Thursday, July 27, 2006

Smash a Zone with a Bathroom Break and Tarzan - RIP

This topic has been covered by many people before, but I think it needs to be reviewed and talked about. This is especially true for more intermediate and beginner crews.

What's the scenario? The opponent is playing a zone defense and all you hear from the sideline is, "guys! dump and swing". So, let's talk about dump and swing type strategy.

There are essentially three approaches (along the lines of traffic light strategy) to playing your zone offence. Red light = the ultra conservative dump and swing. Amber light = a dump swing general framework with options to take some risks. Green light = a free wheeling, do whatever zone break (over the top fan favourites).

Before considering what is the best option, let us consider some variables that might affect a coaches decision:
1. What are the weather conditions?
2. How good are your throwers (in the conditions)?

The first factor, the weather, determines what type of options are available. Is it possible to throw over the top? How risky are the swing throws?

The second factor, your throwers, determines how many dump and swings you can make before a turnover will happen. This factor also determines the throw options you have.

My feeling is that how many throws do you think you're team can throw (dump/swing) before there is a turnover is the coaches main decision point. Say this number is 10. This means that in 10 throws, your handlers will on average cause a turnover between themselves dumping and swinging. In this situation, your team needs to take risks every swing to push the disc upfield. Otherwise, your wasting the disc and not using valuable field yardage to protect your end zone. If your handlers can average 100 throws, then maybe killing the cup is an option.

I'm in the camp (with most teams that can't consistently get that 100 throws) of take risks and push the disc through a zone. At the beginning of a game, give your mids the green light to push the disc when breaking through the zone. Feel free to adjust these strategies as the game progresses, but early on risk and aggression are the way to go instead of conservative non-stop swinging and dumping. Don't think that I'm against the dump and swing, but there potentially is just as much risk in these simple throws.

It's Mowtown Throwdown in Detroit for some teams, so I hope to see some good ultimate, and I'll definitely have things to say after playing some top 16 UPA teams. Maybe ultra conservative might be back in style.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Adjustment Repertoire

We might as well continue along the theme of the previous post - A repertoire of play styles that allows a team to adjust and force the other team to adjust.

I remember a friend of mine, a sports psychologist, saying, "If your not putting pressure on your opponent, that means they're putting pressure on you" (Note this could be a famous saying). One way for a team to prepare to put pressure on the opponent is to build a repertoire of play styles that allows you to switch games and keep the opponent off-balance.

So what are some of the necessary components of a teams plan that need to be added to the repertoire. Here's a list of possibilities:
1. Offence =
a) Possible green space setups Vertical, Horizontal, Lane, Germans
b) Plays or "Frameworks" from each green space setup
c) Modes of play (see "The Rainbow of Ultimate")
2. Defense =
a) Man positioning and Forces
b) Choice of help positions
c) Junk type defense
d) Zones to contain
e) Zones to hold in conditions or weaker teams

I'm sure there are a number of other possibilities, but this is a start of what a team needs to have available to them. The plan should revolve around making sure that all of the repertoire has been hashed out in the play book, and practiced/taught. Finally, each part of the repertoire should be used in game situations.

The real trick is figuring out when to make adjustments to respond to pressure from the opponent, and when to make adjustments to put pressure on the opponent.

Two classic scenarios come to mind:
1. Opponent calls a timeout because your style of play is crushing them = great time to switch to a new style so their timeout is relatively useless - SUCCESS.
2. One of your styles of play was consistently working = the opponent has adjusted, but your team is stuck in a rut of going to what worked - ERROR.

This type of planning is similar in many if not all team sports. Football is the most classic comparison, but I can think of similarities in basketball and hockey. That's why those sports and their literature is so relevant to advancing Ultimate.


The Rainbow of Ultimate

A few years back, there was an open team from Ottawa called GLU (green light ultimate). I find the name and the concept of traffic lights quite applicable to Ultimate strategy. In this article, I'll briefly describe how I think the three colours of the traffic light should apply to a team.

In the most basic form, the three colours correspond as follows:
Red Light - A very tight ultimate game in which players are playing high percentage ultimate.
Amber Light - A mixture of a tight well planned game with the option of letting loose under the right conditions.
Green Light - Loose ultimate to the point where you can almost be careless.

The reason I like these three options is that it represents a theme which I'll probably come back to; the more ways a team plays (repertoire) is the key to being able to adjust both pre-emptively and post to another team. The lights of type of offensive play are one element to be added to a teams repertoire.

The only other two things I want to talk about with respect to ultimate and traffic lights are:
1. Green Light Ultimate and my perspective
2. How to train a team to play in different modes

First, green light is a special case. If you're a somewhat experienced ultimate player think of those games when you play a relatively new athletic team, and that team plays an unorthodox game, but somehow comes down or in general succeeds. This is what I think green light ultimate should emphasize. I think one great option, playing "out of the box" ultimate, is a great option to surprise teams.

The second point that I think is useful to discuss is how to train for all these different modes. Well first off, you need to have a team that is disciplined, because red light (as you define it) is tough ultimate to play for some players, and green light is similarly difficult for some players. If your team has discipline, or is willing to try and achieve that discipline, the next step is simple, and just practice and play under different conditions.

Stage one of your team's repertoire is develop different modes of offense.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Use the Force ... Screw you Ben

One of my favourite calls from the sideline is, "no break". This statement alludes to the concept that if the force is in a particular direction (home/away means force to that side of the field) that the marker (person defending the current opponent with the disc) should not allow a throw to go in the direction opposite of the force. For example, if I'm forcing you home (home is the sideline where my bag of stuff is), then you will break me if you can throw in the direction opposite to home.

This is my favourite call since it is relatively impossible to achieve. A good thrower can almost always break the force. We will start this discussion from a classic drill called "Three Man" or "Trois Hommes".

In "Trois Hommes", three people (shockingly) work in a drill where one person has the disc, one person marks the disc, and the remaining person is in a position to catch a 10-15 yard throw. The marker is using a straight up throw which means she is directly in the throwing path between the thrower and the receiver. The thrower attempts to break the mark (without using over the top throws), and the receiver is not allowed to move. Once the throw is thrown, the thrower runs over to the recent receiver, and the action repeats. Hopefully, that makes some sense.

Well, the interesting thing about this drill is that it is very difficult to get a hand block or stall down, and not get broken by the thrower. This is my preliminary proof to the reality of a thrower breaking any type of mark since in this drill the thrower can throw directly through the mark.

This, however, is not sufficient proof because this drill does not take into account both the defender on the receiver and the action of a receiving cut. Taking these two variables into account does not really add more difficulty to the break (they're more about timing and positioning), these variables are not sufficient to make a break impossible, or arguably, even that difficult.

What we need to consider is the type of break that we want to stop. I'm going to define three categories of breaks (consider that a longitude line (meridian) extends directly from the thrower and intersects 90 degrees with the front end-zone line). :

1. The upfield slight break (US Break ... for my friends to the south) - this is a break where the disc is thrown at an angle of 15 degrees or less from the meridian. The throw is a slight break of the mark with a gain in distance.
2. The hard angle break (HA Break ... funny) - this is a break between 15 and 75 degrees with some sort of gain in distance.
3. The swing break (S Break ... got nothing) - this is a break of the force between 75 degrees or greater where the disc is not moving upfield and possibly back field.

At this stage I'm not going to get into which break is the most dangerous, but I'm sure most of us are worried about the HA Break. I also believe that most people when they yell, "no break," are referring to the "no HA Break".

Still, the funniest thing to see at the end of a point is a so called veteran come over to a youngen after an S or US break and yell at them for letting out a break (mind you, if the veteran is 7 foot and incredibly agile, maybe they can claim never being broken).

Sure this is funny, but what can we do to stop the different breaks. Well, first a team needs to decide which break you want to help prevent (let help prevent mean make that throw as hard as possible). Now let us look back to the "trois hommes" drill for some inspiration on positioning.
In the drill, you have essentially chosen to help prevent one of the breaks. As you do this drill, move closer and move farther away from the thrower you are marking. What you should notice is as you move away (to a limit) the thrower has more of a challenge to throwing by you. Interesting... Second get a feel for where to look at the person. I've had a lot of recommendations for mirroring the feet of the thrower.

To summarize, on the Ultimate field, breaks are not stoppable, but a team can try to prevent breaks or at least make them harder. I believe you can make one type of break really hard, make a second type of break kinda hard, and one type of break will always get off. Your defensive teammates need to know which one to really worry about (the really easy). But in general, let the call "no break" mean someone's in trouble and has lost their man to the break side.

Some other classics calls are "poach" and "chilly". I like chilly, but hate hearing it.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Goal in a Game of Ultimate

Ok Folks, lets get down to business.

The actual role of a coach in game situation is to identify what is going on and set the team on a path to improve. Yep, that's right. The important goal is to improve - not win.

Sure winning blah blah blah losers always blah blah blah. But the reality is a team needs to improve, and once that team reaches a quality level then winning is more of a result.

For example, let us look at an imaginary team. First, let's imagine that our team is playing a weaker opponent. Our team will win in most situations, but the time and energy that our team has put in to the game has no benefit for the team unless we have focused on improving. When our team plays a stronger team the goal of simply winning again is a driving force, but it is not sufficient if we want to regularly beat a stronger team. The main focus must be on improving.

The caveat here is playing against a team of either extreme does not provide the environment to improve.

This is the perspective of a coach, so I guess the next question is should the team be focused on improving or winning during a game?

Great question. Personally, I feel that the individuals of the team need to be focused on being in the moment and executing the plan. Within the plan the coach/captain/team places internal goals to both win and improve. Players are motivated by both goals. This means that as important as a goal to improve was previously demonstrated the coach needs to include a goal to win as well.

Two questions come to mind:
1. How do we improve during a game?
2. How do we make a game plan with goals to both win and improve?

I'll leave 1 for now since in itself it is a complicated question that will be addressed throughout athletic time and maybe in my writings.

As for 2, well a plan itself accomplishes both, if the plan focuses on improving the team. How we present the plan can show emphasis for a particular goal. For example, any plan that attempts to improve a team has an ultimate goal of execution to success (which hopefully corresponds to winning). That plan, however, can be presented as a way to win now or in the future.

I'm missing a number of topics in this discussion including concepts like dealing with the psychology of losing and teams hitting an improvement peak. Maybe we will look into these topics later.

To sum up. A team has to focus on improving during a game. With either a top level team or a new team, the goal is to improve. Now if I could just improve my mating game conversation skills...


There's Got to be a Beginning

Well folks, this is where it all starts. I thought I'd add my contribution to the Ultimate world which I know and love.

First the details. I'm a Toronto Ultimate player. I've played TUC with various league teams, and I've toured since 2000 with a number of teams. Currently, I co-captain/play for BMF (co-ed), co-captain/play for Grand Trunk (open), and captain University of Toronto's Torontula (open). I've been to 90+ tournaments and hope to hit the century soon.

Second, what is this blog is about? Well, I hate to corner my topics, so in general this is an Ultimate blog. The focus, however, is in what I consider one of my strengths - coaching. Coaching, fortunately, includes a huge array of subjects, and in a relatively young sport like ultimate there is a huge element of philosophical coaching (the idea that there isn't a right answer). Also, coaching like playing is a learning process.

My goal is to publish something on a weekly basis; at the start I hope to post bi-weekly.

Finally, warnings. My writing skills are mediocre (hopefully I'll find a spell checker). My humour is spectacular. My wit is biting.

This should be fun...