Ultimate Frisbee Coaching

In this guide, you'll find everything you need to know about ultimate frisbee coaching. We'll cover how to become an ultimate frisbee coach, how to join a coaching development program, the various aspects of coaching you might not think of, how to plan a practice, how to develop your unique ultimate frisbee coaching philosophy, and more!

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Who Can Become an Ultimate Frisbee Coach?

Requirements will vary depending on your part of the world and what age group you want to coach. You'll need to know a little bit about the game to start coaching. To be a good coach, your ability to connect with players, plan effective practices, and explain concepts clearly is far more important than your history as a player.

 

Melissa Witmer holds a clipboard while looking back at her ultimate frisbee team

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Requirements for the United States

If you want to coach an ultimate frisbee team in the United States that competes in USAU sanctioned events, you will need the following:

  • A current USAU membership
  • A current signed waiver
  • Current Safe Sport Training
  • A current background check
  • Concussion Training

You will also need either Foundational Coach Training or to complete a Coach Certification via USA Ultimate. Information on how to complete these trainings can be found on the USA Ultimate website

Anyone coaching at a sanctioned event needs the Foundational Coach Training. The only reason NOT to do the Foundational Coach Training is if you plan on getting the coach certification via USAU (Foundational Coach Training is neither a prerequisite nor a requirement for getting certified). For club ultimate, Foundational Coach Training is all you need.

At the college and youth level, at least one coach of the team needs to be USAU Certified. For example, if the team has two coaches, one might be certified and the other might only have the Foundational Coach Training.

 

There are currently no published standards or publicly known requirements for coaching in any of the semi-professional ultimate leagues in the United States.

 

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Requirement in Canada

Ultimate Canada has an excellent coaching development program based on the principles of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD model). 

In Canada's National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), you will participate in various workshops depending on whether you are in the Community Coach or Competition Coach stream. 

On the Ultimate Canada website you can find the full list of requirements for coaches who want to coach teams participating in the Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC) or the Canadian University Ultimate Championships (CUUC).

  

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Requirements in Colombia

Colombia is in the process of updating its requirements for ultimate frisbee coaches. Ultimate frisbee coaches will soon need to have university training in coaching. This will likely become the most rigid global standard for coaching ultimate. As currently in most parts of the world, former players become coaches with little or no official training on the principles of coaching or athlete development.

  

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Requirements in the United Kingdom

 To coach ultimate frisbee in the UK, you will need to join the official UK Ultimate Coach Register.

You will need:

  • UKU Level 1 Coach Certification
  • Safeguarding Training
  • DBS
  • A First-Aid Plan
  • Coaching Insurance

Coaching Insurance is included as part of your UKU Membership.

  

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Requirements in Other Parts of the World

In most parts of the world there are currently no official requirements. Some countries with their own coaching development programs in progress are South Africa and India. I expect more countries will pursue official coaching requirements in an effort to keep athletes safe and help the sport to grow in quantity and in quality.

In several countries, our own UAP Coaching and Game IQ Certification program is used in lieu of a national coaching certification. In the UK, Canada, and in the US our certification counts toward continuing education credits. 

Our coaching certification is currently offered in English and in Spanish. If you would like to talk to us about making our certification available in your community's first language, please be in touch! 

 

Note: We will try to keep this page up-to-date with current ultimate frisbee coaching requirements around the world. If you notice any missing, incomplete, or incorrect information on this page, please let us know!

 

How to Find a High Quality Ultimate Frisbee Coach

 

What to Look For in an Ultimate Frisbee Coach

Right now in most parts of the world there are not enough quality coaches to fill the demand. For this reason many teams simply take what they can get. Often the player with the most experience will become the default coach. Or the person who is most willing will become a captain/coach.

There are two drawbacks of having your most experienced player become your captain/coach.

1. Having a dual role on a team is very difficult. If your best player is also coaching, it is unlikely that they are going to be able to perform on the field at their full potential. 

2. The best players often are not the best teachers. Teaching is a skill that is more important than playing skill when it comes to coaching. 

If you're in a position where you need a captain to also be a coach, OR you are looking at a few options, here are some things to look for..

1. A History of Teaching and Communication Skills

Many great ultimate coaches have also been high school teachers or college professions. Or they have some sort of leadership, mentorship, or educational role in their professional life.

Can the person you're considering communicate their ideas in a way that players can understand and execute on? 

A challenge with great players is that if a skill is easy for them, they might not understand why other folks cannot do the same thing. They may get easily frustrated with teammates rather than being truly helpful. A great coach not only has good information, but they can share it in a way that is helpful and actionable.

2. Ethics and Professionalism

This is important quality is often overlooked. At the bare minimum, a coach should know how to create a physically and psychologically safe environment for their players. While this is important for all age groups, the younger your players are, the more important this becomes.

We'd all like to believe that common sense is enough. But being a professional often requires difficult conversations or managing challenging interpersonal relationships. While most coaches enjoy the camaraderie of the team they spend so much time with, a level of professionalism and emotional separation needs to be maintained in order for players to feel that things are being managed fairly and correctly.

Safe Sport Training (a requirement for coaches in the US) is a good option for coaches of any sport to start thinking about how they will manage difficult situations that can occur in a sporting environment.

3. Care for Their Players and the Community

Some folks are drawn to the idea of coaching or leadership because they want to fill some needs of their ego. They like to be in charge and be able have some control over others. Coaching may help feel a need to feel important. They may like the being the person that knows the answers and has other people to listen to them. For this reason, sometimes the person most willing to coach is not the most qualified to coach - especially if they have had no formal training in teaching or coaching.

A great coach is fulfilled by coaching. But they are fueled by caring for their players more than caring for their own ego. 

4. Ultimate Knowledge

It's helpful to have a coach that has knowledge of the game appropriate for the level they are coaching at. With ultimate still being a young sport and not having a long history of coach development, the level of ultimate knowledge required to coach effectively is not a high bar. 

At the youth level a coach should be able to teach players how to throw.

Secondarily a coach should be able to teach 1-2 basic offenses and defenses.

At higher levels, a coach will be able to create team-specific offenses and defenses. And the details within the basic offense and defense formations will become more specifically described.

5. Continued Professional Development

Whatever level a coach is at, a good indication of someone who can become a great coach is that they take time for continued professional development.

They may be reading books about coaching and human performance. They may be regularly talking to other coaches, seeking out new ideas, and actively seeking mentorship from higher level coaches. 

Or they may be taking an ultimate frisbee coaching course from our Coaching and Game IQ membership, or Global Ultimate Training School. Or they may be taking advantage of continuing education training provided by your local ultimate community.  

 

Where to Find an Ultimate Frisbee Coach

 Your local ultimate organization may help you put out an announcement to its membership if you are looking for a coach. They also may know of coaches in your area who might be available.

Most teams will do a coach search a bit informally, using social media to announce they are searching for coaches. Searching for ultimate frisbee coaches groups on Facebook could also be a good place to post an announcement.

Unfortunately, there is no directory of available coaches to simply choose from or get in contact with.

Xs and Os on a whiteboard demonstrate ultimate frisbee plays

How to Coach Ultimate Frisbee

Coaching ultimate frisbee encompasses many skills. Likely you won't be great at all of them. But knowing what skills you need can help you to assemble a leadership team to make sure that everything is covered adequately.

Elite level frisbee teams tend to have several coaches. Many teams will spread some of the responsibilities among captains as well as coaches so that everything is covered.

 

 

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Responsibilities

  • Recruiting, Retaining, and Selecting Players
  • Create an Effective Learning Environment for Your Athletes
  • Planning the Season - what are the main games or tournaments you'll prepare for?
  • Deciding on the team offensive and defensive strategies
  • Practice Planning - what drills and activities will you run
  • Managing line calling at tournaments and games
  • Making strategic adjustments in game

 If you're feeling a little overwhelmed as a coach, that's okay! You might benefit from reading about how to get over imposter syndrome and become a great ultimate frisbee coach.

 

Recruiting, Retaining, and Selecting Players

You can't coach ultimate frisbee without an ultimate frisbee team! Assembling and keeping your players is an important skill for any ultimate frisbee coach.

How you do this may depend on what age group and what level you're coaching at. If you're coaching newer or younger players the focus will be on creating a fun environment so that players want to stay in the sport.

For a more experienced or competitive team, player goals might be more about improvement as a player and a team. And at the most competitive levels, you'll need to select a team by running tryouts and evaluating players.

 

Creating an Effective Learning Environment for Your Athletes

You can't make your players learn or do anything. This is a humbling realization as a coach and leads to frustration for many.

The athletes are the ones who are learning and deciding what to do on the field. Your job as a coach is to help them to learn by creating an environment where learning can be most effective.

My favorite way to do this is to create activities for my players that tap into their natural desire to for competition. This more modern coaching philosophy is about games based learning and there is a lot of research to back up the idea that games based learning is more effective than traditional drills.

Create activities that require your ultimate players to collect information and make decisions on the field.

Games based learning can be used for beginner to advanced players. You can learn more about this topic with several examples in your Coaching and Game IQ membership.

The other piece of an effective learning environment is helping your players get into the mental state required for effective learning. Learning takes place when the sport brain feels open and ready to take in new ideas. I believe that consent based coaching is a fundamental part of being a good coach in any sport. While it is "easier" in the short run to just tell your players what to do and expect them to do it, you might be creating performance in the short term, but a lack of real game IQ acquisition in the long run.

 

Planning Around Your Ultimate Frisbee Season

What are the main ultimate tournaments you'll be going to? How much time before your first major tournament? How much time do you have in between?

The answers to these questions will help inform what skills you need to work on at what times.

Often you won't really know the weaknesses in your team until they are exposed in competition. But you'll need to go into your first competitive event with a plan and some strategies to test out.

 

Deciding on the Team's Offensive and Defensive Strategies

There are two main ways to determine what offensive and defensive strategies you'll coach. One if to focus on coaching what you know. And this will be a good way to go for newer coaches. 

The second way is to consider your team's unique strengths and weaknesses. Then design your offensive and defensive strategies and formations around those skills sets and abilities. Even in this method, you're offensive and defensive strategies will likely be some variation of a common offensive or defensive strategy.

The first step in your development as an ultimate frisbee coach is to understand the spaces, cutting lanes, and opportunities presented by various offenses and defenses.

It's easier to break the rules and become more creative once you have an understanding of how the sport really works. That being said, being creative and trying new things is how you will learn as a coach.

There is no offense that is impervious to mistakes. There is no defense that allows players to cover all parts of the field all of the time. If there were, then there would be no point in playing the game. When starting out, there's no need to obsess over finding the right strategy. Be sure it's a strategy that you can coach and that your players can execute.

 

Practice Planning

An ultimate frisbee practice often follows a repeatable format. You won't always do all of the following things. But most of these things in this approximate order will give you a well designed practice.

  1. set expectations
  2. physical warm-ups
  3. fundamentals work
  4. activities designed specific to your learning objectives
  5. scrimmages
  6. fitness 

 

Setting Expectations

I like to do this before the warm-up. If there's any talking that needs to happen, it makes sense to do it before your players warm-up rather than having them get warmed up and then stop.

Physical Warm-up

Use some variation of a dynamic warm-up. Here is a simple dynamic warm-up for ultimate frisbee that you can get started with. The focus should be on moving the joints through a full range of motion, getting physically warm, and getting the nervous system ready to fire at a high intensity.

Fundamentals Work

Many teams will do throwing every practice. Often with a specific routine. Or you may vary this section depending on your learning objectives. The activity you run here should feel a bit like an extension of the warm-up. The drill or activity should be one that everyone knows. 

Learning New Things

The team is physically warm and feeling comfortable having done some reps of what they already know. Now is a good time to introduce something new. It could be a new offensive or defensive strategy. Mid-season you'll likely be working on the details of your O and D systems. I like to construct games to elicit the kind of behaviors from my athletes that I want to see on the field. You might take some inspiration form drills and activities designed by other ultimate coaches.

Scrimmages

All frisbee players like to play frisbee. Most practices will involve some sort of scrimmaging so that you can try to implement what you're learning on a full field.

To keep focus and intensity high, I recommend implementing focused scrimmages. 

Fitness

Some teams will incorporate fitness into practices and some will not. This may depend on the amount of time you have during practice, how many days a week you practice, and how much responsibility you can give to players to take care of their fitness outside of practice time.

 

Managing Playing Time at Tournaments and Games

How you do this will depend on the type of team you are coaching. For a developmental team or at the youth levels, usually laying time will be distributed fairly equally.

A team that is more competitive may start to specialize player roles. Some players will be on the offense line, others will be on the defense line. Additionally, players will often get highly specialized in the position they play on the ultimate field.

Most competitive club teams will have one O line that stays fairly stable over the course of a season. And there may be 1-2 folks who can sub in as another handler or cutter option.

Defensively, it's becoming more popular to have a D1 and D2 line. The D1 line may be a stronger  line. While the D2 line is used to be sure you're providing playing opportunities for all of the roster. This can work well because as long as your O line is consistent in scoring, you only need 1-2 breaks ("break" means a point scored by the D line) to win a game.

Alternatively, you might provide two different defensive looks. This is becoming more common as a way of better utilizing all of the players in your roster in a way that makes sense. Often one defensive look will be more about person to person defense and the second D line will use a zone defense.

A challenging scenario for managing subs is when you have a team with a fairly clear and large gap between the top 10 players and the rest of the roster. Most teams will sort of be in this situation. The challenge is to decide how to use and distribute the top of your roster. Many teams will load up their O line with the top of the roster because as long as the O line doesn't get broken, you have the best chance of winning the game. Do you want to load up your O line? Do you want to have these players playing both O and D line? And how often can they do that during a tournament before fatigue affects the quality of their game?

Many teams will use different subbing styles that vary with the level of competition. Or you may change your game plan depending on the score at half time.

Regardless of what style or system of sub calling you use, I believe it is important to think about it in advance and communicate to your players what to expect. Have a plan, communicate the plan, and also be flexible when needed.

 

Making Strategic Adjustments

At minimum your team should be able to play two types of offense and two styles of defense. You can learn more about the plusses and minuses of the popular O and D strategies in ultimate frisbee. Choose two you like, or think about the strengths of the players on your team and try to choose an offense and defense that is best suited to your players.

Before a game, you should have a basic game plan. What offense and what defense will you start with? It might be what you're most comfortable with. Maybe your team always starts with the same game plan.

As you become more experiences as a coach you will likely start to develop game plans based on your opponents or on the weather conditions.

During a game, pay attention to what is working and what isn't.

If a team is scoring against you the same way each time (they are consistently making deep passes to the endzone, for example) then it is time to adjust your defense. Often switching from person defense to zone defense is a good way to slow down the opposing offense or at least get them doing something different.

On offense, you might adjust from vertical stack to horizontal stack if the other team is likely to play a clam or zone.  

Ultimate Frisbee Coaching Tips

In coaching ultimate frisbee, there is a lot to think about! When you're feeling overwhelmed, just focus on these quick tips.

  1. Coach What You Know - You can't know everything. So focus on coaching what you DO know and coach it well.
  2. Focus on Your Players - Keeping your focus on your players and their needs can help you feel less self-conscious about your own skills and abilities
  3. Start With Two - choose two offenses and two defenses and practice them regularly. Everything else you do can be slight variations of those.
  4. Make it Fun! - Relax. If you're enjoying the practices, your players are more likely to enjoy them too. And remember, you can't make your players learn anything, you can only set the stage for learning to take place.
  5. Keep Perspective - You have influence over the performance of your players, but you should not interpret your players' performance as a reflection on yourself as a coach. Keep a growth mindset and help your players do the same!