Tuesday Tips: How To Take Your Mark To Next Level, Presented by Spin

Is your mark as good as it can be?

Texas's Caroline O'Connell marks Ohio State's Cara Sieber in the final of Centex 2018.
Texas’s Caroline O’Connell marks Ohio State’s Cara Sieber in the final of Centex 2018. Photo: Luke Almond

This article is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

Marking is one of the first skills an ultimate player needs to learn. The basics are well-known: stay low, keep your arms spread out, and shuffle your feet. Rise Up has a very good instructional video on the fundamentals of marking and there are many teaching materials and drills designed to work on these basic skills.

However, there are other facets of marking defense that can help to stop offensive flow and frustrate throwers into high-stall situations. A defensive player can take their mark to the next level by being aware of how they approach the mark, having a game plan for marking, and knowing their opponent’s tendencies.

Approaching the Mark

Particularly when moving to cover a break side throw, how the defender approaches the mark determines how effective they can be at stopping further break side throws. For example, look at the following series of break throws:

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On the first swing, the UBC defender doesn’t look behind her, but simply occupies the break lane, failing to notice and cover the further-wide UCSD player. The second UBC defender makes a late attempt to attack the disc in the air, leaving her behind the play and forced to overcommit to the backhand fake, leaving the inside throw open. The final UBC defender doesn’t catch up to the thrower quickly enough to stop a final break side throw for the score.

This cascade of break throws makes it much harder for downfield defenders to contest catches, as offensive cutters can attack unguarded space at will. Had the first UBC defender checked over her shoulder to see the wide break side cut and reacted to cover it, the UCSD flow could have been stopped before it really began.

The clip below shows how a quick look downfield can stop a continuation throw to the break side:

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By taking a fraction of a second to look upfield during her run, the Rival player is able to adjust her line and cover the open break side throw, preventing an easy score. The offense turns smartly and attacks the force side, but the defense avoids being totally wrong-footed. Had there been no break side cut active at the time the Rival player checked upfield, she would have been able to move in closer to the mark and cover the inside lane without having to worry about a quick around throw.

Because turning to look upfield while running to cover the break side requires thought and effort on the defender’s part, practicing this motion also requires special attention. Establishing the upfield glance as a habit will allow the mark to have a better idea of the field situation and put on their mark accordingly.

Have a Game Plan, and Stick To It!

Another skill that requires conscious practice is ensuring the mark stays at the same position relative to the thrower regardless of fakes and pivots. This goes beyond the simple “don’t bite on force-side fakes” cliché and deals more with the defender realizing when the they are being moved by fakes and pivots in order to maintain their marking position.

Fakes are a strong offensive tool that are often used to get a marking defender out of position. Take the following example:

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The Machine defender on the mark starts the play covering the inside break lane and even some of the force side, minimizing the options of the Bravo thrower. When the thrower steps out for a big around fake, however, the mark commits to stopping it and draws himself out of position. When the Bravo player steps back inside, the mark doesn’t catch up all the way, letting the thrower utilize the inside break lane that was previously covered.

Related: How to Fake Effectively

Against a high-level thrower, it is nearly impossible for the mark to cover every single throw, so it is imperative that the defensive line establishes a marking game plan and stick to it. By making a point to cover, for example, the inside break lane, the mark is more likely to return to a better marking position after moving to cover a fake. Ensuring that everyone on the defense is aware of the marking plan allows other defenders to help cover some of the throws that the mark may let off. When the mark is focusing on the inside break, perhaps the defender of the second handler would be playing tightly to cover an around break throw.

Know the Offense’s Plan

If these techniques work to frustrate throwers, marks should also be aware of how defensive priorities change as the stall count rises. With throwers more likely to be looking for a swing pass, in high-stall situations the mark can cover arounds more aggressively than they otherwise would. This may even include consciously shifting the marking position to obscure the handler set, as in the below clip:

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The Wisconsin defender, after checking upfield for a quick break side cut, sets a pretty standard mark covering primarily the inside backhand space. At stall four or five, the defender makes a very clear hop around to the break side covering the around throw, knowing that Oregon wants to swing the disc back to the center of the field. He almost completely abandons the upfield space because he knows the thrower has committed to the backfield, and he can frustrate the thrower by occupying that space.

This kind of knowledge of your opponents is very useful when putting on a mark. Identifying the general trend of offensive movements will help a mark cover the active space more often, like the Wisconsin defender, while still being able to maintain the marking game plan. Throwers’ specific tendencies can also be utilized to make a mark frustrating for a thrower.

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You know it, you love it: Jimmy Mickle’s well-known shimmy can often break a mark with ease. In this case, however, the Machine defender’s game plan is clearly to cover up the inside break throw. Near the goal line with no other players in the backfield, the inside break is a much more dangerous throw than the around. So the Machine mark simply ignores the shimmy entirely, forcing the throw into a very tight window and leading to the Bravo turnover.

While most players don’t have a well-documented arsenal of fakes like Mickle, if defensive players are paying attention over the course of a game, they can often identify some offensive tendencies to exploit. Perhaps a particular thrower always fakes an around before throwing a strike cut when the stall count reaches four, or maybe one thrower in particular likes to throw cross-field hammers when trapped on the force sideline. Paying attention to these quirks can help adjust the mark and stop them, forcing the offense into uncomfortable throws.

Take It To The Next Level

Making easy throws into difficult ones is a cornerstone of defensive success, and the fundamentals of marking are crucial. Once a defender feels comfortable with the basics of marking, cheating to cover the active space more often will help a good mark become a great one. By making sure to cover active space when approaching a thrower, the defender can stop break side waterfalls and stop quick throws. Establishing and maintaining a game plan helps the whole defense work to frustrate throwers, and paying attention to the offensive motion and individual throwers’ quirks can help a mark cover more throws more often.

  1. AJ Klopfenstein

    AJ Klopfenstein is an Ultimate player and AUDL referee currently residing in Chicago. After beginning his playing career with DePaul University, he has played for the club team Haymaker, helped organize the Ultimate Chicago Sandblast tournament, and joined the ref crew for the Chicago Wildfire. His hobbies include financial software engineering and video game development.

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