Conceptual Ultimate 3
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (MoonEE)
Subject: Concept D
Date: 2 Jan 1996 02:08:05 -0500
Changing Your Defensive Set... Often
A while back I posted that DoG used seven different defenses during
the final game at nationals this year. While many of these sets did
not result in blocks and turn-overs, I can argue that mixing up
different defensive sets did put Seattle off their game. Unforced
errors followed. If your team tries this strategy, you may later hear
statements from your opponent like "we just didn't play that well
against them", "our O didn't click", "we forced it". Quotes like these
come after successful defensive strategies are employed.
Below are eight defenses we played at nationals and how we see them
being used. One thing to remember is that you can't expect a defense
to get blocks every point. Using one defense may simply be a set-up,
making the next defense more effective.
Ten years ago, a team could win a national championship playing
nothing but straight-up man; that is not the case today. It surprised
me that neither Seattle nor Port City played any zone
defense. Tournaments are long, legs are to be saved. This fall we
traveled with only 19. These low numbers made for our ability to learn
many team-defenses, keeping the same exact personnel on the field. But
we had to save our legs somehow. Junk defense saves legs.
Here is a brief description of the defenses that we employed in
Man-to-man, force two finger:
(note: Forget straight-up man... you're giving the thrower both
throws, not smart! Even force-middle seems like a gift to a good
offensive team.) Force two finger gives more teams trouble than any
other man D. Why? Because most players can't throw a two finger more
than 30-40 yards, so you've cut the field way down. In addition, most
teams have tunnel vision when trapped against the sideline, always
looking to ram throws directly down field into the teeth of the
defense. Strong marking on the throw is critical.
man to man force backhand:
This D augments the force two finger. Break it out after a team has
gotten used to your force flick. Double Happiness got very efficient
at beating our force flick, which we had used for over a year against
them. No team has better inside-out flicks than they do. But force
backhand threw them off. Few players throw the inside out backhand
well. The BIG risk of the force backhand is that you leave the
backhand huck wide open (last man back has to be aware).
clam for 3 passes:
Here's a good D to throw in after you've been playing a lot of force
two finger (remember that the clam only works on a force two-finger
mark). Your opponent thinks man, but you're actually in a match-up
zone (when you stop and think about it, the clam is just a high risk
match-up zone). I'm always surprised at how teams panic when their
first cutter, open all game so far, is suddenly shut down. Use the
clam once the opponent has established it's offensive rhythm.
Clam to zone is another good D to follow successive points of man. It
looks like a man, kind of, gives you a few shots at a block early and
then settles into a zone.
note: clam only works off a stoppage of play, so you have to throw the
pull OB. Someone may change the rules to keep teams from doing this,
but until they do??? (I think that an OB pull should be heavily
penalized for this reason, say start the O from the back of the end
zone... that would keep the discs inbounds.)
clam after any stoppage of play:
This can be a real surprise. You're playing force two-finger and
there's a stoppage of play (foul, pick, travel). Every one on your
team KNOWS that it's clam for three passes starting NOW. If the
opponent lasts three passes you're simply back in the force two
finger. Use an audible later to call it off; they think clam, you pay
The use of audibles during all aspects of Ultimate is imperative. Even
if what your calling is code for stay in the same D, it helps your
team focus and it makes your opponent think that you have many
different sets. Learn to hide your defenses. Don't be lazy, don't
telegraph what you're up to.
The risk with the clam in general is that it wreaks havoc on your
defensive match-ups, lots-o-switching going on. Cribber may very well
find himself covered by Lenny... not good!
This is the oldest zone in the game, but played differently depending
on who's teaching. In short, it should be match-up for the wings and
the deeps while the cup forces certain throws. 'Flexing' this zone
during a point can work as well (take away the dump at high stall
counts after your opponent gets dependent on that pass).
note: 'Flex' defenses will be the thing of the future.
Here's one D that NEVER works -- well, kind of. Why use it then?
Sometimes we're not sure. However, because this zone has but one
marking chase, the O can throw all the sort passes it wants, giving
them the sense that they are zone killers. Next time down, you play a
tight 2-3-2, taking the dump away at high counts and bingo they're
putting up hail Mary passes.
The 1-3-3 is also great for transitions into clam for one pass (on a
stoppage of some kind) followed by force two-finger. The opposition
thinks easy zone, suddenly you front the close passes and the thrower
has nothing as his down field players are standing in their zone O
The 1-3-3 is a good zone to man for stopping plays off the pull since
most of the zone stays relatively deep.
2-3-2 zone to man (for a set number of passes, say 3 or 5):
Oldest transition D in the book, but essential to use against teams
with strong plays off the pull. During New York's dynasty, if you
didn't mix it up on the pull, their four person play was
unstoppable. Many times, teams will turn it over before you even
change to man. Risk of this D is bad match-ups and your team has to be
able to count. During the transition from zone to man, you are very
This is a force two-finger man, but with defenders around the thrower
fronting their men, and defenders down field looking to
poach. Sideline must talk, calling out 'last man back' as the position
will naturally keep changing. The concept here is to cut off the short
pass, forcing the throw up-field to where others and last man back can
poach. An important part of this D is the switching that should occur
as a handler heads down field while another cutter is streaking
in. The defenders can easily switch since, ideally the defender near
the disc sees the incoming cutter (remember he's fronting so he ain't
even looking at the thrower) and the defender down field sees the
handler coming (since he's set to poach and therefore looking at the
thrower). The risk with this D is that is can become very loose, with
too much switching and poaching, leaving everyone open.
Also, in the endzones use localized side-to-side (two defenders 'share'
their assignments: "you got left out of the stack, I got right"). 90% of
all goals are thrown to the corners.
So what does all this mean? Sometimes the object is not just to make
sick blocks (though if you're single this may be your only hope of
finding a date), but to make your opponent's offense have to
THINK. Thinking and playing at the same time is very difficult. By the
time the final game rolls around, teams want to use the same strategy
that has gotten them into that game. Thinking, changing, adjusting are
all difficult, especially without real coaches.
- All of these defenses work best in combinations. Play force
two-finger for a while, then come down in something that looks
like force two-finger, but is zone or clam. Play zone for a while
and then come down in zone-to-man or zone-to-clam. DON'T BE
PREDICTABLE. Many opponents see only one or two players deep,
thinking that if you are in a man around the disc, then it mut be
man all the way. Change it!
- Don't try to RUN with your opposition -- it exhausts
you. Tournaments are long endurance battles, not one-game
championships. If you have the best shut-down man defense, use it
at key times to break your opponent's heart and confidence. Many
of the defenses described above involve LESS running than a
straight man. If your opponent scores in two passes, but the
second pass is hotly contested by your deep-deep, then you have
done your job. Next time, make the block.
(Related note: An unusual concern came over me watching our
man-to-to man nearly block three of the first four passes in a
series against Seattle. As our defense got scored on -- after 15
or 20 passes -- the sideline cheered 'great D'. And it WAS good
D. Seattle had struggled to score, while we were scoring in five
passes. On top of that, some of their O was staying in to play D
while we were changing wholesale... Nonetheless, my concern was
that we were still running too hard. 21 is a long game. I would
rather not try run with them. It's much harder on the D than the
O during a tough running point. So, let 'em score in five passes
(not 20), and let's get a shot at a block or two during those
- Predictably, offense begins with the short pass. You can't shut
it down ALL DAY, but you can dictate when your opponent will
complete this pass easily and when it will be difficult. Don't
let the O dictate the flow of the game. It is surprising how FEW
teams have offenses that begin with something other than a short
pass to a handler lined up at the front of the stack. Since you
know this fact, dictate that your opponent MUST try something
else. You will find that if they haven't practiced alternatives,
turn-overs will be forthcoming.
- Your entire team must be on the same page. None of these D's are
individual, and they suck when people aren't working together,
focused. Call the D on the line before the pull. Have the
transition O be VERY SIMPLE. Don't risk having too much to
- Your sideline is a HUGE part of all of these strategies (telling
defenders where to cover/look/force). As well as yelling audibles
for changes during a point.
- Move the defense towards more risk taking. Position your players
accordingly, with high flying defenders down field and stingy
shut down defenders around the disc. Get your opponent to put up
lower percentage passes. Hey, no need to block bad throws. Force
the O to throw marginal passes into areas where your team is
- Have your O capable of playing a few of these junk defenses. Zone
off a turnover often works as your opponent will likely not have
good zone O players in the game. Clam on stoppages of play can
also be very effective since defensive teams don't have as many
- Whether man or zone, great defense begins with an aggressive mark
on the thrower. A solid force one way or the other will allow
down field defenders the luxury of only having to cover half the
field (down field defenders can't totally ignore the weak side,
But, each defense takes time to learn. Showing up at practice and
simply playing games to 21 is not enough. This stuff has to be
drilled, 'cause athletes are notoriously dense. We freely admit that
we are the dumbest team in Ultimate.
Good luck to all in '96.
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