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Tuesday Tips: A Guide to Boxing Out In 15 Clips, Presented By Spin Ultimate

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Drag’n Thrust’s Pat Niles boxing out to make a catch in the air. Photo: Rodney Chen – UltiPhotos.com[/caption]

This article is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

This article was written by guest author Will Sun.

Your favorite thrower gets the disc and you immediately streak deep down the field. You hear your defender’s footsteps trailing you – she stumbled a bit, surprised by your sudden acceleration, but she’s still there. You look back to the thrower and as expected, the huck is thrown. The disc goes high, but it’s floating, hanging, and you’re not going to be able to catch the disc perfectly in stride. Your defender has a chance to catch up and make a play on the disc. So is this purely a jump ball – whoever jumps the highest wins? Or is there some way to turn a 50/50 disc into a 100% disc for you?

As someone who is 5’5", I pretty quickly grew tired of constantly getting roofed on imperfect hucks. I needed to find a way to turn the odds more in my favor. ((Which just goes to show that oftentimes it’s hard to make a big change unless things get bad enough.)) Out of desperation, I bought a “Winning Discs In The Air [with Colin Camp]” video from Rise Up, which was wonderful and really laid the foundation for how I approach this skill. ((In reality, the rest of the episodes in this season were useful too; if you can afford it, Rise Up videos are very well done and a great investment for your ultimate education.)) The episode allowed me to watch how some of the NexGen stars handle this type of situation, showing what it takes to box out and win discs in the air – and showing what happens when you don’t (opening a line to the disc for your defender to make a block). In the video, Camp lists three keys to winning 50/50 balls.

  1. Read the disc.
  2. Gain and maintain body position (keeping yourself between the disc and your defender -- boxing out).
  3. Go up with your outside hand.
In the clips below, we’ll take a look at the different ways some of the best in the game today execute each of these skills.

Boxing Out On Offense

Jesse Cohen

In this clip, Jesse Cohen streaks deep, reads the disc coming in over his left shoulder, adjusts his path, then slows down before making the catch. Note how the defender coming from the backside is prevented from making a play because Cohen gains body position and then slows down. Furthermore, Cohen goes up with his outside hand. The disc comes in from his left, so he reaches out with his right hand, putting the entire length of his body between the disc and the defender. No chance for the defense to make a play through his body, or it’s a foul.

Shira Stern

Similarly, Riot’s Shira Stern wins this huck against Fury’s Anna Nazarov in the 2016 Club Championships semis. Nazarov perhaps never had a chance at making a play on the disc, given the amount of separation when the throw went up, but the concepts that Stern practices here are worth noting. Like the clip above, Stern puts her entire body between the disc and the defender, then slows down and goes up with her outside hand. Even if Nazarov had been closer, a block would still have been difficult due to Stern’s body positioning and angle of attack.

Greg Cohen

Here, Greg Cohen uses his body to keep himself between the disc and star defender Milardovich. He slows down to meet the disc, then reaches with his inside (right) hand out of necessity, using his outside shoulder to keep out Milardovich.

Keenan Plew

This is perhaps my favorite clip of all time. 5’6” Keenan Plew reads Brodie’s sweet flick well, and as the disc flies right over his head, he slows down – sealing out his defender – then goes up at his highest point to grab the disc from the tail end. No play for the defender.

It’s noteworthy that Plew goes up one-handed for the disc and catches at the highest point of his jump – he doesn’t let the disc sink lower so he can then catch without jumping, preventing the defender from reaching over his head to attempt the block. While the latter approach may seem safer, the former – while harder – is the best option. Especially if you’re a shorter player, it’s important to practice jumping up and catching with either hand (or both) enough to be confident in it, so that in a game you don’t shy away from the tougher but necessary choice of one-handed catches.

Jon Nethercutt

Goose Helton

On the other end of the spectrum from Plew, the same pattern occurs in the two above clips, one from Jonathan Nethercutt and one from Goose Helton. Both players hardly go up, instead using good body position to put themselves between where the disc will be and the defender, then reaching with the outside hand to catch the disc. Nethercutt does this in a savvy way: using his forearm to maintain his own space (which will be mentioned later on). Goose Helton uses his butt and his abundance of body strength. ((Gym time definitely pays off here for Goose.))

Carter Thallon

Here, Carter Thallon slows down to maintain body position, boxing out Freechild to not let him go through his body without fouling.

Boxing Out For A Pancake Catch

This crafty move can really only be done by the player who has a step advantage and, thus, the opportunity to establish early body positioning. What the cutters do in the clips below to receive a leading huck is slow down early, almost to a stop, boxing out the defender and stopping his/her momentum, creating a cushion of space to sprint onto the disc for a 100% pancake.

Olivia Bartruff

Speedy Olivia Bartruff of Oregon Fugue – who catches many hucks simply by running past her opponents – demonstrates how to box out for a pancake in an instance where a huck isn’t just thrown out in front of her.

Hylke Sneider

A similar play in this clip from WUCC 2014 was called for a foul and eventually went back, after some self-officiation discussion between Beau Kittredge (the defender) and Hylke Sneider. What do the USAU rules say? ((See rules XVI. H. c. and XVIII in USAU’s 11th edition rules.)) In short, this play by Hylke Sneider is not a foul, because Sneider maintains his body positioning en route to the disc – instead of taking up a new position that simply cuts off the opposing player. You can adjust and take a slightly new path to the disc that obstructs the opposing player, but only if you attempt to make a play on the disc. Technically, because it’s the job of the trailing player to keep in sight the player ahead of him so that he doesn’t cause contact, there is a foul by Beau.

Later on his blog, Beau explained the incident, why he called a foul, and also writes about a very valuable tool when boxing out – your braced forearm.

“A huck goes up to [Sneider]. We are both running, I catch up, getting ready to lean my lean frame against his Herculean body. I am staring back at the disc when all of sudden what I think is a forearm darts out and catches me in the side, and I go tumbling. I thought it was a foul, and he didn’t. The problem was I was looking back at the disc the entire time so I have no idea what actually happened. Hylke is a large boy, so his tree trunk forearm might have just been there as a shield that I ran into. Personally, I usually try to keep a defender from tripping on my feet by using my forearm, so it is quite possible he was doing the same.”
It is important to note here that a braced forearm once you have established position is legal, so long as you don't then extend your arm to actively push off.

Chuck Cantone

In this huck drill for the DC Breeze tryouts, Chuck Cantone boxes out with good body position, forces his defender towards the open side where the disc is curving away from, then runs the disc out on the break side for the pancake catch. Good braced forearm action, too.

Linnea Soo

Linnea Soo adjusts her line to box out her defender, then runs it out.

Cole Sullivan

Here, Cole Sullivan performs the same move but gets thrown off balance, or misgauges the distance to where the disc will land. He’s forced to layout.

Boxing Out On Defense

In basketball, there’s a saying: Play the ball, see your man. Because it’s a team effort to stop the other team from scoring and your job isn’t just done when you shut down your man. “Help” defense is crucial. In ultimate, you could say the same thing. However, when you’re on defense, and you and your matchup are vying for a huck, you can most definitely employ the opposite strategy: Play your man, see the disc.

Jonathan Nethercutt

Here, Nethercutt reads the disc and boxes out the offensive player, knowing he doesn’t need to go up and get a block based on his postioning. Not attempting to make a play on the disc here may be illegal, ((As USAU rule XVI. H. c. 1. states, “The intent of the player’s movement can be partly motivated to prevent an opponent from taking an unoccupied path to the disc, so long as it is part of a general effort to make a play on the disc.”)) but the play seems to be fair, as Nethercutt could have easily made a play on the disc if he wanted to. ((I suspect the rule in question here was written so that, say, when a huck floats up, another offensive teammate coming off the backside does not just football-block a defender from ever coming close to the disc.))

Mac Taylor

Here, the disc goes up to the Australians’ big man Tom Rogacki. Mac Taylor reads the disc better, fights for position to put himself between the defender and where the disc will land, boxes out with his butt, then goes up for the block.

Boxing Out Going Upline

On Rise Up, Ben Wiggins explain this skill as sealing out your defender when running out an upline cut. After you get a step ahead of your defender, you can keep him on your back by slowing down however necessary for the thrower to see you and deliver the upline pass. Most people make their upline cut at one speed -- their top speed -- at times missing the opportunity for the pass because they're going too fast and the thrower can't react in time.

Ryan Osgar

In this clip, Minnesota’s Ryan Osgar gets open against his defender, then slows down slightly while sealing out his defender. He lets the thrower pass upline out to space in front of him, and Osgar can then reach out with his outside hand to keep the defender from making a play. In this case, the defender gets dangerously close to blocking the disc on a bid, demonstrating the risk if you don’t fully seal off the defender or the throw isn’t out in front enough.

There are some skills in ultimate that you pick up just by playing a lot, such as deep help defense – you get accustomed to reading the flow of the disc, when people are looking to strike deep, and when you can break to go help a teammate. However, to learn to win discs in the air without making them a jump ball, you’ll have to learn the skill of boxing out.

Boxing out is a skill that must be trained, like agility, and is not just a natural talent. You get more agile by doing some variations of agility drills and ladders, but agility is not something innate. Likewise, in order to get good and reliable at boxing out to win discs, you’ll have to challenge yourself. This may mean that in huck drills with your team, you forgo the safe and easy pancake catch in favor of the tougher but more useful one-handed outside-hand grab. Or in a one-on-one huck drill, try to matchup against a more athletic or skilled teammate, seeing if you can outbox him/her.

Yes, many mistakes will be made as you push yourself; you may even look bad at first. But you’ll grow, learning from those mistakes, and will soon have crafty ways of winning discs in deep space.

Originally published at: https://ultiworld.com/2016/10/11/tuesday-tips-guide-boxing-15-clips-presented-spin-ultimate/

Nice article (with one very major flaw, under WFDF rules). Under WFDF, you CANNOT use your arm in the way described. Anyone reading this and playing internationally should note that it’s definitely illegal to do so, and indeed some of these clips are a clear breach. IMO, there’s nothing ‘crafty’ about sticking your arm out to block someone :slight_smile:

12.10 Players may not use their arms or legs to obstruct the movement of opposing players.

Can’t be much clearer than that. If you’re running and your arm is in the way as a natural part of the motion, then fair enough. If you brace your arm, then it’s a clear breach of the rules, 100% of the time.

Honestly, I’m a little surprised it’s not illegal under USAU - surely if I’m allowed to brace my arm at 90 degrees, the rules would allow me to brace my straight arm out in front of me and create a huge cushion. As long as the arms are in position early, any rule that allows the former presumably allows the latter, and that’s frankly mad. Any USAU rules-experts care to comment on the nuances of those rules?

Also, for those with a more analytical mind - who want a fuller explanation of how to box out rather than examples of people doing it - look here: https://understandingultimate.wordpress.com/category/skills-and-techniques/boxing-out/

Interesting that you linked to another random article of mine and not these ones, Will - did you disagree with them? We could have a very interesting discussion if so!

Hey Benji. Nice amendment. I didn’t know those WFDF rules.

You’re my idol dude. I read all your articles exactly two years ago over the summer before freshman year of college. I must have skimmed over your boxing out article though, because it doesn’t look familiar now that I look at it again. So I must have read it but couldn’t do anything with it back then- and can you blame me? Your article’s words on words on words. I didn’t have much playing experience so how could I possibly conjure up the images and actions that you were trying to communicate? Besides that, I lack the imagination to visualize what you had written, and there are a thousand ways that what I visualize could have been different from the picture you had in mind when writing your article, leading to a lot of confusion and cumbersome mental labor on my end. Plus, I am very lazy, so I much prefer to see other players give me a real, straight up image of how they do something. Then I rewind, let my brain imitate and learn all the movements from them. Then I practice those mimicked movements. That’s what’s been most effective for me. You know, a picture is worth a thousand words and that shit.

Yeah - definitely good to have examples as well as text, as different people learn in different ways. I hadn’t even worked out how to embed videos back then, so mine is deffo a wall of text. :slight_smile:

I am definitely interested in the USAU rules on this though - is it really legal for me to use my arms and legs to block someone, as long as I do it early enough that they could avoid contact? Seems a little surprising to me!

Oh. I misread your comment originally.

What I’ve written about is using your forearm to shield yourself and MAINTAIN your body position. Bracing your forearm is against the rules? Well, you could take the interpretation that the body position is already established, the forearm is just used to hold that ground, and is held close within the frame of your body, so no additional obstruction of opposing players is occurring. I may be wrong, but I don’t think there’s anything against that- it’s sports and there can’t be zero physical contact. Maybe I am wrong though.

And a benefit is that as Beau says, it’ll prevent people from tripping over each other’s feet. So less foul calls and more clarity of outcome based on body position in tight situations.

Being technical, I suspect the wfdf rule was originally made to prevent people from shooting our their arms and feet like an inflatable to get in people’s way, clothesline them, or trip them up. That’s just my speculation. I wonder if a braced forearm really would be considered a violation of that rule, though.

Yeah, I’m certain it’s a breach under WFDF. If your arm is there for balance or whatever then fair enough, but if you brace it and hold it there with the intent of keeping someone away then you’re making a deliberate attempt to prevent someone else going into that space - which is exactly what the rule forbids.

And for sure I find it hard to think of a rule that would allow you to brace in that way that wouldn’t also legalise having my arm all the way out straight to block an even larger space. I think a rule based on ‘Is it just there naturally or are you trying actively to block an opponent’ is potentially tricky in practice but makes good sense; whereas a rule that says ‘you can block them as long as that body part gets there first, and then you can brace it and maintain that position’ seems too easy for the offence. What if I stuck my leg out (kickboxing style) and just kept it out straight and braced between me and my defender - would that be illegal? And if so, how does it differ from having my arm out and braced?

I’m a little late to the party on this article, but I’d like to point something out. You have interpreted Colin Camp’s “Go up with your outside hand” as use the hand farthest away from the defender. And maybe that’s how Camp explains it.

But what you will see in the clips you include isn’t that players use the hand that is farther away from the defender but the hand that will reach the disc first. Oftentimes this could be the same hand.

The key is getting body position and attacking the disc early in a manner that the defender has no ability to get to it first.

Thanks for the tips!