Zone Defence

Zone Defence (Strategy)

Zone defence can be a very effective form of defence against teams that are inexperienced, have weak handlers, or when the wind is blowing strong. On the other hand, zone defence is also a good way of stopping a team that is significantly more athletic. Zone defence has been evolving over the past few years and as a result, all teams have their own styles and strategies that they use.

The strategies discussed below are very common zones that most teams will recognize immediately. Part of the strength of zone defence is the element of surprise when the offence doesn’t recognize what is going on, as a result, your team should modify the zones discussed. Still, any zone used at the appropriate time can stiffle teams regardless if they recognize it or not.


  1. Effective against teams with weak handlers.
  2. Often used with windy, cold, or rainy conditions.
  3. Probably not the best choice if your team is large in numbers and more athletic. (…and spectators prefer watching 1-on-1 battles :) )

The 3-3-1 is the most basic zone that most players learn when they are just beginning. In short, the first 3 refers to the 3 defensive players who surround the disc in a cup shape. One player should be marking the offensive player with the disc, and be forcing one way (usually towards the middle). The two other players in the cup position themselves to create a semi-circle, one standing a few yards back from the marker, and the other standing to the swing side. If the disc is swung to the other side of the field, the defender who was on the swing should now mark the thrower and the marker should now cover the other swing. A key aspect of the cup is that the defenders DO NOt attempt to make risky bids at the disc, unless they have a really bid on it. The main goal of the cup is to increase the number of throws the offense has to make, not to get a layout D. So, the cup should move as a unit in a way that should always be behind the handlers with the disc.

The next 3 refers to the wall of defenders who cover the midfield area. Each player covers a specific area and pick up players as they come into their zones, they must also alert their teammates when their check is moving into another defenders zone.

Lastly, the 1 refers to the deep defender who has two main responsibilities: to cover any deep threats behind the mid coverage, and to orchestrate the rest of the defenders (since the deep will have the best perspective on the field).


  1. Communication that filters down from the deep to the front 3 is important.
  2. Focus on making the offence throw risky passes by giving them easy dumps. (don’t make risky layout D’s)
  3. The marker in the cup must NOT allow any break force throws.

Zone 3-3-1 (Flash Illustration)

The 1-3-3 is an effective zone when the wind is blowing really hard. The 1 refers to the “rabbit” (because they will have to run a lot!), who essentially has to cover any offensive player who has the disc. Usually, the rabbit will force one direction, but teams often mix it up and force sideline.

The 3 are similar to the “cup” in the 3-3-1, except that they will stand parallel to each other in a “wall”. The walls job is to cover any incoming cutter who is attempting to get a short pass. As the disc moves from side to side, the wall must move as a unit and stop any large gainer. Small gainers are acceptable, if they are required to stop a large gainer. Althoguh each defender will have their own style, the two defenders on the sides of the wall can often face the center of the field (with their backs against the sidelines). This way, they can see offensive players from behind and can adjust quicker.

The last 3 refers to the back wall, which is very similar to the front 3, except that the defender in the middle should be staggered back a bit to cover the deep cuts. Because these 3 defenders will all be relatively far back, they should also be communicating to the front 3 wall telling them about incoming cuts. Often, you’ll hear these defenders yelling the word “stop the crash!”, which refers to a offensive player cutting directly through the front wall to get an easy pass to reset the stall count. This signal should cause the front 3 to react and jump in to stop the throw.

The 1-3-3 is a very common zone that comes in many styles. One common modification is to make the “rabbit” mark upfield, that is, by standing behind the thrower and forcing them towards the wall. As usual, modifications should correspond to your teams strengths.

Zone 1-3-3 (Flash Illustration)


  1. The rabbit marker should be one of your quickest and best markers. (Ideally, tall and fast)
  2. The front 3 wall must move as a “unit” and stop up field passes at the cost of the swings.
  3. Communication.

A good strategy that often confuses teams is to mix up the defence by playing zone on a few of the players, and man on the rest. Often, the handlers will not recognize the zone or will think it is 1-on-1 defence, which can often lead to miscues and turnovers. Still, this type of zone can be easy to break once the offence knows what’s going on, so it’s best to use this form of zone in select occasions when you want to break up the flow of the game. For example, if your team had been playing 3-3-1 for several points, it could be very confusing to the offence if the middle 3 and 1 played man on defence on the back cutters.

The example belows show how to do a 3-3-1 zone defence where the first 3 play zone on the handlers, and the rest play 1 on 1 defence.

Zone: Hybrid (Flash Illustration)


  1. Don’t overuse these types of zones.
  2. Communication.
  1. 14 Responses to “Zone Defence”

  2. Hello,

    I’m realy intrested to use the tactics in our gameplay but with some visual aide it would be easier for some to understand
    Is it possible that the flashmovies arent visible?

    Greetz Jens

    By Jens on Mar 11, 2009

  3. The animations don’t seem to be loading, the code is linking to the file in the wrong directory. They’re at and so you need “../flash/strategy/strategy_zone_1_3_3.swf” not “flash/strategy/strategy_zone_1_3_3.swf” :)

    Great guides though, cheers!

    By Paddy on Mar 11, 2009

  4. Thank you for the heads up! I have fixed the problem and you should be able to see the animations again.

    By andreliem on Mar 15, 2009

  5. Out of curiosity, when playing 3-3-1 why doesn’t the cup force sideline instead of forcing to the middle?

    By Sam on May 19, 2009

  6. Good point Sam. You can definitely force sideline too, there’s really no rule about forcing in zone, although you generally want to force them against the wind.

    By Andre on Jun 3, 2009

  7. Thank you for posting really informative articles about some types of zone defence.
    But could you please add a strategy of 4-3-1 zone? I play in Japanese college team and many teams inculuding us adopt 4-3-1 zone these days. I really want to study better 4-3-1 forms to develop our defence and offence as well.

    By Mio on May 18, 2010

  8. sorry, not 4-3-1 but 4-2-1 on my last comment.

    By Mio on May 23, 2010

  9. Forcing middle contains the flow of the game and makes the deep game more difficult.

    Also, defense is spelled with an “S” and not a “C”

    By Benjy on Jul 1, 2010

  10. Not related to the game but defence is spelt with a C and with an S. C is British and S is American. In Canada, we are allowed if you will, to use both.

    By E on Aug 12, 2010

  11. 2-3-2 Zone is really taking off in college. It takes advantage of inexperienced handlers by making one of the handlers open, but only by a difficult throw, and great coverage downfield with 2 deeps, specially effective when running a trap force.

    And the hybrid – cup with man defense?
    Best name around is a Mullett!!! Business in the front – Pleasure in the back!!

    By Sethro on Oct 13, 2010

  12. do you have any videos for a 5-2 zone defence?

    By Jman on Nov 15, 2010

  13. On the 4-2-1 zone, it is usually an adaptation of the 3-3-1. The middle-middle, or monster plays either in the cup or just past the cup. It makes the cup that much tougher to get around and puts a real strangle hold on the throwers. I’d say the drawback is that if the disc gets beyond the cup, it can be tougher to recover because generally you have set up a 4 person cup against 3 handlers, so the back 3 are effectively playing 3 on 4.

    By Rachel on Nov 16, 2010

  14. The flash graphics are not working. Unfortunate. Think this could be fixed? I’d like to use your page as a resource for some of my newer players.

    By Katy on Jul 17, 2013

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