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Improving Horizontal Offense Initiation Plays

Receiving a pull is an area in which a team should be extremely proficient, as it is an event that occurs hundreds of times over a season. It is a mistake to not take advantage of these moments in which the defense is not entirely set. The ideal situation occurs when the offense initiates play from the brick and scores a seemingly effortless, or uncontested, goal. Smart (read experienced) defensive units recognize this position of vulnerability and play a loose man or zone to force an offense out of a set pattern or rhythm. In the event a team plays a vanilla player-to-player, with or without handler defender poaches, the following simple step will improve the efficiency of your set plays from a horizontal stack.

In this situation, assume two athletically balanced teams, in which the offense has the usual inherent advantages, capable throwers with the receiving team initiating play from a traditional HO stack offense. The defense will be limited to person-to-person and a traditional team-style poach giving up throws towards the sideline (Figure 1). Ideally, the offense is able to recognize, in real-time, when to abort an initiation play and recognize what the defense is giving away for free. The following is one method to create two forward throwing options out of a standard HO initiation set-play.

In this case, the offense is limited to a very simple flood (continuation not shown) using one of the sideline cutters (Figure 2). The best way to stop this initiation (or most initiations, for that matter) is to park a defender in the throwing lane. The traditional HO set-up is an open invitation to handler defenders to poach the inside throwing lanes preventing easy forward throws, which tend to force throws toward the sideline (Figure 3). The simple step to prevent poach defenders from reducing the effectiveness of an initiation set is to run clearing cuts directly underneath the receiver stack (Figure 4).

The initiation handler has to make a decision based upon the action of the poaching lane-defender. If the lane-defender doesn’t follow the clearing support handler, throw the disc to the wide open clearing cutter. When the poach wises-up and follows the clearing support handler, the downfield isolation cutter will be in an open lane. One play, two viable receivers, each with multiple continuation options downfield.


  1. Organizing your team on the line. Decide who will be the isolation cutter and which side of the field to attack?  For example, which direction do you want them running? Do you want them running from home side to the away side? Or, from the open side to the break side? After you decide upon direction, remind the appropriate support handler to clear the forward throwing lane.  As your team improves, add in a numbering system. For example, number your receivers left to right (or right to left). Stick with a nomenclature that is simple. If you number receivers 1,2,3,4 left to right, then isolate position 1 for a left to right initiation. If you number receivers 1,2,3,4 left to right and want to isolate the 3, the initiation will run from right to left and the support handler on the left half of the field will have to clear.
  2. Nuts and Bolts. Sprint your routes. Clear with a purpose. The first throw doesn’t have to be pretty, it only has to work.
  3. Options. Be creative, but keep it simple (Figure 5). To simplify the initiation set, always attack the open side. If your team is proficient at breaking the mark, always attack the break side.

In summary, the point of this article isn’t to advocate for this play or that play, but rather to explore the opportunities that arise from effective and efficient clearing patterns. Specifically, will your team choose to run initiation plays either on the open side or the breakside of the field and create valuable secondary opportunities to advance the disc. Experiment and tinker with your playbook to create simple initiation sequences that result in effective continuation opportunities, which result in more low risk goals.


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