The Ultimate Guide To The Vertical Stack In Ultimate Frisbee

Vertical Stack


Ultimate Frisbee, commonly known simply as “Ultimate,” is a fast-paced, non-contact team sport that combines elements of soccer, basketball, and football. One of the key offensive strategies in Ultimate Frisbee is the vertical stack. This formation is highly effective in creating space and organizing offensive plays. This guide will delve into the intricacies of the vertical stack, its benefits, and how to effectively execute it.

Understanding the Vertical Stack

The vertical stack is a fundamental offensive strategy in Ultimate Frisbee where players line up in a straight line (or stack) down the field, parallel to the sidelines. The stack typically consists of five or six players, with the remaining players (usually two) positioned as handlers near the disc.

Vertical Stack

Basic Formation

  1. Handlers: These are the players who start with the disc or are positioned to receive the disc from the thrower. They are crucial in initiating offensive plays.
  2. Cutters: The players lined up in the vertical stack are called cutters. Their primary role is to make sharp, decisive movements (cuts) to receive passes from the handlers.

Benefits of the Vertical Stack

The vertical stack is popular for several reasons:

  1. Space Creation: By lining up vertically, the cutters create a significant amount of open space on either side of the field. This space can be exploited by making lateral cuts, giving handlers clear passing lanes.
  2. Clear Communication: The vertical stack allows for clear signaling and communication among players. Handlers can easily call for cuts, and cutters know when and where to move based on the stack’s position.
  3. Isolation Plays: The vertical stack is excellent for isolating a single cutter, allowing them to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. This can be particularly effective against weaker defenders.
  4. Reset Options: Handlers always have the option to reset the stall count by passing back to each other, keeping the offense fluid and maintaining possession.

Executing the Vertical Stack

To effectively execute a vertical stack, the team must focus on proper spacing, timing, and communication. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to run a successful vertical stack offense:

Setting Up the Stack

  1. Positioning: The stack should be set up about 15-20 yards downfield from the handlers. Each cutter should maintain a distance of about 5-7 yards from each other to prevent defenders from easily poaching.
  2. Initial Cutters: Designate one or two primary cutters who will make the first move. These players should be positioned near the front of the stack.

Initiating the Play

  1. Handler Movement: The handler with the disc (handler A) should pivot and look for potential passing options. The other handler (handler B) should position themselves to provide a reset option.
  2. First Cut: The first cutter (cutter 1) makes a sharp cut either towards the handler (an in-cut) or towards the end zone (a deep cut). The direction of the cut depends on the defender’s position and the handler’s preference.
  3. Clearing Out: If cutter 1 does not receive the disc, they must quickly clear out to the opposite side of the field to avoid congestion and make space for the next cutter.


  1. Second Cut: As cutter 1 clears out, the next cutter in the stack (cutter 2) should make their move. This continues down the line, with each cutter taking turns to make their cuts.
  2. Timing: The success of the vertical stack heavily relies on timing. Cutters need to initiate their cuts as soon as the previous cutter begins to clear out to maintain a continuous flow of movement.
  3. Handler Patience: Handlers must be patient and wait for the right opportunity to make a pass. Rushing passes can lead to turnovers.

Advanced Strategies

Once the team is comfortable with the basic vertical stack, they can incorporate advanced strategies to enhance their offense:

Split Stack

The split stack involves dividing the vertical stack into two separate stacks on either side of the field. This creates even more space and can confuse defenders. The handlers can then choose which side to initiate the play from, keeping the defense guessing.

Dump and Swing

The dump and swing strategy is used to reset the stall count and change the angle of attack. The handler passes the disc back to the other handler (a dump), who then swings the disc to the opposite side of the field. This can open up new passing lanes and create opportunities for cutters to exploit.

Fake Cuts and Double Cuts

Incorporating fake cuts and double cuts can keep defenders off balance. A cutter might make a quick fake cut in one direction before sharply changing direction (a double cut). This can create separation from the defender and open up passing opportunities.

Break Side Cuts

Encouraging cutters to make cuts towards the break side (the side of the field opposite the force) can be highly effective. Break side cuts are more challenging to defend, and if the handler can successfully throw to the break side, it can lead to significant yardage gains.

Vertical Stack

Defensive Adjustments

While the vertical stack is a potent offensive strategy, defenses will inevitably adapt. Teams must be prepared to adjust their tactics in response:


Defenders may start poaching, where they leave their assigned cutter to clog up the open space. To counter this, cutters need to recognize poaches and adjust their cuts accordingly. Handlers can also exploit poaching by making quick passes to the unguarded cutter.


Defensive players might switch their marks to counteract the vertical stack. Effective communication and quick recognition of switches are crucial. Cutters should be aware of potential switches and use misdirection to create separation.

Force Middle

Some defenses employ a force middle strategy, where defenders position themselves to force the handlers to throw towards the middle of the field. This can limit the effectiveness of lateral cuts. Handlers need to be skilled in breaking the force and making accurate throws to the break side.

Training Drills for the Vertical Stack

To master the vertical stack, teams should incorporate specific drills into their training sessions:

Cutting Drill

Set up a vertical stack and practice making sequential cuts. Each cutter should focus on making sharp, decisive movements and clearing out quickly if they don’t receive the disc. Handlers should practice timing their passes to hit the cutters in stride.

Handler Reset Drill

Position two handlers and a vertical stack downfield. Practice making dump and swing passes to reset the stall count. Handlers should focus on quick pivots, accurate throws, and communication.

Poach Recognition Drill

Simulate a defensive poaching scenario. Cutters should practice recognizing poaches and adjusting their cuts to exploit open space. Handlers should work on quick decision-making and hitting the open cutter.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While running a vertical stack, teams should be aware of common mistakes that can hinder their effectiveness:

  1. Crowding: Cutters failing to maintain proper spacing can lead to crowded cutting lanes and turnovers. Each cutter must keep an appropriate distance from their teammates.
  2. Late Cuts: Delayed cuts can disrupt the flow of the offense. Cutters should anticipate when the previous cutter will clear out and initiate their cuts promptly.
  3. Static Handlers: Handlers who remain static and fail to pivot or move can limit passing options. Handlers should be active and ready to pivot to find open lanes.
  4. Poor Communication: Lack of communication between handlers and cutters can lead to missed opportunities. Clear and concise communication is essential for successful execution.
Vertical Stack


The vertical stack is a cornerstone of Ultimate Frisbee offense, providing structure, space, and opportunities for strategic plays. By understanding the fundamentals, practicing advanced techniques, and being aware of common pitfalls, teams can effectively utilize the vertical stack to dominate the field. Whether you’re a seasoned player or a newcomer to the sport, mastering the vertical stack will elevate your Ultimate Frisbee game to new heights.