Jeff Bussel writes, “Have any tips for teaching people to cut and changing direction with a burst of speed? We have lots of new players and they basically have only one speed. Slow jog.”

There are two things to consider when learning how to cut in ultimate frisbee, or teaching beginners how to cut.

#1 Consideration: Player Athleticism

Ultimate frisbee is a game played in bursts, with sudden sprints and the need to change direction quickly. And so it favours explosive, powerful athletes (learn how to train for explosive power here).

In considering Jeff’s question about how to teach beginner ultimate frisbee players how to cut with a burst of speed – we need to consider each player’s overall athleticism. Some players are extremely fast and explosive, while others take longer to accelerate and change direction.

With beginners, it’s super important to be happy with whatever max effort each player is capable of. If Jeff is assuming a teaching role on his team, his job is to encourage each player to apply their max effort.

Be Happy With Each Player’s Maximum Effort, Don’t Compare Players

It’s more constructive to encourage each player to cut as hard as they can, and to resist comparing them to other players on the field. Encouragement to “cut with everything they’ve got” (and praise when they do) will put the player on a path to improved performance.

Never make the player feel like their best effort isn’t good enough, because that breeds a “why bother” mentality. This leads to a sad state of things for the individual and for the team.

It takes courage and vulnerability to give 100% effort. Respect and value effort over outcome and you’ll be well on your way to massive growth at both the individual player level and as a team.

You want players using every last bit of their athletic ability. Playing at that edge will lead to athletic gains for the players who put everything they’ve got into their cuts. Everyone is working with different baseline fitness levels, so be sure to account for that in setting your own expectations.

Athleticism does improve, but noticeable performance gains can take months. That’s why the next factor we’re going to look at when teaching new players how to cut actually shows results much quicker.

Consideration #2: Cutters Need to Want the Disc

The second thing to consider when encouraging new players to cut harder is desire. How badly does the new player want the disc?

When I was a little kid, my parents signed me up for soccer. I was a pretty shy, and so I can distinctly remember dreading getting the ball during soccer games.

I didn’t want to be at the centre of attention, I was more interested in blending in with the other players. As soon as the ball came my way, I’d get nervous and kick it indiscriminately in any direction.

It’s normal for new frisbee players to feel this way. Who wants to be in the spotlight doing something they’re likely to fail at (like catching and throwing a disc)?

With regard to playing soccer as a kid, it took a long time for my mindset to change. This mental shift actually initiated outside of soccer first. In school, I became a more confident person through making friends and gaining a sense of social belonging. Gradually this sense of confidence made its way into how I played sports – and that’s when I began to want the ball during soccer games.

That’s also when I started to improve as a player, contribute to the team and have way more fun.

To Cut Better, New Players First Need To Feel Like They Belong

The point here is to make your new players feel like members of the team. On a deep level, everyone wants to belong to the tribe. So in doing everything you can to make new players feel like they belong, they will feel more secure in taking small risks.

Consider that, to a new player, cutting hard for the disc presents a social risk. As a beginner, it’s hard enough to catch a disc while standing still. Add full-on sprinting to the mix and odds of a successful catch go way down. I think that, on some subconscious level, beginners know this and so they jog slowly. They might be avoiding being too open, because they don’t really want the disc.

Catching at a full sprint is a difficult thing to do, but you can help your new players out by practicing this skill before and after games.

Start cutting drills at a walk, then increase the speed until everyone is catching successfully at a jog. Players will naturally gain confidence as they make more catches at higher speeds.

Eventually, beginner ultimate frisbee players will feel confident in attempting catches at top speed. Over time, and with plenty of repetition, this confidence will result in new players cutting harder in games.

Increasing desire for the disc is a quicker route to improvement than increasing athleticism. Once desire is white-hot, athleticism will likely improve due to a higher frequency of maximum effort sprints.

A Beginner Cutting Drill For Ultimate Frisbee (Great for Before and After Games)

I have a drill I like to run with my team before games to get them comfortable with catching the disc at a run. The drill is also helpful because it gets all players on the team behaving like a handler. And the more competent handlers a team has, the better.

The drill is called “Throw Before You Go” and mimics typical handler behaviour of throwing a short pass, then immediately cutting for a return pass. For a detailed breakdown, check out the full article on the Throw Before You Go beginner ultimate frisbee drill.

You will notice that this drill is run at a slower tempo. I actually prefer to have the players walk through it a few times first to get confident with the pattern, then gradually having them cut faster.

Start Slow When Learning To Cut in Ultimate Frisbee

When beginners are learning to cut in ultimate frisbee, it helps to keep the success rate of the throws and catches as high as possible. There isn’t much use in having players run as hard as they can during the drill if their throws aren’t accurate and they’re dropping everything. Repeating incomplete passes during practice is likely to replicate the same errors in games.

By starting cutting drills at a literal walk, beginners will throw and catch will have a higher completion rate. New players will gain much needed confidence through repeated successful repetitions, and this confidence will promote playing closer to the edge of their abilities. This is where you want your new players to spend most of their time, because it’s at the edge of their abilities that they will improve the most!

How to Cut in Ultimate Frisbee: 9 Tips for Beginners

What follows is a set of general guidelines for cutting in ultimate frisbee as a beginner. These are meant to give you a starting point from which you can build your own understanding of the most effective way to cut.

Your team might be interested in organizing cuts in ways that might not suite some of these suggestions – and when this happens simply ignore my input and do whatever works best for your team.

But for times when you’re just not sure what to do, these pointers should give you a basic idea of how to cut effectively:

Cut Toward or Away From The Handler (Not Across)

As a general guideline for beginner ultimate players, you want to cut directly toward your handler, or directly away from them. The exception to this is in the end zone, where it’s necessary to cut more laterally side to side.

The reason we want to avoid side to side cuts (not always, but mostly) is that cutting side to side is likely to cause “pick” calls. If you are unfamiliar with what a “pick” is, it’s where you get in the way of another player or run around another player to obstruct your defender.

Picks are rarely intentional, so if someone calls “pick” on you, don’t take it personally. Instead, ask that they clarify what happened so you can better understand how to avoid it when making future cuts.

In deciding whether to cut toward or away from your handler, it’s usually a good idea to take what the defender is giving you. If the defender is between you and the handler, try a deep cut. If your defender is covering you deep, cut in for a short pass. Then change it up, blow by your defender and go the other way.

Create Contrast in Your Cuts

A moderate jog is easy to cover. Players who alternate between walking and sprinting are much more challenging to defend.

When I play ultimate frisbee, I spend a lot of time walking or jogging behind the play. Only when it appears as though there’s an opportunity for me to make a cut do I sprint into open space.

This makes it more challenging for my defender because I often hang out far enough behind the play that the defender feels I’m not entirely a part of the game – so they drift toward the other players. This creates space for me to exploit (sometimes for a cross-field swing, or past my defender at a full sprint).

One Strong Cut Is Better Than Many Little Ones

And it’s easier to throw to. Beginners tend to make a bunch of small, random cuts in all directions – which isn’t effective because:

  • The handler has a harder time predicting the next cut and will have a harder time making a good pass
  • The defender doesn’t need to mirror all those small cuts – they just need to stay in the general area to maintain coverage

From what I’ve seen, a more successful approach is as follows. Take one big step to fake a cut in the opposite direction, then immediately sprint either toward or away from the handler while creating a good target (more on this below).

Create a Good Target

I discuss creating a target more thoroughly in my Top 11 Beginner Mistakes article, so be sure to check that out for a full breakdown. In summary, here are things you can do to be a good target and increase the likelihood that the handler throws to you:

  • Maintain eye contact with the handler – they won’t throw to you if you’re not looking
  • Point to where you want them to throw – if you’re cutting deep, point at the end zone
  • Shout for the disc – yell “Poached!” or “Open!” if you don’t have a defender near you
  • Create a target by holding your hands in a catching “alligator” position at chest height to indicate that you’re ready for the pass

Stretch the Field

Make your cuts deeper than you think you need to (all the way to the end-zone even) and all the way back (and past) your handler for a dump.

New players often cluster in the middle of the field, making it more difficult to throw to them due to the high density of opposing players. It’s better to isolate yourself as a target by running all the way to the end-zone (remember to maintain eye contact to show you’re ready for the pass!).

Finish Your Cuts

Beginners generally don’t know how to “finish their cuts” because they feel like there’s some invisible range where they’re “too close” to the handler for a pass.

There’s no such thing as cutting too close, (especially when it’s windy). As long as you have your hands ready for the pass (which is hopefully a pop pass), it’s better to finish your cut by running all the way to within a few feet of your handler (known as “crashing the cup” if the defending team has applied a zone defense). If you don’t get the pass, continue your cut past and behind the handler, then “clear out” of the way of your team mates who will likely be cutting behind you.

“Clearing out” doesn’t mean you need not be an option for your handler to throw to. Once you’ve made it past your handler, turn around and cut upfield (taking care not to get in the way of incoming cutters) while pointing and making eye contact.

If your team is running a vertical stack, you can complete your upfield cut by returning to the stack.

Tailor Your Cuts To The Handler

I cut very differently depending on who is handling. If I know my handler can throw deep, I’ll go deep. If I know my handler struggles to throw upwind, I’ll cut behind them for a dump.

By paying attention to who has the disc, and by knowing what kind of throws each player on your team is capable of making, you can alter your cuts to suit the thrower.

This will result in you getting more passes not only from the skilled handlers on your team, but from the inexperienced throwers as well.

Be The Continuation Cut

It’s much easier for a handler to get a throw off before the mark has had a chance to set up on them. All players have a tendency to become a bit too mesmerized by the disc anytime it’s in flight and not close to their position on the field. They’re watching to see the outcome of the throw, and then react either to a completion or a turn.

You can get a jump on everyone by starting your cut while the disc is still in flight. All you’re doing is assuming your teammate is going to catch the disc, and sprinting to the space ahead of them for the next pass.

A team capable of stringing together consecutive uncontested continuation cuts creates a fast flowing offence that is extremely difficult to defend.

Start to become aware of timing your cuts to begin before the next catch is made. This will keep you one step ahead of the play, and make you wide open for uncontested passes.

Be The One Who Wants It

The last thing I’ll say about cutting as a beginner comes back to mindset. If you don’t want the disc, you’re just not going to cut hard enough to get many passes.

If you want to get open and get more passes, you need to build a hunger for the disc. Getting started is the hardest, but I promise that you’ll want the disc more with each attempt if you tell yourself things like, “this disc is mine” and “I’m next”.

Every time your handler looks around for an open player, they’re asking, “Who wants it?”

Be the one who wants it.

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