Cutting with Flow

Flow is that magical thing that happens to teams sometimes where the game looks easy, where every thrower has a wide-open receiver on stall zero, and the whole offence just smoothly moves up the field.

But actually, it’s not magic at all. It can be learnt, and quite easily. The key thing is to understand what makes it happen, and what doesn’t. It’s very tempting to think that flow comes from timing – that you cut at exactly the right moment to be in exactly the right place, cutting in exactly the right direction, just as the thrower is ready to throw.

But that’s wrong. Perfect timing might get you to the right spot, but there’s no reason it won’t get your defender there too. The ‘right place to be’ is the worst place to be, if you haven’t beaten your defender. You’ll just be in the way.

What matters instead is causing your defender such a problem that wherever you happen to be at the moment the thrower looks up, you can get free somewhere useful. The exact place you cut to is far less important than being open.

Flow is not a series of predetermined cuts to predetermined places, executed with perfect timing. That’s a pull play, not a recipe for the kind of flow that keeps on happening throughout a game. Flow is having an open receiver somewhere, almost anywhere, on stall zero, before the force is set.

How do you do that?

There’s a distinction to be made between a cut made with a static disc, after a turnover or stoppage (what we might call a ‘1st cut’) and the cuts which follow that (‘continuation cuts’). First-cutting is hard, but that’s not our focus in this post. Continuation cutting is easy. Why?

Think about it from a defender’s point of view. What information do they need? And what differs from the first cut to the continuation? Amongst the ton of stuff a defender needs to take into account (wind, receiver’s skill/height/speed, team plan, thrower’s skill, force, and many more) one major thing always changes – the position of the disc. Wherever the defender intends to position himself, to prevent whichever cut he tempthinks is most dangerous, he needs to know where the disc is to do that. And whenever the disc moves and he doesn’t, he’s out of position. He’s no longer in the way of some simple passes or cuts that he was previously blocking, and all sorts of new options appear for the cutter (click on the image for an example). Any half-decent receiver can take advantage of this.

Let’s look at how NOT to take advantage. What does the defender most want to do? He wants to be able to see where the disc has gone, work out the best place to position himself again, and then move to that position. He wants to set up where he can see both you and the thrower, enabling him to note where the disc went without losing you, and enabling him to quickly set up properly again. So if you stand still and just watch the 1st cut happen, you have no informational advantage over the defender – you’re both watching it, and he can adjust pretty much as quickly as you can. Any opportunity you have to take advantage of the moving disc is likely to be fleeting.

So instead,  you have to make sure that he can’t see BOTH you AND the disc. Either:
a) Get his full attention on you (before the disc even moves), so he has no idea where the disc is going and can’t be in the right position to defend, or
b) force him to look completely away from you to check the location of the disc, giving you the chance to go anywhere you like while he’s not looking.

Getting him to focus on either you or the disc can be anything, from simply being on your toes and looking like a threat, to moving constantly into his blind spot, to making proper, sprinted fake cuts. But the key is to bear in mind your goal – do not let him get the information he needs. When the first cut does move the disc, you want the defender to be either unaware of it, or unaware of you.

Continuation cutting is not a race – it’s not a game of run & chase. It’s a game of information. Unless he knows where both you and the disc are, he can’t tell if a fake cut is to a viable area or not; he can’t tell where to be to block simple open-side passes; he can’t know whether or not to trust his team-mate’s force (usually there isn’t much of a force, if the disc has just been caught); he can’t defend.

So making your team better at flowing down the field comes down to one thing – never standing still and flat-footed in the stack. Be on your toes; jump into his blind spot continually. Make your defender think; make him worry about what you’re doing, and what might be happening behind him while you’re doing it. Grab his attention. Don’t let him settle. And then, when the disc does move, it’s an absolute cake-walk to run into a threatening space that the defender doesn’t even know about yet.

Make sure your defender has less information than he needs.

Everything else is easy.

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6 Responses to Cutting with Flow

  1. Pingback: Cutting With Flow | uyuq

  2. Felix says:

    Great article and good next-level explanation of how offence can be made easy. The ‘How to implement this’ last few paragraphs are a bit awkward however – you can’t have a 360 degree threat if you’re in a vertical stack, and it’s quite obvious to a defender whether the disc will be passed to the open or break side as they have so long to see the initial cuts developing. Even in a horizontal stack, the channels either side of you are constricted by other players, so flow is difficult to initiate. Continuing the flow from vertical or horizontal is awkward too – players need to make big movements to get away from each other and into the continuation areas. Mexican offence on the other hand has players starting in the ideal continuation positions already, giving each new thrower three immediate and very real 360 degree threat players within easy throwing distance, which directly supports what you lay out in the first few paragraphs.
    In your example, points a and b as well as the upfield player are all positions where players would set up/focus on in Mexican. If they aren’t marked out, then the throw goes immediately to those points and the continuation is easy, as you explain. If the player has to move slightly away from their defender to receive the disc, then the connected supporting/continuation players only have to move slightly to be in the ideal 360-threat position – whilst the defenders have to reposition to adjust to the vastly different situation.

    Have a look for yourself – I’ve overlayed vertical, horizontal, and mexican setups over your example image – see which one looks to offer the most easily created space & most ready continuation options:


    • Thanks Felix. I certainly take your point about some of the inherent restrictions on flow from various stack set-ups. I’m not sure it’s quite so hard to generate flow from a vert stack as you imply – as long as there’s more than one threat (even if that’s just one open-side cut and one ‘plinko’ dump option, for example) the defender will be impeded by his informational disadvantage, even if he is able to see that open-side cut start to develop. Vert stack with cutters understanding the essence of flow is certainly better than vert stack without that understanding. I agree, though, that there are better ways to develop flow – and actually we’ve been working on a new system with our team here too with exactly that in mind.

      I still haven’t really seen that much of the Mexican – were your guys playing it this weekend? I’m annoyed I didn’t look out for it if so!


      • Felix says:

        The distribution of players simply offers an abundance of continuation options and a stable base for any kind of flexibility your team wishes to implement.
        Nah Sussex Mixed weren’t playing it this weekend but Brighton were… Pier Pressure will also be rocking it at Mixed Tour if you’re around for that.


  3. MKT says:

    Nice, yes this is one of the main reasons that the offense has an inherent advantage in Ultimate: a receiver can move such that the defender can see the receiver or the disc but not both. The receiver has another advantage, the obvious one of knowing where and when his/her next cut is going to be whereas the defender and only observe and react — but the “react” time is pretty quick so it’s the “observe” time where the receiver can have a bigger advantage. If the defender has to turn to see where the disc is, the receiver can use that moment to take off in another direction.


  4. Pingback: Cutting with Flow - Thirsty Camels

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