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Defense From The Handler Spot

by Seth Wiggins

A great defensive handler first and foremost plays defense. The defensive unit will only get a handful of opportunities to try to score; most of their time spent on the field will be defending. To be valuable to their team, a defensive handler will need to produce more than they give up, and the offense has a big advantage to start with. Effective defending from a variety of positions is well covered in other issues of The Huddle. 

Aside from defending, there are a few attributes that separate among defensive handlers the great from the rest, and those attributes are largely based on the realities of playing with defensive units. Among the top teams today, most put their smartest, most experienced players on offense, usually taking those with the best disc skills with them. As most defensive units attempt to specialize at defending, they spend relative to offensive far less time practicing their offense sets. Further, most offensive teams are kept intentionally small, while defensive teams take the remaining 14 or so players. With any weather affecting play, defensive teams tend to defend downwind most of the points. So how does a great defensive handler manage to get a less-experienced, less-practiced team with far fewer disc skills to score upwind? Among the greats that I have watched and played with, a few factors have stood out: 

Use Only What is Needed
Offensive players will generally be put in enough situations to utilize their strengths. Over the course of a game, and even a tournament, defensive handlers will be limited in available options. The pressure to force their strength on the situation is usually the greatest on defensive handlers, and the best ones I've seen have been extremely patient to use only what would work, instead of what they thought they could do. 

Be an Effective Reset
As the effectiveness of cutters goes down, the number of dumps thrown goes up. Great defensive handlers are able to consistently provide an open, safe throw for players with less disc skills in order to maintain possession. 

Break the Mark
Similarly, as the downfield cutters are less able to get free on the open side, breaking the mark becomes even more important. A great handler for the D-team will be confident and able to break the same mark repeatedly in the same point. 

Be Comfortable at High Stall Counts
While usually wise to move the disc to the first open option, a great defensive handler might need to deal with several high stall counts per possession, as open options might be few and far between. The ability to maintain composure to get out of high stall situations is often the difference between a turnover and a break. 

Deal With Weather
The great defensive handlers I've played with have been able to do all of the above in the wind. When the weather gets more difficult, even more pressure gets put onto the handler, as lesser throwers will be even more reluctant to take risks with the disc. 

While hardly comprehensive, these attributes stand out the most in the great defensive handlers I have played with, from high school to Club Nationals. These aren't fixed: you can improve your own ability with every one of them, and doing so will help your team's chances to score breaks. 

huddle Issue 21 Team USA On Specialities

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Well-Rounded Deep Threats
by Gwen Ambler

What Else Makes A Good Handler?
by Cara Crouch

Handling: Vision
by Deb Cussen

Defensive Handlers I Admire
by Kathy Dobson

Schwa's D-Handler
by Chelsea Putnam

Handling: Doing The Little Things
by Jon Remucal

D-Line Handlers
by Adam Simon

Deep Cutting
by Dylan Tunnell

Cutting Thoughts & Techniques
by Bart Watson

Defense From The Handler Spot
by Seth Wiggins





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