There’s a great cliché in ultimate which we all use to describe the sport. I’ll give you a variant now:
“Ultimate is basically a mixture of netball and football, except you pass a disc instead of a ball. You pass between your team-mates and score by catching in the endzone. However, once you catch the disc you have to stop running and have to pivot on one foot before passing again.”
To be fair to the ultimate community, that’s a pretty good description: it relates to more popular sports and includes the exciting element of scoring. Let’s go a couple steps further.
Ultimate is a team sport played 7v7 on a pitch about the size of a soccer field. It has an endzone at each end of the pitch and if a player finds themselves outside the perimeter, they are out of bounds. If a player catches a pass while inside the endzone then it’s a score.
Now you’ve scored that first point, let’s talk about what happens next. As with football, ultimate teams begin their defensive points by throwing the disc to the other team. On defence you will be trying to force a block, or any turnover, so you can score again.
Since you’re on defence, you want to throw the disc as far as you can (preferably landing it in the opposite endzone) so you can make their offensive point as hard as possible. They’re now trying to score in the endzone you’ve just left so the longer your throw, the farther they have to move the disc before scoring.
So you’ve done your job on defence (great block!) and you’ve got the disc. You’re holding it tightly in two hands, facing endzone A and I can see the whites of your eyes from here: what do I do?
It’s actually really simple. You have the disc so you know you’re not allowed to run. Fortunately, your six team-mates are all sprinting in the huge space downfield and making runs (we call them ‘cuts’) to try and get free of their defenders. As soon as you see a team-mate that’s free (i.e. ahead of their defender) you can throw it to them. Once they catch it they’ll stop and you’ll join the ranks of runners (cutters) trying to get free.
Naturally you want to throw upfield toward the endzone but you are allowed to throw in any direction. Once you score a point you get a short rest while the other team walks back to the other endzone. You’ll then you throw it to them again (this is called the ‘pull’) and go play defence again. This transition between points is when you can grab a quick drink of water, discuss tactics and do any substitutions.
You’ll notice I said it was “simple” and not “easy”: we haven’t talked about defence yet. While you are holding the disc, a player from the other team will be marking you and trying – without touching you – to get in the way and stop you throwing it where you want to, like in this photo from the u23 world championships last summer.
To make matters even harder, each of your team-mates has another opposing player breathing down their neck trying to intercept a pass or pile on so much pressure that the disc is dropped.
The disc changes possession if it is dropped, intercepted or is thrown in to the ground or out of bounds. You also only get 10 seconds to pass each time you are the thrower; if those 10 seconds expire, that’s a turnover.
We’ll go in to much more detail about the rules (substitutions, fouls, Spirit of the Game and tactics) in future articles but for now, I’ll leave you with a brief little summary:
- Don’t run with the disc
- Try and get blocks on defence
- Throw the disc to your team-mates
- Celebrate when you score!
In the end, that’s all it really comes down to. Even the highest-level ultimate is about enjoying yourself and remembering that at the end of the day, we’re all just chasing a piece of plastic about a field with our mates.