Training Hex offence with your team

Hex is a new offence which most of your team will not have seen or played before – introducing it can be both fun and exciting, but will certainly come with its challenges. I’ve had experience introducing the offence to a variety of teams and players, from primary schools through University level teams to GB, and along the way have learned plenty about how to make the introduction as enjoyable and productive as possible. I hope to share what I’ve learnt with you in this article.
Before your first session starts some players will be sceptical of the benefits of Hex, some will see no point in learning it, and others will flatly resist change. You can’t always please everybody, but as with any new concept, it’s important to:

  • keep things fun
  • give players achievable aims
  • provide players with challenges

The good news is that you can please loads of players! If you direct everybody to the Hex documentation a few days before your first session, you’ll likely get a handful of very keen players excited about learning a new strategy – who will then help the others during the session – making your job much easier. The doc contains the core principles of the offence, which are applicable to players of any level of experience. Memorise the core principles yourself, and repeat them whenever appropriate during training.

From here there are three methods of training Hex offence – explanation, play progression, and drills. There probably won’t be time to run through all three at your first session, so you should choose what to focus on depending on what your team is most receptive to. Different players learn in different ways, so it’s worth running through each method at subsequent sessions so nobody is left behind.

  • Explanation – coach explains the positions, principles, and movement of Hex offence, before the players go into a 7v7 game
  • Play progression method – players play 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, and 7v7 games (in that order), with coach setting a focus between games to learn the principles one-by-one
  • Drills / Exercises – There are a variety of drills which help to reinforce particular key elements of the Hex offence

Start with something which everybody can relate to – positions! Mark these out on a mini-field with cones. The basic setup of Hex can be described as 2-3-2. Instead of positions being called handler / cutter / etc, in Hex they are called:

positions-rotatedWing:- the two wing positions are near to the sideline, but should avoid being within 3 yards of it. They stay connected to the players with / behind the disc, whilst making room for the central player, and not getting ‘disconnected’ from the players further forward (you’ll explain what connected/disconnected mean later on). If the disc is near the sideline, the player in possession is in a ‘wing’ position – as if the shape is rotated. In the top right diagram, the disc could be with any of the ‘back’ or ‘wing’ positions, and the setup would be correct.
Back:- these two positions are the closest to our own end zone. Both ‘back’ positions are behind the disc when it is near the sideline, but otherwise the disc is in the hands of one of the ‘back’ players, whilst the the other ‘back’ is roughly level with them.
Hat:- this central position is connected to all the other positions – when the disc is on the sideline the ‘hat’ is level with it, but the closer to the middle of the pitch the disc is, the more directly in front of the disc the ‘hat’ is.
Forward:- these positions are the closest to our opponent’s end zone – both are in front of & connected to the hat and the wing positions, and must avoid getting disconnected (drifting deep) as this takes away the long option.connected

At this point, explain what you mean by the word ‘connected’ – position a volunteer about 10 yards from you and demonstrate how they can hear your voice, how they’re within easy immediate accurate throwing distance from you, and how they could cut at speed in any direction and receive a pass.

positions-toofarThis distance will vary slightly depending on the size of your players, the average throwing ability of your team, and other factors such as environment.
Demonstrate how if the volunteer is further away from you, they become ‘disconnected’ – it is more difficult to communicate with them, passing to them is more likely to be inaccurate, and if they cut away from you at speed they are harder to hit in stride.

positions-toocloseDemonstrate how when a player stands too close, they are ‘crowding’ the thrower – their defender can cause havoc, and they don’t have space to cut towards the thrower for a pass.

Move them out to ~10 yards again and re-iterate that this is the distance you’re talking about when you say two players are ‘connected’. Wherever the disc is on the field, players should look to be staying connected to each other & maintaining the Hex shape.

How movement is conducted in Hex is dependant upon the style in which you want to play. The style I teach is based around freedom, fast disc movement, and intelligent innovation by the players. Other teams have had success with more pattern/play-based movements from the Hex setup, or approaches where players switch positions infrequently. Below I explain how to teach the ‘Mexican’ style of the offence which is played by the teams I have coached, and which I believe is particularly suited to the Hex setup.

Immediately clarify – after explaining positions – that there are no set ‘roles’ for a point.  You may start a point as a ‘forward’, and within 5 seconds of team possession you could be in a ‘back’ position, and vice versa. The positions laid out and explained are all filled dynamically, and every player is encouraged to occupy whichever position is appropriate at any given time. Movement occurs when players are aware that positions are unoccupied, and move quickly to occupy them. When you cut, you are often moving into a valid position as well as creating space where your cut originated, so there is no assumption that you need to ‘clear’ back to your original position.

Initial movement is based upon the ‘take what they give you’ principle – both as a thrower, an intended target, and a team mate – awareness of what the defence is allowing your offence, and how to work effectively as a team to highlight and isolate that option – dictates how movement occurs from a static position. The #1 principle is to take the open pass – regardless of yardage / field position / stall count.

Players can simply play as they would when in flow in any other offence – cutting into space as they see it appearing, passing to whoever is free, and creating space for team mates.

GB Mixed U23 2015 (Black) playing Hex vs GB Mixed 2015 (White) [no animation? refresh page]
Game time
 A couple of players may feel baffled, which is understandable, so give them a final piece advice that they can use whenever they are in doubt: Make triangles.

triangleSet out another ‘connected’ volunteer, and ask a third player get into a position where they are ‘connected’ to both of you – they should make an equilateral triangle. If you’re lost on the field, all you need to do is find two team mates and get connected to both of them without crowding – this will likely put you in a good position.

Enough talking! It’s time to start playing. Take any questions people have and then get everyone on the field ready to play.
Try to keep chat on the line down to a minimum for at least the first 3-4 points, and encourage players to learn by playing & trying to get involved. Keep the core principles in mind when looking to advise from the sideline.
As the game develops, if you notice players setting up incorrectly from static – you should interrupt the game and reposition them as appropriate (often when the disc is on the sideline).

Some common scenarios which occur:
One player gets frustrated as they feel they are crowding their team mates / sideline, and they cannot find the solution.
It’s likely that a team mate several positions away from them has become disconnected from a back player (the far wing player in the diagram example), so when that player gets connected, it sets off a chain reaction which gives the crowded player enough space. It’s important to point out to the crowded player that it’s no real fault of their own – they showed good awareness by feeling uncomfortable when crowded, and the only thing they could’ve done would’ve been to try to communicate with their poorly positioned team mate. Note how in the drone footage above, the 2nd back gets disconnected from the 1st back, and this contributes to the crowding downfield.

pass-to-sidelineWhen you pass forward and to the line from a back position, you are already in a good position so don’t need to ‘clear’ downfield unless you know connected players wish to replace you. Many players have a habit of doing this, which can leave the ‘back’ positions vacant when the disc is on the sideline.

sideline-crowdedWhen the disc is on the line, players often fall into the trap of neglecting the 1st back, 2nd back, and far wing positions. In the diagram on the right, positions 1 / 2 / 3 are important for sustaining possession and initiating flow, however most players will gravitate to area 4 out of habit, or out of an over-desire to score.
One way of fixing this flow-breaking problem is to use a whistle to stop the game when the disc is on the sideline, and check with the players how many of the back / far wing positions are occupied or vacant, and how long it takes them to move to occupy them. When they are occupied it should be clear how many more options are available to both the thrower and the cutters.

Play progression method

This method involves far less talking and much more playing, so it’s particularly useful on cold days, or with teams who are receptive to going outside their comfort zone to try something new without it being fully explained. After a warm up, go immediately into Ultimate games, giving the players small focus points between each round:

2v2: Take the open pass. Players should take the open lateral pass whenever the defenders allow it, which will mean they will often be level with each other, rather than one thrower back and one cutter downfield. When а defender takes the lateral pass away, there is plenty of space for a lead pass downfield. As opposed to a cutter trying to get free of their mark downfield for a pass, the type of movement you want to encourage looks more like this:

Brighton City (White) penetrating, vs Brighton Legends (Black) at Regionals 2015.

3v3: Stay connected without crowding – demonstrate what you mean by ‘connected’ (see ‘Explanation’ section on positions), and how it follows that a triangle setup is appropriate from a static disc. Demonstrate staying connected dynamically – if the other cutter cuts away from you, you should move towards them to stay connected, whereas if they cut towards/across you, you should either move away from them or towards where they came from, to avoid crowding.

4-rhombus-flat4-rhombus-pointed4v4: Make equilateral triangles – demonstrate the two possible shapes from a static disc, one where the thrower is part of two triangles, and another where the second triangle is further from the thrower, created by the downfield players. If in doubt, find two players and make an equilateral triangle with them.

5v5 – 7v7: Don’t surround the disc – all players should be within the field of vision of the thrower – so only 3 players should be connected to the thrower.

The remaining players should not set up connected to the disc, but should get connected to non-throwing players to make further triangles.

sideline-180If too many players try to get connected to the thrower, the thrower becomes crowded and / or surrounded by defenders.


Drills / Exercises

There are a number of drills which practice key elements of Hex offence. If players have had a go at Hex then they should be able to relate to the following drills / exercises:

Give-Go-Swill Drill
7-12 players
Focuses: Give-Go moves, Misdirection

drill-give-go-swill-1Players start as illustrated in the diagram on the left. The player at the top is the active ‘O’ player, accompanied by a defender – all other players are static. The active ‘O’ player is aiming to work the disc down to the player at the end of the drill, using at least one static player from the far side.
drill-give-go-swill-2-2The offence is not allowed to throw to a player they are not connected to, and static players may not pass to each other.
The defender is simply trying to stop the offensive player, by containing them / going for an interception / getting a point block. When the disc reaches the furthest player, they throw a long pass back to the start, swilly enough for both the O and the D to be able to make a bid for.
The give-go-swill drill trains misdirection, balance, and using flow and tempo to attack. Players should find that it is more effective to advance the disc through give-go moves – including moves away from the end target – than it is to directly break the force from static. Players also learn to communicate clearly with the static players about when/where they want the disc thrown back to them.

Rotation: The long thrower at the end joins the queue at the top, all the static players zig-zag down one position, the O becomes the first static player, and the defender becomes the active O player.

J-Lav running through the Give-Go-Swill drill at GB Mixed U23 2015 training
8-16 players
Focus: Sustainable possession
Mark out a box which is quite spacious – half a pitch (including end zone) is good for 7v7 – and split players equally into two teams. The aim of the exercise is for the offence to keep possession for as long as possible, playing out of the Hex setup/shape. Possession switches on a turnover as usual. Play starts / stops on the blow of a whistle, and the team in possession when play stops is awarded 1 point. 60 seconds on / 30 seconds off is quite realistic and fairly hard work – you can adjust the timings to suit what you want to achieve with your team.
Keepdisc is tough physical work and it trains sustainable possession – players must be efficient with movements or they will get too tired. It also gets players practicing fundamentals of the offence such as not surrounding the disc (this is the most common cause of turnovers in keepdisc), staying connected without crowding, & taking the open pass.
If you wish to expand on Keepdisc, consider:
– changing the play / break times
– adding an extra defender every 10-20 seconds
– adding 3 or 4 end zones of different colours around the edges of the box, after X seconds of possession then the whistle blower announces a colour – if the offence then score in the corresponding end zone, they get 2 points

Mex Puzzle Drill
6-13 players
Focuses: Communication, Creating space
drill-mex-puzzle-drillSet up 7 marker cones in a regular Hex formation, and add six ‘clearing cones’ around the outside, between the marker cones and further out from the centre. Players can cut to marker or clearing cones at any point and from anywhere in the formation, and they are allowed to hang out on the marker cones – but must continue moving if they are near a clearing cone. Passes should be made from marker cone to marker cone, hitting receivers in stride. The pass should be faked if a receiver arrives too early at a marker cone, if there are two cuts to the same cone, or if the thrower is not happy with making the pass for any other reason.
The disc starts on the edge of the formation, one player cuts to a clearing cone to create space for the first pass, and play continues for 30-60 seconds depending on your team. Players aim to keep flow by creating space for each other & keeping the disc moving. Fakes help the team keep tempo.
Mex Puzzle Drill is probably the hardest drill in the world which doesn’t involve defenders, and as such it can be frustrating – but it is great for teaching dynamic spatial awareness. Players constantly have their heads up, are looking to create space for each other and use it as they see it developing – a very valuable skill which is tricky to learn and tricky to teach.
In order to keep any kind of flow or tempo, the team must also learn to communicate constantly through vocalisation and gesticulation. This teaches them to work together as a team when playing offence, with everybody sharing the responsibility for keeping the disc alive.

Rotation: Mex Puzzle Drill can be very tiring, so regular breaks / multiple subs are recommended. Rolling subs can be waiting to be tagged in near the clearing cones, or the drill can be played in short bursts (although ideally the offence works at a rate they can sustain indefinitely).

Mex Puzzle Drill at Brighton City trials, 2015
Mex Huck Drill
8-13 players
Focus: Long throwing from motion, Breaking the force

drill-mex-huck-drill-11Players set up in a rhombus, first cut goes from the open to the break side, the other cutters follow the triangle rotation – break side player goes deep, deep/forward player comes under to the open side. If the break pass is thrown, the under cutter turns to go deep, and the deep cutter turns to come under.
Catcher of the break pass throws long to the new deep cutter.
If the break pass is not thrown, cutters should improvise to provide a suitable backup option for the thrower – often the initial deep cutter is well placed / has good timing to come under for an open-side under pass, and then throw deep to the original break-side cutter.
If you want to expand on the Mex Huck Drill, consider adding defenders whilst also giving the cutters more freedom to choose the direction of rotation of the triangle. You can also change which cutter initiates the movement downfield – these modifications prevent players from simply ‘running through the motions’ – instead they should start with their hips facing the thrower, being ready to react to space as they see it being created. The setup/shape can also be rotated to create different angles – meaning the long thrower could receive the first pass moving towards as opposed to away from the end zone, or the disc movement could be changed to be lateral (a swinging drill) instead of downfield.

Rotation: New player becomes force, force becomes break-thrower, break-thrower becomes long thrower (starts open side), long thrower becomes deep-to-under cutter (starts deep), deep-to-under cutter becomes under-to-deep cutter (starts break side), under-to-deep cutter joins the queue.

Mex Huck Drill at City trials 2015

Variation – using open side if no break

2-7 players
Focus: Identifying space, throwing skill

flags-3pFlags is a game which will expose your weaknesses and challenge your strengths. Set out two flags (or markers) a few yards apart, one directly downwind of the other – these mark the goal line – the windier it is, the longer the goal line should be. The higher the skill of the players (and/or the lesser the wind), the narrower the goal line.

2 players: Complete throws over the goal line. Throw from where you catch.

3 players: 2v1 – If you cause a turnover, switch in as a defender. Defender’s stall is a shot clock (from anywhere on the field), which resets after a goal. All players can move freely and pass on either side of the flags, but only passes across the goal line (at any height) count as goals & reset the shot clock.

Felix, Fluff and Edgars play 3-player Flags. Full video.
3v2 / 4v3: Experiment with bringing in more players both on offence and defence, widening the flags, restricting the surrounding space, and so on. Yesterday I ran a session which progressed from 2v1 Flags to 3v2 and 4v3 for the first time, and players seemed to gain a much better understanding of space and how to utilise it. This is literally as far as I have got at this point – the cutting edge of training Hex.

Hex offence is still very new, so there are plenty of alternative ways to train it which have yet to be discovered – the ones included in this article are some of the methods which Felix has utilised whilst coaching Hex over the last few years, but are by no means perfected or exhaustive. I recommend experimenting with new drills, exercises and games which are suited to your team’s needs – working from the Hex setup & core principles.
Good luck implementing the strategy – I hope you enjoy playing it as much as the teams and players I’ve coached do! If you have any questions, just get in touch.

For videos of full games with Hexagon offence, check out the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube and Facebook pages.

Felix is planning a UK & European Tour of workshops on Hex Ultimate in late 2016, where you can participate in drills and games with experienced Hex players (including Felix) who will be imparting their knowledge to you at all times. There will also be a classroom session where Felix will break down the core principles before progressing through to the advanced concepts of both Hex offence and Flexagon defence – why they are effective, how you can teach them, and how to excel at playing them. Join the notification list to hear about the locations / dates of the Hex Tour.

Hex offence documentation
Offences vs Defences: Training to counter your opponent effectively
Hexagon Ultimate YouTube
Hexagon Ultimate Facebook
Reddit discussion on this article

Offences vs Defences: Training to counter your opponent effectively


In this article I will be seeing how a selection of common offences match up to a selection of common defences in Ultimate, and whether any conclusions can be drawn about the most effective offences / defences for teams to spend time learning in order to efficiently counter their opponents’. When planning what strategies your team should learn in any given season, it’s important to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they are most likely to be countered effectively by your opponents.
The strategies listed are by no means exhaustive – every strategy has several different ways of being played, several tweaks or modifications, several patterns or plays which can be employed – none of which are touched on here, for the sake of simplicity. Environmental factors are not considered, “match-strategy” is not considered (e.g. come out more aggressive at the start of a match; change your defence regularly), skill-sets of teams or individual players are not considered, and different teams will have experienced different levels of success with the strategies listed – these estimates and statements are generalisations, made in order to achieve some kind of tangible comparison between the offensive/defensive strategies based on their merits and drawbacks.

I’m working with four offences and four defences:
Vertical / side / split stack offence: Players line up in the centre or at the side of the field, and make hard ‘cuts’ to the space available, before ‘clearing’ back into a stack. One player stays behind the disc as a dump/reset.
Horizontal stack: Players create a 3-4 formation (3 backfield, 4 downfield), with the downfield players either cutting towards or away from the disc.
Hexagon offence: Players form a hexagon made from equilateral triangles, often in a 2-3-2 formation, with movement creating space for passes in any direction. More info on Hex offence here.
Zone O: Varies from team to team, but usually 3 or 4 players in the backfield, who swing the disc from side to side, looking to pass downfield to ‘poppers’ attacking the space in front of the disc, and wings or deeps further downfield.

Strict person-D: Each defender marks an offensive player, staying very close to them for the duration of the offence. The side the defender tries to hold position on their mark is determined by the direction of the force put on the thrower.
“Help-defence”: A modification of person-D where the defenders are heads-up to switching marks and helping covering dangerous space when appropriate. More info on Help-defence here.
Flexagon: A hybrid defence, taking elements from person-D and Zone, to apply pressure to all players by using constant teamwork and communication. In theory a 2-3-2 setup, but actual positioning is entirely dependant upon where the offensive players are. More info on Flexagon D here.
Zone D: Defenders spread over the field to cover the space, usually overloading the area in front of the thrower to limit short downfield throwing options. There are many types of Zone D, this article does not distinguishing between them (for simplicity).


* a note about strict person-D: although much pressure can be applied by playing this defence with smart local positioning and trained athletic moves, I see the strategy as limited due to (a) the absence of teamwork between downfield defenders, and (b) the over-reliance upon matching or surpassing your opponents athletically.



The table below compares each offence against each defence. The numbers are scoring likelihood / defence likelihood estimates, assuming two high-to-elite level teams are competing with well-practiced offences vs well-practiced defences. For example, assume the (very common) combination of Vertical stack vs strict person-D would see the offence scoring without turning over 85% of the time – use this as calibration for the other numbers, whether or not you agree with the figure! This is roughly the same for Horizontal stack vs person-D, and for Zone O vs Zone D – these combinations are generally considered comparable with each other in terms of effectiveness, as they are the most commonly played.
“Help-defence” is more variable than the others, as it depends a lot on how well it is played by the defence, and how well the offence adapts – so I’ve given the numbers a range.
Hexagon and Flexagon are quite new strategies, so the estimates are more likely to be inaccurate, however they are taken from 2-3 years of regularly teaching and playing the strategies – including with the GB U23 Mixed 2015 team.
All the numbers are rough estimates of likelihood, and the relative effectiveness of each strategy will certainly vary from team to team, and depending on how each is played!


From an offence point of view:

vs Strict person-D, it’s best to get defenders clumping together (covering the least / most useless space), so a vertical or side stack is ideal, and horizontal creates a large deep space. Hex spreads the defenders out, meaning the D actually becomes more efficient.
vs “Help-defence”, defenders who are clumping together will be able to poach/switch to help each other, so vertical stack becomes less effective. Horizontal spreads the defenders well, making it hard for them to help each other effectively – especially when it comes to covering the immediate deep threat. Hex spreads the defenders further and punishes poaching more efficiently, but doesn’t offer the immediate deep threat of Horizontal.
vs Flexagon, vertical stack is negated, and Zone O doesn’t function well due to the tight marking against static players. Any set cutting patterns of plays are unlikely to work, so Horizontal stack and Hexagon must improvise in order to function. Improvisation is easiest done when the number of available options is maximised, so Hex is the ideal setup.
vs Zone D, stack offences are negated. Zone O and Hex have both been shown to be effective at breaking down area-based (zonal) defences, so should be played to counter Zone D.

From a defence point of view:

vs Vertical / Side / Split stack offences, the offensive players are clumping, so strict person-D plays to their strength (clumping your defenders together and leaving large open spaces), whilst Zone or Flex will force them to transition into another offence. Help-defence punishes the clumping, which encourages the offence to improvise, and can generate turnovers when played well.
vs Horizontal stack, the offence is more spread, so help-defence is harder to implement. Strict person-D is moderately effective as usual (depending on your athleticism vs theirs), but Zone D or Flexagon will force the offence out of any pattern- or play-based movement.
vs Hexagon, simple person-D can cause issues, specifically if you are more athletic than your opponents. Help-defence is easier punished by Hex than other offences, but can force the offence to use all their options. Traditional zones don’t change the formation of the Hex, but can force a different play-style which the offence may not be used to. Flexagon applies pressure to the highest number of options, forcing the offence to improvise – meaning any set patterns or plays become unreliable, and players must identify space for cuts and passes as and when they appear.
vs Zone-O, the offensive players are looking for space to occupy, so person-D will force a transition. Zone D conserves the energy of most defenders, however Zone O will be well-practiced against Zone D. Flexagon is more person-focussed, which forces Zone O either to transition or to improvise – to play at a different pace/tempo than they are used to in Zone O.


From an offence point of view: The most common defence is strict person-D, and the most common offence – vertical stack – does well to exploit strict person-D’s weaknesses. If the defence start switching and poaching (“Help-defence”), then the offence must start to improvise, and would ideally be able to counter with a practiced Horizontal stack or Hexagon offence. If facing Flexagon, offensive improvisation from a Horizontal / Hex / Zone O setup is necessary. If the defence play Zone, then the offence must respond with a practiced Zone O or Hexagon offence.
From a defence point of view: The most common offence is vertical stack, which plays to the weaknesses of strict person-D. Playing Flexagon or a Zone D will force the offence to transition – and you will see if they have a practiced alternative. Zone O can be countered effectively with person-D or Flexagon, which forces the offence to either completely improvise, or to play Horizontal stack or Hexagon offence. Flexagon still functions well against these offences, as does person-D – providing there is no athletic disadvantage.


From an offence point of view: Time spent perfecting a vertical stack offence can be made to be ineffective if a defence plays anything other than strict person-D. Training an offence which works against Zone (i.e. Zone O or Hexagon offence) is essential. If your opponents have good “Help-defence” or Flexagon D, then you must either be able to improvise, or transition to Horizontal / Hexagon in order to keep your scoring percentages up. Horizontal must transition when facing Zone, but Hexagon can be played effectively against any defence you face – even though it may not necessarily be the most effective against any defence individually. Your team can function against any defence if they know both Horizontal (with improvisation) and Zone O, or if they simply know Hexagon offence. To be the most effective, a team should also learn an offence which punishes strict person-D more efficiently – vertical- or side-stack.
From a defence point of view: Strict person defence is simple to learn and functions against any offence, but its success is determined by the athletic edge you have over the opponent, and limited by the lack of teamwork involved. If you have an athletic edge over almost every opponent then strict person-D can get enough turns to win games, but only until you reach an athletically superior team playing a well-practiced offence, or until your own offence is countered. Learning a more challenging defence, particularly one which counters the most common offence – vertical stack – is essential, unless you are fully relying on your athleticism or your offence.
“Help-defence” is hard to learn and implement due to its lack of structure and principles, and it is most useful against vertical stack – less so against Horizontal or Hex. Zone D completely counters vertical and other stack offences, however most teams have a well practiced Zone O which will counter it well. Although Flexagon is also hard to learn, it is flexible enough to be played effectively against any offence you face, countering the most common vertical stack and Zone offences effectively.

More info on Hex offence here.
More info on Help-defence here.
More info on Flexagon D here.
Video of Flexagon D in action.