In the fall of 1994, I went to Chicago to play the first ever Tune-Up with Buddha (who became Sub-Zero in 1998.) For a period of five to six years, Tune-Up was the premier preseason club tournament and it was my first experience playing the likes of Dog, Rhino, Chain and Ring. I was arrogant and naive, over-confident and inexperienced. In short, I was about to get my ass handed to me.
There are two moments that stand out from that weekend. About four losses into Saturday, we were playing against Huntsville. I had a pretty good step-around backhand and all day I'd been trying to get it off, only to get hammered by the marker. Finally, frustrated and indignant, I went up to tall Donovan and whined, "You guys are such big cheaters. Every time I try to pivot and throw my backhand, you guys foul me. This doesn't happen in college ultimate. Why can't you play spirited like college ultimate?" Donovan looked down at me and said, "Go back to college," and walked off.
The second was in the Dog-Rhino final. Rick Melner (#00) v. Cork (picture not available). Cork catches the comeback about fifteen yards out and leans out into his classic straight-leg forehand. Ricky climbs right up Cork's leg like they're dancing the tango. It's such a brutal straddle that Cork's pivot foot must have been a good foot-and-a-half behind Ricky. But Cork leans out a little more, throws the goal and calls "Foul," just as cool as a cucumber.
The title of this series is How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating), but we need to be honest - these marking tricks are cheating. They all amount to trying to get away with whatever you possibly can. They depend on putting the onus for legal play on the calls of the thrower, not where it belongs, which is on the play of the marker. Here's how it works:
1. Get away with whatever you can. If you can hug them for ten seconds, do it. If you can fast count them, do it. If you can put both of your arms straight out and keep them from pivoting, do it. Straddle? Check. Less than a disc space? Check. In everyone of these scenarios, you put the thrower in a position to enforce fair play. If they don't, because they don't want to or don't know how or haven't realized you're cheating - big advantage. At the college level, the two most effective tactics are the hug-a-mark (arms straight forward to prevent pivoting) and the not-a-disc-space mark. That's because college players don't realize what is happening or have the skill set to take advantage of it. At the club level, it's the backpack, the bump on the catch, rough play early in the count. That's because even if the thrower does something about it (like call a foul), it still helps the defense.
2. Even against good throwers, foul between 0-5 in the stall count. It's during 0-5 that throwers do good things: like throw goals and big gainers. Stopping play here is a big advantage for the defense, so even if the thrower calls the foul, it's a win for the defense.
3. Backpack. Even if they catch it, they still have to stagger ten steps, losing yardage and time the whole way.
4. Fast count. The advantages here are obvious. On a side note, all of these strategies are designed to induce the rush state in the thrower and nothing hits the panic button like a quick trip to stalling 6.
5. Don't foul between 7 - 10. This is when turnovers happen. Really, it should be rephrased, don't get called for a foul between 7 and 10. See rule #1 for details.
How do you beat it?
1. Poise. The best weapon you have against a hack is the same calm composure Cork showed while throwing that goal. The effectiveness of the fouling mark is partly because of what it prevents you from doing, but even more so because of what it makes you think you can't do. Recognition of the problem is the first step to solving it. Once you realized you are being hacked, you have a number of excellent options.
2. Take the free throw. If the marker is continuously fouling you, step through and throw the backhand. Call foul. Make sure your move maintains contact with the marker the whole way, so when they try to argue the foul was before the throw, they'll be wrong.
3. Play through. Generally, stoppages benefit the defense. They can rest, assess the situation and stop the rhythm of the offense. The one time a stoppage benefits the offense is if you are about to get stalled. If you are being fouled, then this previous post applies.
4. Play fast. If you are throwing quickly and playing in an uptempo offense, there are far fewer static marking situations. It is the static situations that really allow the marker to clamp down. If you are releasing on stalling 1, before the marker can even get to you, they can't foul you.
5. Observers aren't that helpful for dealing with marking. Well, they are if your team really doesn't know how to deal with physical marks. But for everyone else, the more effective solution is to deal with it yourself in the ways described here. Club Nationals is the proof of this: tons of observed games and physical marking remains endemic.
6. Advocate for the "contact" call. This new call, where a fouled thrower can call "contact," thereby resetting the stall count without stopping play, is a good cure for this problem. It removes the two biggest advantages the defense has in this situation: the opportunity to stop a throw and stop the rhythm of the offense. I talked to USAU Observer Scoops about it over the summer and I know it was in a trial phase then, but I haven't heard much since then. It remains to be seen how the game will evolve around such a big rule change, but I think it will be largely positive. (Although likely requiring another adjustment that will benefit the defense, like stalling 7.)
There are two posts remaining in this series: the Lightning Rod and a final wrap-up/comment discussion.