Left and Right?

1SW_5588You’re on the sideline, trying to talk to the marker and give them useful information about what to do. What’s the best terminology to use?

As a quick aside, if your team doesn’t give some sideline assistance to the marker, then you’re missing a trick. There are few situations on the pitch where you’re performing a more important job than on the mark, and there is probably no situation where you are less able to glance behind you for the information you need. All you have to go on is the movement of the thrower, and he’s deliberately trying to fool you. Help from the sideline, from someone who can see all the cuts developing, can make all the difference.

Some teams just give occasional shouts when they need to make major adjustments (e.g. to cover the up-line pass for a second or so, or maybe to watch out for that guy’s high-release flick). But many teams give a more or less constant stream of information about which side of the mark the thrower is currently likely to break. I think there’s some value in this information for the marker. And even if it turned out that it’s not possible to communicate threats fast enough to make much difference, I still like the encouragement it gives me to have someone talking to me on the mark.

Anyway – whether or not you like to do this yourself – for today, let’s assume you’re on a team which communicates with the mark fairly constantly, and think about what you should say.

There are lots of ways you might try and tell the mark which way to move to block the dangerous throw (given your much better view of where the threatening pass is) but the two most common I’ve heard in the UK are:

  • ‘Left hand’ & ‘Right hand’ – telling the marker which hand to use (or which way to move his body) to block the expected throw
  • ‘I/O’ & ‘Step’ – telling the marker to watch out for the inside-out break or the step (or around or outside-in) break

[If you use something else, add it to the comments below and say why – this post isn’t really about describing the best way to do it; more about thinking it through and trying to start a discussion.]

Both of these options are good from a verbal recognition standpoint – the first sound is very different in each (as opposed to ‘No I/O’ and ‘No step’ which would just waste time on the same syllable for each message) and so the marker can start to react as soon as they hear anything.

But personally, I’m not a huge fan of left hand/right hand. The question is whether that’s because I have never got used to it (my new team use that one, and it confuses my old brain) or whether it’s actually an inferior way to communicate.

My biggest problem with left and right hand is the mirroring issue. It’s very easy to make a mistake on this when the marker can be facing either towards or away from the sideline, since his left and right is sometimes the same as yours and sometimes opposite (and it’s not great at all with dyslexic team-mates). Even if you don’t make a mistake, perhaps you hesitate a fraction of a second while you work it out (I certainly do) – and a fraction of a second is everything when someone’s trying to break the mark.

With I/O and step, it doesn’t really matter where you are on the pitch, or which way anyone is facing. Anyone who’s played for a while will know instinctively what the different break attempts look like and can move quickly to stop them.

But that rather brings us on to the big advantage of left/right, which is that it makes more sense to beginners. Apart from the severely dyslexic, it’s quicker to teach someone to move left or right than to teach them about the different types of break they’ll expect to deal with.

But then again, I very much like that I/O and Step have an external focus, on stopping a throw by the opponent, rather than an internal focus on moving my own hand. Marking is a two-player game, where you can’t afford to ignore what the opponent is doing; I like terminology that reminds my subconscious of that. I haven’t done my job if I move my right hand when told to; but I have if I block the I/O throw. I feel more likely to move my feet and body when reacting to the opponent than when focussing on what my hands are doing. But of course that’s partly because I’m used to one style rather than the other, so I can’t really say much about whether one is intrinsically better.

I guess I don’t know. I instinctively feel that I/O and Step are more sensible calls, but having got used to that terminology I’m hardly in an unbiased position.

What do you think? Should teams talk to the mark a lot, or just for major threats? And if they talk a lot, what terminology should they use? What does your team do, and why?

This entry was posted in Defence, General comment, Marking, Skills and Techniques. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Left and Right?

  1. Pierce says:

    “Inside” or “around” have been the norm on every team I’ve played on (college, club & country) when we’re forcing toward a sideline, but we use “left hand”/”right hand” for a front.
    In that, I guess it could make sense to use left/right for both as its more consistent, but I like the system we have now. As you say yourself though; this could just be because I’m used to it.


    • That’s a good point – left and right certainly make more sense with a straight-up force.


    • JohnO says:

      I’ve also always used inside and around. Though, we use them to communicate where the cut is coming from, e.g. the throwers only option. I think this solves the “not communicating fast enough” problem as well. If you’re yelling the position of the cutter, the cutter cannot change their position faster than I can yell it. So if we’re yelling inside, and the thrower makes an around fake, the mark shouldn’t bite on it. And then of course “Strike” where we expect the mark to totally move their feet and change their position to take away the throw.


  2. Felix says:

    This post was too personal – I don’t care which you prefer. Left and right are fine although there are a good 10% of peeps who struggle with it, whether its dyslexia or something else, so perhaps I/O and step (or ‘around’) is better… left and right seem more adaptable to any situation though


    • Sorry, Felix… I guess it was quite personal! I think that was the point I was trying to make though – I only have a personal perspective on this, rather than a cast-iron certainty about what everyone should do (like catching with two damn hands…)


  3. Je Di says:

    – “No inside” for blocking the inside throws and move a little bit more to the open side.
    – “No Break” or “Around” for blocking Arounds/Swing passes or generally move more to the break side.
    – “Frontal” for a flat/straight mark to make hucks more difficult.


    • I would like to add sth about the straight mark our trainer, Henri, pointed out yesterday:
      with a force straight (straight mark, be it on the middle handler or elsewhere), it’s good to keep stressing to keep one hand up all the time. > Thus, blocking or at least making an overheard more difficult/less likely.
      His reasoning was that your left hand is busy trying to stop the flick, your right should be up. If it’s a pivot, it takes quite some time: you can easily re-adjust your right hand to prevent that backhand. In contrast, if a marker keeps their hands down = in a horizontal position, it takes more time to raise that hand to block/prevent that overhead.

      So, if it’s not yet ingrained in the minds of every marker, you might want to shout “(right) hand up” every now and then.


  4. If we’re thinking about the long term development of players, I can offer up a different take on why ‘I/O’ and ‘Step/ Around’ is the ‘better’ terminology to use.
    So if we assume that your goal as a team is to keep improving. And that you take this to the extreme level of still treating every game, no matter what the status, as a chance to develop and grow (there’s always another game to improve for). Then the external focus of attention that you mentioned in your article becomes pretty key. Studies since the early 2000s have pretty convincingly shown that an external focus of attention, so thinking about the throws, not your hands, is significantly better for skill acquisition. Say you implement this and get your markers to react to external cues whilst on the force in every drill, practice session and competitive game up to and including your team’s peak (be it Tour, Nationals, Euros or Worlds) then suddenly you’ve developed players who are much stronger forces, all by the knock on effects of a simple change of language.
    To me, when you actually think about it it’s a no-brainer. Using the off-season to transform little things like this, into big ways to enhance the efficiency of skill acquisition could provide major benefits to your teams development by the time you’re wanting to peak. The best way to improve the big things is through an aggregation of marginal gains, GB cycling proved that!
    Interested to see everyone else’s opinions on this, I’m pretty short on anecdotal evidence to back it all up so look forward to reading comments from people much better at ultimate than me!


    • Brummie says:

      I agree with the process of improving via marginal gains – that’s been my method for the last three years. But I don’t understand why this favours “Step” over “Left”… am I missing something?


      • John E Corke says:

        Surely in the same way that for one team “ROMEO” can mean “ENDZONE” for another, the implication here has to be that it’s the rehearsal of response to ‘external cues’ that is valuable, not the technical proficiency of the terms use.

        I/O has two syllables. No thanks.


        • I agree completely that if everyone’s on the same page regarding responses to the terms used then whichever you use choose to drill using would have very little immediate implication to the mark, but what I was going for was more that it’s pretty engraved in skill acquisition research that an external focus of attention promotes better learning of skills over time. And so if we’re saying that forcing is a skill, maybe over a 12-18 month period, players marks would improve more so if they were constantly exposed to having to focus their attention externally whilst on the force, than if it was focused internally on their hands or body. Although it wouldn’t be a noticeable improvement immediately, it’s possible that it would produce players with better forces in the long run.

          I’m not entirely sure the amount of syllables matters too much, so long as the two words used sound entirely differently (so ‘I/O’ & ‘Around’ rather than the classic cricket mishap, ‘No’ & ‘Go’). I’m sure if it was your go-to forcing vocabulary, the mark would begin to react on the ‘I’ of ‘I/O’ or the ‘R’ of ‘Right’. Also it may just be my accent but I can say ‘I/O’ pretty fast for a 2 syllable word/ phrase!


      • It was me making the assumption that people associate ‘Left’ with ‘Left Hand’ (as Benji associated it above), which, as you’ve pointed out in your below comment can be changed by a team wide plan for it to mean something different. Obviously ‘Left Hand’ or anything which the marker may react to in the same way is an internal focus of attention, where as ‘Step’ is external (assuming you’re saying that ‘Step’ means ‘stop the around’).
        Basically I was making assumptions towards the use of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, it would have been clearer if I’d written out ‘Left Hand’ and ‘Right Hand’!
        Even so, if saying ‘Left’ means move to the left it still involves you thinking about your own body movements and not the possible actions of the thrower, personally I’d say this still makes the focus of attention internal but it would be entirely possible to make an argument for movement as a whole to be external.
        The more I think about this the less clear cut it gets, as with most theories!


  5. Brummie says:

    “Left” or “Right” are, IMO, the only useful words to use.


    Because you can be that much more adaptive. “Step” / “IO” etc are useless for a straight up mark (as already mentioned), plus with repeated “Left” calls I can get the marker to shift dramatically, while the use of “Step” / “IO” presumes a 45 degree mark with a cutter in a particular area. What if I want to take away the swing, or the dump, or the huck?

    GB used a “Left” = “shift your feet slightly to the left for one stall count, then go back”, while “Left-Left-Left” = “move your body to the left dramatically” (often to cover a huck or open cutter downfield); this enabled us to quickly communicate to the marker whether their mark was out of position, or whether they could jump across to deny an open side throw for one second without being punished, or even take away the dump.

    The use of a static flat mark to deny throws to half of the field is so behind the times – and the skill of players – that marks need to be more aggressive; taking away whatever they can whenever they can, within the boundaries established by the team defence.

    Finally, “Left” and “Right” are simple instructions. I’d wager that for everyone who is confused by them there is another who is confused by “Step” or “IO”, so this argument seems invalid to me.


  6. John E Corke says:

    Left and Right can be fantastic when paired with an understanding of what you want to achieve. Though they are useful in general, but if you’re prepared to talk as a team about what the mark is specifically taking away, they snowball as terms and can cause the force to become more like a weapon than a containment procedure. 2 examples:

    Indoors. Marking up against a team who are renowned for being fantastic at 2-1-2 iso offense. The pre-match chat establishes 3 things about the force: backhand (on a righty) force, no perfect flat-i/o scoobers (they love them), no knives. All of a sudden, ‘left’ and ‘right’ respectively mean “Get tight on his right shoulder to shut down a knife” (which is actually very little to do with the left hand) and “Right hand high, elbow bent, so he can’t magically set the iso up from behind your ear.”.

    Outdoors. Sideline trap on a crosswind pitch. Mark is forcing sideline and somewhat forwards. Taking away low release/high release centring break throw involves getting tight on the mark, stopping the pop pass straight backwards involves stepping away and locating the player yourself to actively stop the shot. To a player used to both the system and used to being an active force, left and right slowly become connected more to muscle memory than directions.

    You’re right in saying that using left and right is uncomfortable if you’re not used to it, as the cognition process does have several steps, including the possibly fatal ‘mirroring’ error. Use it consistently in training though, and your tournament marks will become deadly.

    Training is often used for fitness, throws, team offense and defense, and various other little bits and pieces. Very rarely is sideline trained. But do it, and do it right, and it pays big time.


  7. A good topic – thanks for the food for thought!

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned “Strike!”… Seems it could often be enough to let the marker do their job (keeping the force), with the occasional information when the open side needs to be taken away.

    Too simplistic?


  8. Ian says:

    Nice article!

    I have found that the specific words don’t really matter as long as they sound different. The key is to make sure your team practices talking from the sidelines before you are expected to help out the mark at a tourney.

    Get your team on the same page and all of this becomes much easier and organized.


  9. jk says:

    In the NW US area most of us use ‘No Break’ to keep your force strong, and ‘Strike’ to jump over momentarily to other side to take something away. I’ve never heard ‘No Step’ around here. And ‘No I/O’ confuses younger players because they have to think about what an ‘I/O’ is…strike seems to be more visual/instinctual because you’re “striking” over for a moment.


    • Gio Danforth says:

      I have heard “no break” in the midwest, the southeast, and the west coast. It seems to be pretty common, but I believe it is useless. The only time someone will consistently stop another player from getting ANY breaks off at all is if there is a significant mismatch between the players in favor of the defender, in which case the communication is not really helping much anyways. The whole point of communicating with the mark is to tell them which breaks or throws are most dangerous at the moment so he can try and take those away. Telling the mark not to get broken is like yelling “read it” to someone chasing down a disc: it only tells them to do what they know they are supposed to do, not any information that helps them at all. If “no IO” confuses your younger players maybe consider switching to “inside” which may be easier to grasp instinctively since they are moving in front of their guy rather than “around” the back.


  10. Rob says:

    Really wanted to like your comment about catching with “two damn hands.” Sadly not a function here


  11. GBrell says:

    The advantage of ‘Left’/’Right’ is that it’s a directional cue to the marker and requires less understanding of the underlying goal of the marker shift. As such, I think it makes for any situation where you have people of various backgrounds with little experience playing with each other (pickup, hat tourneys). But I think it’s not deep enough to be the most efficient communication system.

    Brummie says that GB means different things by ‘Left’ and ‘Left-Left-Left.’ If we’re going to argue that the ‘No’ in ‘No break’ is superfluous, we should be appalled by ‘Left-Left-Left.’

    In my experience, the most useful thing a sideline can do is provide a steady stream of information. Only shouting ‘right’ or ‘strike’ when it’s about to happen means that the mark has to pick up the signal, whereas constant information means he’s already in the flow of interpreting.

    My preferred nomenclature is ‘Inside,’ ‘Around,’ ‘Strike,’ ‘Huck/Big.’ I like these terms for the following reasons. ‘Inside’ is usually the default and my general sideline banter is a string of ‘Inside-Inside-Inside-Inside’ The reason for this is twofold: 1) I’m trying to make sure that the marker doesn’t give off an inside break – probably the most damaging throw a marker can let off – and 2) I’m trying to cue the marker NOT to shift too far to the force side – you can’t actually focus on the inside break if you’ve shifted to a straight up or flat mark. ‘Around’ is self-explanatory. ‘Strike’ and ‘[No] Huck/Big’ are different calls (and one of the reasons I find ‘Left/Right’ insufficient). On ‘Strike’ I’m usually calling for an aggressive marking position. On ‘Huck,’ I want the mark to avoid potential fouls more strongly. (‘Big’ can be used, but I’ve had a number of situations where people have head it as ‘Pick,’ so your mileage/kilometer-age may vary).

    The disadvantage is that all of these require practice, since ‘Around’ will change directions for different forces.

    Re: Straight Up/Flat marks – I don’t feel like cue-ing directions is the right move in a straight up mark. A straight up mark should be aligned with the throwing shoulder of the thrower (since the flick comes off more quickly) and is designed not to prevent side-to-side throws, but to force bladier hucks. Therefore, I think the straight up mark benefits more from cue-ing the cutter’s directionality. ‘Deep’ and ‘Under’ seem more useful since they let the mark know whether they should shift backwards on a fake or take a more aggressive position to force a more difficult long throw.


    • Gio Danforth says:

      My team also uses inside, around, strike, and no big. I really agree that the four call approach is better, since strike and no big are different situations entirely that the mark will not necessarily be aware of. Strike is an especially useful call as the strike cut is possibly the most powerful cut in the sport and can be stopped if the mark shifts over the stop a force-side throw for just 1 second of the stall count. No big is interesting because only sometimes is it our sideline initiating a no big call. What often happens instead is a defender realizes he is about to be beat deep and calls NO BIG NO BIG NO BIG which is echoed by the sideline until the deep cut is over. While it does take a little more time to get everyone used to four calls instead of just two, I know for a fact that it is possible to get everyone on your team up to speed in this regard and it is DEFINITELY worth it.


  12. Left is the one that makes an L when I hold it in front of my face. I usually get broke by the time I get my hands back down.


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