Arguably one of the most pressure intensive parts of playing ultimate is when you have the disc in your hand. The outcome of the point is completely in your control and it is up to you to take an appropriate action to work towards a score. Other players on the field can influence the options available to you, but ultimately the next action lies with you.
Often developing players will struggle when trying to get their throws out. It is easy for an experienced mark to push the thrower outside of their throwing comfort-zone, resulting in awkward and unreliable throws. In advising the thrower on how they can alleviate this problem the answer is most likely to be a combination of pivoting and faking. This is good advice and the thrower now has something they can work on, but perhaps it can be broken down to be more helpful.
A few days ago Rob posted a great article on Creating and Breaking an Unbreakable Mark. The video in the article touched on a few tips that an player can use to increase their chances of completing a (break-force) pass. The video talks about faking, some good ways to fake and even points out that it may not be necessary for good throwers to fake at all.
This got me thinking about some more general tips for players wanting to be calm under the pressure of holding the disc. It is not uncommon for players to panic when needing to throw the disc, compensating by excessive faking and pivoting. This approach is rarely convincing and frequently causes the thrower to miss an opportunity up the field.
In particular, I will talk about two points. The first is focusing on the goals of your actions whilst the second is about planning to successfully meet those goals.
In broad terms your goal when in possession of the disc is to throw a successful pass. As mentioned above, developing players are often instructed to introduce pivoting and faking into their game to help them increase the success rate of their throws.
The important distinction is to recognise that faking out your marker isn’t the goal. Pivoting and faking are tools that you can use to meet your primary goal of completing a pass.
I have often witnessed an enthusiastic player who, upon receiving the disc, confronts their mark by entering a series of wild and erratic pivots accompanied by less than convincing fakes. You can tell that they are focusing on getting around their mark as the most important objective. When the mark bites and a gap opens up, there’s often no-one up the field who is cutting for the disc at the right time.
Instead of focusing on the player in front of them, the thrower needs to be identifying teammates who are cutting into space and then forming a goal around throwing the disc to them. The mindset is different and the result can often be that marker in front of you becomes less of road block. You can’t ignore them but looking up the field and broadening your view the real goal becomes more apparent.
That said, the mark will still be very focused on the thrower, and only the thrower. They are trying to get in the way of your goal and you’ll need to plan for that.
The most effective way to throw past your mark is to have a plan of action. As Rob alluded to in his video, as soon as you get your mark to shift their weight in a direction that isn’t the one you intend to throw in, you’ve won! So the key is to identify the throws you may use (or throws you can use) and then develop a plan that you can enact to position yourself and your mark in such a way that those throws become feasible.
At a minimum you should have a plans that you can use to get out a forehand and a backhand. As you progress you may want to develop further plans, or variations of your plans, to enable a broader variety of throws such as overheads or low/high release throws.
One of the most succinct and effective plans I have seen is to fake a hammer before throwing a forehand. As soon as you raise your arm above your head and start the hammer throwing action your mark is likely to start the motion of trying to block that throw. This involves the mark moving upwards, pushing off their toes, raising their arms and maybe even committing to a jump. Recovering from this series of actions takes time. As a thrower you’ll end up with ample opportunity to step out and release a forehand before the mark is capable of getting themselves grounded, balanced and capable of reaching their hand out to block your throw.
As another example, when being forced forehand, I will often hang out as if I am throwing a backhand for a second or two. I will then move back across to the forehand position quickly before then using the shoulder-shuffle shown in Rob’s video to prompt my mark that I’m going back for a backhand. The marker will most likely think that I really want the backhand and believe that my move across to the forehand side was the fake. The shoulder-shuffle is enough to cause the mark to head back to cover the backhand, allowing me plenty of time and room to throw a forehand.
It is important to practise your plans. Working on your plans allows you to get a feel for how long they take to enact and also allows you to become fluid and fast. This is also a great time to practise your technique of moving the disc between your forehand and backhand grips. Repeated practise also allows your muscle-memory to come into play, removing some of the stress and pressure next time you’re on the field.
Putting it all together
Once you’ve got some established plans you can face your mark with confidence and control. There’s no need to move around until you’re ready to move your mark out of the way. The plan you want to use can be executed with timing that connects your throw with the receiver in space. Despite the pressure of your mark you should be able to maintain calm and maximise your likelihood of completing the pass.
Of course, it won’t always work. Your plan may not convince your mark, or the timing may be slightly off with your receiver. This is when you enact Plan D. The D is for Dump!
As a final tip, keep your plans simple and short. A general guide I have been taught is to focus on a single fake, then throw. Anything more elaborate is likely to become unconvincing and also more difficult to time correctly with your receiver.