Monday, May 14, 2007

Tournament 1 - Toronto Ultimate Festival - Steering a fast boat

I was at our first club tournament of the season. Toronto Open split up into 4 teams to continue our tryouts for Goat and Grand Trunk. My team had a great weekend which you can see in the picture below.

One of the best parts of the tournament is to see old faces back in the swing of summer Ultimate. I talked to lots of people on how their team was doing and what was going well and not so well. One theme that I think came up was people giving other people advice - good or bad. So, I'll give a perspective on the topic.

Pictured Above: Goat League Team 1 and our final pose for the weekend (photo from Neil Griffith).

First, let's define some kinds of advice. I define the following:
  • adjustments: identifying what the opponent is doing and responding with a change
  • learning point: discussing what happened and a possibly better reaction to the situation
  • needed change: an action that needs to be done differently
  • nit pick: an action that a player does that another veteran player doesn't like
  • mule beating: telling a person about an error that they obviously know happened
So "nit pick" and "mule beating" are things that a coach shouldn't be doing. They just make people angry and nothing positive comes out of the situation. When someone makes an error you need to get your player past the error and into focusing on the current moment as fast as possible (especially from O to D). Coaches also have to accept that people play a certain way and unless it is causing major team chemistry problems just let them play.

"Needed change" is something a player is doing wrong (based on your opinion) that needs to be addressed. The trick is you can only expect a player to deal with one maybe two changes per tournament and the same thing with practice (different people can take different number of changes). In my experience, behavioral responses to situations are tough to change because when we play we're not in that logical reasoning mind, and instead, we're in that primal responding mind that does what we've previously trained ourselves to do. My advice is keep the changes to a minimal, and for big things like a throwing mechanic just leave it until practice. I'll tell someone what they might want to do with their throws, but I'll finish with, "don't try and change it this tournament".

"Learning points" happen all the time on the field, and coaches can breakdown the situation so people can understand what happened. Again, players can't deal with a huge number of learning points at one time. It's better to explain one or two learning points in a huddle and then leave it at that. One good suggestion from Lisa (a friend of mine) is to discuss a learning point and then take the team through a visualization of that situation so that all the team members can visualize what is actually happening. Take the approach of putting out the biggest fires first, and teach the most important lessons first.

Finally, "adjustments" are the name of the game. On offense and defense you need to read the opponents actions and get the team and individuals responding with a plan that will put your opponent into tough situations and not you. Adjustments can happen in game, during huddles, and on the line. There's no limit to the number of adjustments, just make sure everyone is on the same page.

A good coach will see and give some advice to push the team to a better spot. A bad coach will ride you all day, talk forever, talk about nothing important, and try and make you into an image of themselves. Player's need to play and are like high speed boats; you can steer the boat slightly, but sharp turns end up flipping the thing and in the worst case, fire. Just get on and enjoy the ride coaches.



Warren said...

fantastic post, pj. love the detailed breakdown and it makes total sense. i'd respond more but i'm tired and want to sleep and too stupid to add constructive comments. so instead i will also say that i love the analogy of the fast boat.

i, however, am like a slow boat. you can make sharp turns and we won't spill out, but if i make too many turns i may head back the way i came, or you may get dizzy, or we may get lost and not get home in time for sandwiches.

goomen said...

Hmmm. Fast Boat, many turns, flipping. How appropriate with May 24 weekend approaching. I see this tons when coaching (read: "trying to teach") triathletes how to swim. Everyone, like ultimate, comes at triathlon in their 20's, if they have an athletic bone in their body, they know how they learn and they're willing to listen. [Forget the guy I have who has my recommendations go in one ear and out the other - he also hasn't a fast twitch fibre in his body]. They're so into improving that they ask everyone for advice, thinking there's one magic bullet piece of advice that will solve all their problems catalyse an ah-ha moment. One coach says this, another that; one athlete they watch does one thing, another something seemingly completely different. All correct according to the players' or coaches' styles or philosophy's. The problems come because the learner can't connect the two examples because of lack of experience, lack of a "big picture". In swimming I just try to get folks to develop a feel for the water, give them some tools to try and manipulate it. This takes time and an open mind, I tell them that. Seems to work. I guess the comparable idea in ultimate would be field awareness. An ultimate coach would have to provide a player with tools/opportunities to develop field awareness and what to do with it as it's developed, point situations out. See things develop and react.