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The objective of Ultimate Frisbee is to pass the disc up the field and into the opposing team’s endzone to score points.
And, of course, on an even more basic level, the goal for any player is to win.
However, winning does not come from just scoring points; it also comes from blocking the opposing team from scoring so that they cannot win the game.
Because defending your own endzone is such a significant part of the game, the defensive strategies your team develops and utilizes are just as important as the offensive strategies; defensive tactics ensure you are doing everything you can to prevent the other team from winning.
There are countless Ultimate Frisbee defensive strategies and specific plays that teams use during games, but this article will touch on a few of the most common ones.
Ultimate Frisbee Defensive Strategies
Force is one of the most basic principles of defense in Ultimate Frisbee.
The marker, or the person guarding, continuously blocks one side of the handler to cut off the handler’s access to that side of the field.
The side that is left unguarded is called the force side because the handler is forced to throw to that side of the field.
The guarded side is called the break side because the handler would have to break through the marker’s force in order to throw to that side of the field.
Force is a good strategy because it not only limits the throwers ability to throw to one side but also limits their ability to fake out the marker.
If the marker was trying to block the thrower from all sides, it would be really easy for the thrower to outmaneuver the marker, but constantly blocking one side helps prevent that.
When the thrower has the disc, they have 10 seconds to pass it, which is called the stall count.
Before the defender starts vocally counting the stall count, they first yell out either “force home” or “force away” to let the rest of their team know which side of the field is open for the thrower.
“Force home” typically refers to the sideline where the team has all of its gear.
Once the marker calls out the force side, the rest of the team positions themselves to cover the force side while relying on the marker to continue covering the break side.
There are other forces that can be applied as well.
“Force sideline” forces the thrower to throw toward the closest sideline, and “force center” forces the throw toward center field.
Additionally, markers can also force types of throws.
“Force flick” refers to forcing the thrower to use a forehand throw, and “force back” means they are forced to use a backhand throw.
This tactic is used in an attempt to make the thrower release the disc with a weaker throw.
Force is pretty universally used in the other defense strategies because markers use force when defending to gain control of where the disc is being thrown.
Man-on-man defense is the most common defensive strategy used in Ultimate Frisbee.
In this tactic, each defensive player is assigned one player on the offensive team to guard.
Before the pull, both teams line up across their respective endzones.
During this time, the defensive team “calls lines,” meaning each player selects the opponent that they want to guard for the entire point.
Players usually select the person they will guard by choosing someone they are evenly matched with in some way, whether that be skill level or physical stature.
Once everyone has selected their person to guard, the defensive players line up in their endzone across from their assigned player so that they have the person in direct sight and are clear on who they are guarding.
When you are guarding during gameplay, the main goal is to stay between your assigned person and the disc and to not let them get open for a pass.
If the player does end up making a catch, it is then your job to block his throw and stall him so that he runs out of time and your team gets the turnover.
When guarding, you should try to position yourself to where you can see the thrower as well as your assigned player so that you will see it coming if the disc is thrown your way.
Teams typically choose to call new lines after each scored point in case anyone has subbed out.
The cup is s a zone defense where instead of guarding specific people, the defenders are guarding specific zones of the field.
In a basic cup formation, three defenders will form a semi-circle around the thrower.
The goal of these three defenders is to block any pass that is thrown near them, and since they are in a half circle around the thrower, they are blocking off the majority of the field behind them.
These defenders should keep their arms outstretched and moving to make it even harder for the thrower to get the disc past them.
Defender 1 of the 3 cup defender is tasked with marking the thrower, blocking them off from one side so they are forced to throw in one specific direction.
The second defender is about 10 feet away, for this is the shortest distance away a second defender can stand without it being considered double-teaming, which is not allowed.
This defender is blocking off the portion of the field that defender 1 cannot reach.
Defender 3 is about 10 feet away from defender 2, blocking off even more of the field.
The defenders in the cup follow the disc. So if the thrower was to get the disc past them, the defenders would re-form the cup formation around the new thrower, doing so quickly before the new thrower can make another pass.
Meanwhile, the rest of the players are further back on the field.
There are 3 defenders that are the “mids.”
One of the mids is called the popper stopper and is positioned in the middle of the field.
This defender blocks off the space between defenders 2 and 3 and makes it hard for the thrower to pass to anyone in the middle of the field.
This defender is also in charge of stopping any opponents that run up the middle of the field to try to break through the cup.
The other two mids are called the wings and they are positioned on either side of the field.
These defenders guard against any throws up the sidelines or any people trying to run toward the thrower.
Ideally, these players should be cutters because knowing how to think and act like one will help them predict the opposing cutters’ movements and better defend against them.
Finally, the last defender is called the deep-deep.
This defender is the furthest back on the field, and their goal is to mark the players closest to the endzone and always stay behind them.
They are also the one that will stop a deep throw that makes it past the cup.
This position should be played by a very experienced player because they need to know how to predict where a disc is going to land and to block a long-range throw.
The deep-deep should also be very vocal with their teammates, warning them when they see something happening and telling them where they are most needed.
To see a visual example of what a cup strategy looks like, you can view this video.
Ultimate Frisbee Defensive Skills
In addition to strategies, there are also defensive skills that players can work on to help them get better at defending, both individually and as a team.
In order to be effective at individual defense, defenders should always stay very close to the person they are marking.
If you leave too much space between you, it opens up a chance for them to receive the disc.
Even if you think you would be able to block in time, the disc may fly toward you faster than you can react, so staying close to your assigned player will ensure that you are better prepared to block.
Players should also remember that they are guarding the person, not the disc.
While you certainly want to get possession of the disc so your team can try to score, this is not the main goal of defense.
Defense does not mean your team gets the disc; it means you are denying the other team access to the disc even when they are the ones with possession.
In order to be more effective at defending as a team, the team should vary the defensive strategies at different times so their tactics do not become predictable to the opposing team.
Defensive teams also need to make sure they are communicating constantly.
Communication will allow team members to know what side they need to cover in a force strategy, to anticipate throws, etc., because all seven people will be watching and making sure their teammates know what’s coming.
A team that communicates and thinks like a team instead of an individual is far more likely to succeed.