David Pichler tells us how less is more when cutting.
Speed. Explosive Acceleration. Footwork. Ups. These attributes would probably top a Family Fortunes style list to the question ‘What makes a good cutter…?’ Certainly these are the attributes that we focus on when drooling over our favourite cutters like Josh “Zip” Zipperstein and Beau Kittredge. But really, are these the skills that young cutters should be focusing on in order improve?
Before I played Ultimate my sport was Karate and like any teenage boy I loved to fight. When I fought, I was Shinobi incarnate (if Shinobi used kicks to score points in a controlled manner rather than ninja stars and swords to destroy his foes). Time and time again I was told to focus on distance, combining strikes and attacking off line. Never were we told to punch and kick as fast as we can (really, a room of 15 boys needed no encouragement).
Looking back I am struck by how much these lessons apply to Ultimate and many other team sports. What makes a strong cutting offense shares much with the only testosterone fuelled boy in the dojo able to avoid rushing in limbs flailing.
Being tall I could keep the distance from my foe a little further away than they wanted. Close enough to strike, far enough to defend attacks. Likewise when cutting, think about the distance between you and the disc, you and your mark and you and everyone else on the field. You don’t want to be too far from or too close to the disc when not cutting, you want to generate separation from your marker when you do cut and you want to be on hand with that cut when the team mate gets the disc. It’s a difficult balance, even harder as the disc moves through your team mate’s hands around you. It takes years of sparring with various opponents to execute correctly. The fastest way to learn is get your head up and try to cut less.
Cut less? Yip. Cut less. If you’re the kid who’s always rushing in headlong trying to beat down your opponent’s guard, you may start to wonder why you’re ribs are bruised, why you lost. Stop. Edge back and see what they do, they way they move.
After a moment’s thought you think about a high punch and then a leg sweep. Or maybe just step the left. See what they do. When you see some space open up, it’s time to attack.
Teams, organic or ‘structured’, will each generate this in their own way. Some will have set pieces to be used in certain scenarios, others will defer to their stars with the role players filling in. However they’re produced, there’s an ebb and flow to space creation that’s easy to identify from the side line: an area in the field has one or more player in, then it’s empty, then someone’s cutting into it. When done properly it looks easy.
For me, this element of being a cutter is the most fun, and the easiest. The only difficult part is recognising whose space that is and the best way to exploit it. A lot will depend on aesthetics; the handler driven offense will want to run one-twos through the space, cutter lead teams will want to isolate a big receiver for a nice V cut. It doesn’t matter, you’ve pulled the defence’s guard around. You’ve attacked high, kicked low, feinted right and shimmied left. You’ve generated your opening and struck quickly.
So enough foggy theory and analogy – Watch the video (courtesy of Ultiworld). All of it. And enjoy it too because it’s the best Ultimate on the planet. It’s the World Games match up of Canada v the USA at the recent Poultry Days tournament in the US. Watch it once and go wow. Then watch it again and watch the cutters and follow the empty spaces around the field. Even Canada, who kind of get it handed to them, are cutting well, they’re just not connecting.
This requires unity and understanding between the players on field the same way the karate student needs to co-ordinate their hands and feet to strike in sequence into the right places. Cutting is as much about making space for team mates as those dummy strikes are about shifting an opponent’s guard until they open up.
Ultimate is a sport about spacial awareness and timing more than it is about blistering speed, 60 yard bombs and shoulder high blocks. Sure, the latter look epic on film and will get your friends to buy you a pint on Saturday night, but they’re not the first skills cutters must learn, they’re the last. Learning to cut with the ebb and flow of the space created by your team mates’ movement will be what keeps you free all weekend long and your legs fresh in those long points.
Want more? Well contribute, like, share and retweet! DP @ tSG.