Defence Buffering by Caroline Ma

As a defender, buffering is the concept of adjusting the amount of space between you and the attacker when they are less likely to receive a pass, which can make it easier for you to be in the position when they are likely to be thrown to.

Buffering refers to the distance between you and the offensive player you are defending. This is most important to think about when maintaining your defensive priorities; see Establishing Defensive Priorities before diving further into this article as I’ll be referencing it heavily throughout.

Your buffer should be a different distance for different areas of the field and depends on your team’s defensive strategy, where the disc is, and where your player is. If they are a long way from the disc or less likely to get the disc then you might have a bigger buffer, allowing you to play help defence on other areas of the field. If they are close to the disc then it’s likely that you’ll be maintaining a smaller buffer and more focused on not getting beaten to a specific area of the field.

Prioritising Under Cuts

A common strategy might be prioritising the open under space first, followed by the deep space and then the break space; see Fig. 1. This means that in an ideal world, the offence team will be denied the easy under pass in front of the thrower, and will be forced to attempt trickier deep and break throws.

Defensive Priorities - under space

Fig. 1: Denying the under space

For this setup, when defending the open under space (Area 1) your buffer would be quite small, as you want to apply as much pressure as possible and have that throw not look like an option. Look at this example of Toronto 6ixers on defence against Brute Squad; they are positioned between their player and the open side, and maintain a small buffer to ensure that they cannot be beaten to the open side.

Watch the two downfield defenders buffering here, preventing cuts to the open side by good defensive positioning

Read more about this example: Toronto 6ixers, USA Nationals 2019 (4)

When using this system, you may allow a larger buffer when following your player to the deep space (Area 2) as this is a harder throw that may allow you more time to catch up if the disc does come, and allows you to be ready to defend the open under at all times.

When following your player to the break space (Area 3) you may have an even bigger buffer because the throw is much less likely to come due to what the mark is taking away, and again allows you to position readily in case your player attacks the open side again.

When buffering it is important to consider:

  • The strengths and weaknesses between you and your player
    • if you are marking someone who is much faster than you who continuously cuts deep, even though your team plan is to protect the under, you may keep a smaller buffer when your player starts to drift deep because you know their strength and they are much less likely to attack under anyway
    • Alternatively, if you are much faster than your cutter, you might like to create an even bigger buffer when they cut deep to make the option look more enticing, knowing that you will likely be able to make up the distance and bait a block if the disc is thrown.
  • After the disc has left the thrower’s hand, this is the time to close the buffer and work hard to make up the ground between you and your defender
  • Many good throwers can throw to break side easily. If it is a part of your team plan, it is okay to make the offence try to hit this more difficult option as long as you put on a mark as soon as possible to contain the next pass.
  • As your footwork, positioning and prediction of cutting patterns improve, the smaller of a buffer you may need, and more pressure you can put on your player in all parts of the field

Prioritising Deep Cuts

Sometimes if a team has shown they are capable of completing deep shots due to great throwers or very athletic receivers, a defensive plan might be to first protect the deep space, which means standing behind your player and pushing them into the under and break space.

Defensive Priorities - Deep space

Fig. 2: An alternative scheme that prioritises denying deep space; notice how the cutter is being backed

The following clip shows Riot (in white) guarding Brute Squad (in black). Keep your eyes downfield. Riot’s defensive set here is to prioritise covering the deep space. Riot wants to force Brute to complete a series of short under passes. However, what is most effective when using this strategy is having a very small buffer. The Riot defenders are always in touching distance of their Brute cutters. Even though the under pass is technically open on some of these cuts, because the Riot defender is right on their backs, the handlers instead choose to reset it between themselves.

Here we see multiple cuts from Brute Squad (in black) being denied by Riot defenders (in white) who are using a very small buffer, standing behind ('backing') their players and pursuing the under cuts very hard

This plan requires skilled defenders with great footwork but exemplifies what a great small buffer can look like.

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