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A Theoretically Helpful Exercise

by Seth Wiggins

I can't really answer these questions. The right answers depend on too many factors, many of which can only be judged during your game. Variables such as individual's athleticism, defensive abilities, your opponent's strengths, current conditions, number of defenders available, ect, are all part of the equation. 

Having an answer to these questions is hard, but judging the quality of your answer is even harder. At best it's incredibly difficult to evaluate results based on your coaching input alone. Most of the time your defense will fail to get a block, and when it succeeds the question remains whether the offense would have otherwise thrown a turnover anyway. Further, in any competition based sport, your success is always (always, always) relative to your opponent's performance. A great defensive effort might have been due to poor offensive play, and vice versa. 

So is all defensive strategizing merely blowing hot air, no better than randomly choosing a given defense to try? Yes and no. You are gambling with whatever defense you choose, however you can improve your chances by thinking about your relative strengths and weaknesses, and how they relate to those of your opponent. 

Try this: imagine coaching a defense in a game against an offense where the defense never gets to play offense; their goal is to only get blocks. Your team cannot poach or switch. Fully unconstrained by stamina, both teams need only seven players. Each of the seven offensive players are uniform in their ability to handle, cut, and catch long throws. Likewise, your seven defenders are individually equal in their ability to mark and defend both longer and shorter cuts. However not all players are equal - but the difference between players is one unit, so the defense's fourth best player, or D4, is three units better than D7, and O1 is six units better than O7. One last assumption: Offensive players have a two step advantage over the defender with their corresponding number so O3 beats D3 by two steps, every time. 

So how do you match your defense up with the offense? The easiest answer is to match corresponding numbers, so O1 is guarded by D1, O2 by D2, and so on. This makes sense, as it minimizes the overall advantage that the offense has over the defense, for O1 will gain less against D1 than any other defender, O2 will beat D2 by less than anyone else save the already assigned O1, and so on. However given the last assumption where the offense has the advantage, everyone in this scenario is open - a big problem for any defense. 

What about the opposite - guarding O1 with D7, O2 with D6, O3 with D5, and so on? That would make life much harder for O's 5-7, as they are now playing against the D's best. This could be great strategy against a team that likes to use all of its players, for it will limit their options that otherwise they would depend on. However it also will leave O's 1-3 with greater amounts of separation, which a team relies heavily on its top players will love to see. 

Some teams favor using their D's 1-2 on O's 3-4, shutting down the best O players they can, while minimizing losses elsewhere. Others focus on rotating their D's 1-4 on Os 1 and 2, in order to give different challenges and levels of difficulty for their best opponents. Some use D's 6 and 7 on O1 to prevent long throws, giving O1 open cuts back to the disc and trying to stop everyone else. There are teams who favor choosing one strategy and sticking with it the whole game/season, allowing them to specialize in their given roles, however this also allows their opponents to study and practice their response. Other teams forgo specializing particular roles and change their strategy every point. While this limits their defensive abilities, there is a large advantage in not allowing the offense to know what is coming. 

Whats the best strategy? Even in this sterile environment, no one knows. The definition of a successful defensive strategy is limiting the offense's effectiveness more than any other strategy would, which often means getting beat repeatedly , and scored on often. Further, just because a given offense favors on approach, for example throwing only to their top players, does not mean, if stopped, they will be unable to use O's 4-7. In fact, it might make them better. It's difficult to both devise and evaluate any particular defensive strategy, but in doing so you can improve your odds in a very tough gamble. While you certainly will not know everything you might want, especially before you try a particular strategy, if you can think about how your strengths and weaknesses relate to your opponent's, and devise a strategy based upon this information, your defense will be much better for it. 

huddle Issue 17 Using Defensive Matchups

Tuesday, April 27th, 2009

May The Best Man Win
by Tully Beatty

Three-Legged Stool
by Lou Burruss

The Right Adjustments
by Adam Goff

To Rotate Or Not To Rotate?
by Lindsey Hack

Limitations To Matchup Theory
by Greg Husak

Maximizing Defensive Assets
by Kris Kelly

Maximizing Impact
by Brett Matzuka

Who Should Guard Their Best Player?
by Ted Munter

Matching Up With Defensive Characteristics
by Kama Siegel

Give Your Defenders A Chance
by Shane Steward

A Theoretically Helpful Exercise
by Seth Wiggins





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