Playing Man-To-Man Defense

Ultimate puts a spin on a familiar form of man-to-man defense that basketball has made popular over the last half-century. Of course, because players cannot move their pivot foot in Ultimate, it gives a special challenge to both the offense and defense of the possession. Will you force in a particular direction? Should he throw a backhand or a forehand? What are his weakest throws? What is the cutter’s tendency in the open field? Should you force a high-release pass? What’s the correct stance? What’s your desired end goal above all else?

There are a hundred questions and more that a defender needs to ask himself before any possession or pull. Now, thanks to CoachUp’s guide to man-to-man defense, you can be set in the right direction before stepping on the field. Learning the general techniques and ideas behind defensive strategies and situations are the first steps towards becoming an all-around reliable defender. So, stop getting burned and nail those fundamentals down!

man to man defense ultimate frisbee

The Stance

At the foundation of any great defender are his stances, whether it’s on-the-run or guarding the disc, it’s important to put yourself in positions to succeed. Lazy, slow defending won’t help you or your teammates to force turnovers, so before learning the strategies, you must figure out the innate and repetitive routines of man-to-man stances.

For those defending the disc handler, it’s best to adopt the basketball man-to-man ideals completely — which means:

  • Becoming big — spread your arms out in order to give the defender less passing lanes, less visibility, and overall tougher throws.
  • Bending your knees — getting in an athletic stance allows you move more efficiently, proactively, and effectively.
  • Play on your toes — especially in Ultimate, getting caught flat-footed will lead to blown coverage and much easier possessions.
  • Be Proactive — don’t wait for their move before reacting, read the game, his eyes, and movement around you to cut off passes beforehand.
  • Work Hard — if you’re in the cup, sprint to the next Handler, remember, the harder you work, the easier it’ll be for your teammates!
  • Don’t Give Up A Break — if you’re forcing a player to the left, it means you’re giving up areas of the middle and the entirety of the left, that’s OK. But, at all costs, do not allow a throw to the right, it will blow up your entire defense.

For those defending a cutter, there are a couple principles you should try to adhere to as often as possible, they are:

  • Stay On Your Toes — changing directions quickly will be so much easier on your toes, that way you can stay with the defender instead getting burned.
  • Arms Length Away — don’t lag off of your defender too much or that extra step or two will more than enough space for a pass.
  • Try To Watch The Disc — this is the best way to get beaten on an in-cut or even a deep threat, when you turn your back to the disc, you risk not knowing the intentions and game evolving around you.
  • Arms + Hands Ready — sometimes you’ll have a split-second to react, so make sure it’s not wasted getting into a ready position!

The Responsibilities

Now that you’ve got the basic tenants of man-to-man down, let’s take a look at the responsibilities of the defender at any given point in time. For those defending the disc, your goal is to not give up any easy throws, simple yardage downfield, or unopposed possession. The worst defense is one the doesn’t get set-up until it’s too late. Ideally, the best result is to force a stall count turnover, that rarely happens. As great of an achievement that is, the best players will either swing, dump, or chuck downfield in order to avoid a stall count.

So, with stall counts as the ideal but unlikely end goal, what’s next? Making them go sideways or backwards is an obvious next step and the longer the offense has the disc, the more pressure mounts on finishing it off. Additionally, the more a defense is forced side-to-side instead of forwards, the more impatient they’ll get for a big gain, perhaps resulting in an errant pass or turnover. Ultimately, your goal on any direct disc defense needs to be making sure they’ll be as uncomfortable and stressed as possible. The worst thing you can do is let them have an easy throw, so hustle, get in possession, and cause chaos!

As for the defenders on cutters, the biggest responsibility, by far, is to not give up the deep throw. Often enough, players will overcompensate on an in-cut and then give up a launch towards the end zone. This happens when defenders play equal-to or in front of their offensive counterpart. Even though it may not make total sense initially, it’s important to remember that you want to give them the in-cut at all costs. In order to do this, play behind them instead of near them, then you’ll be able to survey the field, note the disc and Handler, all while staying in a great position to react. Furthermore, any pass in front of you means that the offensive possession continues, which results in more opportunities to force the opponent into a poor throw. On the other hand, if you’re beaten deep, the point is effectively over.

(Related: Read about running the Vertical stack offense here.

Huddle Up

It’s not easy to step onto the field and instinctually excel at man-to-man defenses; in fact, it’s typically the players the work the hardest that find better success than the athletic-but-lazy players around them. Ultimate is particularly tough because a fluid offense is difficult to disrupt — so the only thing defenders can do is make it as tough as possible. It doesn’t take much to become faded and frustrated on defense after a few attempts without concrete results but, honestly, the best thing you can do as an athlete, competitor, and teammate is to hustle and work hard the entire time. You never truly know when your efforts will result in a game-changing turnover.

However, if you’re still struggling with man-to-man defense and just need a little insight before taking your game to another level, consider booking one of CoachUp’s private trainers to help you along in that process. Our talented team will have you forcing with more confidence and sticking to your mark like glue in no time — what are you waiting for? *(Thanks to Major League Ultimate for the gif!)*

Be prepared for the biggest moments by mastering the small ones off the field

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