This is part six in a six-segment article, the last in our four-part series offering advice to players on the steps necessary to create a championship caliber Ultimate team in their area.
Segment 1 – Introduction
Segment 2 – Practice 1. “Everywhere you start is wrong!”
Segment 3 – Practice 2. Getting in Motion
Segment 4 – Practice 3, 4. Cutting, Defense
Segment 5 – Practice 5,6. Hucking and Flow
Practice 7. Stop, Drops and Throws
Practice 7 started like all the others with the 3 basic drills. Following the warm-ups, I want to implement another drill to work on something I saw the previous day. I noticed our players had a lot of turnovers on in-cuts. The turnovers were a result of either the receiver boinking the catch or the defender lunging past the cutter and getting a hand on the disc in front of the receiver. The boinks were an experience issue and the Ds were caused by the receivers stopping to catch the disc. Everybody knows that if you stop on an in-cut to catch the disc, the defender will blow by and get a hand on the disc if not an outright interception.
The typical drill for this involves making two collinear lines 20 yards apart facing each other. The players in one line have the disc. The first player in the other line breaks towards the first line and catches the thrown disc and dishes it back to the thrower. The two players then move to the back of the other respective lines and the next two players start. I was thinking that this would be an easy drill. Boy was I wrong. Our novice players really struggled with this drill. There were so many drops, we needed to continuously stop and pick up the discs. Finally I stopped the drill and changed the rules. I eliminated the dish back to the thrower part of the drill. Now I only asked the players to catch the disc while continuing to run through. At this stage of player development, this is a difficult enough drill.
After the in-cut drill we moved directly to the scrimmage. I had the captains divide the players into two teams and we lined up for the pull. I put the one cone rule in effect. I had the team captains begin to make the necessary in game decisions.
Like the previous practice, I lift the one cone limit with 10 minutes remaining.
Practice 8. The Zone
With our first game just 3 days away, it was time to talk about the zone defense. Now I’ve got to say, I don’t really like the zone. I call it the Ultimate Disrespect. When a team puts a zone on you, they’re saying “You guys are so bad that if we make you throw the disc a lot, you’re going to make a mistake and we’ll get the disc real soon for an easy score.” Any offensive line worth a darn can shred the zone in 4 maybe 5 passes in calm wind conditions. I still remember playing in a zone D, hanging back on the wing just waiting for the inevitable dump swing and the 3 on 1 jail break attack coming at me. As I said, the zone relies on the O-line panicking and putting up either an ill-advised pass into traffic or making a zig pass to a zag cut.
Coach Tip: As bad as the zone is, it still needs to be taught because that’s the only way to give your O-line practice in shredding it. Your O-line must learn to play against it, because trust me, your team will see it. Your O-line will probably see it every game you play until the word gets out that it doesn’t work against you. I’ve noticed that whenever you meet a team you’ve never played, if that other team has any reason to think that your handling is weak, you can expect to see the zone. As bad as I think the zone is, if it’s played against a weaker opponent, that opponent’s O-line panics and turns the disc over quickly near the end zone for easy scores going the other way. The game will be over quickly.
In general, if a team thinks it’s better than you, it will do two things: It will play a zone defense and it will huck the disc at every stinking opportunity it gets while on O. (There are of course exceptions to this at higher levels of play.) If you play it smart, you can be up 3-0 before the other team realizes you’re not as sucky as they expected.
At this level of play I teach one of the simpler 3-3-1 zone configurations; 3 at the disc (the cup), 3 in a horizontal line behind that (the middles) and a last player deep (the deep-deep). I have the cup move with the disc. I have the middle wings positioned to stop the up field continuation on a successful swing. By having the wings drop back to stop the continuation, it gives the cup time to reposition to the new thrower. I have the middle-middle guide the cup with vocal cues to set subtle position adjustments meant to take away throws through the cup. The deep-deep stands far enough back to discourage a deep throw, but close enough to reduce short pass opportunities over the middle-middle. The middle-middle is the best overall defensive player and is the only one allowed to freelance for a D. The other players are allowed to make a play on the disc only if it is coming near them.
The whole idea of this zone is to let the other team throw it freely sideline to sideline until they make a bad throw and turn it over. The zone defense is a not so subtle way of telling the other team that they’re so bad that you think that a little pressure will cause them to collapse like a cheap lawn chair.
Practice 9. Game Time
This was our final practice before our first game.
We started with our usual 3 drills. When those were complete, I divided the team into two groups: the players who will make the first game and those who can’t. I had the captains propose a starting seven. The captains’ choices were reasonable, and for the scrimmage I kept one of the teams composed of only players available for the upcoming game. I did put the one cone rule in effect for the scrimmage. For the last 10 minutes, as usual I took off the one cone rule.
Just before practice ended, I call the players in to make sure the team is aware of my ground rules for a game. The rules were simple. I asked that players be at the game site, with cleats on, 30 minutes prior to game start.
Next up, the season begins.
Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire (Ultiphotos.com)