Breaking ankles with a nasty cut, breaking a mark with a sick throw, or breaking necks with a pump fake: these are all great ways to demonstrate your superiority over your opponent. But, let’s be honest, there’s nothing that makes you feel more superior to your opponent than skying the heck out of them and breaking their confidence. However, behind an amazing sky is much more than just a display of someone’s vertical jump; while having an above average vertical jump is certainly beneficial to getting that sky, it's not completely necessary. Some other behind-the-scenes factors that make up a sky include reading the disc, positioning, and setting up your approach to the disc. It's also important to keep in mind that all of these factors flow from one to the other and work together to yield a successful sky.
Arguably the most important factor to skying your opponent is the ability to read the disc. If you don’t know where the disc is going, then you’re not going to catch it in the right spot, it’s as simple as that. Improving your reading just takes practice and experience, but one way to immediately improve it is to place yourself in an advantageous position to see where the disc is going. This is where positioning and setting up your approach come into play. If the disc is in the air and you are directly underneath it, then it will be very difficult to read. To counter this, when the disc is in the air, try to move slightly away so that you’re not underneath it. This way, you’ll be able to see the angle of the disc and predict its destination. Furthermore, try to move towards the direction the disc is going. For example, if the disc is thrown with an outside-in forehand, then it’s going from right to left, assuming it’s a righty throw. In that case, move towards the left so that you can attack the disc as it’s coming down towards you.
Now that we’ve talked about positioning yourself so that you can read the disc better, let’s address something that's under-emphasized in the art of skying: setting up your approach. This means planning your steps to attack the disc. An error I see many players make when jumping for the disc is starting from a standstill. By doing this, you’re missing out on several inches of your vertical jump, and, depending on whether you’re a single leg or double leg jumper, this could be as much as a whole foot difference. Personally, when I set up for a vertical jump, I try to use either a 3 or 5 step approach. That means I take 3 or 5 steps for my jump, much like how a volleyball player approaches a spike. Find what works for you and figure out whether you perform better jumping off one foot or two feet, but practice both.
Let’s see what setting up looks like in action.
Here, you can see Jakeem Polk, a player well-known for his posterizing skies, set up his approach to catch the disc over the crowd. Whereas everyone else is crowding together for the disc, you can see Jakeem away from the crowd, stalking the disc like a lion stalking its prey, carefully calculating the sky. Now, you can attribute his skies to his insane vertical jump, and while that’s a huge factor, you can clearly see that he pushes it to its full potential by his approach to the disc. Also notice how he’s away from the disc and on the left side of it as it comes down from right to left, which helps him read it better as we mentioned before.
Here is another example of a different athlete also known for his amazing skies, Husayn Carnegie:
Again, we can see Husayn keeping away from the disc, on the side that the disc is heading towards, and then he slows down, stalks the disc, and uses a 3-step approach to takeoff, whereas his defender is standing underneath it and doesn’t take intentional steps in his approach like Husayn does.
While everyone might not have the vertical jump to put on skies like this, we can at least put these steps into action to get the very best out of our jump. Whether we have a 40 inch vertical or a 20 inch vertical, it’s no use if we can’t read the disc, put ourselves into the right position, and set up a calculated approach.
- To optimally read the disc, position yourself away from it, towards the direction the disc is falling. This will give you a better perspective to see the angle of the disc and give you the space for your approach to the disc.
- Once positioned, take a 3 or 5 step approach to the disc to jump as high as you can.
Finally, practice it. A fun game I like to play to work on my skies is called “500.” You and a group of people split into 2 groups about 40-50 yards away from each other. To play the game, someone hucks the disc to the other group and calls out a number below 500, usually 50-100; this is how many points that disc is worth if it’s caught. The point of the game is to catch the disc over the people in your group until someone reaches 500 points. It’s a great way to work on your reading, your positioning, and your approach, all the while having some fun. Once you’ve practiced it enough and have the technique down, all that’s left to do is increase your vertical jump, but that’s a whole different story for another time.
(About the Author)
Kuni Nishimura is a Certified Personal Trainer with years of experience playing and coaching Ultimate.