Boxing out: The relevant rules

Before we move on to the techniques of deliberately impeding your defender, we’d better be very sure we’ve got a thorough understanding of the rules. How much can you impede her? If there’s contact, who has fouled whom?

Of course, this isn’t likely to be the world’s most exciting blog post – but it’s written so that when you read the other stuff on boxing out, we don’t have to have a long debate about the rules… 😉

From the WFDF Rules:

12.7. When a player is making a play on the disc, an opposing player may not move to intentionally impede that player’s movements, unless they are also making a play on the disc.

12.8. Every player is entitled to occupy any position on the field not occupied by any opposing player, provided that they do not initiate contact in taking such a position.

12.9. All players must attempt to avoid contact with other players, and there is no situation where a player may justify initiating contact. “Making a play for the disc” is not a valid excuse for initiating contact with other players.

And from the official interpretations document:

12.2 Player positioning (12.7)
What: Player A, who is making a play on the disc, is allowed to slow down and to impede an opponent’s movement to make a play on the disc. However Player A must not
move in a way that the opponent could not reasonably avoid them – this is a Blocking foul (17.8).
Some incidental contact may occur in these circumstances but incidental contact is
not a foul.

[N.B the USAU 11th Edition rules are broadly similar, although expressed slightly differently in places. This article is long enough without covering both…]

So, first things first. From 12.7, you can’t impede someone else unless you’re making a play on the disc. You can’t just get in the way, intending to watch the disc hit the ground or get caught by someone else. But that’s not going to be an issue if you’re boxing out on offence (and there are no other players involved) – making a play on the disc is what it’s all about, so you’re always OK by that rule.

Note that there’s no specification about how soon you’ll be catching the disc. There’s nothing to stop you running in front of your defender when you’re still 20 yds away, as long as you’re running in such a way that it will assist you in making that play on the disc – and keeping the defender out of the way will definitely assist you making the catch. Section 12.2 in the interpretations document makes very clear that you are allowed to impede your defender in order to make a play on the disc, and – in doing so – also makes clear that ‘making a play on the disc’ does not just apply to the dive/stretch/catch, but to the running-to-the-disc also.

Just to be sure, I also emailed someone on the WFDF rules committee to confirm that point. As far as I can tell, everything you do to make the catch more likely, once the disc is in the air, effectively counts as making a play on the disc – and thus, as long as you don’t cause contact, you can go where you want. And if indeed you start impeding your defender before the disc is even in the air, then rule 12.8 would apply – neither of you is yet making a play on the disc, and so you can still go where you want.

Basically, if you can get to any given space first, your defender is probably obliged to try and avoid you, regardless of how much she’d like to be in that space in order to make a bid. If there’s a large difference in current speed between you and your defender, then you might be fouling her by stepping in her way – she can’t avoid contact with you – but if you’re travelling at anything like the same rate it and you have position, you can pretty much go where you like.

A word on the ‘I was running in a straight line!’ argument that is often heard. If the player (usually the offence) who has position – i.e. who will reach a given space first – is running in a straight line, then another player (usually the defender) is obliged to avoid them. It’s easy to predict where that offence player is going to be, so you’ve no right to dive into that same space and make contact, even if you take off way in advance of the actual collision. You could see where they were running to, and it’s your duty to avoid the collision.

But note that the reverse isn’t true. A person who is out of position (let’s call them the defender, on the assumption that they’re usually the one behind) who runs in a straight line is not always entitled to make the same argument. If the offence player is able to get in the way of your straight-line run, early enough that you could avoid her if you tried, then you are obliged to avoid her. It doesn’t matter that she veered and you ran straight – it’s your duty, as the player who will arrive at the crucial space later, to avoid crashing into her. As long as she establishes her new position early enough that you could avoid her, then she’s perfectly entitled to do so and you must avoid her.

That’ll do for now. Next time we look at boxing out, we’ll look at how to impede your defender. In case anyone wants yet more, here’s some further detailed scenarios from that Official Interpretations document:

12.5 Player positioning when the disc is in the air (12.6 – 12.9)
What Player A is chasing after the disc and slows down to ensure they can remain between Player B and the disc. Player B runs into the back of Player A and they both trip over.
Result Player B has fouled Player A.
Why Player A is allowed to slow down to make a play on the disc. Player B could have reasonably avoided Player A and is therefore initiating contact.
What Player A is chasing after the disc and stops suddenly and runs immediately backwards into their approaching defender. Player B runs into the back of Player A.
Result Player A has fouled Player B.
Why Player B could not avoid reasonably have avoided Player A, therefore Player A has initiated contact.
What Player A is chasing after the disc and slows down and moves from side to side to prevent Player B from getting around them and making a play at the disc. Player B runs into the back of Player A. Player A catches the disc.
Result Player B has fouled Player A. Player A has possession so does not need to make a call, or should call “play on” if they had made a call.
Why Player A is allowed to slow down and to impede a player’s movement to make a play on the disc. Player B could have reasonably avoided Player A and is therefore initiating contact.
Extra Impeding a player’s movement is different from initiating contact. Some incidental contact may occur in these circumstances but incidental contact is
not a foul.

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9 Responses to Boxing out: The relevant rules

  1. I came across a situation where I thought 12.7 and 12.8 were at odds with each other. the disc was in the air but it flew over the offence player’s head. As one of our offence players in the stack began to run for the disc, their defender stepped in front of them to block them. Now the offence player probably wasn’t moving fast enough to be in the ‘couldn’t avoid them’ situation, but the defender wasn’t making a play for the disc. I didn’t call anything at the time but it felt like a blocking foul. Any thoughts?


  2. Good question. The rules aren’t completely transparent, but i think it’s clear which rule was intended to supersede the other (even though it doesn’t say so explicitly). If 12.8 overruled 12.7, then 12.7 would /never/ apply – it would never matter whether or not you’re making a play on the disc – so I think it’s safe to assume instead that 12.7 overrides 12.8 when they clash. Thus the situation you describe would be a violation. It’s not specified what you should call – it’s definitely not a blocking foul, because there’s no contact caused – but it does breach 12.7 and the rules allow you to call ‘violation’ on any breach of the rules which isn’t a foul or infraction (15.3). There’s another bit in the interpretations document section 12.5 which talks about a similar situation (where you block someone so that a team-mate can get the disc) and it specifically states that you can call ‘violation’.

    I suspect there’d be some difficulty getting that call accepted by most players, particularly on occasions where they don’t even know the disc is in the air and are just blocking the cutter in general play, under rule 12.8. It might be a tough argument to win unless you have a copy of the rules handy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a violation – seems relatively clear to me. Sound about right?


    • Yeah that sounds good, and he saw the disc go up and then purposefully moved, so it seemed pretty clear cut. I’d be happy with it going back to the thrower in that situation. Cheers!


  3. Mburrd says:

    What are your thoughts on the use of arms when either side is vying for the disc? Can an offensive player stretch out their arms to impede the defender when attempting to make a play on the disc? I find it pretty hard to draw a clear line between fouls and incidental contact, especially on floaty 50/50 throws where offender/defender are more or less stationary and there can be elbows to the back or hands on shoulders (whether intentional or not)


    • WFDF Rules 12.11. Players may not use their arms or legs to obstruct the movement of opposing players.

      I’m not absolutely sure of the situation under USAU – a quick ctrl-f search for ‘arm’ in the 11th edition didn’t show up any relevant rule. I imagine there’s some provision somewhere though, otherwise people would use their arms a lot more.

      The foul/incidental thing is technically very clear – a foul is only a foul if it affects play. However, by its very nature, this is a rule which is almost guaranteed to result in disagreement between defender and receiver. It’s not as clear in practice as it is on paper – it’s always going to be about opinion.

      Let’s say the offence think they had a 1% chance of reaching the disc if they hadn’t been fouled. They’re perfectly entitled to call the foul and say they had a bid on it. The game was meaningfully affected by the foul, in their opinion. But the defender, 99% sure (actually, probably 99.999%, since they’re unlikely to share the optimistic perspective of the receiver) it was going to turn over anyway, isn’t going to love that call. Talk it through of course, try and agree what happened – but if as a defender you find that it’s hard to win those debates, then just keep your arms out of the way in the first place. The player who breached the rules is always going to struggle for the moral high ground in these situations…

      Also, any /intentional/ fouling is way out of order. Get their captain to have a word with them, or find out who is coaching them to play that way. All fouls must be considered accidental, otherwise the whole game comes crashing down. There are lots of other sports out there for people who want to deliberately foul.


  4. James B says:

    Here’s my favourite situation for muddying these waters:
    Player A is on offense. Player B is on defense
    Player A cuts deep down the middle of the pitch to catch an OI backhand huck. Player B is to the right of player A (from a top-down view).
    The disc curves more OI than A anticipated and, looking up over their left shoulder they begin to drift right (whilst still moving forwards) so that they can catch the disc before it goes over their head.
    At this point Player B is effectively boxing out Player A. Player B doesn’t need to move right as they are in a good position to make the catch and ceding ground to Player decreases the chances of them getting the block.
    Player B can see that Player A is about to initiate contact with them (they are looking left too) but Player A has no idea since they are effectively moving backwards. Usually the first thing Player A knows about the situation is they get what feels like a shove in the back – as they move into Player B.
    Player B is allowed to hold their ground I believe, but does the fact that they could avoid the contact count against them? I’ve seen quite a few messy calls around this situation…


    • Anonymous says:

      As long as Player B was moving straight and not veering the opposite way they just have good position. A has no grounds to make a call they are changing the path of their run into player B’s position


    • Otto says:

      12.9 says “[…]there is no situation where a player may justify initiating contact.”, and there isn’t an exception for running backwards or looking up the disc. The defender is not obligated to move away and give up the space to avoid contact, so it’s an offence foul.


  5. Pingback: Boxing out: Why it works, and how to do it | Understanding Ultimate

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