Winning in the Air: Secrets to Skying Any Opponent

Photo: Leonardo Tronconis

Winning in the air is a culmination of certain skills. Perhaps two of the most important of the bunch are, how high you can jump and how well you can read the disc. The exciting part is that both of these skills can be improved upon with the correct practice. Contrary to a popular myth, jumping is not only genetic or a gift only certain people have. Did you know Excel Ultimate has an entire video course called ‘Winning in the Air’? Register Today.


How high can you jump?


The ability to jump, especially off one foot while on the run is vital in Ultimate. And the good news is that it is a learnable skill that almost every player can improve on. The two major ways to increase your vertical is by training (lifting weights, plyometrics etc.) and by improving your technique. Now the training is not my area of expertise, I decided to focus the video onto the technique of the single leg jump. I highly encourage everyone to go outside and start working on their form. Even if you are starting at 50% speed, work on all the aspects from the heel strike through the upper body arm drive. The cool thing for a single leg jump is that the faster you are going, the more energy you can bring into the jump, so once you start getting comfortable with your form you can increase the speed you are practicing the form, thus getting you even higher. 

Excel Tip: Put some single leg jumps into your warmup routine so you practice them consistently. 


How well can you read the disc?


The other skill that helps winning in the air is reading the disc. And when we talk about reading the disc, it’s not just knowing if it’s going left or right. We need to be able to judge the exact height off the ground that we are capable of catching it. For example, if we can reach 9 feet in the air, we need to be able to judge when the disc is going to be hovering at 9 feet. For a perfect, floating huck, that can be easy, but for blady throws, or fades, you need to be able to read how fast the disc is dropping, and jump when the disc is at 10 feet knowing that by the time your hand gets to the peak height, the disc meets you at 9 feet. 

Excel Tip: Go out with a teammate and ask them to huck discs out to space, using different shapes. 


Lessons I’ve learned



Drills for Success


One day after I miss timed three consecutive jumps I decided to take matters into my own hands. I grabbed a disc and moved to one end of the field and threw small outside in throws out to space, creating a floating disc ~10 yards in front of me that I went up and tried to high-point. It helps going against the wind, but by running down the field you do create a little resistance for the disc so it can float. I would run 100 yards back and get in 5-6 good jumps. This works on the skill of anticipating when the disc will be at your peak jump, and also lets you know what that peak jump looks like.

Challenge- Do this drill with forehands.

Another Drill that I use while coaching American University is a drill for 2. One player stands 5 yards in front of another and tosses a tennis ball in an arc. The player jumping for it gets one approach step then has to go up on one foot to catch the tennis ball. We use a tennis ball because it helps develop hand-eye coordination and cross training is always recommended. You can also ask the player jumping to back up and run onto the toss. 

Challenge: Have the thrower stand behind the jumper and lob it out to space, so the player jumping has less reaction time, and has to get up quick!


Instagram Questions:  


How do you win in the air against a [taller] person than you?

Consistency in timing! If we have Player A that can catch a disc at 10 feet (3 meters) and Player B that can catch a disc at 9.5 feet (2.89 meters), but Player B can read and time their jump better, they will win in the air every time Player A jumps too late and misses it at their peak. While this won’t happen every time, the more consistent you can time the jump the better chance you have skying someone bigger than you.

Box out! We didn’t cover boxing out in detail this month, but expect to see some in the future! Boxing out is a great way to keep the space between the disc and your opponent, and when utilized correctly you should be able to catch a lot of ‘jump balls’ with a clap catch at your chest.

One other trick you can try is to jump a fraction of a second before you think your opponent can get it, and have it sail over both of you. This is a great move if you are boxed out and the odds aren’t looking great. Go for a wind up and jump, and hopefully your opponent jumps early and it goes over both of you!

Should I practice jumping off both feet?

As most things go in Ultimate, the more skills and abilities you have the better! Some athletes prefer to jump off two feet, even during a run up approach. Jumping off two feet is also very useful if you get caught under a disc and don’t have any space to run onto a one footed jump. 

I still recommend working on the single leg jump, it seems to come up more frequently in Ultimate. Sometimes we have to jump from a full sprint and it has helped me more using that long swoop step to transition the sprint to a jump. If you have other opinions feel free to shoot them over in an email!


Final Thoughts


First, not everything I write or put out in videos is the only way of doing anything in Ultimate. It is just my experiences, intuition, and what has worked to help build up my career. I highly recommend everyone to try things, fail, try new things and fail again learning the courses Excel teaches. But I hope our videos and articles can help you avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way and offer you some new ideas you can try! 

I knew that when I started Excel Ultimate that jumping and skying would be my first course. It is simply fun. One of the most alluring parts about Ultimate is that the disc floats up in the air unlike any other sport. And the ability to soar up and pick it out of the air is one of the best feelings you can get. 

Good luck in the sky,
Rowan McDonnell

FREE monthly articles delivered directly to you