Friday, March 09, 2007

Backs to the Wall Culture

I’ve played with a number of different Ultimate teams at the touring level. These teams have ranged in quality from the very bottom to close to the top.

In this post, the topic is related to one characteristic of a team that I find makes or breaks a team's illusion of success. This characteristic or quality is the “never say die” attitude, and this means that a team, regardless of score, will always make a significant effort and playing hard throughout the game. In most cases, the attribute is seen when a team continues to play hard even when losing significantly, but it also can be relevant when dominating a team and not relenting.

Pictured above: My first attempt at a South Park self-portrait. No disc option yet, so maybe I'll have to go into Photoshop.

For weaker teams, this quality is necessary and is relatively easy to obtain, because you always seem to be losing, so not trying would mean it is irrelevant to play in the first place. The challenge with a weaker team is as the team improves can you maintain this “never say die” attitude. Again, this is not that difficult, and a team that starts from the bottom and moves to the top will have a significant benefit since they’ve developed a work ethic that will follow them throughout the team’s life.

For a medium ranked team that wins about 50% of their games, this team attribute is a little trickier to develop. What can happen is that a team of this nature will only compete in games where they are closely matched up against their opponent. In games where they are dominated, the team tends to give up, and in games where they dominate, they tend to let up on effort.

I would argue that it is better for a midrange team to put the effort in to “never say die”. Against strong teams, a midrange team should make goals for small successes. For example, on a particular point try and generate some offensive flow, or make it difficult for the opponents to score. Similarly, against weaker team goals will help maintain a strong work ethic. These are great opportunities for trying parts of your game that aren't polished.

The most difficult situation is for strong teams. How can a strong team develop a "never say die" attitude when you don’t necessarily have good competition and aren't in losing situations often. This problem exists for many of the top teams in a region, and can result in significant problems when these teams meet up with good competition, infrequently, during the season.

A simple goal based system will help, but from what I’ve seen it is not sufficient to generate the "never say die" attitude. Instead, a more complicated goal system needs to be generated in which a team psychologically feels the same lows and highs that normally would be associated with winning and losing. What I mean is winning and losing are associated with strong emotional highs and lows, and this is natural for most athletes. Instead, some goal needs to have that same emotional high/low. For example, failing to keep the opponent to under 2 points in the first half should feel like losing, and will require your team to dig deep to hold them to 4 points over the entire game.

These goals may be in terms of perfect execution and domination. Another option for a team is to change the rolls of their players. I would argue that this alone will improve the overall quality of your team by developing a better rounded team (a whole debate on specialization versus generalization).

The final option, for the strong team, is playing a team that is reasonably close to your level over and over (like the Sens and Leafs) so the weaker team starts to learn your weaknesses and can attacks those weak points. If you have a few teams that are reasonably competitive, this is even better since you will have a number of team styles attacking you over and over prodding for weakness. Also, consider handicapping your own team so it doesn't take advantage of what it would normally use to dominate the lower team. For example, if you always throw to receiver X because he dominates his man, then stop using that advantage and find a new one.