Recently Mike Caldwell wrote a response in Skyd about his cutting tree Having recently been thinking about how to get our boys to be better technical cutters I was super excited. Mike has been a premier cutter for a long time and if he was going to break down something like the route tree, that was going to be huge. Often cutting technique in ultimate gets described as running harder for longer, and that isn't going to work against better athletes (of which there are plenty as you get older, trust me). Mike is a great athlete, but he has also been a premier cutter for a long time and is a tireless workhorse. Surely he has some insight on different ways to get open.
Unfortunately his piece, while having many excellent points (including one on sente which does a good job of explaining who should cut when), doesn't really describe how to cut better in general but rather how to run a certain pattern well. The pattern to run is along the diagonals and sides of a trapezoid. If you go back and watch Sockeye in the mid-2000s it is no surprise that this is the pattern Mike gives you. Their use of isolated thermals as a cutting style to make an aggressively under-cutting alternative to Furious' H-stack was revolutionary and created a pattern that many college teams hope (and fail) to emulate with their offenses. Mike's coaching points of what to think about, how to get better at the pattern are good insight and practice for young cutters.
I think the place that I take issue, or was disappointed by the piece was in the use of the term "tree." The route tree in football is a description of the different paths that a receiver can take within a football offense. The premise is that it contains all of the options for the receiver and that since both the quarterback and the receiver know the same tree they can be on the same page more easily. With that in mind Mike's "tree" kind of holds all of the cuts that Sockeye ran (at least from their cutters) in the early-mid 2000s. But it is more of a flow pattern and less a "tree." In part that is a dilemma of continuous sports like ultimate being put in contrast to segmented sports like football. There isn't a clearing pattern in football, there is a stoppage of play. Maybe flow patterns are ultimate's equivalent to cutting trees, describing broad paths for players to take? In that case, Mike's piece is a description of the old Sockeye flow pattern and is invaluable to players trying to be excellent cutters in that system.
However I think that cutting and flow patterns are different things. Flow patterns tell you where the next cut should be and where you should go when you are done cutting (or aren't cutting at all). Sockeye's H stack called for hard under cuts through the middle (often at an angle) and clears down the sideline (that could easily be deep cuts). Cutting feels different. Cutting is a move that is designed to create separation between you and your defender and is somewhat independent of the placement of the disc and more about the placement of the space you are trying to access. I digress lest I spend the next 2000 words talking about space.
One of the big advantages of the football route tree is it tells you how to get where you are going. It involves a discrete cut/movement to get open. Five yards hard out then a 120 degree turn towards the quarter back (hitch). Ten yards you then a 90 degree turn across the middle of the field (dig). That is the element that I (perhaps naively) was looking for in Mike's piece and found missing. I think I was hoping for a description of methods that Mike used to get open in different situations (with a defender fronting him, with a defender playing even, from a lateral reset, etc.). What Mike provided really has only one (maybe two) cutting movements: a sharp change in direction at the top and another at the bottom of the trapezoid. But that leaves a lot of different ways to get from A to B unexplained.
That is one of the other values of the football route tree. Even if a particular offense doesn't use all of the tree (the Packers love their slants but don't throw too many flats), the branches are there for everyone to learn and understand. It establishes the language of cutting in football. Every community has a vernacular for their cuts, but the football route tree is almost universally consistent (sure there are subtle changes between things like a go route and a fade, but there is broad agreement on post, hitch, dig, out, slant, etc.). We currently lack a common language for how to talk about these cuts. What is a scoo or a whoop cut? Is it a double cut or a triple cut?
So I think what I am going to spend some time on is developing a cutting tree that is about creating separation between you and your defender. I'll talk to various coaches about different ways that they cut in hopes of generating the fundamental movement patterns/breaks that make up all of the cuts. While many offenses don't use most of those cuts, coming up with a common vernacular and skill set to teach young players will hopefully help coaches develop talent faster and help players figure out multiple ways to get open to the same space. This will be quite a little project, but I think there is some really work to be done there. With that being said, what is your favorite cut?
Extra Note: I've spoken with Kyle about this and I think he and I are going to work to make sure we are using the same names for cutting to start the ball rolling towards a common vernacular.