Thursday, April 28, 2005

Positive Coaching Alliance

So Baccarini invited Goodson and me to a coaching workshop on Sunday. The group that conducted the workshop is called the Positive Coaching Alliance. The workshop was more geared towards youth sports in a lot of ways (we spent a lot of time talking about managing your kids parents etc), but there were some things relevant to college as well.

One of the main things PCA emphasizes is “filling emotional tanks” (sigh, I’m starting to sound like I went to Paideia). Their theory is that players perform better when their emotional tanks are full. The way that coaches fill emotional tanks is by striving to maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive comments to negative comments. The positive comments have to be specific and true. In other words we as coaches aren’t just being positive for the sake of being positive. However, when we see our kids do something well we should view that as an opportunity to teach. We can reinforce good habits by telling them “way to hit the swing” when they do it, even though that’s what we’ve told them to do 1000 times. I had talked to Baccarini about this once before, and Nick and I decided to give it a shot at Southerns. We both kept stats about how many positive comments we gave and how many criticisms we gave. I should mention that negative comments aren’t necessarily yelling. A negative criticism would just be telling a player that they should do X when they did Y. Anyway, we struggled to maintain a 3:1 ratio, but I think the kids stayed more upbeat. We’re going to try it again at regionals.

They had some other interesting ideas as well. One was that every coach should have a written coaching philosophy. I plan on writing one in the next few weeks. When/If it happens I’ll post here. In any event, I’m rambling; the point of this was mostly to get your thoughts on player motivation. How do you motivate your players? I don’t think many of us are big yellers, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t a decent tactic. Anyone ever get really pissed at their team and have them respond well?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Wood's Theory of Zone Defense Part 2: Deception

Every zone has a weakness, there is too much of the field to cover with just 7 people. If you play the same zone often enough, almost any team will be able to discover and exploit the zone’s weakness. There are two ways to combat this, both rely on deceiving the offense. First, if you allow your players to gamble, you can have them gamble in different ways. This will effectively change the weakness of the zone, and possibly change an expected weakness into a strength. If you gamble the same way every time though, the offense will recognize the new weakness and exploit it. If you can anticipate when the offense is going to start trying to exploit a weakness and change your strategy to take that weakness away first, all the better.

Here is an example of changing a gambling strategy to keep the offense guessing: You’re playing a 2-3-1-1 zone with 2 markers, 2 wings, a middle, a short deep, and a deep deep. The markers are trying to take away the deep shot, and the 2 wings and the middle are just trying to contain the disc. One weakness of this zone is a handler homey. The offense can just do give-n-goes in front of the middle and wings and slowly move the disc down the field. If the middle or short deep recognizes this, they can crash and try and make a bid on one of these passes. If the handlers are intent on working the disc this way, they will likely not be looking over the top to the new weakness where the short deep used to be. Next time, even if the short deep is in his or her normal position, the offense will be more tentative in their homey. Now, the short deep can slow down the homey by getting closer to the disc, but should be ready to gamble on the over-the-top shot.

The second way to cover up a zone’s weakness is to play more than one zone, preferably with different weaknesses. The more zones you can effectively play, the longer it is going to take for your opponent to decipher the weakness in your zones and exploit them. Every new zone you throw at them will require some time to decipher. This gives you more opportunities to get D’s. Even if they are able to figure out all your zones before the end of your game, you’re still putting stress on the offense because every time you come down the field, they have to first decide if you’re playing man or zone, then figure out which zone you’re playing. Then they have to remember correctly how to attack the defense. When you add gambling positions to the mix, it can be even more frustrating for the offense.

Once you’ve got several zones that your team can play effectively, you can use one zone to set up another. The easiest way to explain this is to give an example. Say you’ve got a standard 3-2-2 trapping zone and a 4 person cup, where the 4th person takes away the dump. You can use the 3-2-2 trapping zone to set up the 4 person cup. The offense will recognize the trapping zone and attempt to dump swing around to the weak side of the field. Next time down, throw the 4 person cup at them, and have the 4th person bait the dump, then go for the swing pass. This can often get you a D, and if you’ve had a good pull can sometimes get you a Callahan.

I'm working on a few extra items to maybe throw into a part 3 including defending the 2-4-1 and some 'advanced' zone play. I'm also curious what people think about how offenses would respond to the above ideas. Do they really think about what the zone is doing or do they just do what they know works for them against 'zone'?

RTotD - My Least Favorite Rule

I must admit, there are few rules that irritate me, but the one that really drives me nuts is the continuation portion of the pick rule. Pick is called, everyone stops, the person with the disc doesn’t hear the call and throws it to a receiver who’s no longer cutting – turnover! I just don’t understand the point. Why not just have a pick call result in a dead disc? The count already goes back to when the pick occurred, so in essence we’re already playing it that way. Is there reason that this should result in a turnover that’s escaping me?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Strength Training

So, we lost Erica with a knee injury last night. She’s had issues with her knee partially dislocating and then popping back into the place in the past (subluxation), but it hasn’t been a problem in over a year. In this case, I’m not sure there’s much we could have done to prevent it, but we’ve had terrible luck with injuries this year and it’s got me wondering if some sort of strength training program next year will help cut down on some of the injuries. Anyone have any suggestions? The types of injuries we’ve had primarily are ankle sprains/strains. But we’ve also had some knee issues – torn acl, knee contusion, tendonitis (associated with a previous mcl tear), and now the knee subluxation.

On the track this year we’ve mostly run middle distance pyramid type stuff – we’ve trained less for explosiveness and more for speed-endurance. I wonder if this is part of the problem? The speed-endurance stuff is great for cardio, but less great for leg strength. Does anyone have a program they love? I still stand by my assessment that Chain-style primarily short sprint type work out is not ideal for the way my kids play the game (due to the higher number of turnovers/longer points). Any thoughts? I’m probably going to try to get one of the trainers here to design a work out program for us for next year, but I’d like to get some input first.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

RTotD – College Eligiblity Rules

Obviously I’m biased on this one, but I really believe the college eligibility rules should be changed. The current rules give a huge advantage to large state schools. The current eligibility rules allow a player five years of eligibility. The clock starts ticking as soon as a player signs up for the UPA. The 2004 Women’s AC All-Region Team consisted of four seniors, two juniors, and a graduate student. The seniors were from UGA, UNC, NCST, and Duke. Three of the seniors returned for a fifth year with their team. As you probably guessed, it’s the kid from Duke that didn’t return. Maybe it’s because Duke costs between 10 and 15 times and much as the in-state tuition at the other schools?

I think the rules should be changed to only allow players to have four years of eligibility--just like the eligibility rules of every other college sport. I think the rule should be that starting with the first time you sign up for the UPA you have five years to play four seasons. This would prevent the UPA from having to grant red shirts because a player who is injured could sit out the college series one year and not appear on the teams roster. Playing a season only means being on the teams UPA Series Roster. I realize at the moment there is a potential logistical issue tracking this stuff as all of the rosters are done by hand. However, next year all of the rosters are supposed to submitted online. It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to track in a database – a player gets five years to play four seasons. I don’t think the rules should be changed right away as many players who are in college now have already made plans to stay in school for 5 years. It’s also conceivable that there are seniors in high school who have made their college decision based on going to a place where they can play five years. I think we should grandfather all of those people in. But the rules need to change. So, if I were running the show, (thankfully for everyone I’m not) I’d say starting with the 2007-2008 season, players that sign up for the UPA for the first time are only allowed to show up on 4 College Rosters in the next 5 years. Is there any reason not to do this?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Player Control??

Many of us have had some experience coaching, be it coaching our peers (perhaps as a captain) or coaching younger players. In the past few weeks I have been privvy to many conversations regarding that one player (or group of players) that steps over the line, exhibits poor behavior/descision making, or is just a general bad apple and is difficult to reign in. I keep hearing about the trials that people are going through in an attempt to correct those players. I know I have my strategy for handling those players before they are too much of a problem. I was curious what strategies you guys have employed. Really I think this question is trying to get at what you all this the relationship between coach and player should be, how you develop that and then how you maintain it.

I guess the right thing for me to do is explain what I did while at Tech. At the time I felt that with a group of people that I knew well as friends, but needed discipline, the way to go was to define the role of coach and separate myself from the players. I wouldn't party with them, no drinking with the underage players, and at practice I ruled with an iron fist. I felt like I didn't have that many problems when it came to player personel/behavior, but I also hada lot of young players who for some reason or another were willing to look at me as a authority figure (I can't wait for one of them to read this and negate all of my statements). Seldom did a player get out of line (bad foul call, mouthing off at a teammate, or not showing up to practice) and when they did I didn't have to do much outside of tell them on the sideline. I never felt like I had to confront someone right away, because that was the type of relationship we had. There were plenty of problems with that team. But discipline wasn't one of them. At the same time, each of you has your own style, which I'm interested in hearing.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Wood's Theory of Zone Defense Part 1: B-E Aggressive

The basic thought in Ultimate seems to be that zone defense is effective versus bad teams, or when it's windy. Traditionally the purpose of the zone is to force the offense to make a bunch of passes and hope the wind or poor skills cause a turnover. This is even more apparent when you look at the current movement in zone offenses to forsake the repeated swings for fewer yet higher risk passes downfield.

This means that when you're playing a solid team, and it's not windy, you can't play zone. Well, you can't play the traditional style of zone. My theory of zone play is a little different from that outlined above. I think zone can be played at anytime, against any team. The two keys to zone being effective in these situations are aggressiveness and deceptiveness.

Aggressive zone play is fairly straightforward. Instead of waiting for the offense to turn it over themselves, or for the wind to force a turnover, the defense looks to gamble and create turnovers. This doesn’t mean that every position should look to gamble. It is often more effective for only one position to be allowed to gamble. The player at the gambling position will be able to rely on the other positions acting in an expected manner in various situations.

One example of this is allowing your short deep to gamble. The short deep knows what to expect out of the cup’s play, and can gamble on swings. The short deep will also need to know what the wings are doing, and the wings will have to be able to help cover for the short deep when he/she moves out of position.

Another example is allowing your markers to take chances. This can be particularly effective if you have intimidating marks. By knowing that the ‘back side’ of the defense is going to help contain the disc if a mark gets broken, it gives the mark the ability to try for a handblock or deny the dump, etc.

It is also helpful to build zones around a gambling position. If you have gambling marks, you need to make sure the ‘back side’ defenders are positioned so as to contain the disc even if the marker gets broken. Or perhaps you set up the entire zone so that there is no assumed force side at all. If your short deep is going to gamble, you need to make sure you have wings positioned to take up the slack in the middle of the field. Many of my zones rely heavily on one deep deep being able to cover a large amount of the field. This requires the ‘front side’ of the defense to prevent easy deep throws, particularly to the side away from the disc.

It is important to realize that in a gambling defense, you may get burned. If the opponent gets an easy score now and then, that is to be expected. The ability to actually create turnovers can sometimes be worth the risk of giving up quick and easy scores.

One last comment on aggressive play: Any gambling player should try not to make the same gambles every time, as the offense will quickly learn to take advantage. This leads us to Part 2 which will cover deceptive zone play.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Mental Toughness

I’ve often said I wish I could convince Sockeye to wear EPIG jerseys the next time we (Chain) play them. It’s amazing how much better Chain plays against teams that we think we should beat as compared to how we play against teams we don’t think we should beat. Obviously, some of this can be explained simply by the fact that the teams that we don’t think we can beat are simply better than the teams that we think we can beat. I think there’s more to it than that though. I think our game against Pike is a perfect example – we’ve always beaten Pike and so we just assumed that we’re better than they are and so we go out there and find away to beat them at nationals. Then they turn around and make semifinals, showing that they were pretty much capable of beating anyone. I think Chain is also capable of beating anyone if we don’t play scared. Since I’ve been coaching I’ve run into similar problems with Emory. When we play teams that we know are good we make mental errors that we don’t make against teams that we know aren’t as good.

I’ve really been at a loss as to how to develop mental toughness. When I was growing up and playing basketball, the coaches would do different things to put us in pressure situations. For instance, at the end of practice when we’re all about to pass out from exhaustion, he’d put someone on the free throw line and tell them they had to make both free throws or the rest of the team had to run 10 more suicides while the shooter sat on the bench and watched. On the one hand, it was somewhat effective – I can honestly say I never felt nearly as much pressure in a game as I did when it was my turn to shoot free throws at the end of practice. On the other hand, it seems kind of tyrannical and frankly just mean. I don’t think I could bring myself to do that to my kids.

I talked to Baccarini about this for a while a couple of weeks ago. He said that Amherst has really started to take the mental toughness thing seriously in the last couple of years. Apparently there is sports psychologist that works with their frisbee team. Here is a link to his book - . Honestly, some of it seems kind of hokey to me, but this guy’s big thing is to block out what happened in the past and block out worrying about the future and just really focus on the moment. Don’t worry about what the score is, worry about completing this pass etc. One of the training techniques they use is that they concentrate on the number 1 for as long as they can until something distracts them – maybe they hear someone yell or something and their mind focuses on something other than the number one, when that happens they start thinking about the number 2 and so on and so forth until 3 minutes has elapsed. The goal is to keep thinking about the same thing for as long as you can. Like I said, seems kind of hokey, but it’s interesting. In any event, I don’t really have any good answers in this department, but it’s something that I think is interesting so I thought I’d throw it out there and see if anyone else has some ideas.