Conceptual Ultimate 3

From: (MoonEE)
Subject: Concept D
Date: 2 Jan 1996 02:08:05 -0500

Changing Your Defensive Set... Often

A while back I posted that DoG used seven different defenses during the final game at nationals this year. While many of these sets did not result in blocks and turn-overs, I can argue that mixing up different defensive sets did put Seattle off their game. Unforced errors followed. If your team tries this strategy, you may later hear statements from your opponent like "we just didn't play that well against them", "our O didn't click", "we forced it". Quotes like these come after successful defensive strategies are employed.

Below are eight defenses we played at nationals and how we see them being used. One thing to remember is that you can't expect a defense to get blocks every point. Using one defense may simply be a set-up, making the next defense more effective.

Ten years ago, a team could win a national championship playing nothing but straight-up man; that is not the case today. It surprised me that neither Seattle nor Port City played any zone defense. Tournaments are long, legs are to be saved. This fall we traveled with only 19. These low numbers made for our ability to learn many team-defenses, keeping the same exact personnel on the field. But we had to save our legs somehow. Junk defense saves legs.

Here is a brief description of the defenses that we employed in Birmingham:

Man-to-man, force two finger:

(note: Forget straight-up man... you're giving the thrower both throws, not smart! Even force-middle seems like a gift to a good offensive team.) Force two finger gives more teams trouble than any other man D. Why? Because most players can't throw a two finger more than 30-40 yards, so you've cut the field way down. In addition, most teams have tunnel vision when trapped against the sideline, always looking to ram throws directly down field into the teeth of the defense. Strong marking on the throw is critical.

man to man force backhand:

This D augments the force two finger. Break it out after a team has gotten used to your force flick. Double Happiness got very efficient at beating our force flick, which we had used for over a year against them. No team has better inside-out flicks than they do. But force backhand threw them off. Few players throw the inside out backhand well. The BIG risk of the force backhand is that you leave the backhand huck wide open (last man back has to be aware).

clam for 3 passes:

Here's a good D to throw in after you've been playing a lot of force two finger (remember that the clam only works on a force two-finger mark). Your opponent thinks man, but you're actually in a match-up zone (when you stop and think about it, the clam is just a high risk match-up zone). I'm always surprised at how teams panic when their first cutter, open all game so far, is suddenly shut down. Use the clam once the opponent has established it's offensive rhythm.

Clam to zone is another good D to follow successive points of man. It looks like a man, kind of, gives you a few shots at a block early and then settles into a zone.

note: clam only works off a stoppage of play, so you have to throw the pull OB. Someone may change the rules to keep teams from doing this, but until they do??? (I think that an OB pull should be heavily penalized for this reason, say start the O from the back of the end zone... that would keep the discs inbounds.)

clam after any stoppage of play:

This can be a real surprise. You're playing force two-finger and there's a stoppage of play (foul, pick, travel). Every one on your team KNOWS that it's clam for three passes starting NOW. If the opponent lasts three passes you're simply back in the force two finger. Use an audible later to call it off; they think clam, you pay man... perfect!

The use of audibles during all aspects of Ultimate is imperative. Even if what your calling is code for stay in the same D, it helps your team focus and it makes your opponent think that you have many different sets. Learn to hide your defenses. Don't be lazy, don't telegraph what you're up to.

The risk with the clam in general is that it wreaks havoc on your defensive match-ups, lots-o-switching going on. Cribber may very well find himself covered by Lenny... not good!

2-3-2 zone:

This is the oldest zone in the game, but played differently depending on who's teaching. In short, it should be match-up for the wings and the deeps while the cup forces certain throws. 'Flexing' this zone during a point can work as well (take away the dump at high stall counts after your opponent gets dependent on that pass).

note: 'Flex' defenses will be the thing of the future.

1-3-3 zone:

Here's one D that NEVER works -- well, kind of. Why use it then? Sometimes we're not sure. However, because this zone has but one marking chase, the O can throw all the sort passes it wants, giving them the sense that they are zone killers. Next time down, you play a tight 2-3-2, taking the dump away at high counts and bingo they're putting up hail Mary passes.

The 1-3-3 is also great for transitions into clam for one pass (on a stoppage of some kind) followed by force two-finger. The opposition thinks easy zone, suddenly you front the close passes and the thrower has nothing as his down field players are standing in their zone O positions.

The 1-3-3 is a good zone to man for stopping plays off the pull since most of the zone stays relatively deep.

2-3-2 zone to man (for a set number of passes, say 3 or 5):

Oldest transition D in the book, but essential to use against teams with strong plays off the pull. During New York's dynasty, if you didn't mix it up on the pull, their four person play was unstoppable. Many times, teams will turn it over before you even change to man. Risk of this D is bad match-ups and your team has to be able to count. During the transition from zone to man, you are very weak.


This is a force two-finger man, but with defenders around the thrower fronting their men, and defenders down field looking to poach. Sideline must talk, calling out 'last man back' as the position will naturally keep changing. The concept here is to cut off the short pass, forcing the throw up-field to where others and last man back can poach. An important part of this D is the switching that should occur as a handler heads down field while another cutter is streaking in. The defenders can easily switch since, ideally the defender near the disc sees the incoming cutter (remember he's fronting so he ain't even looking at the thrower) and the defender down field sees the handler coming (since he's set to poach and therefore looking at the thrower). The risk with this D is that is can become very loose, with too much switching and poaching, leaving everyone open.

Also, in the endzones use localized side-to-side (two defenders 'share' their assignments: "you got left out of the stack, I got right"). 90% of all goals are thrown to the corners.


  1. All of these defenses work best in combinations. Play force two-finger for a while, then come down in something that looks like force two-finger, but is zone or clam. Play zone for a while and then come down in zone-to-man or zone-to-clam. DON'T BE PREDICTABLE. Many opponents see only one or two players deep, thinking that if you are in a man around the disc, then it mut be man all the way. Change it!

  2. Don't try to RUN with your opposition -- it exhausts you. Tournaments are long endurance battles, not one-game championships. If you have the best shut-down man defense, use it at key times to break your opponent's heart and confidence. Many of the defenses described above involve LESS running than a straight man. If your opponent scores in two passes, but the second pass is hotly contested by your deep-deep, then you have done your job. Next time, make the block.

    (Related note: An unusual concern came over me watching our man-to-to man nearly block three of the first four passes in a series against Seattle. As our defense got scored on -- after 15 or 20 passes -- the sideline cheered 'great D'. And it WAS good D. Seattle had struggled to score, while we were scoring in five passes. On top of that, some of their O was staying in to play D while we were changing wholesale... Nonetheless, my concern was that we were still running too hard. 21 is a long game. I would rather not try run with them. It's much harder on the D than the O during a tough running point. So, let 'em score in five passes (not 20), and let's get a shot at a block or two during those five passes.)

  3. Predictably, offense begins with the short pass. You can't shut it down ALL DAY, but you can dictate when your opponent will complete this pass easily and when it will be difficult. Don't let the O dictate the flow of the game. It is surprising how FEW teams have offenses that begin with something other than a short pass to a handler lined up at the front of the stack. Since you know this fact, dictate that your opponent MUST try something else. You will find that if they haven't practiced alternatives, turn-overs will be forthcoming.

  4. Your entire team must be on the same page. None of these D's are individual, and they suck when people aren't working together, focused. Call the D on the line before the pull. Have the transition O be VERY SIMPLE. Don't risk having too much to remember.

  5. Your sideline is a HUGE part of all of these strategies (telling defenders where to cover/look/force). As well as yelling audibles for changes during a point.

  6. Move the defense towards more risk taking. Position your players accordingly, with high flying defenders down field and stingy shut down defenders around the disc. Get your opponent to put up lower percentage passes. Hey, no need to block bad throws. Force the O to throw marginal passes into areas where your team is strongest.

  7. Have your O capable of playing a few of these junk defenses. Zone off a turnover often works as your opponent will likely not have good zone O players in the game. Clam on stoppages of play can also be very effective since defensive teams don't have as many composed handlers.

  8. Whether man or zone, great defense begins with an aggressive mark on the thrower. A solid force one way or the other will allow down field defenders the luxury of only having to cover half the field (down field defenders can't totally ignore the weak side, but...).

So what does all this mean? Sometimes the object is not just to make sick blocks (though if you're single this may be your only hope of finding a date), but to make your opponent's offense have to THINK. Thinking and playing at the same time is very difficult. By the time the final game rolls around, teams want to use the same strategy that has gotten them into that game. Thinking, changing, adjusting are all difficult, especially without real coaches.

But, each defense takes time to learn. Showing up at practice and simply playing games to 21 is not enough. This stuff has to be drilled, 'cause athletes are notoriously dense. We freely admit that we are the dumbest team in Ultimate.

Good luck to all in '96.

Thu Nov 13 17:46:57 2003