As we move into tour season, those of you in your first year of playing will get the opportunity to really develop your game by playing against veteran club teams that can be quite different from the young, athletic and relatively inexperienced university sides that you encountered at regionals. Their experience expresses itself most obviously in two ways: throwing skill and decision making. While I can (evidently) offer no shortcut to throwing prowess other than to encourage everyone to throw as much as possible throughout the year, I believe a slight change in mentality can lead to a much more intelligent playing style, especially on offence.
First, let me say that structure and drills are an extremely important part of training and playing at even the highest level. However, without a degree of flexibility, clever teams will exploit holes in your tactics and unless you are prepared to think on your feet, you’ll find yourself at a dead end. A great example of this is Care Bears at London Indoor Meetup 3.0 in 2013, one game from which is shown below (feel free to laugh at all of my drops).
After having played for only 4 months, we were surprised at how well we initially performed against more experienced teams because of our well drilled structured offence. Nevertheless, when teams started utilising zones or poaches, we didn’t know what to do.
The lesson to take from this is to be unpredictable; if you keep your opponents scared, they will mark you honestly, a situation that favours the offensive player by giving them the initiative. In order to achieve this though, we must sacrifice some structure. For instance, take our sideline dump play, which is perhaps our most well known tactic. It is incredibly difficult to mark out both cuts, but its rigid nature means that it can be very easy to anticipate and counter. To combat this, react to the tricks your defender tries to pull: are they sitting in the lane waiting for you to go up the line? Try bouncing back towards your endzone halfway through your cut for an easy short pass. If your defender is poaching deep, why not make an early cut into the lane to gain some yards and get things moving? These sorts of moves break the rules we were initially taught and therefore require everyone to be very aware to avoid crashing into each other and disrupting cuts, but if done correctly, they can be very effective.
These sorts of patterns that we subconsciously follow are everywhere; from the number of steps we take deep before cutting under to our habit of not catching D’s in order to set up a neat offence from static with dedicated handlers. I encourage everyone to try and throw a few surprises at their marker and mix it up a little bit. It might be somewhat messy at first, but with a little practise, you’ll be every defender’s nightmare.