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Personal Fundamentals Of Zone O

by Ben Van Heuvelen

I'll write here about the fundamentals of good zone O. These will, I hope, reveal some underlying principles that any team can apply to its specific strategy/terminology, and to specific situations (e.g., how to deal with a sideline trip). I'll rely on my co-contributors to address those specifics in detail, and read with interest! 

So, getting down to basics... 

To figure out how our zone offense should work, we should think about what makes good zone defense successful. Most zone defenses have two main goals. First, they want to make our offense throw lots of passes. (If we're forced to throw 100 passes with a 99% completion rate, that equals a turnover.) Most zone defense do this by leaving certain easy passes to the backfield or sideline uncovered, and pressuring the middle of the field with extra defenders. Second, the defense wants to put itself in position to make a play if and when we try something difficult (a hammer, huck, or needle-threading pass through the cup). * 

The key to beating most zone defenses, then, is to create openings in the middle of the field by getting the defense out of position, and then to exploit each opening as much as possible. How do we make that happen? A few principles: 

1. Philosophy. We do NOT want to "dump-swing all day." That's exactly what the defense wants. If/when we dump-swing, the purpose is to create and exploit openings in the middle of the field. Zone O should not be "chilly." It should be chracterized by two maxims. First, from John Wooden: "Be quick, but don't hurry." Second: Attack the middle, attack the middle, attack the middle. 

2. Setup. Different teams will use different terminology and organize their handlers differently, but the best offenses have fewer players at the line of scrimmage than the defense. Defenses usually have 3-4 defenders within 10 yards of scrimmage. The most efficient offenses have 2 (including thrower), maybe 3 (in a trap situation) -- just enough handlers to make sure we reset the stall count and change the side-to-side positioning of the disc. This gives us more players downfield, which lets us do two important things. First, we spread the defense: we are more likely to create holes in the middle if our downfield O players outnumber the downfield D, and if they are spreading the field deep and wide. Second: once we create a hole in the middle, we have a better chance of turning a fast break if the O outnumbers the D. 

3. Handler attack. In efficient zone offenses, it's rarely the handlers who gain the yards. The purpose of handler attack is to create yardage-gaining situations (e.g., fast breaks) for the downfield players. I've seen three basic methods of handler attack, which different teams combine in different proportions. The most familiar (and, in my opinion, least reliable) is the "dump-swing." The other two are the "chisel" and the overhead. For the sake of example, let's say we're playing against a 3-person cup zone...

  • a. With the "chisel," a handler, usually set up in the backfield, cuts towards the middle-middle and receives a short flip pass. His momentum carries him right up to the middle-middle, at which point he has only one defender (rather than an entire cup) between him and the middle of the field. A well timed cut (or combination of cuts) from the popper(s), and the handler is only a pivot away from delivering the disc beyond the cup, into the middle of the field.
  • b. With the overhead, a handler delivers a hammer, blade, or scoober to a space beyond the cup. High-percentage overhead passes are thrown to a space in front of the intended receiver, when his closest defender is behind him. (As a hammer receiver, I want to be stepping towards the disc, never backpedaling or standing still.) Offenses generate opportunities for high-percentage overheads both (a) by attacking the middle effectively "on the ground," (e.g., by chiseling) thereby drawing the defense close to the disc, and (b) by keeping the field spread deep and wide with offensive players even after the defense clamps. This last point is key: when the defense collapses on the disc, it becomes even more important to spread your O players.

4. Downfield attack. Regardless of your specific strategy, there are three main responsibilities that your downfield O players have to fulfill. a. Spread deep. b. Spread wide. c. Attack the middle. Three general principles should govern downfield O players in almost any zone O:
  • a. Set up for a cut when the disc is still, cut when the disc is moving. Defensive holes open when the disc moves and the defense is repositioning. This is when you're going to get open. In downfield zone O, you are rarely cutting for the person with the disc. You should be cutting for your thrower before s/he receives the disc.
  • b. 95% of good hucks in zone O happen off of swings. When the disc swings, deep spreaders should cut deep, ideally from the opposite side of the field. Otherwise, deep spreaders should threaten deep space just enough to get open for a continuation pass, once the disc breaks into the middle.
  • c. Once the disc breaks past the first layer of defense, find the best angle to cut TOWARDS the disc. Even if you're a deep, take a few hard steps away, then come underneath. (The deepest defender will give up the underneath cut 90% of the time.) If the disc breaks into the middle of the field, then it's the middle we should attack, from as many angles as possible.

  • * A third goal of good zone defenses is to trick you into thinking something is open, and then suddenly take it away when you've already made a fateful choice. This is an important thing to be aware of. (For example, it highlights the importance of throwing fakes, which can help reveal the defense's tricks.) But it doesn't affect the main principles of zone O setup.


huddle Issue 18 Zone Offense

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

The Condor Zone O
by Lou Burruss

Adjustments & Positioning
by Jeff Eastham-Anderson

Prepping For A 4-Person Cup
by Lindsey Hack

Questions About Your Zone O
by Greg Husak

A Slow-Developing Chess Game
by Peri Kurshan

Wings & Poppers
by Ryan Morgan

Three Points
by Ted Munter

The Jailbreak
by Charlie Reznikoff

Effective Practice For Zone
by Miranda Roth

Personal Fundamentals Of Zone O
by Ben van Heuvelen





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