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Motion Offense

When executed properly, the Motion Offense is the most effective, fun to play, enjoyable to watch, effortless offense in Ultimate. With decent spacing, effective penetration and solid balance, you can run an offense that dictates tempo and once you've established to your opponent that you can dictate tempo, you can pretty much do whatever you want.  As with most 'spread' offenses, the preponderance of the motion happens in isolation as opposed to having 6-7 players cutting simultaneously.  A practical side effect of this is that this offensive formation is well suited for playing against man on man, match-up zones (such as the clam or amoeba) and standard zone defenses.


The basic formation in the Motion Offense is the 'wheel'.  It's a standard circle formation with a center post.  Ostensibly, you want your team to maintain this basic structure as much as possible as you move the disc downfield.  This is accomplished in one of two ways.  One) the players maintain pretty much their same relative positions as the wheel cascades down the field and two) as players make moves in and out of the formation, teammates move as quickly as possible to refill those positions vacated by the rotations.  Probably the most important 'spokes' on the wheel are the flanker positions behind the thrower and off to the sides.  It is critical that the players who fill these roles provide support to the team's effort by presenting themselves as viable options as frequently as possible.




In general, when you are running a motion offense, you'd like to keep as many options available as possible.  If anyone has seen the movie Miracle (about the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team), coach Herb Brooks incessantly beats the players over the head with the mantra "maximize your options".  I'm paraphrasing slightly but he insisted that they execute a flow such that they continually had multiple options and this mentality should be the same in Ultimate if you elect to run a motion offense.  In the typical stack, Stanford or other 'conventional' offenses, the number of options at any one time is limited.  In the motion offense, establishing and maintaining multiple options is the preeminent priority.  Once you shift your emphasis away from moving the disc downfield and toward a style of play that emphasizes always having two or more options at any given time, you'll find that defenses will adjust accordingly (by having to back off to guard all possible options) and your team's overall fluidity will naturally benefit.


The Motion Offense for the most part is a thrower initiated offense as opposed to 'conventional' offenses that are receiver initiated.  For the most part, you want your position players to make themselves available in their respective areas but to maintain their relative formation similar to how you would with a zone offense.  Additionally, as opposed to other styles where there is a lot of "east-west" or "north-south" types of cuts, in the motion offense, the cuts are more radial in appearance.  The fundamental formation is that of a circle and therefore the game is played as more of a polar one than that is based on a Cartesian plane.  While most other offense encourage throws 'to a space', this offense relies heavily on direct throws where the intended target is directly in front of the thrower and there are no defenders in between the two.  Just about everything about the motion offense is 180 degrees out of phase with 'conventional' offenses that you may have played.  The cuts are shorter, the sense of urgency is replaced by a sense of calmness, players leave space for the thrower to cut through, the objective is to manipulate the defense instead of trying to score, throws are typically away from the marker as opposed to trying to go through and confront the marker, the ideal time of possession is around 500 milliseconds instead of 5 seconds, etc.  In the motion offense, when you dump the disk behind you, instead of cutting up field and clearing, what you want to do is drift backwards and to the side and be prepared to immediately receive the disc back.  In this situation, you are in the ideal location to support the offense so clearing is about the worst thing you can do.


If you set as your intention to get rid of the disc as soon as possible and yet under 100% control instead of catching the disc and immediately confronting the attacking endzone and into the teeth of the defense, you'll find that you'll make the players around you better, your personal statistics will improve dramatically and your team's overall chemistry will improve.  Also, once you understand the philosophy of trying to drive your average time of possession towards zero, you'll also be more inclined to change the way you cut and support your teammates in order to give them the best possible chance to get rid of the disc safely in less than 500 milliseconds.  This is the ying and yang of the motion offense and why support is so critical.  In this O, you are either the initiator or the initiatee so if you get the disc from someone making a power move and you're unable to get the disc back to that person, you've just gone from being the initiatee to the initiator.  In other words, when the flow is stalled and you're holding the disc, you're it baby.  You're the triple threat now and it's your turn to break down the defense and penetrate.


There are several fundamental terms and definitions that assist in understanding solid performance in the motion O.   They include BalanceVelocityNegative and Positive MovementSupportDead Air and Triple Threat/Triple Threat Position.


There are three (at least) types of Balance; individual (both physical balance and a balanced distribution) and balance in your overall team attack.  As an individual you should be balanced as much as possible, be balanced on top of the hip of your pivot foot when you have the disk. Decelerating into catches so that you can achieve instant balance helps. Balanced distribution means that you're not primarily focused on any of your throws.  In other words, you're not pivoting towards you sidearm every time you catch the disk and you shouldn't always gravitate towards the endzone.  If you have a balanced attack as a person, the defense has to honor each of your threats and if we maintain a balanced attack as a team, we will always have two and usually more threats at all times.   Team balance means that your team presents the defense with as many possible concurrent options as possible.

Velocity is a term I use for the speed of the team's motion as it collectively goes up field. When I watch 'conventional' ultimate, there is little control over the team's velocity in this regard. This reminds me of watching a novice skier going down a hill without any control over how fast they get there. Its pretty easy to have control over your velocity if you maintain good balance, as an individual and as a team, as long as you set that as your intention.  The key to having the most fun, whether it's snow boarding, surfing or playing this kind of offense, is controlling you're velocity but pushing the envelope so you can go as fast as you can but under enough control so you don't crash.  If you feel yourself getting out of control, gather yourself, get your balance and then look to push again at the next opportunity.


Dribbling means two players, squared (shoulders, hips, feet, head) towards each other with no defenders between them passing the disc back and forth rapidly but under complete control and without looking around at your other players (much).  The whole object of the motion offense is to get two defenders on the outside of two offensive players and with enough cushion to be able to establish and maintain dominance over the possession.  Too often, when this case arises, a typical player will forgo this tremendous advantage and pivot outwards towards one of the outside defenders rather than pivot inwards where he is guaranteed a successful outcome.


Negative and Positive are descriptors used to indicate the current relative orientation of your flow.  Negative being movement away from the attacking endzone and positive being movement towards the endzone.  Negative movement does not mean a dump and then a 'clearing cut'.  Negative movement would typically consist of standing with your back to the attacking endzone, a throw away from the attacking endzone followed by a cut also away from the attacking endzone (all as if the endzone opposite the attacking endzone is the destination).  The balance between negative and positive in the motion offense should be some where around 60-40.  The balance the most players today have is about 98-2.  Not very healthy.


Positive Attack Position is standing facing the attacking endzone, shoulders and hips square to the endzones with your center of gravity ~12 inches in front of your pivot foot.


Negative Attack Position would be standing with you back to the attacking endzone, shoulders and hips square to the endzones with your center of gravity ~12 inches in front of your pivot foot (which would mean that your center of gravity is negative to the attacking endzone).


The Two Man Game refers to the situation when there are two offensive players, typically in the 'backfield' with no defenders near them.  The idea here is that the two individuals position themselves square towards each other (meaning that both players have their  shoulders, hips, feet and EYES are directly squared towards the other) and pass the disc back and forth to each other holding on to the disc as little as possible.  While these two players play the Two Man Game, they drift downfield without any particular speed till just before a defender arrives.  At this point, the player with the disc fakes one more throw back to the other and then turns and fires a give and go move past the defense.  The Two Man Game accomplishes a few things.  It dictates to the defense that 'we are in control' and the defense tends to play a bit softer and it also drives your average time of possession way down.  You'll find that if you run the Two Man game as much as possible as opposed to always turning to look down field, you'll have more options at your disposal.


The Triple Threat Position occurs every time a player has possession of the disk and is aware of the three threats (pass, score or penetrate) and uses all three equally to apply pressure to the defense. Balance must predominately be directly over the pivot foot. From this position, a player can pass to another player, try to score it or penetrate in any direction (even backwards).  What it accomplishes: when players play with the triple threat mindset, it changes the way a defense can play against you. By placing your weight on your non-pivot foot, pivoting around to the outside or only looking to score, you become a double or sometimes even a single threat making it much easier to defend both you and your receivers.  Playing this way is similar to always 'picking up the ball' off a dribble in basketball.  If you are dribbling in basketball and you pick up your dribble, the defense can play you differently because you've lost your ability to penetrate.  Similarly, in Ultimate, if you don't present the ability to penetrate visa vi a give and go move where you can effectively get the disc back anytime you want, defenses can play significantly more aggressively on your remaining 'threats'.


Triple Threat is a player who is capable at any time of penetrating a defense in any direction, passing to another one of his teammates or throwing a score to one of his teammates. There are very few legitimate triple threats playing ultimate today but hopefully over the next few years there will be a lot more.


Piston Cut is a short move (2-3 yards) in towards the disc followed by a rapid fallback into formation if you don't receive the disc.  The idea being that you don't want to consume either too much time or too much energy in finding out if  you are getting the disc or not.  If you post up (A basketball term meaning that you stand on one side of your defender and hold your ground) your defender and then make a small entry cut, you should know immediately whether or not you are the target or not.  If you are not, you want to 'piston' back into formation as quickly as possible as to reset and be able to make another piston cut (or any other cut for that matter) from your set formation.


Offensive Rotations occur when a player moves out of position and the rest of the players adjust accordingly to re-establish the basic formation with the least amount of team movement in the shortest amount of time.  For instance, in the diagram above, if the Center Post runs a give and go move to the Right Wing but is unable to get the disc back from him, he needs to continue through and hopefully take the place of the Right Wing.  In another example, a flanker may have pushed up-field on a back door type of play and in this instance, the other flanker rotates around to replace him and the opposite wing then rotates into position to take over the other flanker's job.


Support is something that is almost non-existent in ultimate both in terms of implementation or philosophy.  Support implies working in such a way to provide strength to your team's overall structure.  In the motion offense and especially in the above diagram, if you are supporting the formation, you are both placing awareness on the basic spacing on your team as well as aggressively working to re-establish that formation when it becomes overbalanced in one way or another.


Keeping The Disk Alive is the idea that you try to maximize the amount of time that while you are holding the disk, there is at least one live option; meaning that the disk is cocked and ready to be thrown and there is a receiver aware that he is a viable option.  Dead Air is the opposite and it means that as long as you are flailing around with big windups or sitting there waiting for someone to cut and not 'checking off' your other options while you are holding on to the disk, all that time you wasted is all Dead Air.  The receivers are responsible by maintaining eye contact and staying open instead of running looking in another direction. This is not to say that you always have to throw the disk as soon as possible, it just means to always have options.  When a thrower dumps the disk and then clears, not even looking at the thrower, he's killing the disk.  When a thrower is pivoting and not being aware of the available options while he's pivoting, he's killing the disk.  When the disk is alive, the defense has to honor it and you have a better chance at keeping them flat footed.  This may be the number one thing I would change in Ultimate if I had a magic wand, so many players kill the disk by greedily just looking downfield for a piece of glory.


A Direct Throw is one in which there are no obstacles between the thrower and receiver and the flight of the disc is a relatively straight trajectory, targeted preferably somewhere in the abdomen of the receiver.  Conversely, an Indirect Throw is one which is target to a location other then where the receiver is and the receiver must meet the disc at that location, is a throw that curves to get to the location (hammers, benders, scoobers) and goes around defenders to reach its destination. 

Important Offensive Statistics to measure effectiveness in the motion offense:


  • Points
  • ATP average time of possession
  • CP completion percentage, potentially even broken down by :
    • Right Handed (further broken down by throw selection: {sidearm, push, back hand, scoober}, stall count {<2<5<10}, etc.)
    • Left Handed (further broken down by throw selection: {sidearm, push, back hand, scoober}, stall count {<2<5<10}, etc.)
  • ATO assisted turn over
  • TCP total completion percentage {including ATO's factored in}
  • TRP total reception percentage
  • TOP total offensive percentage (aggregate of TCP & TRP)


POINTS is a measurement of scoring effectiveness both on scoring receptions, throws and assists.


Catching a score:  1 Point
Throwing a score  1 Point
Assist                   2 Points:

An Assist is similar to a hockey assist.  If I throw the disk to you and then you throw a score, I get the assist.  The highest number of points you can get on a score is 3.  If you throw the assist on a give and go move and then catch the score you'll get 1 point for the score and two for the assist.  If you and your team attempt to accumulate the highest personal points, your team will win more often because people will shift their focus from scoring goals to getting assists; in other words, making the players around themselves better.  Magic Johnson made Byron Scott look like a superstar and that's the objective of any good point guard, putting the people around you in the best position to be successful.


ATP is Average Time of Possession (note: this is an important distinction from Average Stall Count).  If you ad up all the time the disk is in your hands and divide it by the number of possessions you had, it will come out to a number between 0-10 (stall count). I like to encourage individuals to get his number  below 1.5 seconds. I don't want anyone ever rushing their throws, but if set as your intention driving this number towards zero, it will be easy to stay below 2.  Personally, I strive to be around 1 second on average.


CP is Completion Percentage. This is pretty straight forward and objective. If you throw it and it is not caught it is an incompletion. Any competent player should be able keep this number above 95%. That means nineteen completions per each incomplete pass.  Meaningful breakdowns on completion percentages on all of the various throws provides useful feedback as well.  Break the statistics down, not only as different types (hammer, sidearm, backhand, etc.) as well as distances (<10 yds, >10 and <25 yds, >25 yds) and you'll be left with a meaningful picture of how to adjust your team's game.


ATO stands for Assisted Turn Over. This takes a level of indirection into account to measure your offensive production. If I throw to Billy Bob and he then throws it away, I get an ATO. This makes me responsible for the possession even after I've have thrown it. You want to aspire to minimize this number as low as possible and there are things you have under your control to see to it that you put you and your team mate in the best position to succeed.  ATO is one of the most telling stats there is.  Someone could have a very high completion percentage but then have several ATO's so his overall effectiveness isn't very good and meanwhile he's sitting back saying "I haven't had any turnovers".


TCP is Total Completion Percentage. This is calculated the same as completion percentage put it also takes into account ATOs and the successful completions that the receiver did throw after you threw to him. Competent players shouldn't have any problem keeping this number above 95%.


TRP is Total Reception Percentage.  This statistic goes beyond how many passes that you caught vs. how many dropped.  The TRP takes into account all passes where you were the intended receiver.  If you were the intended receiver and the thrower gets hand blocked, it goes down basically as an incomplete for your TRP.  This may seem a bit harsh but if the sampling rate is high enough, anomalous incidents will be factored out while the general trend and pattern will hopefully indicate whether there is a problem with this individuals ability to get the disc.  TRP equals the total number of receptions over the total number of intended passes.  *note: if I am the intended receiver but I don't catch the disc and a team mate does, it is marked down as a reception--again, this would normally be an anomaly occurrence anyway.


TOP is the Total Offensive Percentage and is calculated by dividing the total number of Passes, Assisted Passes and Intended Receptions by the number of completions, assisted completions and catches.  This figure will give you the overall offensive strength of each player on your team.  It is basically the combination of Total Completion Percentage with the Total Reception Percentage.


By measuring performance and calculating these percentages, you'll be able to discern in a fairly objective matrix, your teams individual's numbers.  Direct correlations can be easily seen between the players who don't fall within acceptable operating parameters and your teams inability to perform at it's best.  Probably the easiest way to accurately measure these numbers is by videotaping your teams games and then transcribing the statistics after the fact.  Certain values, such as Average Time of Possession are going to be near impossible to ascertain in real time and you're going to have to rely on video to go back after a game and calculate.  It may seem like a tedious task but it will be well worth it as the bottom line information garnered from these numbers will allow you to make intelligent (and probably surprising) observations about who is or isn't performing up to par on your team.





1) As a receiver, always try to keep your hips "square" to the thrower (no matter if you are behind, beside or in front of the thrower).

2) After you receive the disc, initially (at least momentarily) keep your hips square to player who threw it to you as often as possible.

3) Decelerate into your catches so that you can be balanced as soon as possible without committing a travel.

4) When you catch the disc, be able to change direction and explode (with balance) in any direction opposite to where your momentum was.

5) Rapidly change the direction/momentum of the disc.  If option 1 is unavailable, square your hips in another direction ASAP and continue to 'check off' options until you release the disc.

6) Keep the disc moving.  Holding on to the disc is death to the motion O.  Your average stall count should hover around one second.

7) As a team, maintain spacing and move downfield as a unit; if you change positions, make sure a player is filling the void you just made.

8) Don't focus on up field movement; it will happen on its own.

9) The majority of players will be standing around the majority of the time.  Get used to it.

10) When you are throwing to a player, make sure their hips are square to you first.

11) As a team, maintain equilibrium in attack, balance and momentum

12) Don't Travel.  Its cheating.  It also is poor form and makes the motion O more difficult to execute.