DDC: Back Play

by Conrad Damon

Back is the defensive position that is responsible for the lead disc, and for deciding how their team will return the two discs without getting doubled (how they will escape). The lead disc is typically a backhand that lands farther back in the court than the ensuing attack throw, which is why the position has that name.

Positioning

Anyone who has listened to me natter on about DDC has heard a lot about positioning. It's crucial to effective defense whether you're a back or a front.

Keys:

  1. Get into position early. Identify the player who will be throwing the lead shot, and track their movement. You'll want to position relative to that person rather than the disc that they are catching. It may seem like a small difference, but it's much easier to track a person than a disc. For example, say your team is Des (the other team gets first attack), and you're serving. The player catching your serve will be throwing the lead shot, so even before they catch their serve you can start moving to where you think their lead is likely to go. That principle remains throughout a rally. As soon as you know who's throwing the lead, start moving. Resist the temptation to watch your throw - it's gone and you can no longer help it. Get where you need to be.
  2. Figure out the general area where the lead is likely to go. Most leads are right-side-up with the wind on top of them, so they tend to come into the downwind side of the court, about halfway back. Upside-down leads tend to come down more in the middle, and not as deep. You should be in the general area before the other player even throws the disc. (Don't worry, your partner can cover the front in the unlikely event of a surprise attack.) Then, take a couple of steps back. It's much easier to play a disc when you're coming forward than when you're moving back or standing still.
  3. Vision is crucial to making good calls. If you're in a position that gives you a clear view of the incoming attack, you'll find the correct call is obvious most of the time. Here's how to optimize your view of the attack: Once the lead has been thrown, make a rough guess at two important points in space: the tip point (where you could first contact it for a tip), and the milk point (the spot just above the ground where it will land). Draw a line between those two, and find the midpoint. Line that midpoint up with the player throwing the burn, and take a step or two back. If you've done it right, you'll be able to get a good read on the attack shot while the lead remains in your visual field.

Making the Call

Making good calls takes a lot of practice. There's a lot of information you need to process quickly, so experience goes a long way. Regardless of the speed of the attack, you should make your calls at a consistent point in time relative to the arrival of the attack disc. For me, that's about a second and a half. That consistency means your front can go through the same process for every escape. Some backs will make their call early if the attack is slow (for example, a dump), but that invites risk because it gives both the lead and the attack throws time to vary from their expected flight. The lead might drop, or the dump might flatten and come down more slowly than expected. It's better to wait so that you have more information, and to maintain consistent timing.

By far the biggest factor determining which call you make is the timing of the arrival of the attack shot relative to that of the lead throw. The attack can be very early, slightly early, slightly late, or very late. Once you make a call, you'll either go into Attack Mode, where you want to handle the disc as soon and as quickly as possible (by either tipping it or with a quick off), or into Milk Mode, where you will follow its flight to the ground and catch it as late as possible. Here are the four calls you need to be ready to make:

Very early: "Time" or "All Day" or "Throw Yours" (Milk)
You're telling your front that they have enough time to catch the disc, change grips if necessary, and make a comfortable throw that you should be able to use as a lead for your counterattack. For me to make that call, the attack has to be at least two seconds early.
Slightly early: "Go" (Milk)
You're telling your front to deal with their disc quickly. They should either make a quick catch and throw (and say "Off"), or tip (and say "Tip"). Once you hear them say something, you have a green light to touch your disc. If they have thrown, you have a chance to counterattack. If they have tipped, you need to make a quick off. Try to give them a lead if you can, as they'll be attacking from the front most of the time. If you want or need your front to tip rather than make a quick off, you can call "Tip Yours" or "You". That's most commonly seen on dump attacks.
Slightly late: "Tip" or "Tipping" (Attack)
You are going to tip the lead, and your front needs to play theirs while your tip is in the air. A few backs call out when they strike the disc, but I don't think that's necessary. The front can generally hear the sound. If you are consistent with the timing of your calls, your front will already have a good idea of when the tip is happening. Once you've tipped, you need to go into Milk Mode. Catch your disc as close to the ground as you can. I've always been surprised at how many high-level players don't do that. The only reason you should catch your tip above your knees is if you've heard your front say "Off" or "Tip".
Very late: "Me" or "I'll Throw" (Attack)
You are going to catch and throw the lead disc before the attack disc arrives. You should be able to throw a lead that your front can follow with a counterattack.
Mass confusion: "Go" (Milk)
If you don't have a good idea what the correct call is, call "Go" and milk the lead. If you haven't heard anything from your front, you can let the lead land and in most cases your team only gives up a point. That's better than an incorrect "Tip" call, which usually results in a double.

When I'm focused, mobile, and playing well with a front I trust, around 60-70% of my calls are "Go". If you're in position to track the lead all the way to the ground, you'll find that it takes longer to get there than you think. There's a big difference between catching it waist high and milking it all the way down.

Tipping

Tipping is another skill that benefits greatly from repetition, but there are some basics that will help you keep your tips under control. If you're learning to tip, start with flat backhands. One hand (for me it's my right) will be providing the upward momentum. Use it to strike the bottom of the disc, in the middle. Your other hand can be used as a "rail" to make sure the disc stays in front of you. It forms a wall behind the disc. Your two hands together form an "L" shape, with the heels of your hands close to each other or even touching.

As you get better at tipping, you can even use your tipping hand to impart a bit of spin to the disc to improve its stability in the air. It needs to be a quick, crisp motion since sustained contact is not allowed.

Tell your front how much time they have. I used to switch between saying "Time" after a good tip and just telling my front to assume they have time, and then Jonathan Brandtberg taught me something they do in Sweden, which is to provide a countdown: "Two, One, [catch]". They will start at a higher number for a very high tip, but I've only ever been able to start at "Two". The number I start at after a bad tip is called "Hold". If you've muffed the tip, you should just let it go, as the chances of getting doubled are high.

Tip forward if you can. If your front has thrown a lead, you'll be counterattacking from where you catch your tip. Why not attack from closer? The one time not to tip forward is if you're tipping a lead that's to the front line. That's something I have trouble remembering - tipping forward is automatic for me - and I've often found myself catching my tip out the front of the court and having to scurry back in order to attack.