I initially posted this on the afdc.com forum in July 03.
The offensive advantage in ultimate is often described using the metaphor of a two person race in which the offensive player decides the starting time and the ending point. Therefore, the story tells us, given two players with the exact same attributes, the offensive player will always win. The job of the good defender, then, is to prevent the offender from making all the choices and thereby regain some of the lost advantage.
I would argue that man defense can essentially be broken down into three fundamental components: 1) establishing position, 2) using your body to dictate to the offender, 3) going to get the block.
Establishing Position – Establishing position can be sub-divided into two categories: 1) where to establish position, and 2) the actual physical technique of how to stand.
Determining where to establish position is the result of answering two questions: 1) how close is the offensive player to the disc? 2) where is the help?
How close is the offensive player to the disc? The general rule is that the closer an offensive player is to the disc, the closer his defender should be to him. The reason for this is two-fold. The first is simply an issue of time and distance. Clearly, longer throws take more time to get to where there going, thereby allowing a defender more time to make up the distance. The second point is that offenders close to the disc are generally more of a risk to receive an inverted break; therefore defenders should be closer to cut off the angle on this break.
Where is the help? Depending on the level of play/players familiarities with their teammates, this question can either be a very simple or very complicated. At its most basic level, this question is simply where’s the force? The question becomes more complex as you learn your teammate’s tendencies. For example, if I’m on the field with Joel, and I’m covering someone in the front of the stack, I’m going to overplay the in-cut even more than I might normally. Why? I’ve played with Joel long enough to know that he’s going to help me if my guy goes to the house. Similarly, if I’m on a guarding the guy who’s fourth in the stack, and I see Seto guarding one of the guys in the front of the stack, I will be more likely to force the cutter into the open side lane. Why? I’ve played with Seto, and I know that he’s going to poach way more than is healthy, so I may as well use that information to my advantage.
Now I’ve determined how far I need to be from my guy, and also where my help is, and I’m ready to dig in and shut my guy down. The first thing I try to do is put myself in a position where I can see both my man and the disc. I’ve heard this called triangulating, and that makes sense to me. The next thing to do is assume a good defensive stance. The mantra for defensive backs is “chin over toes,” and I think that’s a good approach for ultimate as well.
Congratulations, you’ve now established position. Using your body to dictate the offender – Going back to our original metaphor, this is where the defender gets to start picking the races. After establishing position, the defender should mentally pick a place where he wants the offender to run to. The defender should then position in such a way that the offender finds the defender’s pre-picked spot inviting. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is for the defender to stand very close to the offensive player and physically force them to run in the direction that the defender has picked out. This is a very effective strategy, and the way I played defense for a long while. Unfortunately, you’ll run into the occasional cutter who is either inexperienced or just mad at how close you are to them and you’ll subject yourself to some nasty collisions. After one too many bloody lips, I decided to alter my strategy slightly. Now, I just give my person a cushion in the direction that I don’t want him to go. I still put my body in the path that I don’t want to give up, but I just stand further back. Any movement that he makes is met by a corresponding lateral movement that keeps my body in between the cutter and the path that I’m defending. I realize this is confusing, so here’s an example. Let’s say I’m covering the last cutter in the stack, and I want him to cut back to the disc. First I’ll mentally pick the spot I want him to run to. Then I’ll put my body behind him. Most likely, he’ll see me behind him, makes some sort of deep fake. As he makes his deep fake I’ll move laterally so that my body is between him and his path deep. Any deep cut that he makes will have to be through my body. I’ll be careful to not rock back on my heels, and then I’ll race him back to the spot that I picked out earlier. If I win the race to the spot, most likely I just caught the disc (more on this in a second).
In any event, the main idea is to pick out a spot that you want the offender to cut to, and then use your body to force them in that direction. Offenders are able to get open by forcing the defender to commit to a cut, and then changing direction. The idea behind this style of defense is to only commit to enter the races that you want to enter, and never get suckered into running the offender’s race.
3) Going to get the block – the final point is getting the block. Basically this is just winning the race to the spot you picked out earlier. Utilizing this style of defense, you’ll find yourself on an opponent’s hip as the disc goes up time and time again. Now it’s just about who wants it more. Go get it. One last thing…I see this happen all the time – A defender plays great d – shuts down an in-cut and forces the offender to go deep, now they’re both running deep stride for stride, the defender hears “up!” looks back to find the disc, and loses pace as the offender runs to where the disc is going. I think the way to avoid this is to always assume that the throw that went up was the most reasonable throw. In other words, as I hear “up!” I immediately think, where should this frisbee be going? I then assume that’s where the frisbee is going and adjust my path to go to that spot, and then as I’m running to that assumed spot I’ll start looking to find the disc. You’ll get more d’s this way, but occasionally get beaten by a bad throw. If this happens walk back to the line and tell your teammates “it’s too bad they don’t have anyone that can throw” or yell “great vision” to the opposing thrower, it may not change anything, but it eases the pain.