21 January 2009

Wanted: Defenders

Playing and watching games at Worlds, I saw a need for Australian senior teams to improve their defence. While the Junior Women were a defensive machine, due to well-thought out tactics and utilisation of players,  getting stops in the Open division, for instance, depends more heavily on winning one-on-one matchups.

You need to be able to put players on the field who can really pressure a thrower or cutter, or are are really effective at getting blocks. As an example, when the Dingos played their pool game vs USA, we scored regularly thanks to an athletic offence. But we only produce two turnovers from the opposition. That won't win you the game.

This is a call for us to develop the next generation of shutdown defenders and blockgetters.

What does the Australian landscape of defence look like? 

We have a culture of playing sport in this country.

We have good tactics. Many elite teams have a wide repertoire of man-on-man and junk defences.

We have athletes. We continue to recruit some very athletic people, either 6'4" aerial monsters or very speedy runners.

But there are some basic skills that don't appear often enough. Reading the cut of an offensive player. Guarding the dump. Running to the mark to prevent a huck. Not biting on a throwing fake. Spotting both where your man and the disc is, and where other players are. Not being deceived by a simple jab-step fake. Knowing how much or how little to turn your hips.

This is a call for existing coaches to develop these skills. And a call for more coaches.


  1. The answer might be in the development of intermediate coaches. We seem to be teaching enough players the basics, and there's people coaching at the elite level (Worlds and some Nationals teams), but not much in between.

    I suppose we then have to define just what constitutes "in between'.

    Intermediate coaching would do well to get rid of bad habits before they are too ingrained. It would also help improve spirit as you could go further in-depth with rules knowledge. A lot of players seem to still play by the six or seven rules they were taught at their first pickup game.

  2. Could it because Oz is still relatively young in terms of preparing competitive teams for international competition? And that in developing these teams (or even the development of individual players, or national level teams) there is more of a focus on offence rather than defence, as it is more obvious when offence skills are lacking (or offence failing under pressure) as the result is turnovers, particularly against the more-developed defence supplied by some international teams.

    A number of factors (starting age of players, experience of coaches, standard and norms of local competition) may further contribute to this issue. The youngsters of HoS are a good example (those from Thunder a couple of years back): many of them are excellent defenders (or in any case their defence/offence balance seems more even - rather than focussing on 'perfect offence' to win ulti) and in my experience their defensive intensity is greater than other Oz teams. Many of these players:
    1. started playing fairly young (relative to other Oz players)
    2. have had a lot of coaching from international-level coaches
    3. have been exposed to international Ultimate (from an 'early' age)

    (Though I can only comment from my sheltered experience of Australian Ultimate).

  3. Another thought: how often do Oz players get to focus on playing predominantly on the one line (offence or defence)?
    - how does this affect how they are trained (on a club, or national level)?
    - how does this affect the mindsets they take into international competition (is there enough 'I'm a D-player so when I take the Ulti field I get blocks and shut down offence' and are the skills and attitudes that are needed to make this happen focussed on enough in their preparation)?

  4. For senior teams, the coaching and preparation during a 6 month Worlds campaign will only produce finite gains in terms of skill development. There are usually bigger gains in terms of mental and physical preparation, as well as developing tactics, roles and systems. (Junior ultimate with such steep learning curves is different.)

    The skill development gains need to mostly come from the beginner and intermediate level. Two obvious parts of the pathways are the university clubs and open/womens clubs that have the infrastructure and regular campaigns to develop player skills.

  5. Someone needs to film Lachlan Mcdonald at Nationals and then analyse the footage. I have never seen someone shutdown a player like Macca does.