Faking It

This week I enjoyed some lovely physically distant Frisbee at the park with a few skilled throwers from my ultimate1 team (“Hammer Beats Rabbit”). Fine aerodynamics in the foreground … gorgeous sky, clouds, mountains in the background … belly laughs at our flubs.

This is as good as it gets in pandemic times. I am not actually playing ultimate right now, because viral doom, siiigh. So I’d like to take a little walk down memory lane with this post about “faking.”

My current favourite disc: “the periwinkler.”

My skill as an ultimate player is inconsistent, ranging from sloppy to just dandy, depending on my blood sugar and the phase of the moon. My inconsistency is the only thing (ha ha, not really) that keeps me out of the major leagues. But one thing I’m always good at is faking. Fooling the defense.

Arya made a face. “You cheated,” she said hotly. “You said left and you went right.”

“Just so. And now you are a dead girl.”

“But you lied!

“My words lied. My eyes and my arm shouted out the truth, but you were not seeing.”

“I was so,” Arya said. “I watched you every second!”

“Watching is not seeing, dead girl. The water dancer sees.”

I find fakes fascinating. So psychological! Defenders just cannot cope with decent fakes. And yet it’s so simple: just pretend to do one thing (run here, throw there), and then do something else (run there, throw here). That’s it. Literally like magic — stage magic, which is based mainly on misdirection.

Defenders cannot read minds, only signals. “Watching is not seeing.” If I decisively start down path A, and then change my mind and go down path B instead, nine times out of 10 the defender gets left behind. It’s not how hard you play, it’s how decisively you change your mind.

It’s particularly fun and obvious with throwing. It’s so easy to pretend to throw. The mark usually yells “up!” when the disk is thrown so that his team know that a disc is now in the air. If you can trick your mark into yelling up before you have actually thrown the disc, you know you’ve faked effectively. Not only does it mean the mark is confused, but he has misinformed his ENTIRE TEAM about the status of the disc.

That’s always a happy moment for a thrower, and I’ve achieved it many, many times. In fact, I rarely go a night of play without achieving it at least once. It is a thing I am good at.

Blocking by hand

For humble contrast, there’s another thing in ultimate that fascinates me but I am just rotten at: hand blocks.

A hand block is when you stop a throw that has been released right in front you, by the thrower you are actively trying to stop — who is, of course, actively trying to throw despite your defensive antics. The defensive goal is mostly just to restrict the thrower’s options (easy), not actually stop the throw, because that disc is fast. But we’ll try for it if we can! A defender can probably be considered good at hand blocks if he or she gets just one or two of them per season of play, and even the best may only get a half dozen out of thousands of opportunities.

So how many do I get? I am annoyed to admit that I have never gotten one… not one clean hand block … in 22 years of play. 😐 (A couple times I have slightly deflected a throw as it left the hand, and a couple times I got what might have been a hand block but the thrower claimed a foul: contact with the disc or thrower before the throw actually launched.)

I have studied this problem. I have tried to understand what goes into this skill, and either I don’t get it or cannot apply it. Obviously. It must be about savvy positioning and good reflexes, of course, but it’s also clearly a mind game: reading the signals well, not biting on fakes, knowing when it’s not a fake in the first place. Many players often fail to fake effectively — but I have not been able to exploit that. Not even once.

Fascinating and frustrating!

I do have a self-serving theory that might explain my failure. Maybe I can’t get hand blocks because I am a well-behaved defender who actually sticks to his position and job description: limiting the throwers options on one side of the field only (“holding the force”). Creating more options for hand blocks definitely would require actually leaving your defensive post more often.

Let’s say that. 😜


  1. Ultimate is a Frisbee team sport, co-ed and self-refereed, with soccer-like intensity and usually the mood of a good party. Many players are jock-nerd hybrids: lots of engineers, scientists, coders. Hippies invented the sport, but have long since been marginalized. I’ve been playing since 1997.