Season Planning: What To Teach At Practice, And When To Teach It

Posted on: on Sep 16, 2016, 11:51:07 AM


So you’ve done the work to get new players interested, and you’re pretty sure they’ll keep coming back. Now all you have to do is teach ultimate to this ragtag bunch! If that responsibility has you feeling a little weak in the knees, do not fear.


I’ve assembled a broad overview of how I format my season as coach of the Puget Sound Postmen, a regionally competitive DIII team in the Northwest. 


My team's goal each year is to peak at Conferences in mid-April, and make DIII Nationals, so my framework is built around that main objective. If your season goals are different, you can easily take this framework and adapt it to your team’s unique situation.



Sept - Oct: Offense

You’ve heard that offense wins games and defense wins championships, right? Too bad there isn’t a similar cliche about when to teach offense versus defense.

Personally, I begin my season with offense because I think it gives my new players confidence in their abilities, and makes them more likely to stick around long term.

Here’s the priority I place on offensive skills that n00bs need to learn:

  1. Basic disc skills

  2. How to dump the disc

  3. Downfield cutting

  4. Continuation throws

  5. Endzone cutting


Successful offenses maintain possession of the disc, so my first priority is to make sure my new players have the skills to keep the disc in our hands.

After I’m satisfied that they can maintain possession of the disc, I move into practices focused on downfield cutting: clearing space, initiating cuts for a stopped disc, cutting off of handler motion, and continuation cuts for other cutters.

The Postmen run a pretty classic vert stack offense. It depends on handlers to break the mark, get the disc to the break side of the stack, and then get the disc downfield.

Once the cutters have the disc, they run continuation cuts to keep the disc moving until we either score a point or the get stopped by the defense, and the cutter is forced to dump the disc back to the handler.

In the first 2-ish weeks of the year, I have the guys playing a lot of 4-on-4 mini, because it forces everyone to do a lot of throwing, cutting, and making space. Then, for the next 4 weeks I focus on the specifics of our vert stack offense, before transitioning to defense.



Nov - Dec: Person Defense

Now that my new players understand what the offense is trying to accomplish on the field, I can teach person defense as a direct opposition to the goals of the offense.

When I lay out practices for person defense, I put priority on the following skills:

  1. Understanding and setting the force

  2. Active marking

  3. Defensive positioning and taking away the biggest threat


Because my players know that offense wants to get the disc to the break side of the field, I can use my description of the force and the active mark as a way to deny the offense’s primary goal.

I’ll spend 2-3 weeks focused the force and the mark, and then another 3 or more weeks working on recognizing, anticipating, and taking away the biggest offensive threat. This schedule takes us right up to winter break.



Jan: Cement the Team

At Puget Sound, winter break ends in mid-January, and that’s when I work with the student leaders and captains to finalize the team. We make cuts, set the preliminary O line and D line, lay out expectations for the rest of the season, and address early weaknesses in offense and defense.

I put a lot of stock in scrimmaging during this time of year, so that everyone can get used to playing with each other while the offensive and defensive looks are still relatively simple. I think it’s good to cement these bonds on O and D lines now, because in early spring we start learning funky looks for offense and defense.



Feb - Mar: Funk It Up

In early spring, the team is usually feeling pretty good about themselves. They’ve got a great understanding of person defense and our vertical offense, and the new players especially are starting to think they’ve got this ultimate thing all figured out.

That’s when I hit them with all the other weirdness that ultimate can throw at them. In early spring we learn:

  1. Zone defenses

  2. Zone offense

  3. Pull plays

  4. Maybe a lil’ side stack and split stack if I’m feeling ambitious

I spend up to 6 weeks working on these irregular plays. That may seem like a lot of practice time, and maybe it is too much practice time for you and your team’s goals. But for me, playing around with this kind of weirdness is a major part of my season strategy.

I strive to create a nimble D-line that can throw 2-4 different defenses in addition to person-D, and an O-line that isn’t shocked, or even particularly surprised, when their opponent sets up a defense that they've never seen before.



April and Beyond: Time to Patch Holes

In the last few weeks before Conferences, my main goal is to mitigate our weaknesses as much as possible.

Practices in the final weeks often consist of just a drill or two before jumping straight into a scrimmage. At this late hour, we’re often forced to revisit things as fundamental as endzone offense, or what to do when you’ve got a force middle dump.

Take these few weeks and shore up your worst areas, because you’ll need to be the best version of yourself once you hit conferences.



Over To You

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I’ve found that this season framework works for me and my team, but there are plenty of other options out there. If you’ve got a different perspective on how to plan a season’s worth of practices, hit me up in the comments!


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