Week two: The Paradox Zone
Week two seems to have been dominated by learning and teaching zone defence. Our first two open squad trainings were spent talking about our junk and FSU, then Sunday indoors the women’s team were practicing zone and we play against a zone almost every Monday night in Hove.
Now take a second to imagine trying to explain any particular zone defence.
When I was asked to explain our indoor ‘house’ zone I realised something strange. The default, when we’re talking about zones, is to go through each position in turn, saying what they are responsible for. I’ve a couple of problems with this – but the most important is that it misses out the central element of any defensive strategy – the team objective, and this is an element which I think we should be putting at the top of our agenda when it comes to defensive strategy. Allow me to explain.
Ultimate has an offensive bias. The structure and rules of the game place the impetus with the team in possession – they know where they’re going to run from and to and when. The way we compensate for this is using defensive tactics – ideally forcing the offence to make the most difficult throws, cuts, have the smallest margin for error or use an option they’d rather not. In doing this we are tacitly accepting that we can’t stop everything and settling to instead limit their options and try to dictate what the offence does. So there is a paradox here: Even though ultimate has an offensive bias it is the defence that dictates the play – let’s call this Shimmy’s First Paradox.
Shimmy’s First Paradox leads to a second paradox in that the defence can simultaneously succeed and fail. Consider the simple example of a one-way force, which aims to push the play towards a sideline. If the offence scores by using passes up the open side, getting nearer and nearer to the sideline and never getting off it then the defensive strategy has succeeded despite having failed to prevent the score. We will call this Shimmy’s Second Paradox.
This doesn’t sound right. It sounds like defence lacks a killer instinct when clearly the point of defence is to get a block. The problem is that because unlike playing offence, where you can predetermine the movement of the disc, on defence you can’t plan where you’re going to get your blocks (you might have an idea about where it’s likely to happen though). A block is achieved by an individual making it happen. And this leads to Shimmy’s Third Paradox: The individual goals of any defensive strategy are not the same as the team objective of the defensive strategy. An example to demonstrate: In a one-way force one of your individual aims is to not get beaten to the open side. So when this happens you’ve failed, but as we discussed before, if a team plays and scores up the open side then one team goal – restricting the offensive play to one side of the pitch – has been achieved.
If you’re worried that I don’t believe that D-teams should aim to get blocks that’s not what I’m saying at all. Of course they should. What I’m saying is that “get a block” can’t be called a defensive strategy.
Back to zone. So we can probably all describe what each individual position does in, say, our outdoor junk zone, without thinking too much. But how about a team objective for this defence? I’m willing to bet that if we asked 100 Mohawks our survey would say there’s a notable difference in individual interpretations of team objectives in zone defence.
A defence is strongest when the whole team is working towards the same aim (if you need proof then remember the last time when someone on your team got the force wrong and how it undermined the whole defensive effort). So by neglecting to understand what your team is aiming to do within a particular defensive strategy you are reducing your efficacy as a defender. So from now on, when you are learning or inventing a new defensive strategy, consider asking yourself or your team mates the question “What is the team objective of this strategy?” Making sure everyone is on the same page in terms of team objectives turns a line of individual defenders into a far more formidable defensive unit.
Okay. This has ended up a quite long blog post. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and it’s made you think a little differently about defence. I think there’s a lot of interesting thoughts which come out of this line of thinking, so please post your discussion points, abuse, arguments etc. below.