Building a Better Turn by Fiona Mernagh

Get open easier & play better defence by building a better turn. Dive into the details of how to change direction effectively in a game context.


Cutting is something we start learning to do very early on. The drill is usually simply ‘run to this cone, turn and come out at this angle’ which is perfect for beginners. However, what if it never progresses beyond that? How do you improve a skill that’s not being taught or spoken about apart from generic phrases such as ‘turn sharply’? Hopefully this article will help – whether you’re a coach, a player or both.

Some people will have naturally great cutting mechanics from playing other sports while others may still be working on their coordination by the time they start Ultimate. Being able to give players some key fundamentals for good cutting could really improve a team. A word of caution here however: don’t fix what’s not broken. If someone is already naturally good at quick turns, don’t start trying to change things. You can still provide drills of course but if you get them thinking too much about how they’re moving you may find you slow them down without adding anything in the long run. Instead, focus on giving them task based drills. Sport is about moving with subconscious control: we’re much faster that way.

For the rest of us who aren’t so lucky to have naturally good change of direction (COD) footwork built in, we can learn some nice skills to help us along.

Let’s review the basics.

Stages in a cut

For all cutting manoeuvres, they typically involve the following pieces: accelerate, decelerate, change direction and re-accelerate.

Accelerate: to help us take off more quickly, the best way to think of it is to feel like you’re falling forward. Then push hard into the ground with every step. You should be getting a fully straight knee with every push off ideally, which you can check by recording yourself and watching back in slow motion. There is a caveat to this: the faster you go into a turn, the more difficult it may be to accurately and quickly execute your COD. The more aggressive your COD, the more injury risk associated with it too – the load on the knees in particular goes up. So your initial acceleration can be quite variable, based on your physical abilities.

Decelerate: there’s no need to think too hard about what your body is doing here. Run as fast as you can towards a cone, slow down just as you reach it and see how far past it you end up. If you’re several meters in front of it, work on this. You should be finishing with one foot ahead of the other, without the front heel coming off the ground. Your torso should be leaned forward a bit – the more lean, the less pressure on the knees but too much lean could slow you down when trying to go the other way.

Change direction: all of this is described in detail in the links below.

Re-acceleration: for coming out of a turn, it’s particularly important to be pushing as hard as you can to get away from your defender and into the free space nice and early. Otherwise the same principles described above can be applied: lean into the turn and be nice and long from head to toe with every push.

What’s next?

  1. We will begin with the science to give context for what we’re looking for in a turn: The science of changing direction
  2. Then we’ll review Types of cut
  3. Then onto the fun part: How to train for a faster turn


  1. Marshall, B.; Franklyn-Miller, A., King, E., Moran, K., Strike, S., Falvey, É. (2014) Biomechanical Factors Associated With Time to Complete a Change of Direction Cutting Maneuver, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (10), 2845-2851 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000463
  2. Dos’Santos, T., McBurnie, A., Thomas, C., Comfort, P., & Jones, P. (2019). Biomechanical Comparison of Cutting Techniques: A Review and Practical Applications. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 41(4), 40-54. doi: 10.1519/ssc.0000000000000461
  3. Hewit, J. K., Cronin, J. B., & Hume, P. A. (2012). Understanding Change of Direction Performance: A Technical Analysis of a 180° Ground-Based Turn and Sprint Task. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 7(3), 493–501.
  4. McLean, S. G., Lipfert, S. W., and van den Bogert, A. J. (2004) “Effect of Gender and Defensive Opponent on the Biomechanics of Sidestep Cutting,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(6), 1008 – 1016.
  5. Dos’Santos, T., Thomas, C., Comfort, P., & Jones, P. A. (2018). The Effect of Angle and Velocity on Change of Direction Biomechanics: An Angle-Velocity Trade-Off. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 48(10), 2235–2253.


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