Anatomy of a Poach Block

by | February 1, 2016, 6:45am 4

I’ve been thinking a bit about how to teach players to poach lately and got excited when I noticed a heads-up poach block by Eli Kerns after reviewing some footage. I wanted to highlight this specific play because it is one of the easiest ways that a player new to poaching can generate more blocks off of a horizontal stack.

Context: this is the 2014 Southwest Regionals Game-to-Go between UC Davis and UC San Diego. UC San Diego goes up early, and at this point in the game, the Davis D-line hasn’t been able to force too many mistakes. Realizing this, Eli starts looking to generate active blocks by opportunistically poaching off the horizontal stack.

Watch the following progression (17:08 in the footage) in slow motion. You can use the left and right arrows on the GFY to go frame-by frame:

  1. Kerns (in white, on the left side of the screen) trails his defender, who is making a cut to the force sideline.
  2. Seeing Kerns trailing closely, the UCSD handler, #44, looks off his cutter and immediately shifts his eyes, head, and pivot towards the middle cutter in the horizontal stack.
  3. Kerns notices the change in positioning and stops in the lane between the defender and the disc. Because he can see #44s head already focusing on the next cutter, he knows #44 isn’t looking at him and he can bait the block.
  4. As soon as #44 releases, Kerns plants, performs a beautiful crossover step that would make Tim Morrill proud, and speeds in front of the oncoming cutter for a spectacular catch block.

Newer players who are not yet comfortable with defensive poaching can learn a lot from this specific situation.

Want to get more poach blocks? Start with the following:

1. Look to poach the lane after defending an under cut

If the cutter you’re defending is looked off coming under, the easiest way to slow down an opposing team’s offense is to hang in the lane for a few seconds while the cutter clears back into the stack. Even if you don’t manage to get a block, the extra few seconds in the lane muck up the opposing offense and can set up additional opportunities to force the turnover.

2. Use tells to predict a thrower’s next decision

Throwers, especially newer throwers, have multiple tells that can help predict what their next option is. Common tells include:

  1. Changing pivot, stance, or grip
  2. Pump faking to get a cutter to change direction
  3. Turning eyes and head towards the next throwing target

Individual players also have their own unique tells that can help you gain a few dozen milliseconds of advantage when defending their throws. These become more evident by studying tape or scouting opponents which you match up against often. For example, a number of players have a hitch in their forehands. These players often “cock” their forehand like they would a pistol before releasing in order to generate more power. This extra half-second can be the difference between staying in the lane and diving in for a block. Other players look backwards or to the side as they wind up for a backhand huck, making them blind to poachers coming from their forehand side. Ben Wiggins reported in his reddit AMA that he was able to get a block on Jolian Dahl in the 2007 Nationals Final after studying footage of him doing this.

Think about the throwers you play against often. What tells do they have and how can you best exploit them?

3. Work on your change of direction

As aware as Eli is, he wouldn’t have generated the block he did without a fantastic plant and crossover step. Take a look at his crossover progression:





For a pristine change of direction, practice sport-specific footwork and increase your strength, which determines how much force you’re able to put into the ground. For more, check out Tim Morrill teaching the crossover step.

Thanks to Ultiworld for the footage.

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  • Frank Nam

    I think Eli is the fellow who mistook me for Matty Tsang during Lei-Out this year. It’s nice to be mistaken for Matty. Eli had a nice plant and crossover get-away step when he realized his mistake while Henry Phan fell down laughing. One of my favorite Lei-Out memories this year.

  • Name

    I think this block is too risky and can end up with injuries, isn’t it?

    • Clint McSherry

      The risk is mostly that either the cutter is unaware too very good/confident. If it happens that the cutter doesn’t step off to avoid a collision, theres a collision at 90º with Kerns and the cut thats gonna be really rough. (a-la Dylan Freechild when he hurts his head laying out through a guy’s knees in his Callahan video) That being said, the way this worked shouldn’t result in a dangerous play call and isn’t inherently risky because you’ll see that collision fairly rarely.

    • Gio

      Pretty much every kind of poach block imaginable carries some risk of injury, but that doesn’t mean that they are too risky to be done or are the fault of the defender.

      This particular poach is often pulled off with plenty of space between the defender and the intended receiver, and many times it leads to a holstered throw rather than a block which is still effective defense even if it doesn’t immediately generate a turn. Basically there are several possible outcomes and most of them are as safe as anything that happens on the field.

      On top of that the defender usually has their back to the intended receiver and is hiding either out of their field of vision or in the periphery. The thrower is the only player with the full field in front of them and they are also the only player deciding whether or not the throw is going up. Teaching defenders not to poach because of possible injuries leads to worse defense and fewer averted injuries compared to teaching throwers to spot potentially dangerous situations and not throw into them.