Handler Offense and Defense in the Ultimate Skills Project

Alright handlers, let’s develop some skills.

I’ve played handler ever since I stopped being the fastest player on the field, so I’ll be pulling together four modules out of skills that I’ve seen be successful for a wide range of players across divisions and around the world. While there is no single right way to play the game, these fundamental skills are relevant to every environment. I hope you are able to draw from my experiences and level up some parts of your game, or the games of the players that you coach.

For Players

We’ll look at four categories of activities around the handler position

Defense: Limiting disc movement

  • During the cut: prioritizing threats and making the offense predictable
  • During the catch: stopping the handler’s first second with the disc
  • During the mark: creating doubt
  • During the throw: repositioning and reading the field

 Offense

We’ll broaden the scope of what handlers can do, what they want to do, and some ways to go about reaching these second-by-second goals that don’t require being taller or faster than your opponent. Whenever possible, we’ll try to put the defender into positions where all of their options work for us. Liberally dash with some discipline and skill work, and we hope to be generating more offense with less risk.

Between possessions: Where handlers are the team brains

Did your team just turn it over? How do we limit easy goals? What are the thought processes that go into these crucial 1-3 seconds? Where can you gain small advantages while other players wait for their brains to Control-Alt-Delete?

Just got the disc? Should you pick it up or walk to it? Who should take it, and how? Is play-calling going to help or hurt our offense? Why do some teams seem to fast-break naturally and others have to slowly grind for every yard?

Throwing

At this point, I suspect many of us will see clear patterns in the kinds of throws that are relatively more successful. I’ll break down the tendencies I see in throwers (at all ages and experience levels) that generally lead to successful handling. In leaving this section to the end, I hope to make a more logical case for certain skills that are more applicable to use in the previous modules. 

For Coaches

Later this month in the URCA Classroom, I’ll be talking about coaching handlers and the kinds of drills that build solid fundamentals…but that’s not enough. I want to build solid fundamentals while also allowing creativity and developing a understanding for why a particular move works so that the fundamentals can translate to very high levels of play. I’ll show some drills that can help with handler skills on both sides of the ball. Probably more importantly, I’ll take the opportunity to weave in my own personal screed extolling deliberate practice (which will help no matter what drill you do) rather than just copying lines and cone positions (which will not). 

Quick Drill for Defensive Positioning

As an example of the kind of work that we’ll do, here is the first of the elements we’ll be doing for handler defense. This piece is for most common handler-defending position: level with the disc, with the disc near to the forced sideline. Each week, I’d like you to take a few reps against a partner playing the role of that handler.

The handler should line up at a comfortable distance and visibly point in the direction of the upline cut that would be the most useful.This angle will find a balance between gaining some yards (but not so many that it risks being poached) and being a short throw (but not so short that it is too tight to the mark). See that line? OK, now we’ll take a few reps of simply lining up with our body on that line. Even if the handler beats you, they will at least have to vary away from that perfect line. By lining up well, you’ll increase the likelihood that we will push them somewhere else.

For each of just 2-3 reps, start somewhere within 5-10 yards from the handler and hustle your way into position on that line. Vary the angle at which you approach. When this feels easy (which should be very soon), do it without their outstretched arm as a guide.

If we can line up correctly, then the rest of the quickness, endurance and focus will have a much better chance of working. This drill won’t change your game massively, but these little reminders and guides will make your footwork more accurate and make the rest of the tasks more automatic so that the higher-level parts of handler defense can use your whole brain.

Here is a very quick and unedited video with a few reps for demonstration:


You’ll see in the video above that we also work from a 45-degree position that is often used in the middle of the field or when the disc is being forced towards the reset handler. Again, the partner is physically pointing in the direction of the best, easiest cut. Move a few steps and get lined up! This kind of pattern formation helps you to be automatic later when it counts.

To up the difficulty, move around your partner for 2-5 seconds and have them randomly start the rep so that you come at it from different footworks. Don’t just practice the easiest footwork; learn to be a creative recoverer of position!

Many more handler defense drills will be coming your way next week in the Ultimate Skills Project. Find a partner and get ready to put in quality reps to improve your fundamentals.

The handler position is based heavily in playing experience. Everyone will eventually be a capable handler, given enough time. And almost everyone can improve their handler defense. I think you are still reading this rather dry blog post because you want to become a better handler or handler defender while you are still young enough to enjoy the use of these skills. If that’s because you are starting middle school ultimate next year, because Nationals is coming soon, or because your first league game is next week after your 50th birthday, great! Let’s get down into the weeds of handling together.

Handler Offense and Defense Modules by Ben Wiggins will go live in the Ultimate Skills Project starting next week. Each week Ben will be giving you drills you can do by yourself or with a partner in 1-2 hours per week. During the month of September, Ben Wiggins will be available in the Ultimate Skills Project to answer your questions as you complete your handler homework! Join us here!

If you’re a coach who wants to teach these skills (and many others) to your team, join the URCA Classroom here. Content related to handler offense and defense will arrive in the URCA Classroom by the beginning of October. In the meantime, you’ll have access to over 50 presentations including Ben Wiggins’ “Zone: Team fundamentals for zone defense and offense for any formation”

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