Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Team USA Interview--Mike Namkung

Mike has spent the majority of his decade-long club ultimate career playing for the Santa Barbara Condors. In addition to his extensive ultimate experience as a player and captain, he has coached youth ultimate for several years, which has included teaching ultimate clinics in Mexico and Cameroon. He is himself an artist who teaches language and visual arts in California.

How do you bring together some of the best players from all over the country into a cohesive team? Was team-building (as opposed to skill work) a major focus of the practice sessions? What did you learn from the Atlanta and Seattle teams you played against?

Ted did have us play a lot of monarch. But mostly we did skill work and scrimmaging at practices. It was not an official thing, but we did like each other and we partied together every time we got together—that helped bring the team together quite a bit. Playing Atlanta and Seattle teams mostly exposed what we needed to work on in terms of strategy and approach to competition. Nothing too specific, though.

What’s “monarch?” Miranda mentioned this as well.

Monarch is a game played with one, two or three soft cloth discs in an ultimate field end zone. It's basically a big game of tag. the boundaries of the game are the lines of the end zone. One person starts as "It." Just for the first tag, that person can run with the disc. When he hits someone else with it, now those two people are both It. They must pass the disc back and forth (no running with the disc) and work together to tag more people with it. If you are hit with the disc, or go out of bounds trying to avoid being hit, you join those who are It. Basically, the goal is the be the last person to elude the growing ranks of the Its. That person is the monarch, and if you play another game, she starts as It. Ted would always throw in a second (and sometimes a third) disc once there are lots of Its--then the game starts moving fast and you have to keep your eyes open for more than one attack. Good fun. We would play monarch a lot instead of doing drills to warm up for games.

How did Poultry Days and Potlatch help you all prepare for the World Games? What were the differences in the game you all played against Canada at Potlatch and the one you all played against them in Germany?

Of course [Poultry Days and Potlatch] helped us practice playing together in a tournament format. At Poultry Days no one really challenged us, so that tourney was more about us playing together and getting to know each other on the field better. Potlatch had a much higher level of teams, so we got to work more on adjusting to what other teams were, which was good practice for the World Games for sure. I don’t think there was much of a difference between our two games against Canada. If anything, playing them at Potlatch gave us confidence that we could beat them in Germany.

What were the strengths of the other teams at the World Games? What was Team USA's "edge" over the other invited teams? What was playing with such a small roster like? What made Australia so competitive? How did you all, as a team, approach their unexpected performance?

Our edge over other teams was our cohesiveness. We played as a team (used all of our men and women effectively) better than most other teams. I got the sense that all other teams were a little male dominated. Australia was the best at using women on the field, which is always the big challenge, cause there are fewer of them on the field, and guys tend to cut off women in coed because they play a much faster game. But even Australia ran their offense through their men mostly. We were the only team there that ran our offense through a woman handler (Deb). All other teams had their women almost exclusively downfield it seemed. Australia was good because they were composed of outstanding players, and they used all of their players effectively. And they were big. Four of their men must’ve been over 6’4” and their women were tall too. I wouldn’t say Australia’s performance was unexpected at all. Their men and women both did well at Worlds in Finland last year, and we expected them to bring it to us. So how we approached them was like how we approached all other teams—play our game and make strategic adjustments to counteract what they did well.

How was playing mixed ultimate at this level different than playing open? Did you all find yourselves employing different strategies and tactics than in the single-sex games? What was the spirit like at this level of competition? How did it compare to UPA Nationals or Worlds?

As I said, the biggest challenge with our team was that men and women move at different speeds—so it was a constant challenge to get our timing right when men threw to women or vice versa. It required a much greater awareness of how everyone was moving on the field. We tried using strategies that would help us with this, but in the end I don’t think we were doing anything drastically different from our single-sex games. being more aware of timing and spacing was the biggest thing.

Spirit at the World Games was great. Compared to Nationals or Worlds, it was a whole ‘nother world in terms of spirit. Very few arguments, and it seemed like much fewer calls, too.

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