Years ago a friend of mine linked me to a blog post where the author was speaking to an ultimate team about their strengths and weaknesses. One of the players highlighted “cutting with flow” as their primary strength. Unfortunately I can’t find the original post but since reading it I have often thought about cutting with flow and how I can improve this aspect of my game.
Cutting with flow is hard to define, but I think most players would be familiar with the feeling on the field when good flow starts to happen. There’s a sense that the offense is one step ahead of the defense whilst the disc moves quickly and cutters are running on in quick succession. These periods of play can occur at any time on the field, such as after a set play kicks off or on a turnover.
One of the most common examples I can think of is the moment when the disc stops swinging amongst the handlers and breaks through the middle of a zone offense. The field will open up, options will become available and the disc will flow up the field providing the appropriate cuts happen. There’s often a danger of carrying the flow too far once it starts!
The skill is developed over time and seems to come to light as a player is exposed to the various ebbs and flows that occur on an ultimate field. Timing is crucial, along with a familiarity of your teammates capabilities. Beyond those aspects experience and intuition will tell a player when and where to cut in order to provide a straightforward, ground-gaining option for the player with the disc.
We can break these aspects down:
Timing is key to any good cut. For cutting with flow you have to work at a different level of timing, cutting off a cutter. You need to think about who is going to cut next, where they are likely to receive the disc and therefore ascertain how long it will take them to get to that point on the field. Once there, they will receive the disc, establish a pivot foot, look up and need to see you ready to receive the disc (or very close to ready).
Even in this relatively small period of offensive play there’s an array of factors that influence the timing. For example, how much of a fake will the first cutter need before committing to their actual cut? How fast will the disc travel to the first cutter? Is the first cutter likely to receive the disc cleanly and be ready to throw quickly?
For some of these factors you have to assume that things will go well and a “regular” pass will occur. For others you can assess the people involved to help guide your actions. This is where the familiarity of your teammates comes on board.
There is a lot to be gained by becoming familiar with your teammates. It is very important to be attentive to their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. In terms of cutting with flow there’s a number of useful aspects to note about your fellow players.
- How fast can they run?
- How reliable are they at catching?
- What is their cutting style? Elaborate fakes? Lots of dodging around?
- How are their transition times from catching to throwing?
- What are their strong throws?
- What are their favourite/most reliable throws?
- Can they break the force?
- How fast will they throw?
All of these little pieces of knowledge will allow you to make better decisions and take better actions. Armed with this knowledge you can time your cuts to perfection to keep the the disc flowing up the field.
A simple example of how familiarity of teammates can affect the play can often be seen in beginner or intermediate level games. In this environment there will be teammates who are working to develop their long throws. The team will know that the thrower wants to practise them, and all receivers love cutting long. It is not uncommon for the entire stack to cut long whenever one of these throwers receives the disc. Whilst this isn’t an ideal scenario it does highlight that many players think about their teammates abilities by default, but it is something that can be improved and leveraged.
Experience and Intuition
Over time a player will develop a “sixth-sense” that allows them to read the play. A quick scan around will provide feedback as to where the disc is likely to be travelling next. The assessment happens in an instant, factoring in a whole bunch of information such as the force, the wind, the location of other players on the field as well as the familiarity with teammates abilities that is mentioned above.
When it all comes together you can make a well educated assessment as to where you should cut to next, and when you should make the cut. The first cutter will find you waiting for an easy option, continuing the flow of the disc up the field. In an ideal scenario you will be able to look up after receiving the disc to see the next cutter waiting for your throw.
I was speaking to a non-ultimate friend about this post a couple of days ago. After explaining my thoughts he was able to understand my point by saying “It is like chess!”. This is actually a really good analogy. Chess players always need to look more than one move ahead, and the various pieces on the board (field) all have different abilities that will affect the direction of the play and the options available. Being able to read the play and take appropriate actions allows a player to gain an edge, and hopefully a victory.
For some more helpful tips about cutting check out Rob’s post on The Finer Points of Cutting in Ultimate. I have also written a post on Cutting for Connections with some tips on how cutters can make sure they are good options for throwers.