Defence Pulling Strategy by Tom Abrams

Your pulling strategy will set the tone for your defensive effort, yet many teams just aim to "throw as far as possible". Start thinking more deeply about how to use the pull to your advantage.

What are we trying to achieve with a good pull?

Goal: Put the offence in the worst possible position to begin the point

  • Maximise the time until the disc is put into play
  • Minimise ‘flow’ from the pull: the offence has an advantage at the start of the point
  • Maximise the distance that the offence has to work against the defence

Why?

  • Gain distance: the deeper the pull, the further the offence has to work to score
  • Hang time: more time for our defence to take optimal positions on the field (and more time means they don’t need to run as hard)
  • Prevent flow: offences that are good in flow are best combated by preventing them from getting started. Therefore, you might prefer to put them onto a sideline & even throw a shorter pull deliberately.
  • Build Pressure: make sure that every pass is contested. No ‘free’ passes.

Therefore, depending on our opponent & our objectives, we are likely looking to throw a pull that travels a long way with a lot of hang time, and/or leaves the disc trapped on the sideline

If we think about the “perfect” pull, we’re probably thinking of a pull that lands or is caught towards the back of the endzone (maximising distance to the attacking endzone) with over 8 seconds of hang time (to allow your defenders to get into position). The defence will all be in good positions relative to their opponents before the offence is in play (forcing a static start rather than a pull play) and preferably the disc will be in a difficult position on the pitch, such as a downwind sideline (making it difficult to get the disc moving). All of these factors will tip the balance in your favour, making it less likely that your opponent will score.

Tom Abrams pulls to the back corner of the endzone for Great Britain

Balancing Risk vs Reward

In reality of course it is more difficult. Weather conditions might make it more challenging to control the disc, and not many players are strong enough throwers to exert this level of control over a throw that travels over 70m. In particular, it is difficult to control the fade of the disc so that it stays in bounds while maximising hang time without also making it easy to catch earlier on. This is why we don’t usually aim to the back corner, but instead the centre of the field.

If it’s hard to get it to the brick, then throwing out of bounds isn’t a bad result as the offence will start from the sideline or brick. You can also consider using a rolling puller (“roller”) to trap the offence on the sideline.

Conversely if it’s easy to get the disc to the endzone, then don’t give up the field position by throwing out of bounds, particularly downwind, as your opponent will certainly prefer to walk the disc up to the brick rather than battle against your defence and the wind for those 20m+.

Another potential risk is where a puller opts to throw outside of the pitch, but where the disc never comes back in. When pulling, don’t throw the disc straight out the side of the field aiming for it to come back; if your pull doesn’t come back in then you give the offence the option of a short field score. The safer option is a flight path where the disc remains in the pitch throughout the duration of flight.

We should also always take our opponent into consideration. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they like to play? Try to imagine what type of pull will disadvantage them the most.

How to Execute the Pull

Where to throw

  • Deep centre-field: A deep, hanging pull will often leave the offence with only a swing to the sideline and minimises the chance of giving the offence a brick. You want enough hang time to pressurise the first pass
  • Another Abrams pull caught in the centre of the field and swung to the sideline that allowed the defence to set

  • Roll out the sideline: If the offence is not covering the sideline or there is a favourable wind,, then a rolling pull can put them in a tough position and give the defence time to set up
  • Facing a strong headwind, Abrams opted to roll the pull off the downwind sideline in the WUGC 2012 quarter final against Australia

  • Brick mark: If it is hard to get the disc to the brick mark, then consider whether a brick is the most favourable option. After all, if you can only reach the brick then it’s likely the offence will catch it and gain yards (and flow) before you establish any defensive pressure. At least pulling out of bounds will give you time to set up.

You should also consider making the disc difficult to field; try rolling the disc, throwing a bladey pass in a gusty wind, or get the disc to come out of the sun (or floodlights!) if possible to make the catch more challenging. The slower the offence are to get field the pull, the more time you have to set defensive coverage. When considering the value of a bladey pull vs a hanging pull, count the time until the offence is ready to throw, rather than the time that the disc is in the air.

Pull Coverage

In order to achieve these aims as a team, teams must practice pull defence; the best teams have specific parts of their playbook related to defending the pull. There is always an element of risk vs reward: How much are you willing to gamble? How much do you want to cover for or help each other? Where your opponent is running a strong flow offence, or where they rely on a few key players to get open, consider some kind of transition which allows you to pressure the first pass while covering the deep; this provides protection against huck plays, and provides a chance to gamble. Where you adopt this strategy, the defence should aim to mitigate the threat and contain the risk until they can catch up with their individual assignments. While transitions may seem appealing due to numerous benefits, they can be risky during the actual change over.

Your coverage might look quite different between match and zone defences. And you should also plan for what happens if the disc is bricked; most elite teams are so good from the brick that no defence can afford to play a true match defence against them.

Most importantly of all, everyone on your team must be on the same page. This applies equally to players on the sideline as on the field.

A pull that lands edge down is difficult to field. When combined with good coverage from other defenders, it can stifle the offence before it begins

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