Orbiting Defence by Jimmy Mickle

Downfield defence isn't just about staying on the open side, it's about preventing the most dangerous options. "Orbiting" your cutter based on field position is one effective strategy for effective body positioning.

Orbiting is the principle of changing your relative defensive positioning based on where the disc is and who has it. Defensive positioning needs to change to take away the most dangerous area of the field.

Fig. 1 shows what some might think of “standard” force side defense. A has the disc, they are being forced flick (B is on offense), so the defender D2 is positioned on the flick side. This is the most obvious situation for when defensive positioning is more than just a case of “flick force = be on the flick side”. The dangerous area for the defense is all the space in front of the disc that is wide open without too difficult of a throw (shown in red), because an open side/flat throw from A still gets to B unless D2 repositions themselves.

Fig. 1: if it is a flick force, the thrower is on the backhand sideline, and your offender is on the flick sideline, you shouldn’t be on the flick side of them, you need to be taking away the dangerous area which is the area in front of the disc usually

Fig. 2 shows proper positioning of the defender for this specific situation ( assuming defense is taking away the under; see Establishing Defensive Priorities)

Fig. 2: Readjusted defensive position to prevent dangerous throws

As offensive player B moves horizontally across the field – Fig. 3 – the defender D2 must re-position their body to take away the most dangerous throws. “Dangerous” throw refers to what is dangerous to the defense, throws that aren’t that difficult, that allow offense to get disc in advantageous positions and gain yards. In Fig. 3 discs throw to the far left or far right of the field are not as “dangerous” as throws that are thrown in the middle third, hence why defender must actively guard that.


Fig. 3: Preventing the offence attacking the middle of the field

Fig. 4 is a more intuitive position. Not only is there not a lot of space for throw on the left third of the field, it’s also the break side so it’s not necessary for defender to take that away.


Fig. 4: A conventional open-side under defensive position

End zone is a situation where I often see defenders staying on a force side instead of changing their position to take away available throws. It also means the offense is working primarily with the under space. (Note: this is for vertical stack end zone offenses with cuts from the front and continuation from the back; see Upfield Dump (“3H”))

Fig. 6 shows what happens quite often, a break throw to the person at the front of the stack, C. After this happens you’ll generally see defenses not adjust, and just blame the mark for getting broken. At high levels of ultimate, marks get broken, the downfield defense needs to adjust after that happens to take away the easiest throw.


Fig. 6: A short break throw from A to the front of the stack C

As D3 tries to get back into position and set up a forehand mark again, the rest of the defenders need to move into positions that are more beneficial to their team. This is shown in Fig. 7.


Fig. 7: Defenders adjust after the mark is broken; they need to cover the short assist throw until D3 has recovered and put a mark on

These are not permanent positions, but defenders should be prepared to take away would would be a very easy unmarked 2 yard throw. Because the disc is on the end zone line, any pass will score, so if you don’t take that spot away, the point is over. It’s better to make the offense look to a second option.


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