The Art and Psychology of the Ultimate Pull

I retired from playing and competing in all disc sports exactly thirty years ago. Playing since the 1960s, injuries and my age over a twenty-year career said it was time to move on. Changing all the activities in my life, I lost all contact with Frisbee players and disc sports.

Eight years ago I was contacted by Toronto Ultimate Club and Ultimate Canada about being inducted into their hall of fame. What a surprise, disc sports were starting to have their own hall of fame. Up until then, I didn’t have much use for a computer or Google, so after a trip to Best Buy, I started checking out disc sports to see how they were doing. I was amazed at how disc sports had grown through the years in disc design, organization and competition with semi-pro tours.

I went to a big disc golf tournament called the Memorial in Phoenix, AZ, that I found out was sponsored by my old friend Jim Kenner and his company Discraft, I was very impressed but not surprised by the disc golf carts and beveled edge golf disc. I joined Facebook and searched for old Frisbee friends and found a lot of them, as well as a great disc sports presence online. I eventually found out that Canada was considered to be number one in ultimate in previous years, that was my favorite competitive disc sport. I started watching games online including the creation of the AUDL. Having never seen a TV production of my favorite disc sport, it was great hearing announcers and seeing replays of goals and calls. I was back to enjoying disc sports as a spectator, especially ultimate. It was great to see that mix-gender and self regulation of fair play continued to be an important part of the game.

After a couple years of watching I did notice some of the obvious strengths of today’s teams, a field of teams that could handle all the throws and a few new ones, more throwing confidence, quicker releases, less pivoting, as well as every team member having good handle-skills even with a headwind. Players didn’t always have that in the beginning, everyone had their strengths especially in speed, cutting, receivers and defense, but not in every handle situation.

Although the overall play for more players is better now, I know that individual playing skills can always improve, so a few years ago I wrote a couple of articles on a basic throw and catch freestyle for learning and practicing handle-skills for ultimate. 8 Reasons to Include Freestyle to your Ultimate Training on Ultiworld and Fast Freestyle for the “Ultimate” Edge on Ultimate Rob. The old fast throw and catch freestyle, before the introduction of the nail-delay. These are early freestyle skills that I had when I began playing ultimate. I wrote these articles knowing how much playing all the disc sports including freestyle helped me as a handler when I played ultimate.

Disc Sports Cross-training

“Athletic training in sports other than the athlete’s usual sport. The goal is improving overall performance”.

There are more excellent ultimate players today, the great players of yesterday would still be considered great players today, but there are a lot more players especially handlers with all the basic handle-skills. All ball sports encourage cross-training to improve strength and skills for their primary sport.

Ball athletes will regularly choose sports that are similar to their sport for cross-training. Unlike ball sports, all disc sports have specific disc skills that are skill related to ultimate and excellent as cross-trainers for disc athletes playing ultimate.

Developing the playing skills of other disc sports will help to improve primary skills used in ultimate. I don’t think it was common knowledge for players in the early days, we just played all the disc sports, it was the beginning of discovery and invention, but having the age and experience advantage of hindsight it’s not hard to see how all the disc sports contributed.

“Ultimately” speaking, regular play of disc golf for hucking, pulling and accuracy, freestyle and DDC for all handle skills, guts for extreme one-hand catching, diving and power throwing. Even if you played all of these disc sports with a 175g ultimate disc instead of their regulation disc models, it could be very beneficial as a cross-training option, not to mention all of these other disc sports are fun and challenging.

The Art of the Ultimate Pull

The pull is the first throw of the game and the throw that begins each period of play. Second only to an actual goal, in my opinion, the pull is one of the most strategically important plays of the game, and other than having a Mark Lloyd on your team, certainly could be considered the most important defensive skill in the defense play-book. All things being equal, a consistent strong accurate pull can by itself frustrate an offense and win games.

When games come down to a few points and a couple of turnovers, advanced skills and playing strategies will give your team an advantage. If you watch football, you will never see linebackers, running backs or receivers taking turns punting. That’s because every team has a highly paid punter there for one reason, to give the defense the best starting field position and creating the most defensive pressure as possible.

An ultimate pullers responsibility is to start the offense deep into their own end-zone, or as deep as conditions will permit, giving the defense time to get set up before the first offensive pass, or in the case of a deep end-zone pull, chooses to run up to the front of their end-zone line (yard zero). Now back in the day (you knew you were going to hear that) not every puller could consistently reach the back of the end-zone but the ones that could, had one thing in common, every one of them played all the disc sports that involved a lot of accurate hard-throwing skills and all competed in over-all competitions that were mostly made up of events involving distance and power-throwing.

The more you throw hard and far under different circumstances and conditions in different events the stronger and more consistent your throw becomes, especially for throwing distance. Since today’s disc sports seem to be more specialized and the over-all competitions are all but gone, practice and if circumstances are available, cross-training disc sports are a puller’s only remaining option for improvement.

Enhanced Distance Throwing/Pulling Techniques for Men and Women

The top pullers in ultimate from the early days were also some of the top distance and over-all competitors in multi-event competitions. Backhand distance throwers today use a turn-around technique that was introduced in the late 70s and in common use in the early 80’s, this technique really makes a difference.

If you have a backhand pull and need more distance or have a headwind, then a turn-around done properly can give you the additional arm whip for an extra 10-15 yards no matter what the conditions are and with practice maintain your accuracy, this isn’t a theory, it’s physics, more upper body rotation will increase arm speed.

Obviously, if you have a tailwind, a pull with an enhanced turn-around could take you through the back of the end-zone so discretion on when to use it, is advised. The penalty for throwing through the back of the end-zone isn’t great enough not to risk it every time. When today’s distance throwers use the turn-around, it’s very fast and somewhat inaccurate. Distance throwers are going for 200 yards plus with beveled edge golf disc with little thought for accuracy.

An ultimate puller is throwing for an end-zone with limited space. A slow controlled accurate turn-around with a short run/walk-up to the line will give you the pulling boast you need to reach 90-95 yards with a good float or a nice high curve.

“Adding the 360 (turnaround) to your throw will increase your power and distance which will lead to roughly 10% longer throws,” says Rob “Frisbee Rob” McLeod, the Canadian Distance Record Holder and current WFDF World Distance Champion.

Rob McLeod’s turn-around distance throw that won the distance event at the 2018 US Open.

Everyone today seems to have a decent sidearm pass, If you want a big sidearm pull, then a four to five step fast run-up with a 360-degree style arm rotation, similar to but not exactly like a softball pitcher (that I never see anyone do) will also give you a lot more distance and float. The same principle as with the backhand turn-around, the 360-degree arm rotation increases arm speed for greater distance and good float or a high curve, even against the wind.

At 0:23 and 1:23 in this 1979 WFC, DGA film you will see a 360-degree sidearm whip. https://www.discgolf.com/1979-world-frisbee-disc-golf-championships-video/

(For ultimate pulls, this release should be proceeded by a fast run-up as opposed to the walk-up used in this film. If you are right handed you will throw off a hard step with your left foot at the end of your run-up. I’m using this old film because I can’t find a film that represents the 360 -degree sidearm whip with old style disc designs, that includes the 175g ultimate disc. Today’s golf disc requires a different sidearm throwing technique.)

The Psychology of the Ultimate Pull

When the puller makes that first throw it represents the team. Jjust as a powerful pull will say something about your team, a short pull also says something about a team. I don’t watch all the games (mostly just WUCC and AUDL) or know all of what today’s ultimate players are capable of or how all teams treat their pulls but given favorable conditions, pulls should be reaching the end-zone, even with erratic winds and without a headwind, the back of the end-zone. Otherwise, the offense will be able to complete one to three uncontested passes (10-20 yards) before the defense has had a chance to get set up. That’s almost mid-field and one or two passes away from an end-zone huck. When an offense can make a couple of passes beginning at their 10-15 yard line, with the defense playing catch-up it’s giving the offense a momentum that’s hard to stop, as well as a confidence in their ability to win the game.

Your pull should be telling the competition right at the start, that you’re going to have to fight for every offensive pass you make, if you want a goal, there are no free yards for your team. When you are able to start a team at the back of their end zone they will almost always have to run it up to the front line with a defensive player meeting them at yard zero, as well, if the pass is to the corner you can force the sideline and make even more of a statement and when you have the opportunity to stuff on the first pass and make a quick goal, that is a long run for the offense to the other side of the field, just to try again. It can create a momentum shift that can last for several points and that could be all that is needed for your team to win. Consistent long well-placed pulls can frustrate an offense and in desperation cause them to make mistakes.

Exclusively using pullers that have excellent throwing power and specialize in distance pulling techniques, like punting specialist that start the play in football, is too important not to be in the future for ultimate defense and winning games.

Ultimate Rob’s website gives excellent pointers on all aspects of ultimate play including an article on pulling, and an entire category devoted to pulling.

About Ken Westerfield

Ken Westerfield is a Frisbee (disc) player from the 1960s. A Decade Awards and Hall of Fame inductee (freestyle, ultimate and disc golf). Westerfield produced numerous tournaments, world records, many competitive wins in freestyle, ultimate, disc golf and individual events in overall tournaments. Ken invented freestyle moves, including "body rolls", and introduced the first freestyle competition at the 1974 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, Canada. Ken used his expertise in several company sponsored touring promotional Frisbee shows for Irwin Toy, Molson Frisbee Team, Goodtimes Professional Frisbee Show, Orange Crush Frisbee Team, Air Canada Frisbee Team, Lee Jeans Frisbee Team and the Labatts Schooner Frisbee Team.

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