Ultimate Frisbee

In the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, it has been said that defense makes the game. Only two people are necessary in order to have a successful offensive attack-- the handler (the person with the frisbee, who is the passer), and the receiver. However, when playing defense, every single person on the team must be performing at their highest level, or the whole team unit is vulnerable and the team will lose. It becomes necessary to "outsmart" the opposing team, and come up witha superior strategy for defensive play. Therefore, it is said that whichever team has the strongest defense will be the better team on the field.

Man-to-man defense is the most basic type of defense. Each person on the defending team chooses a person on the opposite team, and does his or her best to prevent the person from catching the disc, or from throwing the disc to another reciever. This involves constant sprinting, and after a long game this type of defense can break down and cost a less athletic team the game.

Zone defense, an alternate form of defensive strategy, is more practical and useful for a number of reasons. For one, zone allows each person on the defensive team to cover an area of the field, as opposed to one specific person; the defense therefore does not have to run as much, and a team with decent "field sense" (the ability of an experienced player to predict and comprehend phenomena specific to the game) can use the zone with a very economical expenditure of energy.

The wind also plays a factor here. The wind can wreak havoc on the frisbee, by nature of its design; a steady breeze can limit a player's passing abiliity by 20-30 yards, and make high throws extremely dangerous and unpredictable. This is the kind of environment in which the zone thrives, because opponents are forced to make shorter, more numerous passes.

The University of Maryland Ultimate Frisbee Team was the first team in this area to take advantage of the zone defense, because of its effectiveness and overall utility. The first year we used the zone, we almost went undefeated in the Sectional College Series!

Unfortunately, teams have learned to "fight fire with fire," and have employed various zones against us. They have also adapted to our traditional zone defense, making it necessary for us to develop new defensive strategies. I have researched various different kinds of defenses, as well as strategies for defeating them, and have outlined them below.

GLOSSARY: I understand that most people have not heard of Ultimate Frisbee, and are not familiar with the terminology. I have included a brief description of the relevant terms used here. For a complete description of the rules of Ultimate, the Ultimate Player's Association has a homepage (http://www.upa.org/~upa).

HANDLER: The person with the disc-- like a quarterback in football, only in Ultimate, everyone is the quarterback.

DISC: the frisbee-- "frisbee" is the brand name of the original Wham-O frisbee, which is no longer used in Ultimate.

DUMP: a backwards pass

SWING: a sideways pass

FORCE: a defensive tactic, in which the defender posistions his/her body to disallow throws to one side of the field

MARKER: person covering the handler, who forces and counts the stall

STALL COUNT: the handler has ten seconds to throw the disc; failure to do so results in an immediate turnover. It is the responsibiliy of the marker to count the stall.

TURNOVER: when the team on offense (in possession of the disc) either drops the disc, throws the disc into the ground, or the disc is intercepted by the opposite team, the opposite team gains possession of fhe disc immediately, where the turnover took place. -------

THE 1-3-2-1 STANDARD ZONE (figure 1)

This is the most basic zone in ultimate. One person, called the Chase (usually the fastest person on the field), literally chases the progress of the disc from person to person, marking the man with the disc. Also following the disc is a 3-man formation known as the Cup. The Cup's primary goal is to prevent upfield passing, and to force either backwards progression of the disc, or to force the handler to throw the disc away, causing a turnover. Although the positions of Chase and Cup are strenuous and require constant sprinting, this position does not require a great deal of expertise, and is very effective in high winds.

The next group of positions consists of two players, called Hammers or Wings. The main responsibility of the Wings is to intercept any midfield passes that get past the Cup. For example, if the handler manages to throw past the Cup, it is the responsibility of the Wings to either intercept that pass, or to prevent a continuing pass so that the Cup can reset on the man currently possessing the disc.

The final position of the 1-3-2-1 zone is the Deep. The Deep covers the entire backfield, and is responsible for intercepting deep passes. This is the easiest position in terms of running, for the Deep can anticipate and position himself to intercept long passes without a great deal of running.

ADVANTAGES: The 1-3-2-1 zone is an excellent zone in high wind conditions, and when the opposing team has weak handling skills. It is difficult to throw well in high winds, and the high-pressure nature of the Chase combined with the Cup forces many turnovers.

HOW TO DEFEAT THE 1-3--2-1: This zone is not exactly the best, when playing against teams with patient and well-skilled handlers. In figure 1.1, you can see how a series of quick dump-and-swing passes can manuever around the cup, and then accelarate into downfield motion, where the deep field is less protected. Because there are so many people in the immediate field on defense, it takes too long for the Cup to set up again once it has been broken. Use dump-and-swing passes to tire out the Cup, who will be exhausted after sprinting back and forth across the field for awhile. Then, punch the disc upfield to the unprotected endzone.

------- THE 2-3-2 ZONE (figure 2)

The 2-3-2 zone is slightly more practical, as it is more useful against more skilled opponents. When the wind is not quite as strong, and the handlers would ordinarily throw over and through a normal Cup formation, this zone only uses two people up front in the Chase position. This is only enough pressure to force the throws in a certain direction, but the real power of this zone lies in the midfield. There is an extra Wing in the middle, to prevent fast upfield progress, as well as an extra Deep, to prevent the offense from throwing "Hail Mary" passes that would have more success in lighter wind.

ADVANTAGES: This zone is extremely successful against teams that rely on long passes to beat a zone. The pressure is mostly in the midfield and backfield, and invites the offense to take risks in long throws. When the wind is not as great, this zone is perfect, as it does not require as many people to play the Chase and Cup positions, thus conserving energy for long games.

HOW TO DEFEAT THE 2-3-2: (figure 2.1) It isn't easy, but it is certainly possible. The best way to beat a 2-3-2 is by "popping," or making fast, short cuts to quick throws. It requires that the offense have fast, reliable throws, and that they be very fast-moving and cohesive as a team. Once this zone sets up, it is difficult to defeat. However, a fast-break offense can take anvantage of this zone when it is scrambling to reset itself.

------- THE 3-2-2, OR "UMBRELLA" ZONE (figure 3)

This is the University of Maryland's favorite zone defense. A three man Cup, or "UMbrella" (get it?) follows the progression of the disc, while two wings and two deeps protect the backfield. This is a combination of the two previous zones, and is considered to be all-purpose, and good for all weather conditions. The Wings are considered to be the most difficult position to play in this zone, as they have a large area to protect, and must be willing to dive in order to make a defensive play.

ADVANTAGES: This zone is by far the most versatile. The Cup plays just tight enough to allow no upfield passes, and the Wings provide protection on the sidelines. The amount of pressure the Cup places on handlers is sufficient to prevent the handler from making risky throws, and the chances of the handler making a mistake after too many dump/swing passes are very high in windy conditions. HOW TO DEFEAT THE 3-2-2: (figure 3.1) The name of this game is "dump, swing. pop, score." Handlers throw back and forth to tire out the cup, and eventually there will be space for a "popper" to recieve an upfield pass. PATIENCE will win against this zone every time-- rushed throws are just what this zone defense craves.


This is not really a zone, it is a defensive tactic that is worth noting. I retrieved this from a team called Death or Glory, which won the 1995 National Championchips. It involves starting off using any of the above zone defenses, and allowign the offense to set up their "zonebreaker" formation (also, any of the above tactics) But THEN, after a pre-designated number of passes, the zone immediately switches to man-to-man defense. For example, if the call was "4," the zone would allow the offense to throw 4 passes, and then the zone would immediately switch to straight man defense.

ADVANTAGES: this tactic is so effective, it's almost to cruel to use. Your opponents have set up their offense to play against a zone, and suddenly POW-- it becomes a defense that requires a totally different offensive strategy. This is especially effective against teams that play against zones often, and have settled into a zone-breaker offense. It requires a great deal of skill, however, and without good communication between teammates, this strategy will fail.

These are just a few of the defensive strategies that Ultimate Frisbee teams use. There are many more, but generally they are tightly-guarded secrets of well established teams. Defense really does make or break an Ultimate team, so if you are going to play, you had better be prepared.