off guard and will help the cutter make an open cut. It’s important to take pronounced steps – by only taking 1 or 2 steps and then going in the other direction, the cutter hasn’t covered much distance and it will be harder to create some distance between themselves and the defender.
- Jab step – this is a quick and easy to get open and cut. What it involves is the cutter stepping in one direction and then as that foot plants, they push off and run in another direction. The jab step is meant to be quick and will a lot of times help the cutter get open by forcing their defender to turn their hips to cover the jab step which will allow the cutter to move quickly in the other direction and have an open cut on their defender.
Moving the defender, taking a small bounce step or faking one way and cutting the other can facilitate all of these things . The bounce step is nothing more than a small hop, followed by a two footed landing and a knee bend. This stores energy in the legs and allows for explosive acceleration in any direction. This last point is key: the defender will be back on their heels, not knowing which direction the cutter will choose and thus the cutter will have the upper hand.
Once ahead of the marker and heading for an open space, it should be possible for the thrower to throw the disc so that only the cutter can get to it. Unless the defender is significantly faster than the cutter, a pass to the space in front of the cutter means that they are the only player that will have a play on the disc (presuming that the other cutters are keeping their defenders occupied and away from getting a poach D!). Crucially it also means that upon catching the disc, the cutter will have an opportunity to make an immediate unmarked pass. The more lateral or away the cut is, the harder it becomes for the defender to be able to get into a position to stop the continuation pass. A trailing marker, intent upon stopping a continuation throw, will ‘bite’ hard on any fake of this throw and will often over commit to give the opportunity for the thrower to pivot to the other side and have an unmarked throwing opportunity on that flank instead. Consider also that the more lateral or away the cut is, the better the opportunity there is to throw downfield and specifically throw long downfield.
At the end of the cut as the cutters role changes to that of thrower, there are another set of techniques that need to be mastered on order to maximise a cutters contribution to the team. These are:
- Knowing where the next player will be cutting to
- Having the correct grip on the disc to enable a swift release
- Stepping into the correct position to facilitate that throw
- Being balanced
- Having the confidence to complete the immediate continuation pass
A players ability to perform these tasks and the efficiency with which they can do so, will determine the exact moment at which the subsequent cutter should start their cut; the more skilled a player is at catching and releasing, the earlier the next cut can commence, conversely the more time it takes them, the longer the next cutter will need to delay. For short cuts the right moment to start is probably as the disc is being caught or fractionally before; too early and the cutter will find themselves running out of space and therefore not be a viable target.