Monday, July 27, 2009

Breaking the Mark

Confidence pays dividends in competitive sports. 

One of the best.

I can think of a lot of players who should be able to break the mark in-game far more regularly than they do (I'm probably one of them). The reason they don't is simply that they aren't familiar enough with what it feels like to break. You have to be comfortable with contact, know how to throw through someone, and believe that you can successfully execute. 

Easier said than done.

Good technique - full extension, leading with the wrist and not the disc, making an explosive move to your 'spot' - is obviously important. But we all know that some people just seem to be able to break much easier than others. Being tall doesn't hurt, but that is not a pre-requisite. Some guys expend very little effort because it's just natural. I'm not one of those guys. I have had to work hard on my break throws, which, I suppose, puts me in a position to say a little something about how to break and what to think about.

I'd like to go back to the point about knowing what it feels like to get a break off. You have to find a comfort zone, and frankly the only way you are going to get there is by failing a few times. Keep in mind that ultimate favours the offence largely because it is the offence that gets to decide what is going to happen (while the defence has to react). So ... commit. Don't hesitate. When you see a cutter blazing into a nice open space on the break side, put your head down, step around aggressively and commit to throwing the break. Find out what it feels like. 

I think that one of the best attributes of a good break-thrower is their ability to not throw at the receiver. You want to put the disc out to space and let your teammate come in and devour it. (This applies to many non-break throws, but that is not the focus of this article). Putting the disc out to space opens up the break angle, therefore making the break itself easier (as you don't have to throw through the mark as much). Obviously, this isn't always possible. Many times you want to get a quick zippy break out due to spacing, timing, wind, defence, etc...

Release points are key to breaking the mark. Lefties find breaking easier for a reason. One of the reasons some guys are so good at breaking is perhaps because their natural release points are hard to mark. I think of a former teammate of mine, John Hassell, who, at 6'4+, just throws over you. Or Dime who, at about 6'2, steps backwards, extends out and releases from a half inch off the ground. Good luck stopping either. Release points are something that you can put a lot of work into. Do not warm up throwing from the same spot. You are doing yourself and your teammates a disservice. You need to, at a minimum, know how to throw your backhand from a low, medium and high plane, and your flick from a low and medium one. The possibilities after that are endless, but that is foundation. Due to my injury I am developing a solid lefty which I look forward to putting to use as a quick break. The more options you have in your arsenal the better. But make sure you have each one game ready before adding something. Flash will get you nowhere. 

A last word about breaks: many times they don't work because the receiver isn't expecting the throw. Here I have over the top throws and IO flicks in mind, but the principle is broader. I remember quite clearly a turnover I had playing against the zone in scrimmage about 3 weeks ago. One of the handlers was streaking upfield and I threw one of the best scoobers I have ever thrown, which promptly resulted in a turnover. In a vacuum, the look was good. When talking to my teammate after the point he told me there was no way he was expecting me to loft a lefty scoober at him at that moment. There is a time and place for improvisation, but it all comes back to how your team plays. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. It's throws like that that will cost you a game on universe. 

Disc skills don't come easily or quickly. My old captain told me that you can't handle properly unless you have been throwing for 10 years. I think there is a lot of truth to that. The first step is getting out and throwing an unbelievable amount. But you need the experience. You need to know that you can break, you need to know how, and you need to fail in games. I know guys who can annihilate the mark in 3-man but wouldn't dare throw a break in a game. It's one thing to throw at a stationary target through a straight up mark and quite another to put the disc out to space for a cutter while your heart is racing. 

Ok, my actual final point: fakes. I used to use huge fakes because I wasn't able to simple break the mark. I think the best throwers don't really need much of a fake, if any. You should be able to go from your neutral 'steering wheel' position and just break. If you can't you probably have no business being a handler. Fakes are nice, and even the best use them, but the mark of a true thrower is their ability to fearlessly and efficiently break without the need for them. When I think of those guys, I think of Derek, Toly, Gabe, Oscar, Kurt, Dime, Idris ... 

those are some of my thoughts.