Making the Defense at Practice More Intense

by | August 20, 2015, 6:40am 3

In my last post I asked for some input from the readers about ways teams can change the rules of their scrimmages to increase defensive advantage, forcing the offense to adapt to increased pressure. I received some responses from some great folks* and wanted to share some of the more interesting variations for your reading pleasure:

Pressure the first pass
Rule change:
Defense must re-pull the disc if there is no pressure on the first pass after catching the pull.

This simple modification can immediately impact the amount of pressure applied to the receiving team. For a handler involved with catching the pull or centering the disc, it adds a level of pressure to find an ideal spot for an easy centering throw. When the defense quickly chases down the pull, the offense often sacrifices yardage for getting the disc into the middle of the field. Your handling core must balance the priorities for your offense. These include getting the disc in or near the center of the field, getting as many free yards as possible, and getting the disc in an aggressive position (i.e. in the hands of a threatening thrower).

I like the idea of forcing the handlers into a space that’s not ideal and having to adapt to getting the disc on one of the sidelines. Something that I often run into when coaching youth or college players is that they think they must get the disc centered to a handler in order to initiate the offense. If the disc does not get there, the O-line is stagnant and usually forces some terrible option. The person fielding the disc should be advancing it to the most creative and skilled handler on the team. The downfield options should be in motion as soon as that person touches it, regardless of where he or she receives it or the amount of pressure placed on the handlers during the pull.

No fouls called by the offense
Rule change:
In a scrimmage scenario, the O-line is told that they are not allowed to make foul or contact calls. The D-line does not know the O-line cannot call fouls, and is encouraged to play physically (without blatant fouls).

The defense should not change the way they play. The idea of taking away the offense’s ability to call a foul forces them to adapt to a physical playing style and play through contact. Ultimately, the O-line will be better physically and mentally prepared to play a physical team.

I cannot wait to try this with my college girls. To be honest, they do not call a lot of fouls, and tend to shy away from contact on offense. This would force these young women to adapt to a more physical style of play without shutting down mentally.

One variation I would be interested in playing with is to use this “No Foul Calls” idea in a game of 3v3 or 4v4. I anticipate that this variation is most successful when the off-disc defenders play super tight on the offensive players. This variation would surely improve the quickness and footwork of defenders if they play super tight.

Three foul calls required
Rule change:
In a 5-Pull situation, tell the D-line that they are to increase physicality so that they draw at least three foul calls each time the offense has possession. Do not tell the offense anything.

I generally love any adjustment that the O-line knows nothing about. I especially like this adjustment because it varies the amount of pressure applied with no predictability. Some matchups might be more physical than others and not every play will have a foul. It keeps the game more similar to the physical style that your O-line might play against in a real game.

Another great thing is that it helps teach players who do not make a lot of calls to recognize when fouls should be called. If you’re fouled in practice, you know how to calmly call a foul and engage in a dialogue about the situation. It also forces your defensive players to react to a call in a calm, positive manner. In a situation where some might say you’re setting up an “unspirited” scrimmage, you can have an empowering experience where your team practices how to make neutral calls, have respectful discussions, and apologize or concede when they are wrong.

Free fouls on the mark after four stall counts
Rule change:
In a normal scrimmage, the D-line is allowed to foul on the mark after four stall counts and the thrower cannot call the foul or make a contact call.

This forces your O-line to move the disc quickly. A lot of O-lines have that one player who holds the disc for seven plus stall counts every time he or she gets the disc. This is a very tangible way to incentivize quick disc movement: you get the disc moving in four seconds, or you’re going to get hacked and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I see this adjustment being great for two offensive problems:

  • A team struggling to reset the disc: it forces the reset thrower to adapt and look for a reset sooner, or to throw through or around any sort of mark.
  • A team struggling to set up faster continuation cuts downfield: if cutters don’t push upfield or clear space (i.e. “see the play after the play”), their thrower is going to have a difficult time advancing the disc.


*Two of my respondents asked to remain anonymous, so I kept all responses anonymous for consistency.

A huge thank you to the people who sent me emails responding about different defensive adjustments they make to increase intensity during their practices. I really enjoyed our online conversations and hope that we can continue to share ideas!

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  • Gwen Ambler

    Great stuff Robyn. Thanks for sharing!

    Some additional options for increasing defensive intensity at practice by raising the stakes:

    In Scrimmages–
    -in an O v D scrimmage, have the score start out in favor of the O so the D-line experiences the extra pressure of needing to get multiple breaks to win. For example, 10-11 w/ O line receiving in a game to 15.
    -have the team celebrate each point in a scrimmage as they would at a tournament. Cheering. Rushing to give high fives. This can artificially raise the stakes as pride comes into play.

    In Drills–
    -have a way to keep score during drills and line up at the end of the drill in order of the points you scored as an individual. For instance, run a handler dump set vs D rotation where each player will get X chances on O in each position, and X on D. You get -1 if you’re on D and the O moves the disc across the full field in 2 passes or gets a pass on the open side. You get 0 points if the O only get the dump off but no swing or there is completely unforced error. You get +1 if your D grouping gets a block or puts pressure in such a way to cause a turnover. At the end of the drill, you line up by score as a team. You can then split up the team at the halfway mark and do the drill again, giving everyone another chance to up their game against their peers.
    -put players in the hot seat where they have to play D for as many reps as it takes until they can generate a turnover. For example, a break mark drill where you mark as others rotate through the drill until you force an incomplete pass. Or a defensive positioning drill where you keep getting reps until you shut down a player in the way the drill is designed to practice. Great for focus and pushing through fatigue with determination.

    • Robyn Wiseman

      My hope was by sharing some of the more “controversial” and unique scrimmage adjustments, people would be more likely to share other adjustments in the comments. I really like the first drill focus you shared, especially re-dividing teams based on individual score.

      One of my favorite scrimmage adjustments is to give the D a point for every pass they pressure. Any time a defender has a super aggressive mark making a throw difficult (or gets a piece of the disc on the throw), every time a player is on the hip (or really close) to the receiver. With my younger players I’ll give points for layout bids (even if they aren’t super close to get them thinking about it).

  • Robyn Wiseman

    I’m a bit concerned that people think that I’m equating fouling with intensity. I am definitely not doing that. I am making suggestions for a scrimmage adjustment to try once or twice in the season (or in preparation for a specific opponent). The goal is to increase the pressure and intensity, play physical, but not dirty. Take a step closer on the mark, or create scenarios where you can be aggressive without worrying about being called for a foul. In my experience coaching college and youth players, they are often afraid to be physical (i.e. take a step closer on the mark, challenge a player all the way through the disc, laying out on D for the first time), because they are afraid to foul. By changing the rules, you create an environment where your defensive players are allowed to explore their bodies, their spacing, and their abilities. That way, when the rules are standard/normal, they know what they can and cannot do.

    I think a lot of strong defensive players go through a journey that moves from not playing physically, to playing too physical, to dialing it back and being smarter once they know their limits. I think that encouraging players to safely explore limits when they don’t have to worry about fouling is a great way to speed up the process so that players play intensely, but within the frame of the rules.

    I also shared a few out of dozens of scrimmage adjustments that intrigued me more for specific reasons. I tried to not share the ideas that are more common. Some of them were controversial, but they were shared to really get a conversation going. I was hoping people would post other ideas in the comments and share ideas.