DDC: Strategy

by Conrad Damon

Around 90% of good DDC strategy can be summarized in five words: Throw in and play defense. That has always been the bedrock of my career in the sport. When watching high-level play in any sport we tend to focus on the spectacular, and rightfully so. But it's worth remembering that the boring points that came elsewhere in the game - a short burn here, an out serve there, a careless drop - count just as much on the scoreboard.

How to get better at throwing in: Practice.

Yes, we're talking about practice. Get some discs and cones, go out to a field, and throw. For much of my career, my backhand - the easiest, most natural throw for pretty much everyone else - literally kept me up at night. It was flinchy and awkward, clearly my biggest liability. Now I consider it a strength. How did I get there? It wasn't hundreds of throws. It was thousands.

Make up games or drills to keep from getting bored. If throwing by yourself isn't entertaining, you can make up games to add some interest. For example, if you're practicing rally shots, give yourself a point for each one that lands in the back of the court, -1 for any that land in the front half, and -5 for any that go out. See how points you can score with a stack of discs, and then go back the other way (with the other wind). Don't go out and just throw burns. While it's very important to get attack shots in (throwing one out incurs a large opportunity cost), they are a minority of the throws you'll be making in a game.

Practice in a variety of conditions. Of course, it's generally more enjoyable to practice throwing in good conditions, but every now and then you should take your bag out when the wind is high and/or variable. There are no guarantees as to the conditions during a tournament, and it helps to be ready for anything. Being able to throw well during difficult wind conditions will give you confidence when you're at a tournament.

How to get better at defense: Positioning.

Positioning is the first topic in the guides to both front play and back play. You may be wondering whether that's because positioning is the most important part of both, or because everything else about playing effective defense starts with positioning. The answer is "yes" on both counts.

It's hard to practice positioning outside the context of a game, but it's a great thing to work on in pod play or any form of pickup. Pick a practice game where you're going to focus on positioning. Any time you don't have a disc, ask yourself whether you're in the ideal spot in the court. Your feet should be very active, bordering on happy, and you should feel light and energetic. When your team is likely to play defense, find and get to the area of the court where you can most easily handle an incoming disc, based on the position of the thrower and the throw you're likely to see.

Offense

Most attacks in DDC involve both discs, and those are certainly the more interesting ones. Whatever sort of attack you're mounting, rule #1 is: Throw in. It's not much of a threat if the other team doesn't have to catch a disc.

One disc

Since a two-disc attack is generally more effective, you should be judicious about when to attack with a single disc. You almost never want to do it when the other team is Des. However, when your team is Des, the other team already has the advantage of being the first to attack with two discs, so there's less to lose. The most common time to do it is when the other team has left a serve or rally shot in the front half of your court. Now you have a one-on-one situation. If you choose to burn and your opponent catches it, they'll be burning from the front of their court.

Two discs

This is where it gets interesting. The industry-standard attack is a backhand hyzer followed by a two-finger burn. To be effective, the timing must be good. Against most teams you'll want the burn to arrive just before the opposing back can tip the lead, forcing them into a "Go" call where the front will have to tip the burn or make a quick off. If your burn forces the front to move, even better. That's why it's important to be able to throw a burn to either corner. A dump can be a very good option if thrown to the back of the court; even if they escape, their counterattack will be weak. Any attack, including a dump, must be committed. Nothing's worse than a soft throw to the front of the court; you're essentially giving up the Des advantage.

In addition to timing and placement, another strategy is to try to get the two opposing players into the same space. That's called a "proximity" attack. The second throw is typically a dump, but it can be done with two right-side-up throws as well. In fact, attacks with two right-side-up throws are surprisingly effective. The key is to throw the second disc into the back of the court, underneath the lead if possible.

Defense

Most defensive strategy is covered in the guides to playing front and back, so I'll just make some general observations here. The first is that defense is (for me at least) the most enjoyable and challenging part of the game. Figuring out how your team is going to return both discs without touching them simultaneously is a compelling athletic and intellectual puzzle. There is nothing more satisfying than getting to the point where your team is a wall. That may take years of playing with your partner so that you're in sync for whatever comes your way.

Other

Preparation

The tips below become more and more important as you work your way from being young and invulnerable to neither.

The flip

After the initial disc flip, there are three options:

  1. Side
  2. Des
  3. Serving combo

Most of the time you should choose side. Courts are set up whenever possible perpendicular to the wind. Since backhand is the most comfortable throw for most players, the court with wind coming from the left will have an easier time throwing in. One thing to realize about choosing Des is that it's only for the first rally. Side is for the first five points, and serving combo is for the entire game. Serving combo is a good choice if the other team has an imbalance in throwing or defending solo burns, and is underutilized.

Serving

Serving strategy is simple: Throw in. Far too many players treat the serve like a rally shot and try to put it near the back line. It's not a rally shot. A rally shot becomes the attack throw following a lead, so getting it deep is important. A serve becomes either a lead or a rally shot, so getting it deep is much less important. Put it in the middle. Even if you leave it short, the other team is likely to burn only when they're Des (otherwise they're trading a two-disc attack for a solo burn). I generally aim for the middle; if I'm feeling confident with my throwing, I might go for two-thirds.

The only time when it makes sense to get aggressive with the serve is when your team is Des and you want to try to steal the advantage. There are a few ways to do that:

  1. Burn. Try to hit the left corner, right corner, or between the opposing players.
  2. Dump. That has the advantage of leaving them reasonably far back if they catch it.
  3. Time serve. Usually a booming backhand (or, rarely, sidearm), possibly with the nose up to slow its descent. Your partner catches the other serve and uses your serve as a lead for their attack. Very risky, but if you notice that the other server isn't giving theirs much time you don't have to throw it as hard.

Have fun!

This sport is incredibly enjoyable, and it's important to remember that. Getting to play at all is a privilege. Do what you can to grow the sport. The Tallahassee pod is an excellent example of that, and they've done a wonderful job creating a home page for the Double Disc Court Player's Association.