Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moving Like Ultimate Players

by Jonathan Neeley

Watch video of any ultimate game you please and answer me this: how often do players on the field move in some way other than a straight line?

We move laterally when we guard someone but don’t fully commit our hips to their cut (Riot’s Sarah Griffith gives an excellent breakdown while talking about hip fluidity in High Release), we change direction to get open or prevent someone from getting open on us, and we move our feet in order to explode, re-establish an athletic position, and explode again. And we do these things all the time.

For coaches, understanding the following three concepts– giving them names and working on them as individual movements– is the starting point for teaching athletes to move like better ultimate players:

  • Bail technique, or the ability to run in one direction while your hips and eyes face toward another.
  • The mechanics of a strong 180-degree turn.
  • Clean footwork, or making a movement as quickly and in as few steps as possible and getting your feet into an athletic position as often as you can.

Ultimate-specific  Examples

Check out this short clip of two college teams and think about how bail technique, turn mechanics, and quick feet apply.

In the opening 15 seconds when all the black defenders are locking in on their match-ups, would better bail technique allow them to better mirror their guys while keeping an eye on the disc and field?  At :31, if the handler defender can move sideways upline more effectively while knowing he’ll need to explode to cover the back, does that swing go off?

Here’s an easy one: just before the score at :38, who has better turn mechanics, the guy who caught the score or his defender? And at 1:35, in the match-up directly below the “w” in Ultiworld, might the white player get open if his turn were more powerful?

Little foot and leg movements are everywhere too. Check out the mark at :22, the flair out to stop the around at :31, and the cup players in the zone at :52. At 2:00, how does the situation at the front of the stack play out if the defender has faster, cleaner feet?


This stuff is everywhere in ultimate, and thinking about it will give you and your team an edge. For me, bail technique, turn mechanics, and footwork are fundamental to teaching everything from dump defense to watching a play develop and then cutting out of the back of the stack. I have my teams practice these movements in warm ups, I base entire workouts around them, and I look for how they’re used in game situations. The more you explore the world that’s out there– I recommend starting with football coaches— the easier it will be to to apply these movements to your team.

Want suggestions? Aside from what I’ve already linked to, I’ve learned a lot from this cornerback drill montage, I frequently use this video’s basic “move back, then explode forward” pattern for work outs, and this video’s identification of the “soft shoe”– codifying even the most basic of movements and aiming to maximize their efficiency– still strikes me. I’m also always watching Tim Morrill because of how effective he is at identifying and training ultimate-specific movement. His new video series, FUTURE 1.0, is an excellent teacher of everything from warming up the first three steps of a sprint to what kinds of lifts make you more effective at complex defensive drop steps.


There you have it: the first of what’s scheduled to be a bi-weekly blog post from yours truly. We’re working on getting a comments section up and running, the idea being to facilitate an ongoing discussion on how to be better coaches. Hit me with your thoughts!



  • Andy

    Welcome Neeley!

  • spatch

    Great read can't wait for more.

  • What do you think about this cutting technique:


    • neeley

      I notice that as he comes into the turn, he drops his hips so his center of gravity is as low as possible without losing the power he gets from running, which is a good start. Also, when he does turn, it looks like he's using his upper body to help throw himself in the new direction, which is also good.

      I think what's more important for coaches to notice is that he starts to pump his arms and move his torso in the direction he wants to turn. Also, watch his left foot as it crosses over the cone and hits the ground: it's pointing in the new direction as much as he can make it do so. The reason this stuff is important because it gets at the logical nature of a lot of this movement stuff: when you want to go in a new direction, get your body going in that direction as quickly as possible. I like to tell my guys that if they are running toward A and want to change to run toward B, their toes, hips, and eyes need to be facing B as soon as possible. It just kinda… makes sense…

  • Neeley,

    Thanks for writing and sharing with the community. Great stuff.