February 26, 2019 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 0 comments
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An effective mark is one that helps your teammates by keeping the force and protecting players who may be exposed on one side of the field. However, a good mark is one that also frustrates the enemy, denying easy looks and making all throws a little more complicated. Truly great ultimate players know how to mark in a way that doesn’t just maintain their team defensive scheme, but also finds ways to make life miserable for the thrower and the offense.
With that floor and aspirational goal in mind, take some time to reflect on your own mark and how you can improve it. Too often, marking has become mindless: simple muscle memory that we don’t focus on nearly as much as active downfield defense.
Reexamine that mindset: remember that marking is an extremely important part of the game, and use your chance to guard the thrower to inflict as many restrictions on the opposing team as possible. Along the way, up your chances to get a point block at the very spot of the throw, allowing your team to instantly attack the other way.
Here are some ways to get the most out of your mark.
Do Your Job
Before all else, you have to be sure you are doing your job on the mark. This is priority number one, whether it is holding the force, using a straight up mark, or preventing a specific throw in a zone or person defense.
This is where most people stop, however, and they don’t consider the bigger implications of their play, instead simply standing on one side of the thrower and counting off the stall.
So let that be the first lesson: Be mentally engaged.
Think not only about the force and the count, but the specifics within your team defense. What are the defenders trying to accomplish? What is most dangerous to them? Where on the field are you? Is this a strong throwing player? What does the thrower like to do most often?
Just running these questions through your head will give you insights that will allow you to take a more active role in your marking.
Which leads to lesson number two: Don’t be passive. Give your full effort.
Marking can also be a time to rest for many players. DO. NOT. BE. THAT. PLAYER. Nothing makes an opposing player more excited than to have a nice easy ten seconds to view the field and decide what to do.
You as the mark have very few advantages in ultimate. In fact, you are often at a disadvantage (the offense initiates and makes the decisions, your back is to the field so you are often blind, you have to respond after movement, you have to determine whether a fake is a legitimate threat or not, etc).
One of the few advantages you do have is the fact that you get to move your feet, while the opponent is stuck to a pivot. Another is that you yourself can take the initiative by surprising the thrower and catching him or her off-guard, forcing them to respond to you.
So yes, hold the force, count the stall, be a part of the team defense. But, don’t rest on the mark. Be active and engaged, use your legs to move and to be dynamic, and be mentally thinking about the game and the situation you find yourself in.
Do these things and you can move forward to an advanced and more dangerous mark in a few critical ways.
Stop the Dangerous Threats
If priority one is doing your job, priority two is stopping immediate threats.
Start by having that active mark and really hassling the thrower so that if they do break you, they really had to work for it (in other words, you weren’t just that stationary wall another player had to pivot around).
Just because you’ve done that part of your job doesn’t mean you can hang your teammates out to dry. Yes, they have the priority to stop the deep or under space, as well as the open side of the pitch. But, as we all know, that is an equally difficult task to smother.
So, whenever possible, help them out. If someone is getting torched, flash into the lane, whether for strike, no-huck, or dump. Jump into those dangerous spots (especially going straight up when needed) to help your teammates out.
Communication is critical, but sometimes your squad won’t have time to warn you. Looking over your shoulder becomes a key skill, therefore, for any defender, so that you are able to help instinctively and quickly.
Likewise, if you are mentally engaged, you can sometimes anticipate offensive attacks before they happen. Good players do this all the team. For example, a disc gets moved to the sideline to the number three handler. Chances are good it’s a one-second continue look and then an immediate bounce back to the middle. You can prepare for this, flashing and clamping down on the swing when needed.
Top players can also sense when a player is about to get beaten deep or needs a switch on a handler throw and go. Knowing exactly how to stop the breakside bleeding is another art, by seeing the next threats and overcommitting to stop them (even if it means you yourself might be vulnerable in the next few beats).
Take those threats, watch, listen, and predict for where they will be, and stop those first to hold the team defense and save the point.
Make the Thrower Uncomfortable
Once you’ve protected your teammates, you want to move on to making life as rough for the thrower as possible.
Do this in a few ways. Start, by using those active body parts aggressively (but safely and fairly).
Move your feet often! Hold the force, but don’t be stationary, shift back and forth in ways that take away threats, but also show you are not going to be easily faked or stepped around.
This can include marking in a triangle, to allow yourself to take away more space and throws, changing the distance between you and the mark to keep the opponent off-balance, and not being afraid to be physical when the time requires it.
Using the triangle marking technique, start by taking away shown throws, ensuring that the first option for a break is never feasible for a thrower. Really great handlers can find ways to break with quick snaps and faint shimmies. You want to make throwers pivot. You want to make them tired and rattled and sending confusing messages to the offense by forcing them to fake and juke.
Likewise, alter the distance between you and the thrower, not only to help you cover the angles better when the thrower pivots (such as backing up slightly when recovering from an around fake), but also to surprise the thrower with your own movement.
When you use the triangle technique, you’re adjusting to the thrower. When you choose to change the distance, the thrower must adjust to you, determining whether an angle has suddenly disappeared, a step-around becomes much harder, or you are in a better position to reach out and hand block a quick pass.
Therefore, you can’t be afraid to be physical. Do not foul or bump intentionally, but hold your ground and play close in spacing when required. Being tight will fluster throwers, especially inexperienced ones, just by your mere presence. You may occasionally bump on a pivot or contact on a fake, but in the long-run, the changed stall count will be worth the rattled enemy.
Make the Downfield Offense Uncomfortable
A bit more difficult than making the thrower uncomfortable is doing the same to the cutters and handlers on other parts of the field.
This is partly through body presence, partly through predictability.
If you are an unpredictable mark and are aware of where threats are, you can flash and orbit as needed to make life very frustrating to cutters who might have been open a mere moment earlier.
Jumping the lane is a particularly dangerous one for the downfield cutter, who then has to hesitate on a straight line cut and deliberate on which side of the thrower to attack. Great cutters will not run directly in the shadow of a mark…but if your mark moves, so will your shadow.
Any kind of hesitation can either cause a miscommunication between thrower and cutter (don’t you just love the moments when the offense tosses the disc to a space a player just left?) or can allow your defender to catch up to their matchup (or, even better, get the block).
Being a big and active body presence can also help maximize the shadow you create for the offense.
This is especially key in a zone: you want to make it hard for cutters to read the eyes and fakes of the throwers.
Active arms and feet (even in small movements) can be distracting and useful to you, as can standing tall when the moment requires it and being that wall that makes throws dangerous (stay light on the balls of your feet and transition from crouch to full height in a snap… it’ll make even the shortest defender feel big when needed).
The more active and unpredictable you are, the more it seems to the other players that you’ve got your thrower locked down, even when that isn’t always the place. That being said, useless movement, such as manic arm waving, is going to do more harm than good. Remember your priorities: do your job first, then be more daring.
Be Dangerous (And Get Those Blocks)
Finally, try to do more than just prevent and annoy the offense. Actually try to be the person to get the block for your team.
This is extremely hard and should not be relied upon consistently, nor should going for a block take priority over holding the force and helping teammates.
Much of this is also bent on experience and skill (in other words, the more you practice marking, the better you’ll be…get those three-man mark drills and breakmark drills in the practice schedules, people!).
However, there are a few traits you’ll consistently see from the best markers who often get handblocks.
One way to do it is to have your hands (or feet) ready to move into a position, while keeping them slightly above or below the disc level. In other words, knowing exactly the level of the throw, but somewhat baiting moving into the space to block until the thrower moves first.
Staying low and having quick shuffle feet are incredibly important to get blocks, as most throwers will pivot down and around or down and inside to get the break throw off. If you can get to the space first, and get your hands low enough, you might get the block.
Know how your thrower will likely fake is the final piece of the puzzle. Be mentally predictive and reflective. Don’t let a thrower break you the same way twice, and anticipate what your body will prevent, versus where you’ll have to move to stop.
For example, if you start in a “no-inside” force look, with your body closer to flat/straight-up, you can probably predict a shimmy or an around move. If you know that your thrower likes that high-release backhand, even better, as you can jump to stop it.
The bottom line is this: take pride in your mark and do it well. This starts and ends with being active, engaged, and excited to get on the mark and harass the thrower.