Friday, June 24, 2005

Why I hate Mixed

Maybe hate is too strong of a word. I don’t have a problem with people playing mixed if that’s what they want to do. I guess I just don’t like playing mixed. But more than that I think if you’re interested in ever becoming a really good ultimate player you shouldn’t learn how to play by playing mixed. Part of this is that the divisions have different levels of talent, but I think it’s more than that. I’m saying, even independent of the talent disparity in the divisions, you can’t ever be really good if all you ever do is play mixed. Wow, that sounds incredibly arrogant…let me try an analogy. When coaching, I teach my kids to play straight stack rather than a horizontal stack. I think a lot of colleges run the horizontal stack because you can get away with not paying attention to what your teammates are doing. It’s definitely conceivable, it may even be probable, that my team would have more success with a horizontal stack at this stage in their development, but I still teach them the straight stack. I want them to have to think about what their teammates are doing in order to succeed. . I guess, I just think that’s what good ultimate players do, and I want my kids to be good ultimate players not just good runners. I feel like mixed breeds some of the same problems as running exclusively h-stack. There is much more available space to cut into than in open because of the fact that half of the players on the field can’t really help out on a throw to a man. As a result, players never learn to think about their teammates when cutting.

One thing I’m always struck by when playing mixed is how much harder it is to play man to man defense. When I’m playing defense one of the first thing I try to figure out is where my help is. Assume I’m playing in a 3-4 coed game and one of the other team’s men is holding the disc, the other man is his dump, meanwhile I’m stuck covering the guy downfield. There’s no incentive for the guy I’m covering to worry about his teammates if he wants to get open. For all intents and purposes it’s me and him alone downfield. There’s no need for him to learn how to time his cuts because he’s always cutting out on an island. I think a lot of men who play exclusively mixed learn how to get open only by over-powering their opponent. In the last couple of years, we’ve had several athletic young guys that have come to tryout for Chain, who have only played mixed. Almost to a man, they’ve stuck out as being dumb cutters (to stick out as being a dumb cutter on a team as dumb as Chain…that’s truly impressive). It seems like all they want to do is juke and then run as hard as they can in one direction. They go to weird places on the field and look at you like why aren’t you throwing it – I assume this is just because there are more places to deliver the frisbee to in mixed due to the fact that players can cover less field.

I don’t like playing mixed because the game just feels disjointed and slow to me. But the real reason I have a strong distaste for mixed is that I think it stunts the development of a lot of potentially very strong players. I really wish the young players who don’t make Chain, but have the potential to make Chain in the future, would be play on a second men’s team rather than playing mixed. Anyway, I still think most of you mixed folks are nice people – hopefully, I wasn’t too obnoxious in this one.


Anonymous said...

It may be the opposite for women. For those who are good and fast, they sometimes get the opportunity to match up against guys, and for a change they have to actually think about how they can get open, rather than simply outrunning their defender. I know a number of women who are perhaps just below nationals caliber in women's who like to go deep, and really appreciate that the men on their team can put it, and were really frustrated on a women's team when there wasn't anyone who could throw so far.

aj said...

Anon – Good points.

I have heard women make the comment about FINALLY being able to cut because they have a guy who can bomb it to them. Honestly though, the women that I’ve heard say that were young athletic types, that didn’t quite understand how to cut yet. If someone can throw it 30-40 yards, I feel like you should be able to cut deep for them. Granted, it is easier to cut deep for someone with HUGE bombs so I can understand that.

I hadn’t thought of your other point about women being covered by men. That’s interesting, it would definitely be more challenging to get open in that scenario. I don’t know much about competitive coed, but is that a common strategy? It seems like a risky plan.

Lauren said...

i don't know how often i've ever noticed a guy covering a girl, but just like you say there is more space for the guys, there is basically less space for the girls, so you have to be smarter with your cuts.

wood said...

I've definitely heard from women that playing mixed forces them to cut better. Not necessarily because they're getting covered by men (though that did happen on Rival at least once last year), but mostly it's due to men being on the field making the field smaller than in women's. I can see how this would go the other way and make it easier for men to get open and reinforce bad cutting habits. I suppose that this is something I'm constantly fighting in myself.

Do you think, AJ, that this would force men in mixed to have to play better defense?

aj said...

I think it depends what you mean by better. It certainly forces you to really zero in on one guy and work your tail off to keep from getting killed by him. I suppose this could help your physical defensive technique. But for me, good defense is about working with your teammates to stop your opponents. One on one in isolation – the defender loses, that’s just the way it is. Good defense is about working with your teammates to prevent/minimize the offense’s chances of creating isolation. I don’t see how you can learn to play team defense when you’re out on an island all the time.

wood said...

Rival really works to encourage team defense. I think your example of playing 3-4 with a man as the thrower and anther man as a dump is a little extreme. This situation rarely happens in mixed. I think you've got to be smarter about positioning because you've got less help (though rarely no help). We try not to switch too much, but that doesn't mean we can't help each other on defense. A guy playing defense last in the stack can help anyone getting beat short. Women in the front of the stack can help on underneath cuts. I think it's more difficult for both genders; men because there are less guys to help out on d, women because they're going to have to play help defense on guys now and then.

Tarr said...

AJ - great post. I can't wait to see where this one goes. Allow me to go on a long diatribe in response to your analogy:

When coaching, I teach my kids to play straight stack rather than a horizontal stack. I think a lot of colleges run the horizontal stack because you can get away with not paying attention to what your teammates are doing. It’s definitely conceivable, it may even be probable, that my team would have more success with a horizontal stack at this stage in their development, but I still teach them the straight stack. I want them to have to think about what their teammates are doing in order to succeed.

I agree that running a spread can allow players to succeed despite poor field sense. When I coached Purdue women this season, I knew going in that this was a five-month tenure. As such, I set about designing an offense to maximize their success in 2005.

I think running spread full-time (in particular, a spread with very simple cutting rules) probably did stunt the growth of certain skills in the younger players. That said, I think that overall I had plenty to teach the ladies and I don't think I really shortchanged anyone. And of course, I wouldn't undo this choice given the results we had.

When I meet with Michelle to discuss next year's system, I will definitely give her a lot of ideas on incorporating a straight stack look. With two of three main handlers and the primary cutter all lost to graduation, they will need more cutter-to-cutter flow to be successful.

In contrast, on the men's team, who I worked with in a less official and less intensive role, but over a much longer period, I really emphasized stack offense, "actively creating space" for other cutters (that phrase became a cliché on the team thanks to me), and cutter-to-cutter flow. It definitely took longer to take, and it really wasn't until last fall (basically two full years after I acquired the authority to dictate what offense they run) that I was satisfied with the results. So yeah, it's a longer path. But I think the juniors on that team, who were rookies when I got put in charge have pretty good field sense.

Tarr said...

I think your example of playing 3-4 with a man as the thrower and anther man as a dump is a little extreme. This situation rarely happens in mixed.

I believe this was frequently Donner Party's offense. I think it was also 6TM's offense (or maybe they played 4 men, but had all three set up paralell with the disc). It's also the offense I'm encouraging the Lafayette mixed team to run this fall.

aj said...

Wood, when I came up with that example, I was thinking of this comment from George over on The Count's Blog.

-Donner Party ran an interesting O in the 02 finals. They played 4 women. Their 3 throwers lined up horizontally, 2 males on the "wings", and a woman dump. The 4 cutters (1 man, 3 women) ran in a vertical stack. This created a difficult 1 on 1 match up on the single guy.

If it's not fault.

aj said...

Ahh...I see Tarr beat me to the punch with the Donner Party reference.


Good thoughts about H vs. Straight stack as a learning tool. I definitely think the best teams that run horizontal stack do it in a way that includes working in conjunction with your teammates. I just think straight stack punishes dumb cutting more severely.

wood said...

Certainly some of the teams use that offense, some of the best teams even. Hangtime's offense is similar to this as well. However, I don't remember Rival running into at all last year. So maybe we'd normally see it once or twice a year. I don't know if that's enough to really effect how someone plays defense.

Cat said...

This is a very neat blog, and you all have some really good points.
As a woman, I don't think that low-to-mid level skilled women can really improve playing coed. I say that just from my experience, but not from any theory I've deduced.

While I definitely think that covering a man or being covered by a man is good for me, as a player. I learn a lot by that, but that hasn't happened that often playing coed.

I don't really know why it is that women don't improve playing coed, I could certainly hypothesize, but I'd be pulling theories out of my ass. I just know that out of the women who do play coed that I think are outstanding (and would love to be able to play like), they've all had steller women's careers behind them. And it seems that the women who I know who play coed that didn't have those women's careers, stagnated on a coed team. When former-coed women make my women's team, they tend to advance a great deal more in one year than they did in coed.

As for someone who says that women are happy they can finally cut because guys can bomb it to them. Long cuts aren't necessarily the most important -- or most difficult -- cuts to make. More importantly though, plenty of women can huck.

Anyway, just thoughts based on my experience.

Bill said...

Cat - I think it's a mistake to say that the Mixed game itself is responsible for Women improving or not improving at a certain rate. I see this as more a function of the Team. Of course, like you I have no hard data to back this up. But, I have seen some Women improve a great deal by playing Mixed.

With that being said, it is an unfortunate reality of Mixed right now that the majority of teams are Male Dominated. So, often the chances that Women have to improve in game situations are limited since they spend most of their time getting out of the way of their men. I would recommend to Women who want to play Mixed in order to gain experience to go to a tournament with the team to be sure that they'll be learning more than just the best way to clear space for male teammates.

Anonymous said...

Mixed gender defense probably happens most often on transition after zone or junk D, I suppose.

I think it would also be a great way to address the 3-4 situation with 2 male handlers: put a woman on the handler who looks less likely to want to go deep to exploit the matchup, and have another guy to help guard cuts. If the chosen handler does go deep, it's often possible to switch back to gender matchups.

gcooke said...

We (6TM) did run variations on that Donner theme last year. It was quite effective. We found it successful even with 2 guys downfield.

I don't know. For such a strong title, I found the post much softer than I expected. I really don't want to get into a RSD type of dialog here as I think the general thoughts of this blog are very productive. I also feel wary about always coming in the side of "Defender of the Mixed Div" (I had to do this on Count's blog as well).

Having said that, it was lovely to get such a validation of the difficulties of playing man to man D in Mixed. I take it is as a minor victory that anything in Mixed could be more difficult than Open. However, I really don't buy the "There’s no incentive for the guy I’m covering to worry about his teammates if he wants to get open" comment. AJ, are you really saying that you define the motivations of Open Div downfield cutters as worried about their teammates? Chain must be a very polite team because my experience in Open is usually the cutters yelling "Get the fuck out of the way".

In terms of the H stack stuff, I like Tarr's assessment of the cost/benefit analysis. I have wondered about a program like Syracuse basketball, for example, and I think this serves as an interesting analogy. If you play basketball at Syracuse, you play zone D and only zone D. Could this be a limitation to a developing player? I think we need to be careful with generalizations about the various systems that are available to us.


Ned said...

Oh AJ! Oh sweet sweet AJ! Here are some thoughts, maybe not true across the board...but I from my experience they are some of the developmental benefits on playing for a mixed team over an open team.

The presence of women on the field undoubtedly creates more room to cut for other male throwers. When I was on Gridlock, teams like Hangtime would put perfectly placed passes one on one right in the endzone. While I do think this forces you to some degree play tougher man-man defense because you have less help, it also requires you to find that deep male defender quicker to call for a switch. There are certainly times where you can lax on your deep coverage when a woman thrower gets it because they can't throw it as far, there's the strict danger (just like in men's when it quickly swings from someone like Hens, who is not going to put it in a big game to someone like Timmy Halt) that a quick jack will catch you off guard. This can be much more devastating in Coed for the obvious reasons. With less help, I think it forces you to find the teammate quicker that can help you and can also, with more field to cover, make you just as effective a team defender.

However, I'm not going to pretend that Coed teams are brimming with the best cutters in the world...nor the hardest people to defend. There are those gems, like some Hangtime guys and Brian Harriford, but for the most part there's less of a challenge indeed.

That having been said, the presence of women throwers makes timing MORE important in my opinion. For the most part, there's a much smaller time window that women are comfortable throwing throws, especially ones that break the mark. Dumps also are a heck of a lot harder to cut for in my opinion.

And all of this becomes a lot more apparent when different zones are thrown. There are obvious weaknesses where men offenders can flood a woman defender, but there's also situations where a large male marker will prey on the least experienced woman thrower on your team. This happens all the time in coed, especially in big games. Now, not only are you responsible for getting open on a dump cut with a good defender on you, but you have to time it so that the woman has a chance at getting the throw off against a marker sometimes twice their size. While especially obvious in these man-smother-woman zones, its still tough to get open for a trapped woman in general. There's just less field to work with because of the trap and also less potential throwing range to cut into. Most women that I've encountered in mixed don't feel comfortable throwing anything while trapped other than a direct low backhand or forehand. That's a heck of a lot harder to cut for than having the step back OI flick/backhand up the line, the hammer/scoober, the high backhand, pushpass, etc...all of which come off a lot quicker from a male's hands than a woman's hands.

I say all of this with the obvious caveat that there are plenty of good woman throwers that can break the mark at will and completely debunk everything that I've said. Yet still, even still, being surrounded by a cup/marker that's a good foot or more taller than you is going to give your cutters less space and time to work with.

There's a whole different aspect to coed that you didn't discuss, which was men learning to throw in a mixed environment. Wondering what your thoughts are on that, if there's a benefit from smaller targets, different touch, varying throwing speed for male and female teammates...

Anyways, I was up late, so it might not be as coherent as I wanted...but its a start. I think that overall I agree with you its much easier to get open in mixed (because of easier competition, less help, etc...), but I think timing can be even more of an issue.

Jon said...

I would agree with Ned's comment about throwing in mixed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that throwing in general is significantly more difficult (for a man, at least) than in open. Successfully throwing to women usually requires more precision and more touch to account for differences in size, speed and athleticism. In open, good throwers will tailor their throws according to the abilities of their receiver, but in mixed these adjustments have the potential to be much more drastic as you can look from your strongest male to your weakest female in a single possession. Finally, the poach D becomes a much bigger threat, so you have to be especially careful with throwing anything deep to a woman, even if they are very skilled relative to the other women on the field.