Marking – A Systematic Approach

The goal of this article is to provide a systematic approach to marking and apply that system at a particular time and place that is advantageous to the defense – the sideline.  A systematic approach is possible for two reasons.  The first is due to the way teams teach players to play offense and, second, the sideline is a natural boundary limiting throwers options .  Specifically, intermediate teams make throwing decisions based upon the stall count.  The common strategy is to survey down field receivers until stall 5, then focus upon a support or reset handler for the remainder of the stalls.  This situation can be exploited to the advantage of the defense because it allows a mark to harass forward throws, then switch their focus to preventing back field throws when the disc is on or near the sideline.   Another reason for being systematic is that teams will throw successfully to the open side of the field and like it or not, the disc will eventually end up on or near the sideline.  Basically, the offence will work very hard for poor field position.

As a player catches the disc on or near the sideline, the goal for the first few stalls is to defend forward break throws (Figure 1).  As the stall count rises, the thrower will ignore downfield cutters in favor of a dump cutter.  The cue to shift the emphasis of the mark is when the thrower’s hips are facing the middle of the field.  The new focus of your mark is to defend throws to the backfield or across the width of the field (Figure 2).  When a team is on the sideline, limited space and time (rising stall count) prevents all but the better throwers from advancing the disc.  If a forward throw isn’t available, they will look to dump the disc and their focus will be within a small section of the field, which happens to be well within the mark’s area of influence (Figure 3).  Also of significance is the reduction in viable space for a reset cutter to get open and potential clutter from teammates.  Limiting space for viable throws and cuts, while compressing the time to complete passes, results in turnovers and opportunities for turnovers.  In terms of limiting the space for throws and cuts, it is important for the mark and the reset defender to coordinate their efforts (Figure 4).

Specifically, the mark has to be aware of the throwers intentions (watch the throwers eyes) and how their intent shifts as the stall count rises.  Mark to prevent break side throws for the first 4-5 stall counts (or as long as the thrower is looking downfield).  As the count rises and the thrower turns to face a reset cutter, the mark has to move back 4-6 feet and shift to prevent easy throws into the back field.  Moving away from the mark prevents tick-tack fouls that reset the stall count and makes direct throws to a reset cutter quite difficult.  The reset defender becomes active for the final stall counts as the thrower focuses upon the reset.  The emphasis of the reset defender is to take away up line cuts with their body positioning and be able to prevent a direct throw laterally for a reset.

When the disc is some distance from the sideline, marking becomes exponentially more difficult.  Give your teammates an opportunity to make a play by following several general guidelines:

  1. Don’t get broken (easily and often).  If a break throw is caught by a wide open, stationary receiver, it isn’t the fault of the mark.
  2. Immediately prevent the most likely throw for the first 1 or 2 stalls and then establish the mark.  Be proactive rather than reactive.  Always take something away.
  3. Keep your center of gravity low.  Keep your torso upright (prevents leaning and loss of balance).  Stay on the balls of your feet.  Get tired.
  4. If attention is a resource, a good mark will reduce the thrower’s attention on receivers.

On one side of the coin, the expectation is that the mark will work hard and protect the downfield defenders.  The flip side of the coin is that all teams and players practice breaking the mark.  In fact, don’t ask to be handler unless you can break a good mark.  So, expect the mark to get broken periodically and sometimes every other throw.  A team marking goal would be to apply consistent pressure throughout the game, prevent the majority of low break throws and, most importantly, force the thrower to acknowledge the presence of the mark.

Some notes:  You don’t need athleticism to work hard.  If you don’t feel the mark has much worth or isn’t worth the effort, try playing without one for a few points per game.  Teams expending tremendous energy on the mark and dump cutters generate turnovers.  Sideline cheering for your teammates will help them work hard on the mark and on the reset.  Forcing a good thrower to holster even one throw, will give a defender an opportunity to recover lost position or prevent a goal.  Force teams to throw high release throws which travel slower than traditional forehand and backhand releases

The Huddle offers several insightful viewpoints about marking.  The take away from the huddle’s series is that marking requires experience, moment by moment decisions and reactions, knowledge of your opponents tendencies and a not in my house attitude.

About Keith Krieger

Keith has been playing ultimate for close to a decade. He's had the opportunity to play both formally and informally with teams the west and east coast of Canada. His main focus has been playing with Wreckhouse from St. John's NL. Like most, he plays ultimate for the competition, fitness and strategy.

3 thoughts on “Marking – A Systematic Approach

  1. I believe this sideline strategy is commonly referred to as “easiest”.  This is a good article, however I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that the mark influences a wider swath of the field when they are further away.  When you’re far away, you can very easily shut down a small slice of the field at a high percentage, but when you’re close, you can guard more of the field, but at a lower percentage.  Lastly, if I could add one tip:  Go for the hammer!  It’s easy to read when they are coming, and hardly anyone ever fakes a hammer.  If you see it coming, it’s Dikembe Mutombo time!

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