Defensive Footwork and Positioning Drills

author - carolyn matthews skills
an ultimate frisbee player on defense gets a hand on the disc before the offense. a successful defensive play.

My love of defense developed while at basketball camp in the summer of sixth grade. Rows and rows of girls lined up in an old gym with high rafters and dramatic echos and yelled, “Defense!” then shuffled from left to right, right to left, did fast feet, shuffled some more, jumped, jumped again, shuffled, fell back to the floor to take the charge, popped back up, fast feet again and then more shuffling for what felt like twelve hours.

These leg-burning drills seemed like time I could have spent on my jumper. But as those hours of shuffling paid off in steals, I began to see the joy of the less-celebrated side of the ball. Fast forward to college at the University of Colorado where I first learned about a mark. Without a forehand or a clue about this so-called “stack,” I was grateful to all those tyrannical basketball coaches for instilling me with the fundamentals of defense so at the very least I could make my opponent run - and maybe even get a steal.

The Building Blocks

Whether you’re a beginner with no forehand, a coach looking for new drills or a long-time player looking for a refresher, this defensive positioning module will begin with some basic exercises and ramp up to drills you can do with a partner or in a small group. There will be resources for film study and areas for discussion. In the next month, we’ll go over the building blocks of defensive positioning which include:

  • Moving laterally and backward
  • Maintaining an athletic stance
  • Keeping your head up
  • Getting lots of ground touches
  • Initiating and absorbing contact
  • Picking your spot or deciding what to take away

 Defensive Positioning Drill

Defensive positioning is dictated by where the disc is on the field and what you as the defender are choosing to take away. To conceptualize this without a field full of people, one drill we’ll go over is a simple rectangle drill where each corner represents an offensive cutting option (See Figure 1).

For this drill you’ll need:

  • Four cones (Or markers)
  • A partner


Your partner will start on the Break Side In cone, make a V-cut and run toward the Open Side In Cone. (See Figure 2)


 It’s your job as the defender to:

  • Break down low when your opponent begins the in-cut (No popping up!)
  • Maintain contact
  • Stay on the correct side of the cutter

 Start slow so you can practice turning breaking down, turning your hips and maintaining contact.

As far as hip positioning, you will begin with your hips facing the offense, then you will run parallel with your cutter (hips facing same direction as cutter), as you break down you will turn your hips toward the cutter then drop step and resume running parallel as they commit to they cut. (See video for explanation and examples)

Get 10 reps from each side then switch to away cuts.


As you get comfortable with the rep, go to full speed. For another variation, try extending the length of the box.


Join us for footwork and more drills!

Defensive footwork and positioning has already begun in the Ultimate Skills Project. This week, we've got ladder drills plus instructions on how to build your own ladder for your footwork drills.

Join us in our UAP Skills and Technique membership for four weeks of instruction from Carolyn Matthews. Each week is designed to be done one your own or with a partner in 1-2 hours per week. 

If you're a coach or PE teacher looking for more things to do with your team, visit our Ultimate Frisbee Drills page for more.