Friday, June 29, 2007

Book Review - In Pursuit of Excellence - Part III

This is the last part of the review of In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life Through Mental Training, Third Edition. I'll look at the last two sections of the book.

Pictured Above: Inian Moorthy laying out in the Flowerbowl final (photo courtesy of Jamie Bishop).

Section III of the book provides a number of methods to prepare yourself to deal with the challenges of a mental game. I'll summarize each section briefly:
  • Chapter 7 - The key is getting to know yourself and how you react to situations and when you perform your best/worst. The book provides a method to focus on improving specific skills. This is a preamble for all the following chapters.
  • Chapter 8 - The focus of the chapter is becoming consistent at performing well. This means focusing and refocusing after setbacks and errors to become a consistent performer. The classic focus challenge is making an error. Many people start to crumble once they make an error. Instead, react to the situation (for Ultimate this usually means play D and forget about the error), relax since it isn't the end of the world, focus on correcting the error, and encourage yourself (plus you'll get team encouragement). Another element of consistency is mood related. We all have different moods depending on a multitude of factors, but it is relatively easy to change your mood.
  • Chapter 9 - The positive theme continues with the use of positive images in this chapter. This is the classic sports visualization technique where you think about yourself performing an action or task correctly. The book emphasizes what additional steps you need to take to make visualization more worth while.
  • Chapter 10 - This chapter deals with what appears to be a paradox in the desire of an athlete to be relaxed and intense at the same time. Relaxation is needed both outside and inside Ultimate. You can relax in a number of ways that I won't get into. In the game, breathing, laughing, and smiling are all simple tactics to help the body relax. Intensity is the focus and exertion that you bring to the game. It's easy to have high intensity in big games with proper warm ups. The challenge is when you are tired or something isn't feeling right. In these cases we need to bring our intensity up.
  • Chapter 11 - This chapter talks about distraction control. The major point is that distractions are only distractions if you let them be distractions. The more focus you have on what you are doing the less distractions there are. I've talked to lots of guys, myself included, who don't even notice a crowd in a big game. We're just focused on the game.
  • Chapter 12 - One of my favourite chapters of the book and something I've discussed before on my blog (so it wasn't my idea first) is simulation. Simulation allows us to prepare for possibilities. The case study in this chapter talks about the dominant Indonesian badminton team in the 90s that used simulation in all sorts of ways.
  • Chapter 13 - This is a fascinating topic that I've enjoyed in the past - the concept of Zen. Zen in relation to athletics is going into what people commonly call the zone where you just perform. There's no thinking about performance it is just being in the moment and doing. There's lots of philosophy in this section, but I think it comes down to letting our reaction or primal mind just get into the game and guide our actions.
  • Chapter 14 - This is a chapter on self-hypnosis, which is a topic I've not actually looked at or explored in terms of sport. It all sounds interesting, but I'm going to leave a discussion out until I've learned more.
  • Chapter 15 - This is a summary of the section. The author emphasizes that even if you are trying to improve your game it's not guaranteed that changes will happen instantly. You need to be persistent and continue to work on all facets of improving before expecting major results. It is possible that some quick techniques will allow for quick improvement.
Section IV is called, "Living Excellence" and it deals with some of the surrounding factors in sport and how they affect the individual.

Pictured Above: Teammate scramble for the disc (photo courtesy of Jamie Bishop).

Chapter 16 talks about how to deal with strategies of improvement that aren't working. It all comes down to making alternative plans and evaluating how things are going.

Pictured Above: Another Inian Moorthy layout with Oscar on his shoulder (photo courtesy of Jamie Bishop).

Chapter 17 - This chapter talks about getting the most from coaches. First they lay out the classic coaching error which is useless feedback (along the lines of "do it right"). All coaches will make this error mainly because some things are beyond our teaching understanding and we don't yet know how to provide useful feedback. If a coach is being too negative without any positive then they need to be dealt with (in a calm and civilized manner).

Also, with people it is some times necessary to tell a coach how you would like to be dealt with for certain things. The coach might not be able to always act in the way you would hope, but similarly you need to take some of their poor performance in stride and not let it affect your game. A coach can be a distraction as much as any other external element in a sporting event.

Chapter 18 - This chapter is on team harmony. We are all picked for a team mostly based on skill without a tonne of thought on how we will interact with each other. This means we all need to actively pursue team harmony. Some ways to help team harmony are:

Conflict resolution is also a major activity in team harmony. The classic techniques of listening, involving everyone, deciding to get along, and not putting down each other go a long way to keeping things going.

Chapter 19 is about learning from setbacks. This is a small chapter that states that every setback has something valuable to learn from, even more so than success.

Chapter 20 is also small and discusses the importance of balancing your life. Obviously, an active sport will take up more time on percentage basis, but it's important to give other elements of your life attention and not taking too big a load by saying no to certain activities.

Finally, chapter 21 is about retiring and the challenges for athletes that have dedicated so much to their endeavors but now returning to a world without active competition and training. They key, the book says, is having other interests and relationships that can then take up a larger part of your time when these large time gaps appear.

Pictured Above: A D? by Antz on Graham. Look at the focus on both players faces (photo courtesy of Jamie Bishop).

That's the book in nutshell. I think the book is good with a little bit of repetition and not as much solid methodological description of how to achieve certain things like distraction control and focus. The book, however, includes lots of case examples and analogies that help convey the message.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Poll Thursday - Bed Head meets Ultimate

Last week I asked about your most and least favourite aspect of a tournament. In the most column, your favourite activity is Saturday games with 43% and Saturday post games and Sunday games coming in at 24% and 20% respectively. Your least favourite part of a tournament is the drive back with 68% and in second is the drive to the tournament with 18% voters.

Pictured Above: Another nice photo by Marc Hodges between Goat and Truck Stop in the Boston Invitational final.

This week is a quick little poll on whether your team is a morning team or not. It's one of those things you hear quite frequently - "we came out flat in the morning". For those of you who have morning teams, what is the secret?


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bathurst Odds part II - Solstice and Boston Invite results are in

So the 20 teams have been announced for Open Canadian Nationals and now I'll make my second view of the lay of the land after Boston Invite and Solstice results.

Pictured Above: Malcolm Johnston's opinions of my odds (photo courtesy of David Tingle).

Furious George - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 2
A rough Solstice with an 0-3 pool play and a loss to Voodoo (Seattle's number 2 team) looks bad for the Furious, but don't be fooled. I heard rumours they were missing some of the keystone players. I'm keeping them where they belong.

Goat - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 4
Goat beats Boston! That's a headline for now. Boston is still trying out some players, but what a semi-final game to watch. Then a truck stop win with some interesting plays. These guys are learning to come from behind and play defense after an O turn. I'm still sticking with 1 in 4.

Invictus - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 110
An okay run at Solstice, but a nothing to indicate that things have changed with this team. Have they introduced the second dimension yet?

Mephisto - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 110
Mephisto goes 2-1 in a tough Boston Invite pool with a one point loss to one of the teams to watch in the region - "New Noise". Mephisto crosses up against Medicine Men, but hit a dead end at Goat ala CUC 2006. 2007 will have Semis still, but no finals yet.

Phoenix - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 200
Phoenix gets a good win over Chuck Wagon which is experience that the rest of the quarter finalists could use. They beat a Providence team and then run into the Noise to end their tournament. Phoenix has had some good battles with experienced competition. This will help them in their Nationals run, but it will be tough to crack the semis.

Blackfish - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 300
With an okay Solstice in a lower pool I'm not going to move these guys too much. Quarters are still in the cross hairs, but when do they play next? How are they going to beat the bigger guns?

Nads - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 300
No results, so this wild card holds ground. Without experience I really should move them down, but my gut says stick.

Red Circus - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 300
The Circus came to town and had a great Boston Invite. A win over Red Tide and GT means that they're doing things right. Ramsay and a few other good handlers have given this team some skills in the back field, and they played a good huck and pin game against GT. A loss to Les Q makes things a little confusing, but I'll gladly bring them in to quarter final contention.

Grand Trunk - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 325
Lots of losses at the Boston Invite means that GT can't keep the same ranking as before. Though many of the teams that they loss to went on to great things, GT still hasn't found what they had last year. There's time, but Toronto's number 2 will need to earn their way into the quarters and beyond.

Bathurst Odds - 1 in 375
At Boston they were missing two of the faces that have held the team together for years. They might be missing in action or gone for good. This will be a big factor on where they'll end up next. They'll be trying to defend their Jazzfest tittle this weekend, so we'll get a better feel for who's on the team and how strong they're going to be.

Magma - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 400
Magma has a good run at Boston. They played some good lower level competition and performed well. I'm giving them an improved rating and Jazzfest should give us a better read on their team. There doesn't appear to be a major turnover with the team and that's a good sign.

Too Bad - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 750
No results to change anything.

Winnipeg General Strike - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 900
No results to change anything.

Mangina - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1000
No results to change anything.

Firebird - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1700
Firebird had an up and down Boston Invite. No notable wins or losses, but some good scores. I'm going to move them up since they are getting great experience at each tournament they attend which should prepare them for Nationals. I was hoping to see a Roy vs. Bird game at Jazz, but the Bird isn't in the list.

Sherbrooke Open - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1750
We'll see these guys at Jazzfest.

Roy - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 2000
No results for Roy, but we'll see them at Jazzfest with an indicator potential game with SWASS.

Bathurst Odds - 1 in 5000
Same as Roy.

Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1000000
I don't expect to hear a word from these guys until Nationals. A million it is.

Hootenanni Pussywillows
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1000001
I've heard rumors that these guys are some okay juniors from a few years back. Maybe they'll take BID or surprise someone else. Maybe monkeys will fly out of our...


Tournament 6 - Observation - Observers

Fine. I can accept observers being present on the field. By their title they are meant to observe the game. However, that's not what I've seen them do.

I don't mind them calling the play in or out, but I don't like there presence on the pull. After you score a point you'll be trying to call the line and every few seconds you'll hear something like, "10 seconds to put a hand up"..."five seconds to put a hand up". I would be happy with just the five second warning and no other interruptions.

Pictured Above: GT and les Q in a jump ball battle (photo taken by Dave Tingle).

My next peeve is the offensive offside. Your foot needs to be on the line at the time of the pull. How strict does this rule really have to be. I understand the call for a player five feet behind the line or some extreme, but minor infractions have no affect on the game.

Pictured Above: Another GT and les Q air battle with Gord Harrison coming down with this one (photo taken by Dave Tingle).

When there is an offside the observer gets their day in the sun and runs onto the field to call the offside. The offside is enforced and the offensive team or defensive team have no option to decline the penalty, which is normally just a warning on the first infraction.

Pictured Above: A Goat vs. (I think) Truck Stop air battle in pool play. It's hard to see who won this one with Brett Taylor in the mix and Steve Ficko (99) on the field this is a D-line air battle for Goat (photo taken by Dave Tingle).

I'm also not a huge fan of the automatic timed delay of game. If a big huck is thrown and is turned out of the back of the endzone the new offensive team has 20 seconds to get the disc into play without the opponents actually having to go into the delay of game sequence. At least, have another disc ready on the line (that would actually be useful).

I was watching both the Men and Women's finals at Boston. The men didn't seem to have too many problems with the observers, but I'm not sure if the observers on the women's side were actually always focused on the game. Is there an option of getting rid of the observers when both teams feel that they're not any use?

As we bring referees into Ultimate (as observers obviously are with limited rolls and spin doctored titles) you have to expect the observer rules like the game rules will evolve. I've got my complaints off my chest.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Tournament 6 - Lesson 1 - Club system and chemistry

We had a challenging weekend at the Boston Invite. Sure, lots of the teams that beat us went on to have great weekends. Sure, we learned lots from defeat. Sure, we had a great time. Losing is still a hard thing to deal with. In my post tournament and game discussions, we did come up with one thing that makes it a little more challenging for a team like Grand Trunk.

Pictured Above: Adrian Yearwood marking a throw by a player from Red Circus (photo courtesy of Dave Tingle)

Grand Trunk sits as the second of three teams in a club system. Over the four years of existence the team has seen a high turnover of players. Our competition this weekend was either the top club team from a city (where the population dictates that there is only one team) or a college team that has been playing together for a full college season and more. In our second tournament as a team, we have lots of potential but we don't have great on field chemistry.

It's pretty obvious on the field. Handlers will throw what they think is a lead pass as the cutter makes a different cut. Defensive switches aren't always successful and teammates lose their patience with one another over it. People aren't expecting no look throws from certain players. The list goes on.

So what's the solution? My favourite option is play together more. We're only guaranteed 5 tournaments this season. I think that's too little, but teammates do have lives beyond Ultimate and it's not a viable solution to increase tournament count.

Another option is simplify your game. Turn the team red light on for certain types of throws like breaks, over the top, and shovel throws. Turn the red light on for certain players. Ask them to throw only simple throws, but preference to dumps to your veteran players. Simplifying the team game has its own problems. Teams will key in on the style of game you play and since it is simple they know what you're trying to do.

You can also increase chemistry by splitting the team into smaller groups. We did this at Cleveland creating three lines, and you could clearly see lines starting to understand each other. This is also the case for having an O-line and D-line division within the team.

Great chemistry can take years to get. Fortunately, over a season, every time you play together the chemistry gets better. For a team like ours we need to realign our expectations and make some adjustments based on how well we're playing together.

Boston Invite once again impressed me on the quality of play at the mid and low elite open division. Ever since Grand Trunk won the open division in 2003 the tournament has been getting better and better competition wise. The tournament has always been one of the most competitive and well run tournaments we attend during our season. Thanks to George Cooke and Geoff Doerre for their efforts in organizing this tournament.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nationals - Early Bathurst Odds in the Open Division

Yes, this is a double post day. I've taken this from a post I made on the TUC bbs. I'll try and keep up the reviews as we get closer to the August tournament. Also, checkout the CUC website. Hilary, myself, and the committee have added some content and design to the webpage.

Pictured Above: A beauty photo by Marc Hodges. Let's just hope Nationals looks as nice as this.

So the 20 teams have been announced for Open Canadian Nationals and I might as well have my first crack at the odds. This is all in good fun, and I'll try to spice it up.

Furious George - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 2
You have to give Furious the best chance at winning it all. They've been there and there is the biggest stages of all in Ultimate. Last year losing to Sockeye in the UPA finals was a tough loss. They'll argue that they win that tournament if it is slightly windier. I'll argue that they're damn good and I root for them on any stage like the UPAs and Worlds except this one.

Goat - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 4
Next on the list is Goat. Goat has started off with 2 wins over Furious at Flowerbowl and a tight game against Boston. With the new found confidence a win at Boston Invitational would really put a stamp on a shot at worlds. These guys have brought in the trees and they're going to give us all an exciting final that is almost worth the C-note some of us pay to play in at Nationals.

Invictus - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 90
I saw Invictus at Flowerbowl (played against them). They, currently, play a one dimensional game of handler resets, huck, hope, and play intense D. The thing is, it's not easy to play against that style of ultimate unless you have the offensive composure to make them pay, or you have the defensive intensity to fight back and forth. In the quarters at Flowerbowl EMU showed them equivalent intensity and equally poor disc skills. These guys are good, but it will depend on who they bring to TO.

Mephisto - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 100
Mephisto lost some big players this year. Kennedy has joined Goat and rumors have it that Shaki isn't handling for them (but I see him on their roster). Does this mean they're out. Not a chance, but can the vets pull off some more unbelievable wins at CUC. I think young legs will challenge this team and 2nd in the east is up for grabs.

Phoenix - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 200
The battle of lesser Ontario will continue with Phoenix and GT looking to break into the semis and give Goat or Furious a legitimate run for their money. Phoenix has seen a big flux in their roster this year, which many of us think is the healthiest thing for the team. It is Phoenix after all. The youth could go either way and with the stability of Firebird over the last few years the talent and physical abilities are there. Boston will start to tell us where these guys are going to finish, but their early results at CUT indicate these guys are going to battle anybody.

Grand Trunk - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 200
Another team with a huge influx of talent. I should know; I picked them. This team is going places and looks to match or better last years 3rd place performance at Nationals, but this time with the West in the mix. The thing about GT this year is they are at least as deep as their inaugural season when half the team got taken up into Goat. Whether they can become a team that understands how to battle and win tough games is yet to be shown.

Bathurst Odds - 1 in 225
There's something to be said about a team playing with each other year after year. Quebec seems to have that stability and Q has grown into a contender over the years. They won Jazzfest last year and they're on the prowl again. These boys are fast and are now just coming into a time where they have the disc skills. The biggest problem is where is the development coming from?

Blackfish - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 300
GT of the West (actually 4 GT alumni) with a good backbone of UBC makes for a team with potential. They'll be better than last year by a long shot. The trick in the west is getting experience. You have to travel to get tournaments and it's a long time until Nationals. They had a rough start at Flowerbowl, but they have the brains and the talent to leap up this ladder. Expect a quarters appearance.

Nads - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 300
It's hard to read this team. There were rumors of a masters or coed team, but these boys like to play and Open is where it's at. Now we all have to figure out who will be on the roster. With the right people this team moves from a quarters appearance to 4th place all while potentially smoking on the sideline. Their alumni players are on the likes of Goat, Invictus, and I think even Furious so they might do something right.

Magma - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 500
I'm guessing Magma is ranked too low at this point. Last year was a rebuilding year as Mephisto pulled some of their best players, and one year is big for experience. At TUF they pulled off a win against a Goat League team and they made it to the semis losing to Tombstone. I'd guess these hard running and tall boys will once again be knocking on the door to quarters.

Too Bad - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 750
Another team that has a roster that can morph from weak to strong from one tournament to the next. I won't even make a guess of who Harry can pull out of his hat, but I'm sure he has a cloning machine. The longest existing Open team to go to Nationals. I'm betting right now they won't get in the quarters, but we'll see. They only brought 10 to No Surf, but with good talent they'll suprise some teams.

Winnipeg General Strike - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 900
I'm surprised to see this team in the listings. I expected the best men to help shore up Winni coed. Maybe they did and that's a bad sign for the Open team. These guys will be the number one team out of the prairies, but that's all.

Mangina - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1000
I could make up some stuff about these guys, but all I can remember is them living in a rental truck at Nationals in Montreal. That's a sign of wanting to play Ultimate and they've always been mid pack. Let's put them here for now.

Red Circus - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1500
The best from the East is the best in the East. Other than that I can't see much than fighting in the 9 through 16 bracket. They've got some experienced veterans, but I'm leaving them low for now. We'll see how they do in Boston with an early match up against Grand Trunk.

Sherbrooke Open - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1750
I've played some of these guys on different versions of teams. It looks like the University programs in the region have found some stability and that means young talent will be filling their roster. Also, I've always been impressed with Quebec athletics, so I expect this team could surprise. Hopefully, we can get a feel for their talent at Jazzfest (if they come).

Firebird - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 2000
With the Phoenix changes Firebird lost some of their top end, but they've got a great leader and they'll tell you every time they score (does every team break their name up? I yell "Fire" you yell "Bird". I think 4 teams did this at No Surf). That's a sign of a team that's going to play you hard and you never know what's going to happen if they get the jump on you. Ontario is the place to be for Ultimate and Firebird is part of that reason. Expect these guys to fight in the 9 to 16 range and push Phoenix.

Roy - RRI
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 2000
Roys back and they've got numbers this time. Last year was short on numbers, but once again Toronto shows that population can lead to numbers and numbers lead to talent if trained properly. I'm sure they have Too Bad and Firebird on the radar, and the 9 to 16 bracket is completely in their grasp. UofT and some veterans will fuel this team to possibly some big wins. They had a good showing at No Surf that should start a good season run. We'll see them at Jazzfest for a second look.

Bathurst Odds - 1 in 5000
Second in the east. Last of the legitimate touring teams. That's what I'll say for now.

Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1000000
You guys can take second last because you have a better name than last place. We'll see if the name results in better play. It's good to see Barrie with a team, but I expect you'll feel like the early days of Pong. This tournament is tough.

Hootenanni Pussywillows
Bathurst Odds - 1 in 1000001
Last or second last. It's all in the name. Thursday = hell, Friday = hell, Saturday - hell, Saturday night = Party!!! Aurora represents and that's great.


Poll Thursday - Best part about a tournament

Last week we polled about ultimate apparel companies. VC won the for fun poll with 41%, and our team just got those grasshopper shorts and I love mine. I also introduced you guys to a company called Five Ultimate and learned about IO Ultimate, which I couldn't find on the internet.

Pictured Above: A Feisty handler trying to get off a throw. I wonder if the ballet foot block works out (photo courtesy of Jaleel)

This week I'm interested in what is your favourite and least favourite part of a tournament. The choices for the poll are:
  • The drive
  • Friday night hangout
  • Saturday games
  • Saturday after games
  • Saturday night events
  • Sunday games
  • Return Drive

Least Favourite:

Pictured Above: Kieran Bol of Roy making a nice grab with the defender right on him (photo courtesy of Jaleel).


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tournament 5 - Lesson 3 - More Trust

Last weekend at No Surf we played by calling balanced lines. We had 22 guys and we split into 3 lines that were balanced in many facets - height, speed, experience, disc skills, etc. I still called other types of lines, but our main theory is we want to develop as much chemistry on our team as fast as possible and doing this in smaller groups will be easier.

Pictured Above: Mike Lane (Grand Trunk) making a move on one of the Fossil defenders (photo courtesy of Neil Griffith and Nate Habermeyer).

During a game I was calling lines and was working between managing the game and our players. The main challenge was when to go to more experienced and stronger lines versus balanced lines, because the balanced lines developed very good chemistry over the weekend where as the power lines didn't have as much chemistry but had greater potential and experience.

Pictured Above: A great steal by Marc Hodges of Grand Trunk against Impulse at No Surf (photo courtesy of Neil Griffith and Nate Habermeyer).

In one instance, we went down 3-1 at the start of the game running our balanced lines. I made the decision at that point to stick with balanced lines trusting that they would pull us out of the hole and the experience overall would make us a better team. I had a side gamble that even if we lost the experience would be more valuable to all our players than trying to use tighter lines to dig out of a hole (which has no guarantees in itself).

Pictured Above: Norm Farb (GT) throws by a Fossil defender at No Surf (photo courtesy of Neil Griffith and Nate Habermeyer).

In this case, trusting worked out well, and the game was a little more valuable in the win column for the team since we all contributed equally. It's not possible to always do this, and at the Boston Invite next weekend I imagine I'll be calling more lines than just putting out balanced lines.

Team line management is a fascinating art/skill. Next weekend we might have 24 guys going to Boston so it will be even harder to spread the playing time, but fortunately, our team is somewhat balanced. When you call lines you need to gamble sometimes and trust your players to excel. It's pretty scary as a captain, and this is one reason I think the captain has to separate goals to win with goals to improve the team and individuals.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tournament 5 - Lesson 2 - Was it the D's fault

After our loss at No Surf on Sunday morning we began the analysis of the loss. It was clear that the opponent was getting hucks off and break hucks that resulted in a large portion of their points. We made comments such as:

  • We should have had better marks
  • We should have been tighter on our D
  • Our zone couldn't stop their huck game since they broke us fast
  • They played our straight up marks with a nice under game
Pictured Above: Our stats sheet from the game minus players names. Notice the red boxes. These show when the opponent scored and we threw it away or dropped it. Ouch.

All these points are valid and they're things that we, as a team, need to work on. Then I started to look at the stats sheet and looked at each point and thought about the game at each point. We got Ds and turns when we were down by one and two points and our O was broken two times in the second half with no return breaks.

So we had chances to break and our O got broken. Clearly, our D adjustments were a factor, but even though it seemed like they were getting easy scores our O was arguably more responsible for the loss.

They were playing us with a poach D that was allowing in cuts. We just made two errors that they took advantage of at key points and we made 6 or 7 errors on O when we had chances to break them and have a dominating lead.

It is pretty clear that we lost due to our inconsistency on offense. Our defense could be better, but our offense needs to be improved. Stats don't lie like our observation and game emotion did.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Tournament 5 - Lesson 1- Evolution of a team

The theory of natural selection helps an organism develop (through a number of generations) by selecting individuals that are best adapted to survive. The final design is not an optimal design for survival, but is adequate for the job. This is similar to winning results in being an adequate team, but not an optimal team. Note that we (as story tellers) apply evolutionary theory as analogies in all sorts of fields either keeping true to the theory or bastardizing the hell out of the theory for our own explanations. Let me be a bastard.

Pictured Above: Oscar releasing a flick over Toly. I'm guessing foul was called. (photo courtesy of Kirsten Taylor)

Teams "evolve" into a better team and players "evolve" into better players when they meet challenges or almost meet challenges. The biggest lessons are learned when your team just barely loses or barely wins. In these cases, you make the greatest growth since the entire game is full of repeated adjustments and situations that balance on the edge of success and failure.

Our team, Grand Trunk, had what appears to be a great record of 6 wins and 1 loss at No Surf in Cleveland, but in our minds we only learned from 4 of those games, and the loss was far more valuable than the 3 tight wins. The one loss also meant that we missed an opportunity to find even more good competition.

The best thing you can do to improve your team is strive to win, but put yourself in situations in which you will potentially lose. The great dynasties such as the Oilers, Bulls, and 49ers never had instant success. They faced years of disappointing losses in the playoffs that sent them back to the drawing boards until they finally found the formula that resulted in years of being the best.

It seems rather obvious that you improve by playing against good competition, but that means we all have to strive to win, but have the poise to handle losses and use them as the most important experiences as opposed to devastation.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Book Review - In Pursuit of Excellence - Part II

This is the next part of the review of In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life Through Mental Training, Third Edition. In this posting I'll review part I of the book called Visions of excellence.

In chapter 1 we are introduced to the wheel of excellence:

  1. Commitment - sort of what we are doing with the team and ultimate at different levels. Summed up as do everything required to excel.
  2. Focused Connection - mind on the task at hand. means let go of everything else while you are in the activity.
  3. Confidence - to some degree belief that you will succeed and overcome obstacles. On a team you fear no opponent since you know we are or will be prepared for the challenge.
  4. Positive Image - speeds up achievement of your goals. Like a video game images and visualization allow you to perform without actually performing.
  5. Mental Readiness - getting the most out of your experiences.
  6. Distraction Control - maintaining a positive focus in while confronted with distractions
  7. Ongoing Learning - evaluating each experience and seeking more information to improve from.
Imagine a wheel where 1,2, and 3 are in the middle and are surrounded by 4,5,6, and 7. Why is there this arrangement? I'm not sure yet, but I'm sure they do it for a reason. These main parts of the wheel are included throughout the book.

Chapter 2 talks about why sport is such a popular activity and how it fits in to the meaning of life. Yes, I said meaning of life. Then in chapter 2 the author interviews Kerrin Lee Gartner on how she achieved success through the author's mental training. They talk about each part of the wheel and how it applies to her skiing and life in general. It's supposed to be a motivator and a practical view of the wheel and how it fits into an athletes life.

Pictured Above: The sequence on a Chris Lee catch (Goat) that two small passes later resulted in the win for Flowerbowl 2007 (sweet sequence of Photos Courtesy of Kirsten Taylor).

Section II is called commitment to excellence, and the main idea is that you need a reason to pursue excellence and you need to decide how committed you are to achieving the level that you want to attain.

Chapter 3 focuses on the commitment level you have to your goals. It talks about how two equal athletes in terms of potential can end up at very different levels mostly due to the commitment levels they are willing to give to the pursuit. A major part of this chapter discusses how NHL scouts and coaches look to pick players and what characteristics those players have.

Chapter 4 talks about focus. The chapter starts off using a cat chasing a mouse analogy where the cats focuses on the goal to the point of not noticing a car approaching. The cat and the mouse also don't worry about how they look or what will happen and instead are focused on achieving their goal. Similarly, in sport this focus is key (though not life and death). Focus, however, does not just happen and needs to be practiced. They provide a few guidelines on how to focus.

Chapter 5 reviews the concept of goals. First off you need a meaningful long term goal. Next, is how to achieve that goal. The book reinforces the concept of taking small steps to achieve big things. They state that everyday you should have some small goal that you try to achieve to build towards the bigger goals.

Finally, chapter 6 is about a positive mindset. This is a small chapter that claims that a positive mindset that means relaxed, content, and excited is better to achieve goals and perform well compared to one that is anxious, worried, and angry.

So, that concludes a brief review of section I and II. There are lots of good points that are connected to specific real world cases. I'll review section III and IV next week.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Poll Thursday - Did cleats, now jerseys

Last week I did a few polls on media coverage in Ultimate. Not surprisingly, those of you who regularly vote overwhelmingly wanted more coverage of Ultimate (95%). More interestingly, the type of coverage was mainly tournament based (68%) with some desire for daily coverage (23%).

This week I though I would ask people about their favourite Ultimate jerseys. This poll is a tough one because your favourite jersey company is probably the one you use with very little opportunity to try other jersey companies. Regardless, like all of these polls we have to take the results with a grain of salt.

Your choices are:


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tournament 4 - Lesson 3 - A condition to dress for

On Saturday at Flowerbowl it rained. Then it rained some more and continued to rain harder and softer for the entire day. Some of our guys weren't prepared for this, but this is the one condition that you need to be ready for. This is even truer if it gets cold because cold and wet are a nightmare combination.

My choice for attire was compression shorts, tights, lined sports pants, long sleeve VC shirt, short sleeve VC shirt, jacket when I wasn't on the field, baseball hat, armband, dry fit socks, and cleats. The jacket and pants were the most important pieces of that entire getup. My legs and core stayed reasonably warm throughout the day and the tights underneath the pants avoids that wet feeling you get with wet plastic against sweaty skin.

Pictured Above: Our team at the end of Flowerbowl (photo courtesy of Lexi Marsh). Top row Left to Right: Colin Green, Brett Taylor, Graham Withers, John Hassell, Andrew Ouchterlony, Patrick Moony, Kirk Nylen, Andy Corey, Inian Moorthy, Evan Phillips. Bottom Row Left ot Right: Anatoly Vasilyev, Chris Lee, Scotty Nicholls, Steven Tam, Malcolm Johnston, Jeff Lindquist, Peter Jamieson, Andrew Parker. Absent from photo: Jeff Sward.

The thing I was having trouble on Saturday was bathtub hands. You know that wrinkly look that your fingers take on when the skin becomes water logged. One of the guys, Inian, had mittens that probably would have helped keep hands drier, but I worry that the inside glove would eventually get soaked. The solution, I think, is having a field tent to hang towels in so that you can go to the tent and dry your hands after each point. Then you put your hands behind your back and under your jacket so that they don't get wet and they can dry more in the air.

You'll probably need a number of towels to do this in conditions like we had, but I think it would have made my throws a lot better in our final game on Saturday. Every time I touched the disc I was nervous about the release. Even a backhand grip and throw was challenging and it felt like I was holding a soapy disc. Any other ideas?


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tournament 4 - Lesson 2 - Trust

The cliche, "there is no I in team", rings true in Ultimate as much as any other sport. This weekend I watched our team move in between individual and team, and the moments of individuals trying to do too much were our low points. Our high points were when seven guys were all possible threats.

Pictured Above: Lonely discs by Jason Moy.

It comes down to the tricky balance of letting your studs play and dominate and your average player still being a contributor. If your studs are doing everything for the team then the opponent will key in on this and put extra effort in containing their game. This additional pressure in many cases can break a team that relies too much on a few people, and the people in major roles now have additional pressure, which in many cases results in them trying to do too much.

This is where trust comes in. Your studs need to trust all the supporting players to take some of the pressure and play a more balanced game. I saw this happen very clearly in the final game at Flowerbowl (though I'd like to see the footage to verify the fuzziness in my mind) when we got a few breaks against us we were only using three of our seven guys on the O-line looking off some easy throws. As soon as the balance was restored and we all trusted each other the four remaining players picked up their game and put the opponent in a spot where 7 guys were a threat.

We ended our weekend with success. The trick with balance and trust is it is a choice that might result in a loss in the short term, but in the long term the rewards can be great. Win or lose at Flowerbowl, the seven to ten supporting players who got touches because of the team's trust can now go into similar situations having experienced and performed successfully and adding even more balance to the team.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Tournament 4 - Lesson 1 - It's a personal mind game

This weekend I had the opportunity to play with Goat at Flower Bowl. We had a good weekend with great battles in three games - two against Furious George (they gracefully joined up to make it worth our plane tickets out to the west) and one against Invictus.

The first lesson, which is more of a personal lesson for me, but every player needs to learn is: you need confidence and belief that you can play and beat anyone and you can be build this mental image by taking every little success and putting it into your pool. You'll be matched up with a big name player or team at one point or another - take that moment, play in that moment like it's no different than any other game, and then notice what you did well.

Sure they might get off that huck or make a sick layout grab. Sure the crowd is going to ooh and aah when the opponent does amazing things at your expense. However, remember that you covered that dump cut well or you had a mark that prevented a huck. Remember how your efforts on the sideline helped out your teammate get a big D or how you didn't throw the disc away from an incredibly tight mark. Something good will happen and something bad will happen. Learn from both and add the good ones to your pool of successes. Next time you can remember your success and have the confidence to string more successes together. The same thing applies to a team.

Sounds goofy, but unless you are naturally mentally you'll need to train your mind to play at the next level.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Poll Thursday - More Ultimate Media

In the last poll, which was held before the UPA college championships, we picked the Open division correctly with Wisconsin and were wrong in the Women's picking Santa Barbara, but Other was close and we'll assume Other meant Stanford.

This week I'm polling on your interest in media coverage of Ultimate. I know there were a few attempts at getting coverage to the UPA college regionals, but I missed catching any write ups since I was playing in another tournament.

In my case, I review the UPA RRI tournament results and on a regular basis to see who is winning and losing and if any interesting stories are emerging. I personally would like more, but I'd like to see what the regular voters think.

The first question is would you like more media based coverage for Ultimate?

The second question is how much media coverage would you like?


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Book Review - In Pursuit of Excellence

I'm pretty excited since I just recently received, In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life Through Mental Training, Third Edition. As I normally do, I thought I would break down the book and do a book review ala grade 4.

Pictured Above: Back at coed tryouts a photo of Toronto's Riverdale East hill run (photo courtesy of Jason Moy)

This book is divided into four parts:
  • Visions of excellence
  • Committing to excellence
  • Mental Preparation for excellence
  • Living excellence
Based on those four sections titles I'm a little skeptical on the value of the book, but we'll see if there are any gems to help our Ultimate games get to the next level. I'll review each section over some of the next posts. I'll mix it in with other topics, so don't expect to see the book review in a contiguous set of posts.

Like I said, I'm a little nervous about the quality of this book since it my basic preview gives me the sense that the book is fluffy and will say things such as, "you need to visualize what you are doing" without any concrete steps on how to do visualization.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tournament 3 - Lesson 2 - Mismatch trouble

We lost one game last weekend to Snipe (or Tux as many of my teammates prefer to call them). In terms of the two teams I think we were evenly matched up in most departments, but they had two women that were better than ours and made the difference. That and my team forgot how to beat a zone in no wind. I don't know if this post is so much a lesson learned, but I've been mulling over it since the loss.

Pictured Above: Seb pulling down a blurry grab at ULW'07 in a game between the Magic Alliance and the eventual winners Godzilla (picture from Shawn Lee).

As described, the situation is you have two strong women who are dominant. The opponents strategy is to isolate these women in the stack using a horizontal. We tried using a zone (to varying degrees of success) since that is a strategy to hide mismatches, but zone is normally meant for windy conditions or very poor handling teams and this was not the case.

I've come up with a few options to change the flow of the game:
  1. Mismatch a man to one of the strong women. The opponents will likely move the other gender mismatch into the stack, but you could counter by playing a zone like defense where 3 people cover the handlers (regardless of gender) and four people cover the stack cutters (regardless of gender).
  2. Give the in cuts so the dominant players are handling. We tried this, but these were strong female players all round and this had little affect.
  3. Force straight up so loopy hucks go out that a defensive man might be able to D. We did this a few times and it had varying success.
The reality is we lost because we didn't put it together on our own offense. We got a fair number of Ds. They played well and used their advantages successfully. I just wonder if we could have stopped their run earlier and turned the game around. The clear mismatch is a tough one to deal with, but in general the mismatch will get the disc, but the goal is to let them get the disc in the least threatening spots.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Tournament 3 - Lesson 1 - Understanding the Error

One of the tricky things being a captain is your the coach and a player. Many times you'll be one of the stronger players on the team who has learned to perform certain actions well in the game. You've had the opportunity to make errors and now they don't happen as often. The challenge is when your developing players make those errors it is hard not to lose your cool.

Pictured Above: Some space for myself. My pose after a backhand throw at TUF. I must have fooled the mark so much that he's on the ground photo left (that or it's warm up). Photo taken by Jaleel.

I tend to watch games and see errors and make a joke about it. That might not be the best approach, but at least I'm not berating my players. The real challenge is that you need to accept errors as part of the learning process. It's impossible to impart sporting knowledge without a period of experience where that knowledge is tuned and transformed into successful actions on the field. This may mean that an error might happen more than once.

Not only does the captain need to realize this, but the team needs to understand this too. It's that balance between becoming a better team overall and having success for a particular moment.

Over the weekend, for the most part, I saw positive Ultimate from seven different teams all over the spectrum of coed teams. I was particularly impressed with one of the teams, Booyaka, and saw how far they have come from their inception three to four years ago. Though their team changes quite frequently, they've allowed their players to learn and make errors to get the experience they need.

On the other side of the coin is direction after an error. Errors are fine and part of the learning process, but there's nothing wrong with discussing how to stop the error. The obvious things like drops and misfires need no discussion, but finer points such as where to go on a poach and why the particular break throw might not be the best option are good to discuss.

Three tournaments into the club season my fun tournaments are done and the more serious Ultimate gets into full throttle. It was nice to reconnect with the local Ultimate touring community, but now we all need to focus on our teams and figure out how to bring individuals and teams to the next level. Just take a meta moment and think about how you're going to handle errors.