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What makes a good mark? Prediction, footwork and proactive defense

October 30, 2016

What makes a good mark? A good mark helps the defense by reducing the number of possible throws to one side, the break side, and making other break throws more difficult.

What makes a great mark? It’s been argued that the better the defender, the more number of options you take away. In this blog post we’re going to focus on the ability to dictate where your thrower can and cannot throw, with footwork, rhythm and proactive defense.

Effective marks understand the importance of choosing an appropriate distance to set up from the thrower, based on the count (e.g. casting a net early or avoiding getting too close late in the count to avoid fouls). This reflects the basic principle of working proactively as mark, looking at the field (peeking as Rise Up discusses elsewhere) to understand positioning of everyone else.

Once a mark sets up at an appropriate distance, they must set up relatively to the thrower based on height differences / known release points / handedness.

What’s an easy way to establish relative positioning? Pro tip: former Fury Liz Penny suggests you consider aligning your sternum to your thrower’s shoulder. While the exact placement varies based on relative height / handedness, this simple heuristic can take you pretty far.

Let’s take a look at this short clip from the Fury / Riot semis in 2016:


As pointed out in the FB study group for the game, Finney stays active as a mark. Ambler’s personal marking mantra is to “Work your hardest while on the mark”, and Finney works here. Note how Finney comes across to stop the first look to the break side, then repositions later, using the threat of kick blocks to discourage certain break throws. Finney’s height makes it harder for the thrower to throw a shallow step-out around flick, forcing them to step-out wide to get around Finney’s active mark.

Great marks study the preferred release points of their throwers, not only preferred throws (forehand / backhand) but specific heights (6 inches above the ground or 13″?) and step-out distances. (Note how lefties throw things off a bit for the mark since these points are pretty different from them.)

As we alluded to earlier, effective defenders dictate–they say what they allow and what they want to take away. They work proactively rather than reactively. In the context of match-up D, great defenders have a mental model of what is likely to happen next. Since it takes some 300 milliseconds or so to react visually, defenders that react visually are at a disadvantage to those that are reacting to a visual image of what is likely to happen in the future. In a sense, the defender’s mind is time traveling to see the future before it happens. But to do so, defenders need to know what looks throwers are looking for, in general (where is the thrower on the field) and specifically (this thrower likes this specific throw).

The next step once you can predict the thrower’s future position is to predict not only in space but time. Effective marks understand the rhythm of the thrower. Throwers tend to have a predictable rhythm as to how they pivot forehand to backhand, and when in the stall count they tend to like to throw. A common throw is to show a forehand, wait, then throw slightly lower. If you understand the throwing mechanics of your match-up–do they like stepping out, shimmying, or so on, you and your hands can get there before they do.

(But don’t get there too early since you risk being beat to their other option. On the other hand too late and you get beat. A sweet spot exists between too early and late. Arguably to get a block you need to be late enough that the thrower doesn’t visually see your movement but early enough to get there in time.)

On the flipside, good throwers understand a mark’s rhythm and what they like to do. This is why bouncing as a mark is a bad idea–your rhythm is very predictable and easy to counter. In the clip above, the mark isn’t bouncing vertically but note how Finney’s mark employs the same “jig”-style kick twice, resulting in a defensive rhythm that the thrower can step around.

Staying active and balanced is better than staying still and reaching too far, but I posit that chopping your feet as a mark is a way to both establish an unpredictable rhythm but also react and pro-act quickly. Like in cutting, chopping your feet not only absorbs force but increases the number of foot contacts per unit time, making it hard to know when/where you will move next, while simultaneously making it possible to move in different directions at different times with greater optionality.

The ability to move laterally is an important aspect of effective marking. When you take a look at your program, ask yourself, are you predominantly only training in one plane of motion (stuck in the sagittal plane?) or are you moving side to side and learning to absorb force and bounce back plyometrically in the frontal (lateral) plane?

Summarizing: the better the defender / mark, the more options you can take away. Experienced defenders understand what throws might go off, and when, based on field positioning, everyone else, and the specific match-up. They dictate on defense, working proactively rather than reactively, seeing the probabilistic future if you will. Chopping feet and staying balanced as a mark is one way to support fast lateral movement while staying unpredictable. Whether on O or D, understand your opponent’s rhythm so you can break it 🙂

What do you think? How proactive can you be on defense?

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