The Importance of Sideline Involvement

Published in Ultimatum 2013


The motivation for this article came during the European Youth Ultimate Championships (EYUC) whilst coaching the GB Open U17s. During one game I was letting an injured player know that he still had an important role to play because “sidelines win games” and it was time to “go and get your block”. He asked the quite legitimate question: “How?”
I have been playing the game for nearly 20 years and I don’t recall anyone ever giving me a clear answer to that question. This article will attempt to answer the question and will, I hope, be used to encourage discussion about playing sideline rather than being seen as the gospel on how to do it.
I believe that there are many things a sideline can be used for, including tactical advice on what to expect (e.g. “big thrower currently has the disc, beware the huck!”) or where to line up (e.g. “force is home, you are on the wrong side of your man”); providing a pass count to enable defensive changes; or simply providing some encouragement to your teammates.

In my view there are three basic rules to playing sideline: be loud, keep up with play and keep it positive.
Be loud
A loud sideline has some major psychological impacts. It can put the opposition into a negative spiral or lower their belief that they are still in the game, and it can motivate your team to forget the tired legs and push on for that block or deep strike. The louder your sideline, the stronger these psychological aspects become. This aspect of the sideline can be generated at any time and it is good practice to be loud during the warm up to both inspire your team and get you ready to play the sideline role.
Keep up with the play
To be effective on the sideline, you need to be able to contribute to the game. This process starts with everyone on the team knowing what the players are about to do, which can be achieved by having the entire sideline listening to the set-up called on the line. Good Spirit requires you to avoid blocking lines of sight for the opposition; it is therefore good practice to kneel before your seven heroes.

Note also that there is an important distinction between ‘keeping up with the disc’ and ‘keeping up with play’. If your role is to support the deepest player, then keeping up with play requires that you position yourself where the deep player will hear you and you can see the threats that they are required to cover. If your team is attacking the end zone then your contributions from the halfway line will be less than helpful. Use both sidelines to spread your noise across the entire pitch.
An added benefit of keeping up with play is that the players off the pitch stay moving, which prevents them getting stiff during long points or periods of being on the sideline.
Keep it positive
We have all seen a teammate drop a disc for which they should have used two hands, or misread a pass and bid at the wrong time or place. At this point I have witnessed numerous teams enter what I call the ‘negative sideline spiral’, where the sideline acts as a self-destructive force and can do more harm than good. Here, the sideline stops giving positive comments and starts attacking the action rather than supporting the player in order to help win back the disc. If a player makes such a mistake, it is an issue for training after the game or talking about between points, not for yelling during a point. If the game is underway then you are all on the same team and need to work together. You are still on the team while on the sideline!
A loud sideline is certainly a valuable tool, but is it good Spirit to have a sideline that could ‘psyche out’ opponents? I would say it depends on how it is done. In my view, examples of poor sideline Spirit could include making calls from off the pitch, getting in the way of line passes or insulting or belittling the opposition.

However, during a game against US team Twisted Metal in 2006, I played against the most dominant sideline I have ever experienced. They were LOUD, they kept up with play and the noise was almost continuous regardless of their being up or down, scoring or being scored on. Playing against this sideline made it the most mentally draining game I have played and I know that my performance was affected by it. Yet I never felt that this was a team with anything less than full respect for their opponents and the concept of Spirit. I traded shirts with the guy I was most marked by; this still reminds me of the importance of playing sideline, and of a great battle.
A strong sideline, if used properly, can give your team an edge in all areas. It encourages those on field to be better and it keeps those waiting for their turn on field involved. It really is a win-win way to play the game.


Jolyon Thompson