DDC: Front Play

by Conrad Damon

Front is the defensive position that is responsible for the attack disc, which is often a burn but is sometimes a dump or other slow shot. Because burns come in fast and tend to land short in the court, fronts play near the front of the court. Now you know why they're called fronts.

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 attack shot, and track their movement. You'll want to position relative to that person rather than the disc. It may seem like a small difference, but it's much easier to track a person than a disc.
  2. Set up in the spot where it will be hardest for them to beat you. That will depend on their throwing motion. Most throws have a strong side where it is easier to keep the burn in. You'll want to take more of that away than the offside. It helps to be familiar with the attacker, in particular the throw they're using - where do they usually go? how hard do they throw it? where else can they put it?
  3. Don't crowd the front line. Many fronts play too close to the front line. Remember, it is much easier to move forward than backward or even sideways. I like to play two to three steps off the front line. When I'm attacking and I see the opposing front up close to the front line, a bright sign on their forehead starts flashing "Dump me".
  4. Open your hips to one side. That will make it much easier for you to go back if you need to. Running straight backward is a recipe for failure. When's the last time you saw an outfielder do that? Never. Turn and run while still watching the incoming disc.
  5. If the thrower has a good two-finger, I'll try to take away the strong side by standing about a third of the court's width from that corner, and open my body toward the offside. That makes it easy for me to cover the greater distance for either an offside or a dump. If they go strong side, I just have to turn and take a step or two. For someone like Harvey Brandt or Dave Hesselberth who has good control to all three spots (strong side, offside, dump), I'll position more neutrally - a bit closer to the middle.

Awareness

Watch the lead. It's going to determine how much time you have to play the attack shot, so pay close attention. Based on the type and height of the throw, start a timer in your head that goes off when the disc reaches the ground. Also note the rate of descent. You should have a rough idea where the lead is when your disc arrives. A flat backhand lead is going to come down slowly, so if you get a Go call you'll probably have time to catch and make a controlled throw. If the lead is very steep or has a heavy wind forcing it down and you get a Go call, you probably don't have much time. Elite fronts can even sense when the back has made the wrong call, and either override it or bail.

Playing the Disc

Attack or Milk

Depending on the back's call, you're going to be in one of two modes when you play the disc: Attack Mode or Milk Mode. Either way, footwork is going to be the key. If you're in Milk Mode, you want to delay touching the disc for as long as possible. For a slow attack shot, that means running with the disc and following it to the ground with your hands. A burn is harder to milk due to its speed. Take a quick step back if you can. Elite fronts can even move their hands back so that the disc flies another meter or so before making contact. Jon Freedman was incredibly good at doing that.

If you're in Attack Mode, you want to handle your disc as soon as you can. Again, good footwork is the key. For a slow attack shot, you can run toward the disc, or if it's a high shot like a dump, reach up or even jump. For a burn, step into it. Be careful to stay in the court if you're making a quick throw.

Quick Offs

If you're catching (rather than tipping) the disc, catch it in a throwing grip. That takes practice, but it makes a quick off a lot easier. Since the easier throw is generally a right-side-up backhand, catching the disc with your thumb on the top makes for a quick transition. To do that, you may have to get down low. John Greensage was excellent at quick offs; he had both backhands and a plan for every permutation of height, side, and orientation (right-side-up or upside-down) of the incoming disc. As a result, he rarely tipped. The wider a variety of throws you have, the easier it is to catch a disc in a throwing grip. Aside from a backhand, the most important quick throw for a front to have is a wrist flip. A right-handed player who catches a low upside-down burn to their right will have their thumb under the disc and their fingers on the flight plate, which is exactly the grip for a wrist flip. A right-side-up attack can almost always be caught in a backhand grip. The same is true for an upside-down attack that is above the knees. That leaves us with a low upside-down attack on our left side, which will normally be caught in the grip for a wrist flip but on the wrong side of the body for making that throw. The first thing to do is to try not to catch it in that grip. Get down low so you can catch it with your thumb below the flight plate, and turn it into a backhand. If you catch it with your thumb on top, your options are a bit limited. Most fronts throw an upside-down backhand, which is not a particularly quick release.

The Throw

If it's at all possible, give your front a lead so they can counterattack. With practice you'll find that it really doesn't take any longer to throw a medium-high shot off a quick release than it does to just get one back to the other court. That should become your standard off throw.

Here's how to handle each of the possible calls you'll get:

"Time" or "All Day" or "Throw Yours" (Attack)
Catch the disc. If you don't catch it in the grip for the throw you want to make, adjust your grip. Your back has already promised that you have enough time. Once you've gotten to the grip you want (probably backhand), take enough time to throw a medium to high lead that will give your partner time to attack.
"Go" (Attack)
This is the most common and the most challenging of the calls. Essentially it means "Deal with yours quickly, because mine is coming in right after it". You can do that in one of two ways: making a quick off, or tipping. Which one you choose is based on a few factors. The first is how much time you think you have. You were paying attention to the lead, weren't you? If you sense that you have very little time and you don't want to risk getting doubled, then tip. Even if it's a difficult tip (somewhere behind me, Cody Kirkland scoffs), try anyway. A blown tip costs your team one point, which is better than getting doubled. Essentially, you just got beat by a good burn, and there's no shame in that. Another factor is how tippable the attack shot is. If you're toward the front of the court and it's easy to do, then tipping is the right call because after you catch the tip you'll be attacking off your back's throw. Remember to say "Tip" as you strike the disc so your back knows they need to make a quick off. Optionally, you can give your back a countdown while your tip is in the air, though they should be able to see you. One more thing: Be judicious about tipping. Most of the time you'll be making a quick throw. Good examples of how often to tip are Harvey Brandt in his front prime and Sam Kaye.
"Tip Yours" or "You" (Attack)
This is essentially a "Go" call with one of the options taken away. Tip your disc as soon as you can.
"Tip" or "Tipping" (Milk)
These calls have two parts: the part where the back tells you what the plan is, and the part where they actually tip the disc. A few backs make two separate calls; most just make the call and rely on the sound of the tip to tell the front when it's safe to touch their disc. As soon as you hear the call, go into Milk Mode and listen for the sound of the tip. Once you hear it, you're in Attack Mode. Catch the disc in a throwing grip and get rid of it. Your back may even tell you how much time you have with a "Time" call or a countdown. Generally, you'll have two to three seconds after the tip. Try to throw your disc high enough to provide a lead for a counterattack. If it seems like a lot of time has gone by since you heard the tip and your disc is just arriving, you may want to tip in order to avoid getting doubled.
"Me" or "I'll Throw" (Milk)
The burn is very late, so your back is just going to catch and throw. Wait for them to call "Off" and then catch the disc. You should have a lead that you can attack off of.
"Hold" or "Out"
Just catch your disc and hang on to it.

Tipping

Tipping a slow attack shot is very similar to tipping a lead shot. See the guide to Back play for that.

Tipping a burn is a bit different. For the most part, the less you do, the better the result. The best way to tip a burn is to block it, converting its forward momentum into upward momentum. Form an "L" by joining the heels of your hands. Your dominant hand is the floor and your other hand is the back wall. Try to have the incoming disc's rim hit the crease where your hands meet. Give a little upward pop as the disc hits. A small motion is enough; most of the disc's reaction will be it bouncing off your hands. The "back wall" hand keeps the disc in front of you. The "floor" hand gives it upward momentum. Advanced fronts may even twist their hands with the spin of the disc to maintain or even add spin, improving the disc's stability.

If you're in the front of the court, try to tip straight up. If you're not, try to tip forward in order to gain court position for your counterattack.