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Posted by Brenda Rose

Ultimate Frisbee (aka, Ultimate)-Strategies and Skills

July 1, 2021

In my first blog, Ultimate Frisbee – Getting Started, I shared some of the rules and basic concepts of the game.  In this blog, I will share with you some offensive and defensive strategies, along with a few rules and basic moves.

Ultimate Frisbee (aka, Ultimate) Getting Started- Part 1

Ultimate Frisbee (aka, Ultimate) Strategies and Skills- Part 2

Ultimate Frisbee (aka, Ultimate) Throwing and Catching- Part 3


Leave your protective pads at home (and your brass knuckles too), this is a non-contact sport.

First let’s talk about the force. It is strong among Frisbee players, and relied upon heavily for defense. The force refers to what throw you are giving (making easy for) the thrower. Either a Backhand force, or Forehand force (flick) will be called. By making one throw easy, you are making the other throw (break throw) much more difficult. This essentially makes one side of the field the most likely space that the handler will be able to throw to. This space is referred to as the open side of the field. The other side of the field will be much more difficult to hit, and is referred to as the closed (or break) side of the field. Forcing the offense to throw to the middle of the field, or to the sidelines is another force option, however this requires more communication among players.

Note: When a Backhand or Forehand force is called, it is from the perspective that the thrower is right handed. Don’t switch the force if you are marking a left handed thrower!

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You might also hear someone call a Home force or Away force. This refers to the side of the field you want to force the throw. Home is not only where your heart is, it is the sideline your water bottle is located, as well as where you and your teammates hang out when you’re not actively playing on the field. The other side is the Away side.

 The Backhand, Forehand, Home, and Away force all essentially accomplish the same thing, which is to take away easy options on one side of the field.  
The Force.png


When playing defense against the person with the disc, a stall count of 10 seconds can be used.  You must maintain a distance of one disc between any two lines on your body and the person throwing the Frisbee. You will usually position yourself at a 45 degree angle from the thrower on the opposite side you are forcing.

When guarding a person downfield, you want to place yourself on the open side of the cutter. You want to make the person you are guarding look like a bad idea to the thrower. Similar to football, your goal as a defender is to shut down the throwers options. You also want to place yourself in the best position to intercept the disc. Action Shot.png


  • Fouls - most of the time collisions can be avoided, however from time to time incidental contact does occur. Fouls are called when contact prevents a player from catching the Frisbee. There used to be a “Strip” call for when a defender makes contact with the disc before it is released from an offensive player’s hand. This is now grouped in with the Foul call.
  • Picks – they are not allowed in ultimate and can be called if you are forced to stop, or go around someone to get to the person you are defending.
  • Stall – You have to the count of 10 to throw the Frisbee. Defense will call out loud “Stall 1, Stall 2…Stall Ten”. As soon as the “T” in ten is pronounced, the thrower has been stalled, and defense now has possession of the disc.

These are the most common calls. For USA Ultimate’s official 11th Edition Rules, follow this link:


There are many different strategies out there, and new ones keep popping up. Competitive teams usually have a few different ones they like to practice. Teams that don’t have a lot of player turnover can become quite efficient and fine tune both their offensive and defensive strategies. Here are just a few basic ones:

  •  Vertical Stack (aka Vert) – this is an offensive strategy in which players line up vertically in the middle of the field. This gives them space on each side of the vertical stack in which to run to in order to catch the Frisbee.Vertical Stack.png
  •  Horizontal (aka Ho) – there are several ways to play this offensive strategy. A basic one is to have four cutters lined up evenly spaced horizontally across the field. In this setup there are three handlers also lined up horizontally where they can move the disc side to side until a play develops. Cutters can cut in pairs with one coming in towards the thrower and the other cutting away towards the end zone. 

Horizontal Stack.png

  • DUMP/SWING-The dump/swing is an important component of the vertical offense. This combination of moves is used to move the disc quickly to the break side of the field.  


First let’s discuss the dump. This is a critical tool any competitive team must have in their toolkit. It is used when the stall count is at or above 5, and an up field play hasn’t developed. It can also be used much earlier, especially when the disc is close to the sideline which narrows the window of up field play.

There are many ways you can set up for the dump, however I will only discuss one to help explain the concept. There is usually at least one handler in a position to receive the dump. They will position themselves in such a way that they are not interfering with any up field play. They must also be available as soon as they are activated by the thrower. The thrower will do this by turning to the dump and making eye contact. Once they are activated, the dump will either make a cut up field, or cut back. Which option they choose depends on the position of their defender. The defender is likely to give up one cut easier than the other. If it isn’t obvious from the start, I like to take one step forward to see how the defense responds, then make my cut accordingly.

Dump Cut.png There is often a backup to the dump. This can be a handler, or a cutter who positions themselves at the top to the stack. If the dump does not successfully reset the disc, the backup will quickly fill in.
backup dump cut.png

There are a couple of important notes to make on the dump play. First, once the thrower activates the dump, it is important they stick with it. It might be tempting for the thrower to look up field if the dump is not immediately open. In the time the thrower turns to look up field, the dump will likely have shaken their defender. Second, the dump should make only one cut to get the disc. Juking back and forth will cost precious stall counts they might not have. It is best practice to make one cut, then clear if you are not open to allow the backup to fill in.


The swing happens immediately after a dump receives the disc in line, or back field from the thrower. This is a great play for moving the disc to the break side of the field, where the defense is at its weakest.
dump cut swing cut.png


  • Man to man defense (aka Man D) – This is a defensive strategy, where defensive players select a specific person to play defense against for the entire point. People usually line up against the person they want to guard on the other side of the field.
  • Zone defense (aka Zone D) – There are many different ways to play this defensive strategy. The basic 3 person cup with a popper stopper, two wings, and a deep is quite popular. Everyone must work together to make this defense work. Zone defense is most effective on windy days and it is designed to make the short offensive game more challenging.
  • 3 Person Cup – these players cover the handlers and force them to throw towards the middle or the sides. Their job is to stop forward movement of the disc.
  • Popper Stopper – this player is stopping short throws to the middle of the field.
  • Wings – there is one wing on each side of the field. They are stopping throws up the sideline.
  • Deep – the deep is responsible for preventing the long completions. They are also in a good position to monitor what’s happening on the field, and will let other defenders know where the biggest threats are.
  • The Fake-This is when you use a disc that is not organic, single source, local, and fair trade... I’m kidding, just wanted to make sure you are still with me. The fake is a move that leads your mark to believe you are going to do one thing, but really you intend on doing something else altogether. Pretty sneaky move, but sometimes necessary when your defender is twice your size!

You can use a fake when you’re throwing by rotating your torso and shoulders as if you are about to pivot and throw one way, but then quickly rotate back to make the throw you really want.
sneaky brenda.png

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Ultimate Frisbee. I was attracted to this sport when I first moved to Vermont. It was the most fun I had up to that point while doing physical activity. I started playing pickup, then progressed to playing in a league, and finally played on several competitive club teams, both co-ed and women’s. The sport is growing and has become a little more competitive than it used to be, but it hasn’t lost its friendly appeal. If you want to check it out for yourself, look for a pickup game near you (Farrell Park, Wednesdays at noon anyone?)!

I will leave you with this shot that was taken in 2012. It was entered in the Bring Your Disc To Work Day contest and received an honorable mention. Go deep.png


About the Author

Brenda Rose is a Senior Controls Engineer with 18 years experience. Brenda obtained a Technologist degree in Mechatronics, a college program heavily influenced by the automotive industry. Her career has focused on controls engineering in manufacturing.

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About Hallam-ICS

Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.

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Brenda Rose

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July 1, 2021

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