Positional Insight: Handler

Now that you’ve got a basic grasp on the rules of Ultimate  and the particular throws of interest  you’re now ready to dive in a little deeper. In order to truly understand the nuances and inner-workings of the sport, we suggest starting with the Handlers. Simply put, the Handlers are the engine of any great Ultimate team — it’s easy to see the similarities between them and a Quarterback. Players that excel in this position have incredible patience, advanced throwing abilities, and an acute knowledge of those around them. Except instead of just one of them, there’s typically three Handlers on the field at any given time. If the thought of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson all on the field at the same time confuses you or blows your mind, then you’re in the right place.

Whether you’re just getting into Ultimate Frisbee, trying to pick out a position, or just want to understand the sport better, take CoachUp’s handy tips for being a Handler with you the next time you hit the field. While Handlers don’t always run as far as the other positions, it requires a cerebral approach unlike any other. If this seems like your cup of tea, let’s dive in — if not, try checking out our entries on playing Mid here or utilizing the Deep position here.

The Beginning

OK, so this just generally speaking, but of the seven players on the field, two or three of them are tasked with handling the disc — it’s a vertical stack, you’ll have two; if it’s a horizontal stack, it will be three. If you haven’t read our articles on the Vert  or Ho  stacks, we highly suggest you check them out before continuing on. We’ll start with the Vert stack as we discuss the offense in this two-Handler set. Your main responsibility in this situation is keep possession while looking for prime opportunities to move upfield.

With the Vert stack, you’ll need to imagine the offense as an uppercase “L” — as the Handlers make up the bottom line with their five Mids lined up in the stack downfield vertically. One-by-one, the Mids will start cutting towards the disc and the Handler will throw it if they believe he’s got enough space between him and his defender. If not, the cutter will recycle back into the stack, which is where the second Handler comes in. Of course, there is a ten-second stall-count, so if there are no open cut options, a Handler will elect to dump to the other in order to reset the count.

In the Ho stack, the shape of the offense will most resemble an equals sign (=), as the four Mids line up in space across the field horizontally and the handlers, three-wide, are spread in front of them. Here, your offense will likely swing the disc constantly in order to keep the defense scrambling after their marks. Your goal in this offense is to receive the disc as the players in your section are cutting inwards — think of it as a car piston as it moves in-and-out repeatedly. Remember, keeping possession is key here, so try not to force any unnecessary errors and swing and dump as much as needed.

Jack Of All Trades

To be an elite Handler, you’ll need to able to trust your throws, much like a point guard must be strong even with their non-dominant hand. Of course, this includes the forehand, backhand, hammer, and high or low release variations. Therefore, the less innate weaknesses you have, the less likely you are to be forced into difficult throws or potentially detrimental situations. Furthermore, if an opposing team realizes that you have no forehand, they will absolutely force you towards throwing it — it’s the easiest way to neutralize a Handler, so be fluid with them all and you’re guaranteed to find much more success. So many players struggle with Ultimate early on because they’re unwilling to learn the difficult throws, so practice past the point of uncomfortableness — it’ll be worth it in the long run.

In that end, that’s because being a Handler boils down to being flexible — are they taking away your backhand? Hit them with a hammer! Are they putting a cup around you? Fine! Break the defense with a high-release flick. Wouldn’t you rather be prepared for anything than fall into an awkward or unconfident throw?

Patience is a Virtue!

Another general issue with new Handlers is their frequent rush to rid themselves of the disc, often walking right into blocked shots, poor throws, or easy turnovers. If your teammate isn’t open, don’t force it. Chances are high that your team is likely running some form of a stack so be patient and wait for your next possible opportunity to arise. Ultimate is particularly interesting given its inherent similarities to soccer and, yes, even chess. Unlike other sports like football and basketball, where clocks dictate necessary forward movement, Ultimate plays out like a slow burn. You do not need to force your way downfield or even forward at all — don’t be afraid to look for a dump pass as keeping possession and playing smart should take precedence over everything else.

In that same vein, don’t be so quick to huck the disc deep every chance — those types of 50/50 plays are great in moderation but teams will begin stacking the deck against them eventually. Beyond that, it’s an easy way to give up possession on a risky throw. In football, of course, an incomplete pass just means 2nd or 3rd down, but in Ultimate, it’s a straight-up turnover, so you’ll want to make sure to only take the higher percentage shots.

Stop + Go

Although this may depend on your offensive set, but consider immediately running after releasing the disc as the defender will have to react, turn, and chase. In the aforementioned scenario with three Handlers split across the field, Handlers will often swing back and forth to each other and move as a unit. This means that these players are committed to creating offense, not receiving it. However, there’s something to be said about the Handler willing to do some work as a cutter. With the stack often offset from the group of Handlers, there’s plenty of space between the two sections to take advantage of. This a relatively quick and effective way to gain ground upfield. So, if you’re willing to do some extra running, cutting immediately after the throw could be your calling card.

(Related: Read about beating a zone defense here.)

Huddle Up

Along with all of these traits and ideals, here’s one final, yet crucial piece to the puzzle: confidence. Nobody likes seeing a cup comes towards them and getting an aggressively pushy defender can be annoying, but these types of defense are only utilized when they sense a potential advantage. So, be strong and confident in your throws, earn the respect of your opponent, and believe that every one of your possessions will be a success. If you take that approach to your game and technique, along with our guide to being an effective Handler, you’ll be torching defenses in no time. With a dependable array of throws and abilities, not even the best defenders will be able to shut you down completely.

If you’re still having trouble with your skills, throws, or confidence, consider booking one of CoachUp’s private trainers to help you out along the way. Our knowledgeable, seasoned team will get you throwing with more ease, consistency, and overall ability so you can take down any cup, zone, or box thrown your way! What are you waiting for?

(Thanks to Major League Ultimate for the gif!)

Be prepared for the biggest moments by mastering the small ones off the field.


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