The 10 Most Important Skills You Need to Excel in Ultimate Frisbee from an MVP

Rowan here! This article is for any player out there who wants to maximize their skill in Ultimate. After recently being named the 2018 MVP of the AUDL, I have decided to share a strategy I’ve used to help me capture this award.

I have a listed the 10 most important skills you need to excel in Ultimate frisbee. From there, you will learn what you need to do with your own assessment of the following attributes. Figuring out where you stand, and what you need to work on to take your game to the next level.

Feel free to let me know what other tools are important for success. You can find me on Instagram! Let’s get started.

The 10 Most Important Skills You Need to Excel in Ultimate Frisbee

1. General Throwing

How consistent are your throws? Do you complete a pass every time you get the disc? General throwing is a critical skill to have. If you struggle with throwing consistently you will be a liability when your team is on offense and you are on the field.

The biggest breakthrough I had regarding general throwing is the ability to throw to moving targets. Many players practice throwing stationary throws, but in games your cutter is constantly moving. Therefore, developing touch on your throwsto lead your teammates out into space is vital. And practice throwing with a mark whenever possible. Even open side throws with a mark can be daunting for a new player.

2. Power Throwing

Power throwing a disc is one of the most fun skills (in any sport) to acquire. Who doesn’t like gripping a disc and throwing it as far as they can. The flight of a disc is special, and there is a whole awesome sport that revolves around this (I see you Disc Golf!!)

In Ultimate, power throwing can make you a deadly threat, with the ability to put the disc anywhere on the field. Truly great power throwers like Nicky Spiva, Markham Shofner, Alex Snyder can throw it far with a tight mark and a stand still pivot!

While developing power throwing, it is critical to practice with a mark, so you can get good repetitions of how it is to huck in a game.

3 Tips For Better Hucking!

3. Break Throwing 

Quite simply, having the ability to break the mark opens up an entire half of the field where downfield defenders aren’t playing defense. Read that again.

It might be daunting to break the mark, but with practice, fakes, shimmy’s and different release points and angles you can acquire this skill. Take a couple of teammates out to a field and just work on this one skill over and over until you are comfortable with it.

Handler Break Mark Drill

4. Speed

If you have great speed, you can find success on the Ultimate field even if every other skill on this list is lacking. Without speed, you can still be successful by mastering other skills, but with enough of it, you can have an instant impact. Speed on defense leads to blocks and speed on offense leads to downfield receptions.

Acceleration is a very important subset of speed because this is where you can open a throwing window on offense and limit a throwing window on defense. For example, if you can create separation with an explosive first step or two, the defense is now playing catch up. If you can accelerate quickly on defense, you can mirror the offensive player and even though they have a head start, you can close that gap and discourage a throw or even get a block!

Sprinting is the other important subset of speed. On offense, avoid running at the same tempo the entire point. It makes you predictable and easy to guard. Instead, change up speeds, from 0% to 100%. Your defender will always have to be ready, and when you truly sprint you become impossible to cover on that move.

The best drill to improve reaction speed in Ultimate.

5. Reading the Field

Reading the field is the ability to take in information. When I started playing, reading the field on offense was identifying where the disc was, and chasing after it. As I gained more experience, I started to look around more, to see if there was another cutter who was better suited to cut, and where the space would be for the continuation cut.

The same learning curve happened to me when I was on defense. At first, reading the field was staring straight at my matchup and reading where they went. With practice and repetitions, I started to look around when I felt they were out of position to read the whole field. I was able to learn information such as where the disc was, who had the disc, was there anyone on their team that was streaking deep wide open?

The more information we can take in with our eyes can help provide clues to what is not only happening on the field, but what is going to happen.

Three examples of high level anticipation in Ultimate.

6. Mental Processing Speed + Capacity

Mental processing speed is the ability to make actionable decisions based on the information you gather from reading the field. At first, your mental processing capacity will be taken up with simple tasks such as holding the force, staying on the force side on defense and figuring out where to cut and where to clear. Once those tasks become second nature you free up more room to start to free up more capacity to analyze other pieces of information. Is the player with the disc a good thrower? The disc just got dumped backwards, what does that mean for the player I’m guarding who is too far downfield?

As you get more game reps, more of these questions become instincts, and you can keep increasing your mental processing capacity. Eventually you can start to look for opportunities to read not only your matchup but other matchups, and help out. Poach blocks also become a real possibility when you can read the field and process what is happening next.

How to use processing speed to get poach blocks

7. Endurance

Endurance in Ultimate cannot be understated. Our sport requires long runs, cuts, sprints, jumps and other cardio taxing movement. Not only will an increase in cardio and endurance help us be better athletes on the field, but endurance, or lack thereof it, will affect every skill on this list. When you’re tired, heart beating, gasping for air your throwing is going to suffer. It’s harder to catch a disc and you are so focused on breathing that you cannot read the field.

Having sufficient endurance allows you to execute the multitude of skills and processes that Ultimate demands at 100%. We’ve all thrown discs away when we were tired, so if we build up our endurance we limit the amount of touches we have while exhausted.

My endurance training regimine focuses on high intensity, short bursts of energy with quick rests before repeating the sprint, cut, or jump.

Take a look at my pre-Nationals full workout!

8. Defense

Defense is an art, requiring as much mental discipline as physical ability. Simply, great defenders are able to control their matchup, versus what I’ve witnessed as the norm in ultimate, that ‘Offense has it easy’. Sure, the offense gets to choose where to go and when to do it, but that only works if the defender allows it.  By using anticipation, angles and body positioning, you can really disrupt the flow of an offensive player.

The other defensive tools, skying, layouts and other physical attributes can all help you if the offense happens to get open. To consistently find yourself in the right position, balanced and ready to go. This is the defender who never stands out because their player never gets thrown to.

Here is a go to drill for you and your team to work on playing great downfield defense

9. Catching

Catching every disc that comes your way helps your team win games. The amount of possessions you can save your team if you catch well adds up. Not only taking care of every disc that comes right at you, but expanding your catching window is vital. Catching the disc around your ankles, overhead and using one hand when the disc is behind you or too far out and front of you.

Take 1 minutes to learn how to use the spin of the disc to catch with one hand!

10. Mental Toughness

Having a strong mental game allows you to play at your peak talent consistently.

Ultimate is really easy to play when everything is going well. Playing on a warm, sunny, wind free day when you are healthy and full of energy allows you to execute all of the tools we have discussed. When you or your team starts to play poorly, the rain starts, the wind picks up, or other factors like playing in front of certain people many players alter their game. They might lose confidence in their throwing, allow stress to slow down their mental processing speed, or drop a disc because they are distracted.

The ability to play good Ultimate when things aren’t going well can make you a better player then somebody that has more talent than you but is prone to moments of lapses. Consistently playing your ‘A’ game even when conditions, self, and team mistakes, and other external factors trip you up is a skill that everyone needs, but few have.

What to do with this information?

Now that we have our 10 tools of Ultimate, it’s time to take an inventory on where you stand. As we head to the offseason for club ultimate, and the fall season is underway in youth and college, now is the time to take a look into what areas of the game you need to work at.

Off season reflection is a huge part of my game, so when the pre-season starts I already know what I’m going to work on. Last year I was having trouble getting the disc off the sideline and realized I needed to spend some time breaking a force flick mark. I must have thrown thousands of low release, half pivot backhands. And when Nationals came this year, that was my go-to throw.

Your trial and error timeframe cannot line up with your season or else you risk making errors during important games. Instead, work on the new stuff in drills or pre-season practices so they are game ready when the games count. Once you are confident with a new skill in drills and practices, break that mental barrier by executing them in game. If you have put in the work, it will feel just like you are back in that drill.

It is very important to work on weaknesses, but it is vital to work on strengths! Specialists are very important. If you are really good at something, become great at it. With rosters of 20-27 players, you don’t have to be the best player on the team, but if you are the best at one of these important skills, you will get on the field more.

Thanks for reading, enjoy your offseason and good luck on the fields next year. For free resources on improving your game, head over to our full library of Ultimate Tutorials.

Rowan McDonnell
American Ultimate Academy


Rowan’s Self Reflection Report Card

General Throwing 10/10

Power Throwing 9/10

Break Throwing 7/10

Speed 10/10

Reading the field 7.5/10

Mental Processing Speed 9/10

Endurance 10/10

Defense 9/10

Catching 10/10

Mental Toughness 7.5/10

Overall 91

My 2018-2019 areas for development. Backhand huck with mark, around flick break, handler defense.

Thanks for checking out Rowan’s part 1 of Disc Store’s development in Ultimate series. Keep an eye out for part 2!