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.
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).
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)
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)