The term ‘boxing out’ refers in general to any attempt to make a catch by keeping an opponent away from the disc. However, there are 2 reasonably distinct things that tend to get lumped together under this one banner.
First, there is the situation where you’ve pretty much arrived at the point where you’ll make the catch, and you need to use your body to hinder someone else having a bid at the same time. There’s a post here on the Ultimate Rob site which appears to be discussing this situation, giving advice like – ‘practice taking the disc high and early’. Good advice, undoubtedly, but not much help in specifically boxing out. There are a couple of things you can do in this situation which will help a little – chief among them perhaps is going up with both hands, which prevents your defender having a free swing through the relevant airspace without fouling you – but realistically the player with the biggest jump is going to win a lot of these battles. If it’s more than a one-on-one situation, and a crowd has formed, there’s some really good advice on The Huddle.
But the second kind of boxing out is specifically intended to avoid these situations in the first place. If you pay some attention to preventing your defender going where they want to go, way in advance of making the catch, then you can prevent them being in a position to bid at all. Rob’s advice is to play the disc, not the player – I disagree. If your handler has put up a disc that will stay at a catchable height for a while, you’re going to be able to make a play on it at some point – and your priority often becomes making sure your defender doesn’t get it first.
There’s a video here of someone completely avoiding an aerial battle by blocking their defender’s preferred run, and then catching a simple waist-high pancake. The defender looks a little taller, but we’ll never know who would win in the air because it never happens. The editors at ESPN might not get excited about you avoiding the glory situation, but your handlers will love you for this stuff…
Obviously this isn’t going to work when the throw is so bad that multiple defenders are getting under it; you can’t box all of them out like this, and you will need to be able to simply sky them. But one-on-one, a properly positioned offence player can control the situation a large percentage of the time.
Think about a situation where the disc floats too high for too long, and you and your defender are both waiting under it. Wouldn’t it be better if you’d just both got there later? If you can stay ahead – maintain position – and at the same time slow them down so that you don’t arrive at the point of reception too early, wouldn’t that make your life easier? Actually, it’s not that hard to have some influence on where and how fast your defender can run – but it’s complex enough to be worth its own post. For today, we’ll just focus on why you’d want to be able to do it.
There are other situations where you need to box out; it isn’t just for when the throw is a little too floaty. For example, imagine your defender is faster or taller than you. What this means in practice is that the earliest point he can meet the disc is not the same as it is for you. He can take it earlier, either because he catches up with it sooner, or because he can take it out of the air higher. There’s no point at all in you simply trying to catch it at the highest point you can, because that might be 3 yards or half a second after the other guy already has it! (Click on the image to enlarge.)
What you have to do is prevent him from getting to where he wants to make the catch, and then chasing the disc down yourself. If the disc is thrown right over your head, it might just mean keeping him behind you. But if, as is more likely, it’s off to one side, you might to have to compromise on your earliest possible catching point in order to keep him away from his (see diagram below).
You normally also have to compromise on making the catch as easy as possible. With no defender, you probably want to stay wide of the path of the disc – from where you can ‘read’ it more easily – and then run towards it at the end. But doing this will give a free run to your defender. Instead, you often need to follow the disc much more, getting almost under it, and staying between the defender and where he’s trying to run (as in the diagram). This will make the catch (or at least the read) slightly more difficult, but it will make defending impossible if you do it right.
Generally, your defender is going to try and get inside you, between you and the path of the disc, in order to block it. Your job is simply to push him (not physically – more on how to do it in another post later) so far inside the line that it goes comfortably over his head and then you can go chase it down – watch that video link again to see it in action.
Of course, not every throw is amenable to this sort of thing. A flat laser, or a bladey flick, is not going to give you the opportunity to chase it down after you’ve dealt with the defender. But when the disc is slowing down for you to run on to, and you’re not faster or taller – or it looks like it might float out of reach a little too long – you want to be thinking about boxing out as you approach it.