Between the high-risk, high-reward of poaching and the low-risk, low-reward of shut-down man defense, baiting a D allows you to make the most of a defensive matchup you can win.
April 12, 2016 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 9 comments
Blocks are extremely valuable and also extremely hard to come by.
Forcing turnovers is the number one priority for the defensive line and the only way to get a shot at a break point. Yet nothing is more frustrating than being unable to do exactly that, watching your opponents work the disc cleanly for score after offensive score.
Even worse, it can be near-torturous when you are playing shut-down person defense, while around you the disc flies down the field for a goal. It’s a helpless feeling, knowing that you did your job and yet were completely unable to help your squad even get a chance at a break.
So it is easy to understand the temptation to poach, to leave your person alone to attempt to make a play. But this is a risky decision and can often do more harm than good. On the other end of the spectrum, playing hard, person-marking defense and hoping your teammates come up with a D is very low-risk, but also very low reward, especially if you feel confident with your matchup.
The third option? Attempt to bait a D.
Baiting is staying close to your player (or zone area), but playing off just enough to give the offense the impression that the route of attack is open. In other words, you are setting a bit of a trap, putting yourself slightly at a disadvantage by providing a small opening, but making sure you are in range to pounce into action and snag a block if the offense falls for it.
Outright poaching has its place, but baiting is an undervalued skill that many don’t know how to do. It does increase the risk over hard person defense, but if employed correctly, it can take a far greater advantage of any kind of defensive mismatch and save you from an ultimately ineffective shutdown.
Follow the steps below to bait a D.
Step 1: Recognize your opportunity to set a trap
The most important step of baiting on defense is to decide whether it is worth it to set up a trap at all.
First and foremost, you really should have some degree of comfort with your matchup or your assigned role (baiting can indeed work well with zones). A lot of the time, defense is a reactive and challenging prospect; even the best defenders can sometimes be out of position, chasing, or feeling uncomfortable when trying to guard their opponent. The best time to bait is when you have confidence in your defensive position and athleticism in comparison to your mark. Perhaps you are utterly shutting down another player; perhaps you are playing a spot in the zone that isn’t being targeted at all.
Total control or dominance isn’t necessary, but some degree of comfort is required. You can still bait a D when in an even matchup or position, but remember, baiting increases risk. If you are guarding an excellent player (who perhaps is getting the better of you already) or roaming an overloaded deep side of the zone, you are giving the offense even more of an advantage if you try to bait.
Only bait if you are confident that either A.) You have the talent level or athletic advantage over your opponent to close the distance and get the block, or B.) There will be minimal impact if a player you are guarding receives the disc as a result of an unsuccessful bait. If you choose to bait and fail, you want to be sure that you can recover quickly enough that an immediate goal won’t be in the offing.
Step 2: Choose the battleground for your trap
Once you’ve made the decision to bait, you have to choose your battleground: the time and location of your opportunity.
Know your strengths and your team’s system; be sure you are baiting with at least a 50/50 chance of getting the D.
Generally, it is better on man defense to bait an undercut; if you are shutting down your person, are faster than your person, or can sense a pattern in your mark’s cutting behavior, you know your battleground. Let the person appear to be open under — on a cut that you dictate — then beat them to the space once the disc is in the air. The worst case scenario? That person gets the disc in a good position in the middle of the field with an extra half second to look upfield before you set your mark. This is far better than baiting a deep throw and your mark catching an uncontested goal in the endzone if you’ve misjudged the opportunity.
However, there are exceptions to every rule. Maybe you are a taller, more dominant player in the air or are playing last back. Baiting the deep space can work too; you just have to be sure in your own ability to make up the space.
Baiting in a zone get a little trickier and really depends on your team’s system. Are you collectively trying to force errors in the backfield by marking tightly in the deep space or are you hoping that they’ll be aggressive in the middle or over the top? Be sure to talk to your captains or coaches about your role in the zone and be sure to know where your team’s defense is vulnerable.
Either way, be mindful of the moment. Bait only when your whole team defense is set. If your opponent is fast-breaking, or one of your other players is out of position, baiting will not only expose yourself but perhaps the entire defense. Similarly, don’t bait when the enemy is at their strongest: in power position, amidst a set play, gearing up for a huck, or when the best thrower on the team has the disc in his or her hands.
Avoiding these scenarios allows you to limit the damage of an unsuccessful bait.
Step 3: Set your trap
Now to the actual basics of what a bait looks like.
Your goal is to make a covered throw appear open; this begins by actually letting the offensive player become slightly available for a clear throw. It’s all about the spacing. Give a greater cushion on defense and move a few steps away, but still close enough that you can influence where the cut will go. If you are playing person defense, be aware of the force and possibly let your mark have the first step or two to the force side. You need to show an available lane to throw to.
Sacrifice position enough that both offensive players (thrower and receiver) feel open, but close enough that you are in a great position to react and can make a play on the disc (even if it has to be a layout). It is ideal to set this up on a longer cut, as the longer a disc has to travel in the air, the more time you’ll have to make up the ground. Keep a good defensive stance, move with the player you are guarding (don’t just let them run away from you), travel at roughly the same speed as them, keep your eyes on the field, and anticipate where you think the throw will go.
Step 4: Hide the trap
Your bait doesn’t just depend on how your opponent looks, but it also depends on how you look.
The cutter you’re defending might beat you to the under space on the force side, but if you’re closely trailing right on that player’s shoulder or hip, few players are going to put up that throw. Similarly, an offensive wing may appear to be free and clear for that long pass, but a veteran handler will see you in the zone, waiting in the weeds.
Hiding yourself can be difficult and focusing on it too much can really move you too far out of position, genuinely conceding a completed pass.
Some tips: use the offense to screen the offense. Hiding slightly behind your offender’s back means you’ll have to go around them to get the D (difficult if they know how to box out), but also can provide enough of a vision block to encourage the thrower pull the trigger.
When in a zone, appear to focus your attention on a part of the space or another player from what you are attempting to bait to give the impression that you are out of position; a well-timed flash or fake poach can serve you well here.
Step 5: Spring the trap
If you’ve timed things correctly and positioned yourself well, you’ll be ready to strike as soon as the throw goes up. Sometimes, you’ll even be able to start moving before the disc actually takes flight, anticipating as the throwing motion begins.
Speed and positional awareness are crucial here as you only have a second or two to react. First regain your positioning and close the gap.
Be sure you have a clear path so you don’t foul and be sure you aren’t setting up any kind of dangerous play.
Then, let your athleticism take care of the rest.
Just be careful that you don’t spring out and commit too soon. Many players can relate to popping out around someone’s back ready to jump a throw, only to have the handler pull back in a fake at the last moment while your mark plants and takes off running in the other direction, leaving you chasing.
Examples from an Expert
Let’s watch some defensive baiting in action, from an expert at this skill. Here are two examples from UMass’ Jeff Babbitt making an impact with a defensive bait block, one during man defense and one in a zone.
Here is Babbitt playing man defense in the final of Queen City Tune Up in February. With the score tied at 10-10 and his team needing a D to stay in the game, Babbitt picked his moment.
- He recognized his opportunity to bait, knowing he had an athletic advantage over the cutter he was defending and knowing that his team trusts him to make these kinds of defensive decisions.
- He picked his battleground, having assessed the situation and recognized that the conditions were ideal for a bait. The rest of his teammates are in good defensive position and Babbitt is watching the field the entire way. He knows his mark is likely the next target, but rather than shutting down the cut entirely by dashing to the force side, he chooses to take a small risk and force a contested play.
- He set his trap by letting his offensive opposite get a few steps free in a big open force-side lane — meaning he will have plenty of space to close the gap — and watched as Maxstadt set up the throw.
- With UNCW’s stack at least partially shifted to the force side of where Maxstadt has the disc, Babbitt is able to use the slight cross field look to hide his bait behind the players in the lane between himself and the thrower.
- Then he sprang his trap by accelerating, closing the space, taking an inside line to the disc, and making a safe bid. After that, Babbitt’s athleticism takes over.
Similarly, we can see Babbitt exhibiting the fundamental elements of baiting a D in a zone here:
In this instance, he found an ideal opportunity for a bait: his team defense was set, he had coverage from a teammate behind him if he didn’t successfully get the block, and he recognized that the thrower wasn’t paying attention to his area of the field. Then he executed the bait by not immediately covering the open space/oncoming player, but waiting for the opportunity to develop and only springing the trap once the thrower was committed.
While Babbitt is undoubtedly an athletic beast, these examples also demonstrate that he has terrific defensive instincts. By studying and practicing the details of these plays, you can begin to recognize opportunities to make a similar defensive impact in your own games — even if you don’t have the same game-changing athleticism of Babbitt.
Turnovers and break chances are precious commodities. The key to creating them on defense is reacting to the offense and taking calculated risks. No need to settle for the binary options of high-risk, high-reward poaching or low-risk, low-reward shut-down man defense. Baiting gives you the best of both worlds by taking the initiative into your hands and making a risk that is worthwhile.
Finding a way to consistently generate blocks — without also consistently getting beat badly — will earn you playing time and put your team in a position to get break points and win big games.