Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Efficient returns - good economics for improvements?

In a recent article in the New York times, the topic is how the free throw, in basketball, is a statistic that is not improving for the NBA. The experts claim is that:
"Ray Stefani, a professor emeritus at California State University, Long Beach, is an expert in the statistical analysis of sports. Widespread improvement over time in any sport, he said, depends on a combination of four factors: physiology (the size and fitness of athletes, perhaps aided by performance-enhancing drugs), technology or innovation (things like the advent of rowing machines to train rowers, and the Fosbury Flop in high jumping), coaching (changes in strategy) and equipment (like the clap skate in speedskating or fiberglass poles in pole vaulting)."
That and the free throw is not the main skill to focus on within the sport. I'm sure free throw competitions have better shooters as they focus on this one skill.

This got me thinking about Ultimate. Do we have skills that are maximized? Again, we're in the domain of lack of statistics to even continue the thought experiment, so I won't waste too many words in that direction (4 gone just to finish that sentence).

The question that I thought might be really useful to ask, is there any skill that we are good enough at? Should we be spending time on another skill set? For example, I would argue that many teams spend way too much time on casual throwing, though that's not really a skill.

Another aspect that I think teams spend too much time on is getting faster in terms of top speed. Fitness is important, and fitness should be incorporated in practices. Note, however, that fitness should not be simply sprints; fitness should involve game-used footwork with or without a disc, or sprints with a disc. Speed is one of those areas I feel that you get very little return from in terms of how much you have to put into it.

In terms of what to practice, the best thing you can do is determine what skills to work on will give you the greatest returns in game situations. This isn't a simple problem by any means, but it is something to think about. For example, developing teams love to huck and practice hucking. The reality, in many cases, is that the time spent on hucking will return maybe one or two more deep completions in a game (and that's probably via only one or two players who are good huckers anyway). While developing your endzone and small game skills will result in better team play and more possession for all your players.



Kyle Weisbrod said...

I'd say it's going to depend on your level. Right now I'm coaching HS girls and it seems clear to me that the skills that most need improvement in the low-mid level women's game are:

Breaking the mark
Zone offense

Played Co-ed last fall on a non-practicing team of decently skilled/athletic players and what killed us at Nationals was our:

Reset (Dump) sets
Endzone sets

Whenever I play/watch league Ultimate I think that the biggest problem is the hucks (not the throws themselves but the decisions - throwing to receivers at bad angles mostly). So that would be an offensive spacing/structure issue.