Monday, February 15, 2016

The Cutting Tree: Introduction

A few years ago, on Skyd, Mike "MC" Caldwell wrote an article titled "The Cutting Tree."  My excitement was through the roof, as the implied cutting tree surely was like a football cutting tree and it would not only allow for common vernacular but be a coaching tool that could truly improve youth development.  I wrote a post about it then and mentioned that Kyle and I would be working on something.  Well, two years have passed and while I haven't been working on that exclusively, I have made some progress and think it is time to start putting this out.  So here is a rough introduction to what will hopefully be a discussion about cutting as a skill.

Welcome to the Cutting Tree. This is an attempt to codify a language for cutting so that coaches can better develop training programs to create superior cutters.  One problem that slows development in our sport is that we often lack a common language set, especially across regions.  This leads to lost time as players/coaches have to explain what they mean to each other before real understanding can be achieved.  Think of the number of times you have drawn out what a “question mark cut” is to another player.  

That said, here's what this is not. I am not advocating for teams to lose their special vernacular.  Calling an upline cut a beta, shooter or power cut is fine.  But I think being able to trace those names back to a common motion helps development.  Additionally, this is by no means a tutorial for how to cut effectively. That will take tons of practice using methodologies that are not described here. Rather the following is a set of practicable tools that a cutter can use on the way to being more effective.  

First we should define “cut” for the sake of this article.  From here on when I refer to a “cut” I am talking about a specific pattern of movement (feet, legs and momentum) designed to get separation from a defender.  All of these cuts will not get the same type of separation in all different situations and against different styles of defense.  But the purpose of developing this language is so that we (as coaches) can more easily discuss movement against a defender and what type of cuts make sense in a particular offensive scheme or situation.  

There is a tendency while reading this to want to refer to particular, situational cuts.  Above, the “up line” cut was referenced as an example even though it doesn't fi our criteria for a "cut."  The “up line” cut is not mentioned again in this document because it is situational (the location of the disc, offender and force are required).  Instead the following breaks down and names the possible ways to execute an upline cut.  You might gain separation from your defender using the same method for different situational cuts (continuation, scoring, etc.).  The hope is that by naming these methods for gaining separation we might also be able to better train the right method for the right situation (something that is already done at many clinics and in many huddles).

There are a total of 9 different cuts described here.  The differences in the cuts are at times minimal, and one could argue that some of them should be collapsed into one cut.  On the other hand some would argue that there are other cuts that aren’t described in this document that should be included.  Both stances are correct on some level, but it is important to remember that this isn’t a definitive guide but rather the start of a conversation.

Here are the 9 cuts:
1 - Straight Cut
2 - Jab Cut
3 - Check Cut
4 - Double Cut
5 - Press Cut
6 - Seal Cut
7 - Elbow Cut
8 - Slice Cut
9 - Cross Cut

And that is that.  There are nine sections to the tree.  Currently I am going through video trying to find more examples of each cut.  Diagrams and descriptions are mostly written, and might end up here in a piecemeal fashion.  At some point I will probably get Ultiworld to publish it if I think it is ready.  By no means am I doing this alone.  Kyle Weisbrod, Miranda Knowles, Jason Simpson and Andy Loveseth have all been asked for their opinions and their contributions have been incredibly informative.  Originally the "tree" was a scattered mess, which is exactly the opposite of its purpose.  Also I need to thank my wife for proof-reading this and helping me not sound like an idiot despite my best efforts.


Unknown said...

any diagrams?

Martin said...

Not in the introduction. Each section has diagrams, and I put some in the second post that went up today. I'm not going to put out everything here, and it won't be formatted as well as it might be on a more professional site. So please excuse a little jank . . . but I can include diagrams.

Idris said...

Martin, would it be asking too much to get a 1 sentence teaser description of the 9 cuts? Or do we have to wait for the ultiword article? :)

Last couple months I've been doing some thinking on route trees vs faking/separation techniques... as it relates to the creation of offensive strategy. Your cutting tree seems apropos and germane to that discussion (that I'm having in my head ;).

Martin said...


No problem:

1 - Straight Cut: No change in direction, just running to a space . . . seems silly but is the most commonly used cut in ultimate.
2 - Jab Cut: Singular hard step in a direction to shift momentum and absorb reaction of defender while loading leg to accelerate in another direction.
3 - Check Cut: Multiple hard steps/run in a direction to generate momentum in a defender. Offender determines when deceleration occurs, generating initial separation then accelerates in ~opposite direction generating more separation.
4 - Double Cut: Most likely to get trimmed from this list Similar to a Check Cut but separation doesn't come from winning the deceleration/acceleration rate. Instead it comes from getting the defender to over accelerate out of the check while you change direction.
5 - Press Cut: Movement right at defender to place defender on their heels while you make a ~90 turn to transfer your momentum and gain separation.
6 - Seal Cut: Route run to an outside shoulder of a defender to seal them from the area you want the disc. Separation is generated through positioning, not speed/reaction.
7- Elbow Cut: Route run to the open side at an angle then flat across the field. Generates separation through difficult defensive positioning choice.
8 - Slice Cut: Route run to the break side at an angle then flat across the field. Generates separation by getting defender to overplay initial cut and lose positioning.
9 - Cross Cut (see Euro Step): Movement to one shoulder of defender then taking one or two steps at ~90 to original direction before returning to original direction.

I hope that helps. If you have any more questions or want any more info I'd be happy to help. I tabled much of this project with my youth season's ramp up in the spring. Now that it is summer I hope to have more time to finish this out . . . but I've been saying that for year.

BTW, the route tree you included is the inspiration for this idea. In a simple .jpg you can convey a ton of information about route running in football and we don't have that kind of tool yet.

Also, if this is the Idris I hope it is, your final against Condor's a million years ago (back before the field direction change) was a pleasure to watch.

Idris said...

Great stuff, thanks!

I'm not quite visualizing the elbow and slice, so might have to wait for the article. If I think of anything that might contribute to the conversation later, I'll be sure to come back.

And thanks for the love. ;)

Marcus said...


I am wondering if you have made any progress on this since 2016.
Specifically, I would like to help you push it along or even potentially take it over if the project has become to burdensome.

Also, I can think of a few more types of cuts (or sub-types) that are not listed here.

Please reach out to me by accessing my blogging profile.

- Ultimate!

Martin said...

The only progress I've made was a little clipping I did a year ago. I also haven't had many thoughts about it (aside from using it or seeing situations where I wish I had finished this . . . oh, and debating if the slice and elbow are really the same). This past cycle has left me with a lot of ultimate thinking energy, and my future with ultimate is a little uncertain, so dumping that energy into finishing the Cutting Tree seems like a good idea. Thanks for the kick in the ass.

Marcus said...

Hi Martin,

I am just wondering if you have taken the cutting tree any further. In any case I would also like to help where I can.