There are a handful of drills that I frequently use while coaching but none of them do I use more frequently and that have a higher return on time spent than the three-person marking drill.
There are a handful of criteria that drills need to meet to be great. The best drills:
- replicate an element of your team's offense or defense
- provide for a high number of touches to all players
- serve to also condition players
- can be challenging to players at different points in their development
- emphasize solid fundamentals
It is difficult for a drill to meet all of these criteria. When you are drilling a full team tactic that requires a full team or defense there may be only one disc for 7 or more players. When drilling some skills or strategies where you are trying to limit uncontrollables (particularly with players that haven't developed strong throwing skills) you may not even have a disc at all. When drilling a brand new skill or strategy you should probably limit the amount of conditioning as the focus of the drill should be squarely on the new skill or strategy.
Any drill that does not emphasize solid fundamentals should be thrown out immediately. Drills that encourage players to turn the wrong way when receiving a disc, throw to tight spaces, or make bad cuts (like short away cuts or horizontal cuts) should be immediately eliminated from a teams repertoire. I know this is going to come of as elitist, but anytime I see a team running the box drill (where players make short away cuts starting from right next to a thrower) I know that they are being poorly coached. This drill runs counter to every one of the criteria listed above. It shocks me that this drill is still being used. I'm sure if it has any impact at all it is negative.
So back to the three-person marking drill. The drill is straight-forward. Two players (one with a disc) stand 12-15 yards apart. Marker marks the thrower with the disc straight up with a stall coming in at 4. The thrower breaks the mark to the other player. The marker runs to mark the new thrower. This continues for a minute and half (time can be varied) at which point the marker switches out with one of the throwers.
The focus should be on the mark:
- Getting the butt low
- staying balanced: feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and able to move in both directions at any time
- taking away throws with the feet and body by short, quick shuffling (not lunging) to get into position
And the thrower:
- Staying balanced
- Increasing extension/varying release points
- Not travelling
To increase focus on the marking aspects, this drill can be done with the mark having their hands behind their back so the only way they can take away throws is by shuffling in front of the thrower. What players will find is that considerably more work is done with their legs than their arms.
To increase focus on the throwing aspects, this drill can be done with the marker fouling the thrower. Throwers can learn about how to appropriately call "disc space" and "foul." More importantly, if a thrower can get comfortable throwing the disc while being fouled, they will be composed when they aren't being fouled and even more so when they are throwing to the open side.
Every practice I run begins with this drill. As soon as warm-ups and stretching is over my team knows to get a disc and a group of three. I usually run through it twice with two of the variations but sometimes will run through it three times. In the beginning of the season I typically run it with no hands and then normal. Towards the end of the season I run it normal and then fouling. In 10-15 minutes the team has broken a sweat and gotten in some conditioning and put in quality time on the most fundamental aspects of both offense and defense.
By the end of the season even the newest players feel comfortable with the disc and a mark and are fundamentally sound markers. The more experienced players have expanded their repertoire of breaks on both the backhand and forehand side and have developed additional release points and extended their release points away from their bodies. All players are able to instinctively call "disc space" and "foul" at appropriate times.
A significant part of the Paideia Girls success over the past two years is directly a result of this drill and how productive it is for the time that is invested into it.
The drill is not just good for HS Girls (although I would argue that it is particularly productive here), the Brown men used to run this drill at most every practice back in the early 2000s. It's also a great drill for small groups of players doing work-outs in the off-season as you only need 3 people to get the maximum out of it.