Hucking – the defender’s blind spot


We’ve all been there, chasing down a huck, realising halfway there that our opponent has a far better read on it than we do – even though he started only a couple of feet away from us. If you think about it, that’s pretty bizarre. If reading a disc became hard every time you were two feet out of position, we wouldn’t see many completions.

What’s going on?

Take a look at this clip.

Is it just an enormous mis-read by the defender? Well, maybe. But let’s look in some detail at what’s happening.

This disc isn’t just thrown to the break side of the defender and caught there. Instead, it starts out on the open side, and curves over the defender to the receiver.

While the disc is on the open side of him, the defender has to be looking there to read it accurately. However, the receiver is on the other side of him, and effectively out of sight much of the time. The defender can tell that it’s going to curve over to that side, and he’ll want to run over there to make the block – but it would be reckless for him to run into that space, knowing full well that there is likely to be an offence player there to collide with.

So either he has to take his eyes off the disc – compromising his read on it – or he has to risk fouling the receiver. The receiver, on the other hand, can keep his eye on the disc while also keeping tabs on the defender, making positioning infinitely easier.

What’s more, the defender can be boxed out by the mere thought of the receiver even if actually he’s moved away.

Watch the video again, and you can see that for the last 20 yards or so of the disc’s flight, the defender is unable to see the receiver. If he could, he’d know that the receiver had pulled away for an easy chest-high catch, and he could have followed him for an easy block. Instead, expecting the receiver to make a bid at the height of his reach, and knowing that any contact from changing direction towards the receiver would likely be a foul by the defence (not looking where he’s going), he is unable to take up the position he wants and ends up missing the disc.

Clearly there is something of a misread here – the defender tries to take it at the peak of his jump and misjudges it. But if he’d had the freedom to go wherever he wanted without fear of fouling, he wouldn’t have tried to take it so high (or he’d have run across towards the break side earlier and given himself a better angle to read the flight at the end). The defender simply lacks enough information to position himself correctly.

It’s really not rare to see this type of throw at the top level. The defender could maybe make a play if they moved a couple of yards to the break side, into space which is actually vacant. They just don’t know that it’s vacant. (There are definitely much better examples out there – where the players actually keep sprinting rather than waiting for a too-floaty disc, as here – but I found this first. Post more in the comments if you see them!)

Would I coach a team to look for this kind of huck? Generally not*. Personally, I’d much rather have a receiver with enough separation that you don’t need to wrong-foot the defender. (Though it’s a nice throw to have in the bank – for example on stall nine, when you need a hail-mary option and your cutter doesn’t have separation.)

I mention it mainly because it’s a situation that defenders often experience – and to explain that you probably shouldn’t beat yourself up about the read, but rather think about how you could have got better position earlier. In that video, it’s a 3-inch misread, but a 5-yard mis-positioning. It’s not easy to get better position; it will compromise your read even further as you look around to see the receiver. But it will probably improve your percentages overall if you give the positioning just a little more attention.

When you get that horrible feeling that you just can’t get a good read on a long disc (but your opponent can) it’s likely not just because of your position relative to the disc, but because of your position relative to the other player as well. They are not in a vastly better position to read the disc than you – they’re just in a much better position to BOTH read the disc AND keep an eye on you.

Using that knowledge isn’t easy, but knowing is always a good start.

*For me, the advantages are usually outweighed by the difficulties, unless your throwers are truly world-class – you have to throw it with just the right amount of curve, since anything too far break side will go over the receiver (probably accelerating away from them as they chase it) and anything open side might be blocked (since the defender has position there).
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5 Responses to Hucking – the defender’s blind spot

  1. Hildo Bijl says:

    Nice one. It’s great to understand this problem, and the video footage really helps. But then the question does rise up: what’s the best thing to do as defense in a situation like this?
    What I usually tell my players is the following:
    – If the disc is far away and you have enough time, try to improve your position. Get on the other side of the offensive player (briefly ignoring the disc) and then use your better position to either block out the disc or make a good bid.
    – If the disc is coming in really quickly and there’s no time to improve your position, read the offensive player. That is, read from the eyes of your opponent where the disc is. The moment he jumps for it, you jump too, swinging up your arms. Often, you either blindly block the disc or it’ll float over both of you. Only if the offense really has good positioning will he get the disc. But then he would’ve gotten it anyway, no matter what you did.

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    • Very sensible advice. What’s interesting about ‘improving your position’ is that the general coaching tip you hear, for high discs, is to ‘get inside’ – to get between the other player and the path of the disc. But this example shows where that sometimes falls down.

      If you’re both moving towards the path of the disc, then of course you want to get inside, to block the receiver’s movement. But if the disc is instead curving over your head and you’ll have to chase it blind, the old ‘inside’ adage fails. What you really need to do is get between the other player and the point of reception – but then that’s not such a catchy thing to teach beginners… and working out where that point might be isn’t trivial. ‘Get inside’ is pretty good advice generally, but it’s important to know where it breaks down.

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  2. oliver browne says:

    Good post Benji. In coaching defenders, I would probably just remind them that they don’t *have* to catch the disc, they simply have to avoid the offence catching it. In an ideal world they want to know the position, speed, & direction of both the disc and the offensive player they are guarding. In cases where information is limited – which happens a lot of the time – we all have to choose what to use. Should we take a little of each, or perhaps a lot of one and none of the other? I think that whilst the exact balance will vary with situation, the one thing we can be sure on is that you shouldn’t give up all information on the offensive player. As Hildo points out: from the attacker we may know a little about the disc, whereas the disc tells us nothing about the attacker. If you only play the disc, you concede your advantage, reducing it to a case of your read vs theirs.

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    • Nathan says:

      Why not simply coach better sideline support? You’re right, the defender is blind to how far over the offensive player has drifted… but his sideline surely isn’t. Wouldn’t it be easy to develop a communication aid to let the defender know that space is empty and he doesn’t need to high point the D?

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  3. Gwen says:

    Something we’ve worked on at practice a bit is getting comfortable trusting an initial read on the disc to then take your eye off of it and close the gap between you and the receiver. It is definitely a skill to be able to read the disc quickly and then look away briefly to gather more information about the receiver, but it is a skill that can be learned and pays off huge dividends.

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