Force Middle

by | January 15, 2014, 6:00am 0

I love force middle but find it hard to teach the downfield defenders where to be, especially against a ho stack. Who’s covering the deep space? Who’s marking under? Etc. I find it hard to explain to people when the disc moves to a sideline. When you’re coaching this, what do you say to your defenders to make them understand where to be and how to generate pressure and turns? And what drills do you do to work on them? Any advice on this would be appreciated.


Before I get into too much detail, there are a couple really important things to realize about force middle.  First, you are already playing force middle some of the time.  When you are playing force forehand as a defense and you are on the backhand side of the field forcing forehand, you’re forcing the middle of the field.  A lot of the same concepts you use defensively in this situation apply in force middle.  The difficulty for most people comes on the switch from one force to the other.  The biggest difficulty for most people, though, is how uncomfortable force middle makes them.  If you have only ever played force-one-way, the constantly switching mark, the variability of the positioning and the open side vulnerability are really unsettling for a lot of people.  If you are going to teach force middle, you really have to stick with it through a weeks or months long period of dislike.

The idea of force middle is to double cover the strong side of the field with the marker and the defender putting pressure on the throwing lane right in front of the disc.  Force middle is very vulnerable to cross field throws, typically swings and big banana-hucks.  It isn’t a particularly good defense against horizontal stack because the middle of the field is so open.  It is a much better defense against vert stack because the stack plays defense on the middle of the field.  If you play force middle you should be prepared to give up more swings, but fewer big passes.  If a typical force forehand possession averages 5 passes per possession and zone 10, you’d expect force middle to fall in the 7-8 range.

From a teaching angle, here are the things I emphasize:

  1. Get the mark on right away.  The downfield defenders are briefly exposed on almost every pass and need the help.
  2. Repositioning is essential.  Look on the up call, get the information you need (catch spot, thrower, marking situation) and get yourself into the right spot.
  3. Play head up.  More so than in a force one way, force middle requires constant repositioning which requires constant information.  Keep your head up.  Keep looking around.
  4. Overplay the strong side.  (Vocabulary note: strong side = disc side and is independent from open side.)  On the sideline, this means covering the inside-out lane and leaving the big swing to the weak side of the field open.
  5. As in all defenses, you can play tight or loose as a matter of preference.  If you want to help, the two spots to work from against a horizontal are off the handler and the weak-side deep.  Against a vert, it’s against the handler again and the mid-stack cutters.

You had a couple of specific questions that I haven’t hit yet, Matt.  Regarding who covers the deep vs. under space, the ‘on-stage’ defenders must cover the under, otherwise you will be bled a slow death ten yards at a go. They can’t entirely cede the out, which is the challenge of being the on-stage defender.  I would suggest bringing a defender off the weak side to help over the top. This isn’t really an FM thing, but a defense thing.  As for pressure, FM is a more conservative defense than one-way, so much of the pressure comes from pushing the other team past their comfort level for possession and progress.  The blocks come from the offense either trying to squeeze something into a tight window or off of a long weak side throw.  To explain a bit further, FM gives up throws across the field.  This gives the defense a long run at the disc, so even though they may initially be out of position, they have a lot of opportunity to force a play.

Finally, some drill suggestions:

  1. I like running two and three person situations.
  2. Example 1: to work on getting the mark on you can run a set that starts with a gimme 20 yard swing.  The defense’s job is to pursue and contain by getting the mark on.
  3. Example 2: a three person situation where the two handlers throw gimme swings back and forth and the downfield defender works on repositioning to the new circumstances.
  4. Notice that these are simple and work on a single skill.  Begin with these and then work to more complex situations.  Generally speaking, people try to make defensive drills too ‘real’ too soon, before the foundational skills are solid.

Here’s some really beautiful footage from when middle was king.  There are about 8 current and future Hall-of-Famers in this game and in watching NYNY you are watching one of the greatest defensive teams ever:


The 2002 Dog-Furious semifinal made the rounds a month or so ago.  I was in Sarasota that year, but I missed the game live because I was busy losing in horrifying fashion to Ring.  Here’s what jumped out at me about the game.

DoG’s ability and willingness to possess the disc is really, really impressive.   Philosophically, I’ve never been much on the don’t-turn-it-over style of play, but give credit where credit is due.  DoG is great at throwing the 5-yard comeback cut to a covered receiver. The Brown trio of Forch [Fortunat Mueller], Zip [Josh Ziperstein] and Moses [Rifkin] are all excellent at this.   I’m not sure what this pass gets you, but it is essential to this style of offense and characteristic of the post-championship DoG teams.  The dump set is really unique.  The dump sets up very, very close to the thrower.  I think a lot of it comes out of the Count’s reliance on quickness instead of speed.  By playing so close, the quarter or half step is sufficient to get the angle he needs to be open.

There is absolutely no wind in this game.  For all the talk of the Sarasota wind, the weather in 2002 was shocking.  We were all prepared for it to blow and instead it was completely still and about a million degrees.  Both factors made defense difficult.

Still, Furious’ defense is excellent.  (Which makes DoG’s possession that much more impressive.)  If I was going to highlight one piece in particular it would be their footwork in the lane.  There are just so many examples of beautifully defended lane cuts.  They really overplay the easy (under) passes, forcing difficult throws, which they do a great job of in pursuit.  The two end zone floaters DoG is forced to throw into the back middle of the end zone are indicative of this.  Furious’ marking is equally effective, but not particularly legal.  You wouldn’t be able to maintain this style in today’s observer dominated game.  Look at the arm angle of the markers and the hand-check on the pivot.  Interestingly, I think the stoppages it generated helped DoG’s slow tempo possession game.

DoG did a terrible job on Mike Grant and Andrew Lugsdin.  They chose to play them straight up and offer no help to the overmatched defenders.  Too often you see the screen filled with one defender and one cutter.  What are the other 5 stack defenders doing?  (Check out the footage at 10:20.)  There’s a good deal of style issues here – Boston ultimate has never played much help defense – a weakness that cost them against Revolver in 2010 and 2011.  It’s difficult.  Obviously Boston has had a lot of success without playing much help defense.  You can’t play something you’ve never, ever done before when you get to semis; you have to go with the tools you have.  DoG’s zone was a bit more effective; in the points they played they got three opportunities for turnovers, which is far more than they got playing straight man.

Feature photo by Marshall Goff –

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