Evolution of Offense: Is It Worth The Risk?

By Patty King

I recently read an article titled “Innovation, History, and a Prediction”  by Lou Burruss written in September 2013.  The portion of the article that resonated most with me was when he discusses offensive strategies…or rather lack of offensive innovation.  In the article Lou writes, “What is interesting about the current strategic development is that the focus is more about the recycling and refinement of ideas and techniques than developing new ones.”

As an O-Line cutter, the article definitely made me examine the offensive systems that I have played in over my Ultimate career.   I was upset when I came to the conclusion that in the past 10 years I have really only learned 4 different offensive strategies: vertical stack, horizontal stack, zone offense, and German.  Although I have learned slight tweaks, and variations to all of these systems – overall there has been very minimal conceptual changes to offensive strategy in Ultimate since I started playing.  I began to think about the evolution of offense, and kept coming back to two questions:  What would a newly developed offense look like? And why hasn’t one been developed yet?

What Would A New Offense Look Like?

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The simplest answer to this question is I don’t know.  It also is the most honest answer.  I have no idea how offense in Ultimate will look in the next 5 to 10 years.  However, I often try to come up with ideas.

One idea that I thought about was setting up an offense more like soccer positions, and dividing the field into thirds horizontally.   Similar to soccer there would be forwards, midfielders, and backs each staying relatively in their third of the field so as to occupy a larger chunk of the field at one time, and spread out the defense.  First, there would be forwards that typically stay the closest to the attacking endzone.  I imagine these to be the team’s taller players, and ones that can come down with longer throws from over the top.  For an example on Drag’n Thrust, I would picture James Hron and Sarah Meckstroth in these positions.  Second, would be the midfielders.  I picture these players staying in the middle third of the field, and being the more gritty types.  For example, Drag’n Thrust’s Tommy Bomberg, Pat Niles, and Martha Harris.  The backs would be the people that stay closest to defending endzone.  They would be the people that you trust most with the disc on your own endzone line, and the people that you would want defending your endzone in the event of a quick turnover.  The Dragns that I imagine in this spot would be Tallis Boyd and Erica Baken.  I would picture this offense running similarly to the Mexican Offense – yet with a little more stringency on field positions.   As the discs moves closer to the attacking endzone, the backs and midfielders try to keep their defenders out of the way, and let the forwards work the shorter field to score on their own.

Another idea that I had is still in its infancy stages.  This idea came from my background as a hockey player.  In hockey, we would always try to create “odd-man advantages”.   This means that we would try to create portions of the ice where the offensive players out-number the defensive players.  For example, 3 offensive players vs. 2 defensive players, or 2 offensive players vs. 1 defensive player.   By creating this “odd-man advantage” you force defense to decide which threat they want to defend, always leaving an open player.  This idea is used in ultimate as a strategy to beat a zone defense, however I would like to see the offense creating these opportunities no matter what type of defensive system is being played.  As I said, this idea is still raw, and I’m not sure how these situations could be created.  Perhaps by catching the mark standing flat-footed, or having a female player pull both a female and male defender out of the play on a deep cut.   However, the situation is created, the offense would have an advantage of sheer numbers.

Would either of these offensive strategies work? Would there be poaches? Will Drag’n Thrust run these offenses?  Would the team you play on (or coach) try a completely new offense?   The answer to all of those questions is: I don’t know.  Which I think begs my next question.

Why Hasn’t a New Offensive Strategy Been Developed?

I think that it is human nature to be fearful and extremely cautious with something that it is unknown.  In his article, Lou says, “As we build external structures like stacks, we build internal mental structures that guide our decision making.  People unfortunately and accidentally build structures that limit what they can do.”

As I read that quote, it makes me contemplate if high-level club ultimate would be the correct place to apply this change in offense.  So many teams are already established and engrained in the systems that work for them.  Would players at the club level be open-minded enough to try something completely new?  Would team coaches and captains get push-back purely based on trying something that’s “out of the box”?  Can we break down these mental structures that limiting what we can do?   Are we too afraid to be innovated in offensive strategery?

As a high-school girl’s coach, I often imagine trying out a completely new offense with my team.  They have minimal pre-conceived notions of how an offense should function, and I think it would be easier for them to “buy-in” to it.  However, since they are still developing and finessing their basic throwing skills would it be detrimental to their individual skills to teach a new offense?  Should practice time be spent for improvement of their individual skills and using a traditional offense?  Or should time be spent trying to mold minds into new concepts?

As a player, changing your team’s entire offensive strategy is scary.  As a coach, changing your team’s entire offensive strategy is petrifying.  Will any teams, at any level, ever conquer the fear to try something truly new?

In conclusion, Lou’s article definitely spurred a lot more thought-provoking questions than it did solid answers for me.  I don’t know if a new offensive strategy will ever be developed.  I don’t know if the ideas I have would work in a game situation.  I don’t know why we are so fearful of stepping out of our current offensive comfort zone.  However, I do know there were 8 games in the 2013 USAU Mixed Club Championships that were won by only one point.  If a new offense is able to catch the defense off-guard for just one point to get a quick score, that could be the difference between a win and loss.  Would your team take the risk?

 

 

 

 

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