It’s taken a little while to organize and translate my stuff into a format to put up online, but here’s what I got from the UCPC last month:
Some quality content on the Atlanta Ultimate blog in the wake of South Regionals, namely two pieces on Using Your Top Seven (and when you should ease up) and When Losing is the Way to Go. (Relatedly, a bit on Changing It Up On Offense corroborating Jim P’s original post on the matter).
Good food for thought for those of us who’ve yet to play in Regionals–from my experience playing in New England College Regionals, at least, aside from the rare case (Brown ’05) where one team was clearly the class of the region, ultimately who emerged from the muddle victorious depended as much on smart subbing and use of depth as it did on whose “top seven” or whatever comparison you want to make was better on paper.
I wrote on this a good while ago, musing on the effectiveness of playing all-out (emotionally driven, make-a-play-at-all-costs) D vs playing smart (seeking to contain more often than to strike aggressively). ( I find I tend towards containment D more often than not).
The example I offered then was that of the layout attempt; it’s great to try for the layout D, but a missed bid leaves the thrower unmarked for a couple counts (and against a good team, those few seconds can be enough to seal the fate of the point off of a quick give-n-go or break-side huck).
This same aggression vs containment dichotomy plays out more commonly on the mark. Often after some tight play, or in tense circumstances, players try to compensate by ratcheting up intensity on the mark.
I usually see this play out with a few consequences:
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Downfield adjustments involve making changes along a few spectra:
Simply a change in what you’re communicating to the offense. You can communicate “we’re scared of the deep and will give you the under” with a shift to an all-backing D.
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- If you read only one thing about cutting, read Bart Watson’s piece. Concise but full of useful information; re-reading is certain to yield more information than the first glance. His thoughts on cutting not only echo mine, but exceed them. I especially like his notion of “control[ling] your defender;” it’s a nice, succinct way to think about your goals as a cutter, and synergizes nicely with my favorite “create space, attack space.”
You’ve got the disc on the sideline. The mark is counting, “two, three…”
You think your buddy Charlie is about to get open, but he slips on the plant and you turn to face the dump as the mark reaches “five.”
All season long you’ve practiced looking at the dump on stall five–it’s a quick turn, look, step out and throw, or wait for a cut from the dump and throw. Simple.
This time it’s different though. As you turn, as the mark mouths “five,” he moves with you. All of a sudden that mark that was just in your way as you tried to throw upfield is in your way and completely blocking your throws back. The dump defender is taking away the upline cut. The only option you’ve got is a tough inside-out flick.
This is NOT what you practiced. You turn the disc over.
This is the power of the simple anti-dump adjustment, one of the most prevalent and potent adjustments the mark makes dynamically.
The real power of this adjustment comes when you go from making this a “sometimes” play (as in, sometimes the mark decides to shift over) to an “always” play (as in, the mark ALWAYS shifts over on stall 5 on the sideline [etc]–you even have a call for it so the downfield/dump defender can adjust accordingly).
As you know, the dump is one of the most important components of ultimate strategy, so adjustments you can make on defense to pressure it are always worthwhile (assuming you can actually execute on said adjustments). You can vary the count at which this shift is made–perhaps you shift earlier, on stall 2 or 3, against a weaker thrower, or a team that habitually looks offline earlier, and you can vary the extent to which you move around at other positions as well–I’ve seen it against horizontal offenses where in sideline situations the third, far-side handler defender will flare out into the lane to really discourage early-stall count throws (and then book it back once the thrower commits to the dump–I’m thinking particularly of this year’s Carleton v. Colorado finals video, where the amount on pressure Carleton puts on resets is an unheralded factor in their early lead and eventual win).
Other dynamic adjustments to the mark I’ve seen:
- Throwing a flat/straight-up mark for a couple counts early to get in the way and pressure hucks in flow, before shifting to a more conventional mark to pressure breaks/resets. I’ve seen run as an adjustment against just a team’s stud thrower (who presumably is making all these throws) or against a whole team or handler corps if the team as a whole likes to huck.
- At one point DoG (and DoG-coached college teams in NE) implemented a truly dynamic mark (as opposed to the planned shifts I’m talking about here); in this case the mark would leap from one side to the other, shifting the force entirely, in order to shut down hucks going one way or the other. This had the downside of making under cuts relatively easier (what with all the shifting downfield defenders had to do), but the goal was of course to shut down the deep game and when the communication worked (it took a lot of work on the sidelines to communicate when to shift back and forth), it met its goal.
The main advantage to making these dynamic adjustments is the shift in control they confer. Typically a defense has to throw a zone, something radically different from the “normal” man D to take control of a game and force the O to respond; even things like changing to a force-middle defense are something the offense reads and adjusts to in a short span (at a high level). With some simple but well-coordinated work on the mark and downfield, the D again gains an upper hand of a sort–just as a cutter has an advantage on her defender because she can choose where and when to cut, a defense that plans on adjusting dynamically gains a second or two of control that the offense must respond to.
It won’t always be the case that those couple seconds will stop the O and get a turn, but barring a psychic offense or a failure to execute, it will slow them down–if not contain them.
There remains a lot of untapped potential in using the extra sideline eyes (or even other players on-field) to guide the mark and the rest of the team’s defense–more on sidelines in a later post, but think about the potential of a well-coordinated defensive line, adjusting on the fly, yet in sync thanks to some outside guidance. The very best defensive lines develop this sort of chemistry over time, but how might we plan and guide this development? How do you institutionalize it?
There remains a TON of room for defensive growth here.
We’ll wrap up (probably) with downfield adjustments next week. Am I missing anything here? Fill in the gaps in the comments.
Ultimate, like most sports, appears relatively simple at a glance–you look at your elite, championship-caliber squads, and you see lots of absolutely baller ultimate players–of COURSE they’re an elite team; they’re more talented.
In practice though, talent alone is not enough. Strategy is huge, especially on defense–given the largely offensive-advantaged nature of the sport, generating turns is the name of the game. High-level defense relies not only on good, athletic, experienced players, but also on making strategic adjustments to keep the pressure on.
The amount of nuance involved with making adjustments makes it a continual learning process to execute, though the big-picture ideas behind these adjustments tend to be relatively simple.
Keep in mind that while I’m talking about adjustments as a team-level strategy, you can and should be thinking about similar changes within your own matchup in a given point/game/season.
Adjustments have two main thrusts: Changing strategy completely or Tweaking the strategy you already have.
Changing involves a shift from, for instance, man to zone D, or from one zone set to another.
Usually you do this to take away an opponent’s strength–for example, if you’re finding their downfield cutters relentless against your man, a zone D that forces them to slow down and make more/riskier passes might throw them off their rhythm. Changes are also made to prey on an opponents weakness–if a team’s handlers prove fallable, a zone designed to force lots of handler motion might prove effective.
Tweaking is where the real meat of making adjustments comes;usually when I talk about defensive adjustments this is what I’m talking about. In any D this has two components:
- The Mark
These two are very closely related, such that altering one will impact the other.
Adjusting on the mark means a conscious decision to take something away that you weren’t before–with an accompanying concession of something you were previously contesting.
For instance, if a team is routinely using its IO breaks for quick, effective strikes, you might make an adjustment on the mark to consciously cheat more to the open side (or perhaps commit to not biting as hard on pivots to the break side), or otherwise adjust the mark’s positioning to stop the break from going off. This has the tradeoff of making the around break easier; generally you make this concession hoping that a team that loves the IO will struggle to adjust and use the OI, or at the very least you’ll have a better idea of what to expect now that you’re dictating.
Adjusting downfield, you change up your positioning and what space you’re actively trying to take away–in the previous example, instead of adjusting with the mark, you can also adjust downfield by instructing your defenders–particularly those close to the disc, who are prime candidates to receive the IO–to play more closely to their man (more even with the mark rather than flared out into the lane), and to respect the break side cut a bit more since it’s been established as viable. In this example that’s not necessarily a good adjustment to make, as it makes the open side more vulnerable…however, it may still prove more effective than simply staying the course.
I’ll be making a few more posts going in more depth on these sorts of adjustments, and try to get at some of the “why” behind it as well, which is the real meat of the strategy. Keep in mind that as defensive adjustments get more complex, you need a correspondingly more capable defensive squad to carry them out effectively. Even minor adjustments like mark positioning require a certain amount of experience; if you’re going to mess around with straight-up transition marks or other fanciness you likely will need to practice and coordinate these adjustments before you get into tournament situations; otherwise you risk a poor defensive set and, worse still, putting your players in a position where they have to think too much in the flow of a game, hindering performance.
My favorites (Ryan Morgan’s assertion that wings are not just a throwaway position for rookies is worth repeating, too); again, they put things a lot more succinctly than I.
I don’t see a ton of revolutionary (compared with my experience) information there, apart from the number of endorsements of the two-handler set; this says to me that zone O really comes down to a good, solid fundamental approach/understanding.
On the skill spectrum, a quick catch-throw turnaround and composure with the disc in your hand are great for any zone handler (and by extension, all players) to have–the former can be worked on pretty much anytime, while the latter would come with more throwing experience/confidence, both under pressure (ratchet it up in practice/drills) and in conditions (find it, and do it).
Knowledge goes hand in hand with skill. Recognizing what kind of zone you’re facing and where the weak points are, along with knowing what your own team’s assets are, likewise will do a lot to prepare for success. Insert Sun Tzu quote about knowing your enemy and yourself.