Transitions by Brummie and Jodie Palmer

Keeping an opponent guessing is a useful defensive strategy; here, we discuss transitions between different types of defence

Many teams will opt to transition from their zone defence to a person defence during a point; this would typically be because:

  1. the offence has advanced the disc most of the way downfield, such that the deep threat is no longer a major issue
  2. the zone gives up short passes that could be effective when the disc is near the attacking endzone
  3. the zone has become ineffective due to throws that have bypassed the defence; note that these transitions can be called as the disc is mid-air, turning a potential “zone killer” into a potential block attempt
  4. the zone has forced the offence to change from their initial structure (“Plan A”) to a secondary offence (“Plan B”)
  5. the defensive team wishes to keep the offence guessing

Methods for transitioning largely involve:

  • Trigger: most teams will transition on a keyword that only they know
  • Knowing when to transition: typically the sideline, or a deep defender, is tasked with calling the transition via a key word that is only known to your team. Fake calls can also be deployed to keep the opposition guessing, or silent transitions which are more subtle and rely on a non-audible cue such as a big swing or a certain number of passes. Often, the optimal time to transition is when the offence is on the back foot;
    a high stall perhaps, or when they are executing a dump, as the thrower is unlikely to be looking for a large yardage gaining throw.
  • Protect the Endzone: there’s little point in having your last person back commit forwards, leaving someone else to go long immediately after the transition. The last person back might need to pull off several switches to protect the endzone before they can commit 100% to their mark.
  • Talk: the better you communicate, the better your defence will be. Remember, it’s a team sport,
    and a coordinated strategy is best. Players who have a good view of the field, such as deeps or wings, are best placed to dictate who picks up where on the transition. And if something goes wrong, call for help.
  • Cover the thrower: the biggest threat is of an unmarked throw into space immediately as the transition occurs. That’s why some teams prefer to transition in two parts, with wings and/or deeps hanging back for a few seconds to provide cover. It is equally important that players near the disc clog the throwing lanes during the transition – leaving an uncontested reset behind the disc, perhaps – in order to reduce the chances of the defence being scored on while it is most vulnerable.
  • Be unpredictable: an offence will often not realise what’s going on, and the more you can keep them guessing, the more likely they will make a mistake.

Rarely, teams will transition into a zone defence to protect the endzone; the Australian Open team at WUGC 2008 did so quite effectively, and the 2012 GB Open team copied their tactics.

This clip shows an excellent, long, slow transition from an arrowhead to person defence. Note the sideline helping to identify threats as part of the transition.

Transition defence can involve changing between any kind of defence, however in this section it will refer to changing from zone defence to match defence. Transitions from zone to match can occur either as planned to disrupt the offence (transition dictated by the defence), or spontaneously after the zone has been broken (transition dictated by the offence).

Planned Transitions

One way to execute a planned transition is to transition after a certain number of passes (generally between 3 and 10). A transition after a short number of passes is generally executed to try and disrupt a pull play. A transition after a longer number of passes is generally executed to try and disrupt the offence’s flow after they have adapted to the zone defence.

Here is an example of Colony transitioning from a zone (not a cup zone) to match defence:

Colony transition when the handler turns to reset the disc backwards; this is a window of opportunity for the defence when downfield threats are diminished

If you turn on the sound in this clip you can hear them yelling “have a look” and “find, find, find” so it’s likely to be a transition after a number of passes or in reaction to an advantageous situation for the defence.

Another way to execute a planned transition is to transition when the disc reaches a certain point on the field, such as half way or the defensive brick mark. A transition based on field position is generally executed due to this type of zone becoming less effective when the disc gets closer to the end zone. This is due to the fact that smaller passes are usually easier to complete against a zone, and smaller passes can result in scoring when the disc is closer to the end zone.

Ring of Fire transition to match defence when the disc reaches approximately half field; note that the defence lets the disc reach the sideline first, then transitions as the disc swings

Seattle Sockeye transition after just one throw to the sideline

Spontaneous Transitions

Spontaneous transitions from zone to match defence generally occur when the zone has been broken and it may be too difficult for the zone to catch up and regain control. This type of transition may occur either after the zone is broken with a big swing, with a throw through or over the cup, or after a huck or hammer to the deeps.

The main rule to follow when transitioning from zone to match is to match up from the deepest offensive players first. It may be tempting to match up on the player closest to you but as the defence has more players near the disc this will result in the wings and deep being outnumbered, making it easy for the offence to attack. When the transition is called, players need to quickly find the deepest unmarked threat and match up on them. When in doubt it is safest to leave the thrower undefended.

When Canada string together 3 quick passes to bypass the cup, Australia run a spontaneous transition into person-to-person defence


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