Information for coaches
Here you’ll find practical information: from running a practice to coaching a game. Before digging into the details, you may want to get the big picture from this USAU Spirit of Coaching document, these notes about Spirit of the Game in Middle School from DiscNW, or these ideas for teaching Spirit of the Game from the largest youth ultimate tournament in the world (Spring Reign). Ultimate coaches who are starting a new team or who don’t have a colleague to handle logistics should also read the Organize page.
Every coach has their own spin on a great practice, but most like about 90 minutes to deliver a generic structure like this:
- 10 min: Warm-up (e.g. paired throwing & Plyometrics)
- 5 min: Verbal introduction (announcements, goal(s) and plan for the practice)
- 15 min: Familiar drill
- 30 min: New drill
- 30 min: Scrimmage or other team game
At the middle school and higher levels, you may also need to budget some time at the beginning of practice for setting up the field(s), taking attendance, and coordinating with other coaches/assistants. After practice is a good time to have a brief planning session with other coaches at big schools, or to check in with parents as they pick up their players.
Have the whole team take a lap or two around the field. Then choose a couple players to lead the rest of the team in other warm-up activities, like plyos. (You can use this time to set up cones for your drill/s.)
Youthultimate.net posts regarding warm-ups:
There are so many drills to try, but very little guidance about which one to use when. You may want to refer to a curriculum, or you can pick and choose from various compendiums (see lists below). Here are a few options to get you started:
- Paired throwing: Set up a line of cones about 10 meters from the sideline. Space cones 5-10 meters apart. Ask players to pair up and grab a disc. One player stands at a cone facing the other who is on the sideline. Throw back an forth to reach a goal like:
- 10 throws in a row without dropping
- 10 forehands and 10 backhands thrown by each player
- Beat your record for greatest number of completions in a row without a drop
- Aim throws at different parts of receiver (low, chest, high, left, right…
- Try high- vs low-releases
- Try a fake on opposite side before throwing
- See how low you can go in your pivot before releasing your throw
- Have player at cone take a step back upon every completion (return to cone on a drop)
- Century = 10 of each: forehand, backhand, inside-out forehand, inside-out backhand, outside-in forehand, outside-in backhand, push, hammer, scoober, chicken-wing.
- Go-to drill
- Great for warming up before a game. Move cones closer on windy days to practice short passes.
- Animation of Go-to drill from Ultiplays.com web-based app:
- Compendiums of drills
- Ulticoach made handy Ulticards including drills organized by skill (throwing, cutting, defense, offense). You can sometimes find the plasticized cards or larger-format spiral-bound laminated booklets, but as of 2017 they only offer an app on their web site (Android or IOS).
- USA Ultimate drills
- Playspedia drills (nifty animations)
- Playspedia ultimate drills tagged with “youth”
Youthultimate.net posts regarding drills:
- Coach youth ultimate! (synopsis of the 2010 USA Ultimate resource guide)
- 2016 USA Ultimate CDP workshop in Seattle
- Kids summer league quick warmup
- Brodie Smith’s accuracy challenge
Ideally, a scrimmage will simulate a real game by having 7 players on each side. On smaller fields and/or with beginners (especially in elementary school), you may want to play 6-on-6 or 5-on-5. This will help new players orient themselves (simpler game dynamics) and increase safety (less crowded field means fewer collisions, picks, screens, etc…).
Have players bring dark and light shirts, or provide pennies to reduce confusion during scrimmage. Try playing to 5 points before mixing up sides. Emphasize throwing to the opposite gender or players of variable experience by imposing rules like “you can’t score unless everyone on your side touches the disc at least once” (all-touch).
Good variants (extra rules) for promoting equal opportunities, long-term athlete development, and other objectives:
- Whoever is closest to a turn-over picks it up
- You have to cut deep after throwing
- If you pass it to at least half of the players on your team a score is worth 2 points
- If everyone touches the disc at least once a score is worth 3 points
- You can’t score until your team:
- swing the disc across the centerline at least twice
- use a dump pass to reset the stall count
Other (fun!) games
For variety, try these other group games. Many of these are great at reinforcing ultimate fundamentals; some are not so hot for fundamentals (e.g. they let you run with the disc), but are excellent rewards and/or conditioning tools. This list is ordered by number of players available (from minimum of 2 to max of infinity):
Good for catching at full speed.
Kids form two lines (can assign O and D, but to start both are on offense)
coach (or a skilled thrower/player) says go
pair from the top of the lines sprint down-field
as thrower hucks it everyone in line yells “up”
receivers try not to look back until up call
- whoever catches it gets a point (if O/D assigned, defender gets a point for a block or interception)
- Advanced version for many players/throwers: form 3-5 dog groups of 6-8 receivers; winner moves “up” a group; loser moves “down” to find appropriate challenges.
- Hot Box
- Good for lots of touches w/rapid O/D transitions.
- Great for spotting problems with: throw mechanics; pivots/fakes; marking; space.
- 4 kids in a square of 4 cones ~10m on a side.
- Teams of two try to get 4 completions in a row to score a point.
- Turn over on a drop or point, or you can play make-it-take-it for faster pace.
- You can run/cut outside the box, but all catches must be made inbounds.
- Mix up pairs to enhance team-knowing, promote gender equity, and calibrate challenges.
- Durango Boot
- Galaxy Wars (kind of like Schteattle Schtick, but with >2 teams and a cone to knock over in the scorebox)
- Goaltimate (requires some extra equipment; video example)
Coaching games is a real art and every coach has their own style. A good general approach during a game, especially at the younger, less-competitive levels, is to rotate your lines to ensure equal playing time and to try not to yell too much. Save your voice by giving feedback to players as they come off the field, walking out to talk to players on the field between points, providing pointers to the line when they are about to go on, and calling a time out if you need to check in with the whole team. Try to get your players on the sidelines to yell for you — whether it’s “up” to warn of a throw, directing the mark, calling out poaches or deeps, or repeating a “reminder” for the game (“stop the under” or “find your person” or “cut!” or “go to the open space” or “hard mark!”)…
- Example game rosters (showing egalitarian vs strategic rotation)
- Example game roster with goals, assists, turn-overs, D’s, and highlights
Before the game, have players meet 30-45 minutes beforehand and warm them up with running, plyos, and a single drill. 5 minutes before the game select two players and (if necessary) help them flip to see which team pulls/receives and at which end of the field you’ll start.
(The flip in a nutshell: 2 players from each team meet; one from each side flips a disc in the air when the 3rd player calls “flip!”; a pre-ordained 4th player calls out whether the “same” or “different” sides of the 2 discs will land up. Which ever team wins the flip gets to choose either (a) which end to start at, or (b) whether to pull or receive. The team that lost the flip then chooses the remaining option (a) or (b). On windless days, most flip winners choose to receive first. On windy days, they usually choose to start on the upwind side of the field.)
After the game, establish a ritual for checking in with your team, celebrating, cheering for the other team, and honoring the Spirit of the Game. Options include:
- Asking your players to help rate the other team’s spirit score
- Asking your players for highlights and or things to improve next time
- Doing a cheer for the other team
- Sharing highlights, problems, and spirit awards between the two teams, ideally in a spirit circle. You can also play team-building games (see next section)…
- Lining up for high-fives
- Playing a spirit point (or two if you still have a lot of game time left)
Of course, sometimes things can get complicated, particularly for new coaches. Keep reading the rules to help yourself and your players learn, and try to join a community of players and coaches with whom you can commiserate and get advice. A great way to learn the rules yourself is to find a way to play with other adults. Many cities have leagues for adult beginners, even “Masters,” or casual pick-up games where questions are welcome.
Team-building games (icebreakers)
Whether to decompress with your opponent after an intense game, break the ice and learn names on a new team, or to end practice on a silly/fun note, team-building games are common in ultimate. Here are some that are particularly good at engaging everyone and eliciting a lot of laughter:
- Greatest Fan (video example)
- Random pairs introduce themselves to each other and play rock-paper-scissors (aka roshambo, rochambeau) by saying “1, 2, 3, shoot!”; loser gets behind winner and chants winner’s name as they find & challenge another winner; continue until a champion emerges!
- Mingle (video example)
- Earth-Eyes (aka “Down-up”) (verbal description)
- Wah (verbal description; video example)
- Ship Wreck (verbal description; video example)
- Tiny Tanks
- Everyone circles up, gets on all fours, and on the count of three, everybody has to crawl to the other side of the circle without stopping or changing direction.
For many more ideas, check out the Five Ultimate “master list” of spirit games.
Get yourself a coach’s bag and put the following in it:
- Binder with emergency contact info for all players (and maybe a copy of the official rules, field permits, etc.)
- First aid kit (including a few chemical ice packs)
- Discs (at least a game disc; ideally one for every other player so you can throw in pairs simultaneously) — which you can order in bulk for as little as ~$4/disc.
- Pennies in case your team’s jersey is the same color as the opponent’s?
- Clipboard and writing tools (pencil, pen, and/or dry erase markers)
- A whistle for getting attention across a big field
- DiscNW coaching resource page
- Ulticoach phone-based app (from Ulticards which use to make hard-copy coaching references)
- Ultiplays web-based app (not available as mobile app on IOS or Android; interactive playbook and training plans w/drills)
- Other ultimate apps
- Google drive archiving useful documents for coaches (mostly contributed by coaches in Seattle); as of early 2017 it has —
- Getting started coaching — by Pam Kraus
- Girl recruitment, gender equity, inclusiveness
- Practice plans (elementary and middle school)
- Team management (Google forms and sheets; advice/tips)
- Seattle-specific spreadsheets of:
- Seasonal playing opportunities
- Coaching market analysis
- 2 books recommended during 2014 USA ultimate coaching clinic in Seattle:
- Don’t teach zone defense in elementary and (most) middle schools
Professional development opportunities
- USA Ultimate Coach Development Program (CDP; offers certification workshops; search for one, or host one yourself!)
- DiscNW Youth Coaching Clinics (new in 2017!)
- Annual Youth Ultimate Coaching Conference (YUCC)