Getting “The Break” – Part 2: How to Get It!

This post is a follow-up on Getting “The Break” Part 1. In Part 1 we covered the concept of “the break” point – scoring after your team has made the play to get a d-block or interception. In this post we’ll take a look at what your team can do to first get the break and then capitalize on it with a score.

You’ll hear this a lot, but it bears repeating: Ultimate is a game of possession – in order to score a point, your team needs to have the disc in your hands. To get the break, the first part is getting your D-line to get the turnover. Sounds simple enough, but there are more ways than one to get this done. And then once you get the D, you are still only half way there – you still have to score, and sometimes this is the hardest part.

D-blocks and Interceptions: Higher Risk

The first way you can get the disc back in your hands is through out-right defensive blocks. These are those sweet layout bids, the hand-block on the thrower, the big sky grabs in the air – you know the kind, the ones that get the sidelines cheering and your team pumped up.

Other than athleticism and a little luck, to get these blocks you need to have your fundamentals of team defense down – holding the force, sound positioning, and communication etc. But there are also a few tricks you can work on:

Learn to make hand-blocks with both your left and right arms

You may not even realize it right now, but you’re probably like the majority of Ultimate players who always reach for the D-block with the same arm (your right arm and hand if you’re right-handed, and your left if you’re left-handed).

But try this exercise. Stretch your arms out in front of you as if you’re a zombie. Now while holding your arms straight and parallel, swing your arms over to the left, then over to the right. Notice anything? When you swing to the left, your right arm reaches about half as far as your left arm does. Vice versa when you swing your arms to the right, your left arm has about half as far the reach as your right arm.

This same advantage/disadvantage will come up in the game when you’re side-by-side with your check running towards the disc. If you are on your defender’s right side and the disc is coming straight up to your check, reaching out with your left arm will reach further than if you reach out with your right. It isn’t easier, in fact, it’s harder and more awkward, but for split-second moments when the disc is coming fast, your left arm will have a few inches advantage over your right. This is different though if you have enough time to react and anticipate the pass, in which case you could make an explosive reach with your right arm, reaching across your body and really stretching yourself far.

The key idea here, though, is to work on broadening your defensive repertoire.

Add poaching and switching to your team’s defensive arsenal

Poaching is a defensive tactic where a defender leaves their check to either make a play on the disc, or clog open space such as a cutting lane. The idea behind a poach is that you as a defender see the play as it’s developing, but then you let the sequence of passes continue until just the right opportunity when you can step into the passing lane to make the block.

Switching is another defensive tactic where two or more defenders who are each covering their own checks then switch the players they are covering. One of the prime scenarios to switch is when you are chasing your check running a deep strike, and you have a deep defender chasing a player who is cutting in. While these cuts are happening, it would appear that you have been beaten deep and that your deep defender has been beaten in the in-cut. When timed right, the handler will then think they have the opportunity to make a completed play to one of these players that looks open, and then just as the pass goes up, the switch happens and then you are now covering the in-cut and your deep defender is in position to cover the huck on the strike.

The Risk

Now whether you are getting a layout-D, making the hand-block, getting a D on the poach or switch, there is one major drawback to this overall strategy for getting the break: you risk putting yourself out of position if you don’t get the block.

Quite often, in order to make a bid on a D-block, you will need to overextend yourself either reaching out with your arms, or bursting for an added sprint, or leaving your feet to go for the layout, or in the case of a poach or switch, leaving your check. If this isn’t timed just right, you will put yourself out of position to cover your check which creates a window of opportunity for the offense to exploit and possibly lead to an easy score.

Defensive Pressure Forcing Turnovers: Focused Intensity with Lower Risk

Getting the block isn’t the only way to get the turnover, though. Quite often a turnover will result from what looks like an “unforced” error – the thrower throws the disc away, or a player drops it.

If you pay close attention, though, you might notice that often when these errors happen, there was strong defensive pressure – for example a tight mark that’s holding the force with strong defensive coverage downfield.

Playing with a high intensity defense that sticks close to your checks can smother a team’s offense, and the added pressure this creates forces the offense to try more difficult, and hence more risky, plays.

All it Takes is 10 Seconds

Think about it this way – if every player on defense is doing their job, running hard, sticking with their checks, holding the force etc. you can stop the offense from completing a pass and either force a stall count or a risky play that comes through desperation. All it takes is 10 seconds.

A dropped disc may look like it was all just the offense making mistake. Quite often, though, the mistake happened because that player felt the pressure of their defender running close behind. Or when a pass is thrown away, this often happens because the thrower is forcing a throw through a very solid mark.

Forcing a turnover through defensive pressure takes a lot of discipline, but it is an equally effective way to get the break – and it’s lower risk too.

Forcing the turnover is only half of getting the break, though. Don’t forget, the whole idea here is for your defense to score a point – and scoring the point is often the hardest part of getting the break. Here are some tips to help you score the point after you get the D.

Emotional Switch – High Intensity Defense to Level-Headed Offense

One of the most common plays you’ll see after a big D-block is the player who made the play picking up the disc and then in the next pass throwing it away – but it’s hard to blame them. You’ve worked so hard to get the D-block, you got yourself all worked up, increased your intensity and energy and made the play. But now that you’re on offense, the first thing you want is to be patient, chilly with the disc, and smart with your decisions. The easiest way to deal with this if you’re the player who just got the D? Don’t pick up the disc! :) Or look to reset the disc with a short and easy dump pass to a handler (but be careful because these passes are also often turned over!).

Strategic Line and Play Calling

Another way to finish the break by scoring the point is to mix up your lines a little and overload your defense with your stronger offensive players – basically, get the players out there who will help you score after you get the turnover.

Be creative with this too. A classic scenario in Ultimate is two teams playing with a strong wind, trading points back and forth with both teams only scoring when they’re going down-wind. Why not change things up and instead of having your defense continue this patern of pulling the disc up-wind, put your offense on the field, pull up-wind and throw on a zone, and work to get the turnover. Now if you get the turnover you’ll have your team’s strongest throwers and receivers on the field trying to score. It only makes sense to get your best offensive players on the field when your team has to score going up-wind – sometimes the easiest way to get the break is to put your offensive players on D.

So there you have it – some tips on things to work on to get the break. Next we’ll look at the flip side: what you can do to stop the break and avoid getting broken.


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