The Huddle, Issue #29: Field Vision

Posted: May 25, 2010 03:45 PM

TheHuddle banner

left arrows


right arrows

Field Vision

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010


(Note: the following issue of The Huddle is a reproduction of an article originally published on

"How did they see that?"
Some players, whether through experience or natural talent, seem to understand what is happening on the field at all times. Those players have an advantage with the disc in their hands as they are able to pick out open players, even if the cutter didn't know they were open! They tend to be intelligent cutters and savvy defenders. Why?
How did you develop field vision? Who have you played with or against that had great field vision? How would you define this ability? How can it be taught, or learned by a motivated player?

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us at

Issue #29: Comments/Discussion Thread


  • A Little Perspective
    ArticleBlock Earley

    • Field vision is the ability to understand the dynamics of the opposition's offense or defense despite being embroiled in a battle against it. Every team has players who see plays happen/develop (be it from on the pitch or the sideline), and compile the information to start the next point with the knowledge they just took on board (and, importantly, can dispense it to their teammates). It is these adaptive players that win tight matches.

      The natural ability to analyze mid-experience is difficult to develop but not impossible. Two simple steps are watch as much Ultimate as you can and then help to coach. Moving from playing to coaching forces players to look at the game in a new light; not only do you need to see everything that happens on the pitch, but now you have the chance to do it because you're on the sideline.

      Personally, I find it very difficult to analyze a game as it develops when I'm playing a part in it. My mind needs to focus on the immediate — on the task at hand at that very second. If I want more than that I need to get off the field, watch a little and then figure it out — usually time that I do not have. It wasn't until I started coaching that I began to realize how much I had been missing.
  • Closing Your Eyes To Open Them
    ArticleBlock Greenough

    • Good field vision can be described as a contrast between being somebody with good field sense and somebody who has "visionary throws." If you have ever been called "visionary" I bet that it wasn't a compliment.

      Most of the time people who are described as having good field vision are players who have a general sense of what is going on with all 14 players on the field. This is broken down into four things: a good understanding of passing lanes, a strong mastery of various throwing skills, a knowledge of what the offensive system is trying to attack and what the defense is currently doing to stop that attack. Anybody who has a visionary throw has gotten away with a dumb decision because of a terrific throw and probably bad defense, i.e. it shouldn't have worked but it did. A player with good field vision can close his or her eyes and describe how all 13 other players are positioned and where they intend to go.

      When an O point starts there is usually a string called and somebody with good field vision is going to be able to quickly assess whether the called play is on or off based on how hard people are running down and what lanes they are in. This is true for both the thrower and the cutters. As a cutter you should be identifying who is covering you and who is poaching the lanes so that you can set up a good cut if you are in the string or figure out how to engage your player if you are not. When you are a thrower it is more important to be aware of all 7 defenders so that you can make the right throw. This is true in all non-string situations as well and you should be aware of the surroundings at all times.

      As a thrower there are 3 types of thinkers:
      1. New players can focus on the their immediate target and assess whether that player is open or not. This is a binary decision of whether to throw or not to throw. Ideally, the player will be able to see a poach and not make a mistake, but there is little to be gained by merely not throwing to somebody who is double covered. This is the minimal level of success.
      2. Moderate players can adjust to a secondary defender and see the poach who is affecting it. If the second player is in their field of vision they should spot that uncovered O player and throw to them since they are uncovered. This is good because it allows the player not to make a mistake and advance the disc, but does not take full advantage of poaches.
      3. Great players can see a poach and know what is happening outside of their field of vision. This is where great field vision is most powerful because it allows a player to know where to attack after only looking at half the field. This leads to quick decisions and massive shifts in the focus of the offense, which is devastating to the defense. Joe Montana and LeBron James are cited as having this kind of vision. They know what pass to throw before they look because they see a defender doing something other than guarding the prescribed player. They might not see their teammate, but they can see that they are undefended.

      In the third scenario the thrower knows what is going to happen one throw ahead of time. In normal offensive flow this means knowing where the next pass is going to go before it's thrown, which will help with spacing and clearing. Also, if the give and go is a part of the offense then a player needs to know when to use it and when it would cut off upfield flow. Ideally a thrower would know where the huck is likely to be generated. Is it going to happen after a swing to the dead side or off an up line dump cut? In both situations it will enable better timing on the part of the cutters and throwers.

      On occasion it is up to a thrower to create some offense. More often than not this is in a zone where the offensive players are working to create good spacing with various defensive set-ups. The thrower needs to throw to a space where the offensive player can get to the disc well ahead of any defender. In man to man defense, this same theory can apply to stoppages of play, but it is more common in zone where the throw initiates most of the movement. To do this, the thrower needs to assess the defense and, via a fake or other gesture/positioning, cause some defensive movement that will open up the optimal target. When this happens the throw must be to a place where a teammate can get it but no defender can. This requires a strong understanding of what the offense is attacking versus what the defense is taking away. Examples of this are throws through gaps in the cup, short upside down flips over the top or deep hammers to wings.

      I see Ultimate moving toward an NBA/NFL defensive system where the D is trying to make the other team use their secondary option most of the time. This is achieved by taking away certain parts of the field or double teaming a great individual. If we then get into a pattern of O players trying to outthink a D line, with guessing games on both sides, I believe that it will be a major advancement for the sport. Think about Peyton Manning vs. the main linebacker or safety and you will get the picture of where we are going.

      Putting your head down and running hard against your matchup is going to be a less successful strategy in the next 10 years.
  • Understanding The Information
    ArticleBlock Husak

    • Understanding positioning and distribution of players on the field is an important skill, but also somewhat of an innate ability. How this skill manifests itself is sometimes subtle and other times overt. It can show up in the guy who always seems to be making the good cut to keep the offensive flow going or in the physically ungifted player who consistently finds themselves alone in the endzone. It can be the thrower who is able to find targets on the goal line or the defender who gets a lot of poach blocks. It can be the popper/wing in zone offense who is always touching the disc or the defensive wing whose side the disc never advances on. All these traits come from someone understanding the space around them and where the players on the field are moving.

      I was watching a Division I basketball practice once when a player made a mistake and the coach, rather than ripping into him, asked the player what he saw when he made that decision. By understanding the information that the player was working with, he was better able to instruct the player. This questioning is something that every player should endure, and at least ask themselves, whenever a mistake is made. Did I recognize that poach in the lane? Did I understand the balance of players on the field? Where was the open space for me to cut to? Did I need to protect against my receiver going deep when he was already 50 yards away from the disc? Of course, these questions only deal with the perceived information, rather than what may have actually happened, but it is a good starting place.

      Developing field vision, or field sense, is a difficult thing, and requires acute awareness of the other 13 players on the field, even while being involved in the play. One thing that a thrower can do in a practice environment is to throw the disc to the place where he sees the space, even if there is nobody cutting there. By making this throw, it becomes obvious where he is looking, and where he sees the space on the field. Cutters can also draw attention by yelling at the thrower to alert him to where he should be looking. Both these examples deal with one-to-one or one-to-few player interactions. Developing this in a one-to-many or many-to-many fashion is more difficult. There are some drills where a player turns to see a selection of cutters, some which are marked, and others which are unmarked, and has to recognize which players are open. This drill deals more with recognition of cutters, rather than using space, but hopefully through this recognition, a deeper level of identifying open cutters can be achieved. Another situation may be where players close their eyes and then open them as the disc becomes active; they have to quickly get a sense of the balance of players on the field and where they should be moving, recognizing who should be cutting, or what lanes need to be plugged before resuming the offensive/defensive plan.
  • Yeah Iverson, We've Talkin' About Practice
    ArticleBlock Morgan

    • I have a rather painful childhood memory from back in middle school. I was playing basketball and went to set a low screen for another player. In a moment of miscommunication both my defender and the player who I set a pick on rushed to guard my teammate. I was left open for just a few seconds, but before I realized it, the basketball hit me in the face. The point guard recognized that I was about to be open and passed the ball early. I remember appreciating two lessons learned from that moment. First, always keep your head up so you don't get hit in the face unexpectedly. Second, and far more importantly, if you keep your head up you can take advantage of narrow windows of opportunity. This second lesson is field vision.

      Like many Ultimate players, I can trace my field vision skills to non-Ultimate sports like basketball and soccer. These taught me to move without the ball, respond to a teammate's positioning and see open passing lanes. After lots of practice one learns to pick up on tiny cues on the field from which one can anticipate what will happen next. The hours of practice that give a basketball player the field vision to use no-look passes are the same hours of practice that give a handler the field vision to throw to a cutter that isn't open yet. In both cases, field vision is a matter of picking up on and taking advantage of tiny cues. In both cases, the only way to learn those cues is through hours of practice.

      Sure, some field vision skills from non-Ultimate sports translate to Ultimate. A brand new Ultimate player with a soccer or lacrosse background will generally have less trouble adjusting to the pace and movement of Ultimate than a brand new player with only a golf background. But just like learning to throw a flick, transferring field vision skills to Ultimate requires practice. I remember my first few weeks playing Ultimate in college when, because of my soccer background, standing in a tight stack in the middle of the field felt so unnatural. I wanted to spread out like in soccer. As a rookie who couldn't throw further than 15 feet, I was pegged as a cutter and continued to struggle with the stack concept until one practice where we were randomly assigned different roles. I got to be a handler, and though I still couldn't throw, I could see where I wanted to throw. That's when the stack concept started to make more sense to me. All it took was seeing the field from a different perspective.

      I think the way to teach field vision, if it can be taught, is to give players the opportunity to see the field from a different perspective, or a different angle, than they are used to. If the player is a cutter, make the player spend some time handling. If the player is a defender, make the player spend some time on the offensive team. If the player is a deep-deep in a zone defense, make the player play in the cup. Seeing the field from different positions helps you hone field vision because you learn the little cues that allow you to anticipate what will happen next. All it takes is practice.
  • Play A Different Position
    ArticleBlock Munter

    • I would argue that field vision, like speed or height, is pretty hard to teach and learn. The best athletes don't see what's happening so much as take a picture of the field and respond. A few brains can do that kind of thing, but most can't. Bill Rodriguez would counsel deeps in a zone to move up if they saw seven opposing players in front of them. Super, if, like Bill, you can see them all at once and count them at the same time. But of course something comes with seeing patterns. A player who comes to Ultimate late, after playing years of soccer, will probably have a better feel for the game than a cross-country runner. One of the best first year players I ever saw had been a quarterback. With no one trying to kill him every three seconds, ten seconds seemed like plenty of time to survey and throw.

      Three suggestions to getting better:

      1) Play a different position. Seems obvious, but do it. In that zone or on offense, find a different spot. You will see the game differently and that helps. Famously, Bill Russell ran every Celtics play from every position, not just his own.

      2) Play some scrimmages with different parameters: A shorter or narrower field, a shorter stall, six on seven.

      3) Find a way of trying things you know are never gonna work. "After he throws a swing I am going to stand in the lane and watch as I count "one, two" and look around. Yeah, my guy may go score, but I am seeing what happens. If your team allows for such scrimmages (and for more sensible versions of what I am suggesting) you may be able to develop a better sense of "go now" or "don't wait," which is really all we are talking about.
  • Learn To Think So You Don't Have To Think
    ArticleBlock Parinella

    • How do we make decisions? In many real-life examples we create a list of choices and features, maybe take some data, rate how each option stacks up in each feature, and coolly select the optimum choice. In ultimate you don't have the time to go through this whole process. You have to rely on your trained inner self to figure out what to do based on internalized guidelines.

      Since I like lists of rules here are some for making sense of what is happening on the field and figuring out what to do about it:
      • Take input from around you. Look, listen, and learn to identify what is important. Communicate — with eye contact, code words, or plain English if you need to.
      • Use your experience. A lot of field sense is really just knowing the tendencies of your teammates and opponents. Learn the signs that a defender has committed to a particular move so you can counteract. Become familiar with your offense's "power positions" from which a thrower can deliver an uncontested huck.
      • Know your preferences and strengths (hopefully they are the same). If you're fast enough, all you need is for your defender to lean the wrong way and you can go. Don't bother looking for the forehand huck if you can't hit it reliably.
      • Know your requirements. Be aware of where you are on the field and what your team needs from you at that point. Are others likely to be in good position to provide help or is there just one option?
      • Have something to go to if all else fails. We all know to clear if we've been shut down on a cut, but throwers should know what their final option is too — whether to punt it, look across the field for a long swing, or throw a leading pass to the closest dump. On defense, know what you can concede if you have to and what you absolutely cannot concede.

      And here's how you go about getting better at it:
      • Engage in deliberate practice. 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 drills that focus on dump passes or first cuts or hucks can get you lots of reps in situations where all the unimportant inputs have been removed.
      • Compile an extensive experience bank. Quite frankly, you're going to have to make a lot of mistakes in order to get better. Play, and pay attention. Play summer league or rec tournaments, play goaltimate, play mini. While these can also lead to bad habits, they will give you lots of reps and put you in more situations where you have to make the play or you will lose.
      • Obtain feedback that is accurate, diagnostic, and timely. In practice ask your opponent why you got beat or why you couldn't get open.
      • Review prior experiences. On the sideline between points or between games go over your play in your head. Think about not just your failures and obvious glories, but review the close calls. What could you have done better with that pass so the defender couldn't even have a bid on it? How could you have set up the defender better so that the thrower didn't have to make a perfect pass?

      To learn, you need to think about what you will be doing and what you just did, so that when it comes time to DO, you don't need to think.

      Note: this article was adapted from the presentation "Real Time Decision Making in Ultimate" at the Ultimate Players and Coaches Conference in Newton, MA, in Jan 2007
  • Pattern Recognition
    ArticleBlock Reznikoff

    • Psychologist John Dewey debunked a commonly held belief called the stimulus-response reflex arc: you see something, you decide what to do, you respond. Instead, Dewey proposed, you only see what you have a mental framework for; this framework contains your response within it. In other words, your response exists before you see the stimulus. Many players have the experience of knowing they've thrown the goal before the disc leaves their hands, or "seeing" the lay out D before it happens. Great players don't scan the field for openings. That takes too long. Great players recognize the beginning of a pattern that they can complete to their favor. Learning this pattern recognition takes experience, a good system, and focused drilling. No doubt, some players naturally learn quicker than others, and previous sports experience helps. Usually, though, the quick learners are the ones at practice working hard.

      Sports Psychologist Alan Goldberg warns against asking players to think on the field. A player should not "see" the field in that sense. In the huddle don't ask your team to do anything other than rely on its training. Team leaders should examine every drill, even (especially) the mindless warm up patterns. Those drills teach your team the patterns it will later use to read the field. If you want to throw to receivers cutting to space, don't run the "straight on attack" drill. If you want to throw hucks from the middle of the field, don't run the sideline huck drill. If you want to throw continuation swings after a dump, include that in your reset drill. To better read poaches, try scrimmaging 7(o) on 8(d) with the extra man poaching. Unless you've drilled it, your players won't see it. And if you've drilled it wrong, they'll do it wrong. Whatever your team is not "seeing" tells you, the team leader, where you need to drill differently.


Issues Features Authors Comment