Friday, July 31, 2009

Team USA Interview--Dylan Tunnell (part 2)

Here is the continuation of our interview with Dylan Tunnell. Ultimate Strategy & Coaching would like to thank him for his candidness and eagerness to participate in this piece.

You mentioned versatility as a key component of the Team USA selections. In your article for The Huddle, you talked about deep threats also needing to be able to throw. In recent years, is this something that you’ve consciously developed in your own game?

I've always tried to be a good thrower. I think my throws have just become more consistent in games within the last couple of years. Whether that was just a function of experience or something else I'm not sure.

As individual players, do you think Team USA was the most versatile of all the teams?

Yes. Although I would say that Japan was close. Canada and Australia both had a few well-rounded players but a number of people who played specific roles.

One of the weird things about the Japanese team was that most of their taller players handled and their shorter players were downfield cutters.

Considering all 20 players selected, was Team USA deeper than any other country’s team?

Yes and I don't think it would have been particularly close. Canada has two very strong teams in each division and after that they fall off a lot. I talked to a couple of the Australians about this and they gave me the impression that each of the cities in Australia has two or three good players. I think Japan may actually have the second-best depth. I know that Sockeye traveled there for a tournament and had a number of difficult games against teams other than just the Buzz Bullets.

Four years ago, someone else said something similar about what would have happened if the World Games rosters had been twice the size. Any indication on what is leading to the strength or growth of ultimate in Japan and Australia?

I can't say for sure. If I had to guess, I would say that because ultimate is such a fun sport to play, once you get a few people in a place who know what they're doing, are pretty cool, and are interested in teaching others to play, it’s pretty easy to get growth. I would also say that the increased accessibility of ultimate media online helps with growth. Players around the world can see videos of the top U.S. teams playing and can learn a lot from that.

Also, it’s worth noting that ahead of either Japan or Australia, ultimate is probably growing most quickly in Colombia. From what I understand it’s blowing up there. In Mejedin (sp?), where the 2013 World Games will be held, they have an entire ultimate-only field complex and stadium that have been built.

Are there any expatriates working with the Columbia program?

Seth Wiggins, from Team USA, has spent a good deal of time in Columbia teaching ultimate. He's going back down for a few more months soon.

It was noteworthy that outside of Japan and the host team, everyone was from English-speaking countries. I don’t think this has been the case in previous World Games. It will be interesting to see what the landscape is like in four years. Team Japan was all Buzz Bullets players, correct? Were their women from the same area?

I expect that unless they increase the number of teams to more than six, it will be the same teams minus Taiwan, plus Columbia. I think there is a chance that Sweden or Germany could knock off Great Britain.

Yes, I believe all of the Japanese guys were Buzz Bullets. I think the women came from the same team as well but I'm not sure.

What if the US had taken a similar approach, sending seven guys from Jam and six women from Fury? Could they have won it all? Do you think there is some merit to this approach, given what it took to have you all practice together?

I believe they could have won it all. As it was, there were three Jam guys and three Fury girls on the team. I think having a team made up of players from around the country, however, is a much better way of doing it. More teams and cities feel that they're being represented as the best players are spread out to some extent. If you have as many practices as we did there is plenty of time to develop chemistry. Although it was a big commitment for all of us, I'd be shocked if anyone said it wasn't worth it.

Besides, the WUGC that happens every four years is already for the team that wins the UPA Championship.

Given the circumstances, do you think buy-in is higher because of the level of commitment?

Well, I think no one would have tried out in the first place if he or she wasn't prepared for the commitment. There were a couple of players, Moses Rifkin and Jeff Graham, who applied and would have had had excellent chances of making the team but withdrew their names before tryouts because they couldn't make the commitment.

Physically, how does one prepare for an event like this? Especially since you were geographically separated from your team-mates and on the final roster there would be so few players.

Aside from the four practice weekends and two tournaments we went to as a team, we did a lot of stuff on our own. We were never given a team workout regimen but we had an online group where we would share our workouts with one another. Most people had someone to work with. The most challenging thing was finding opportunities to actually play ultimate in the late winter and early spring before club season had started. I scrimmaged Emory a few times.

What kind of workouts were people doing?

Most people were doing a mix of running either on the track or on grass in cleats and lifting weights. There were a lot of shuttle runs, sprints, agility drills, and other exercises that focused on explosiveness.

In one of last week’s updates, Matty Tsang said that Team USA had “very few true handlers.” Miranda Roth mentioned a similar issue with the 2005 team. Was preference give to athleticism over disc skills when selecting the final team?

I believe so. While I think that almost all of the players on the team could be only handlers, they are fast enough that they are better served as cutters and receivers most of the time.

Was this role adjustment something you all addressed in practice?

I never felt like we were short on handlers. More often I felt like it was a shame that some of the people who were having to handle weren't getting the opportunity to run the field.

Do you think the line between handler and cutter was blurred in the horizontal offense you all were running?

I felt like as we developed better and better chemistry there was a lot more switching between the positions. Someone would catch a pass on an in cut and one of the people who had been handling would run through and get downfield.

Despite the high-level of play, all the games looked very clean—Spirit of the Game looks to have been extremely well-represented. To what do you attribute this?

I felt like almost everyone on all the teams was pretty into the ideas of spirit and self-officiating. This may have been because everyone was anxious and to show our sport in the best light on the international stage but I think it was more likely genuine respect we had for one another. It felt like the cleanness of the games was a strong argument for self-officiating working at the highest levels of the sport.

I heard inklings that observers of some sort may be required for the next World Games but I hope full-fledged officiating isn't on the horizon. I think the fact is that when you have outsiders who aren't directly involved in the plays making calls, you're bound to have a less well-called game. Look at the NBA.

What role did the gray-shirted officials have during the matches—similar to that of the UPA Club Championships? Were the just making active line calls? One couldn’t tell from the video.

They were making no calls. Their main job was to give hand-signals to the public-address announcer about what calls were being made so he could relay it to the crowd. If players appealed to them, they were allowed to give advice on up/down and in/out calls, but their advice was not binding in any way. Players had final say on all calls.

Given the venue and the amenities afforded to all of you, it looks like ultimate was really showcased at the World Games. Do you think there is a future for ultimate at this level? I heard the Olympic Games representatives were impressed with what was displayed by all the teams and participants.

I would love to think that ultimate could be in the Olympics in the foreseeable future but I think there are a few big obstacles. For one, we are still a good number short on national governing bodies. For another, the Olympics are not too keen on adding more team sports because more athletes necessitates more money. I think the fact that ultimate is growing so quickly helps, however, and I believe the idea of Spirit of the Game fits in well with the Olympic ideals of diplomacy and peacemaking. That being said, I'd be surprised to see ultimate in the Olympics in the next 25 years. For the time being, the World Games are pretty sweet.

Was the stadium where you all played the same as for the opening ceremony? Was upwind-downwind a factor in the stadium?

Yes, it was the main stadium and it was awesome. The first two days were very windy—comparable to Sarasota. The last day was fairly still.

Even on video, the crowd noise was chilling. What was it like playing in that stadium during higher-attended games? Was a mental adjustment necessary?

It was awesome having the energy from the crowd. I think some people may have gotten jitters a bit early on but for me it just helped me keep up my level of intensity. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the distractions.

What about the ambassador experience? It looks like you all spent a lot of time interacting with the locals and the other teams.

It was pretty cool meeting the players on the other teams. After each game we'd have a circle with the people we just played and talk about the game and what it meant to us. As far as interacting with the locals, they really seemed to like us a lot. I think the fact that we were large and American had a lot to do with it. We were asked to sign a lot of autographs and have pictures taken with people. It was unlike anything I've experienced before.

Are there any drills Team USA did that you think our readers would be interested in learning about?

We did a lot more scrimmaging at our practices than drilling. Most of the drills we did were pretty straightforward. Stuff just to get our legs and throws going.

What would you say to someone watching the World Games coverage right now who wants to be on the next Team USA in four years?

Go for it. Play high-level ultimate as often as you can. In practice and games, match up against the best players whenever possible. Hit the track and the gym with a well rounded approach to improving athleticism. Throw. Throw. Throw. Good luck.

How does Team USA stay on top for four years from now?

I think ultimate in the United States keeps getting better and better. The other national teams will definitely improve but I feel confident there will be plenty of American players who are excited to make the commitment in 2013. I may be one of them.

Do you have any final impressions about the experience to share?

It was incredible. I got to play the most fun sport in the world with some of the best and most fun people I have ever known. I will cherish the memories for the rest of my life.


parinella said...

Thanks, this was an enjoyable read. In part I, Dylan said, "Notably, they [Japan] really try to get blocks on dump passes and succeeded a couple of times against us in the first game."

I watched only the finals, but one of the things that really stuck out to me was how much leeway they gave the dumps. I know some of the time they were playing their flex zone (and how was that to play against? The Japanese Masters team at Worlds in 2008 didn't play it), but they really did not seem to pay attention to the person behind the disc.

heacox said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Jim. If people have other questions, I'll see about getting Dylan to poke his head into the comments here.

Gambler said...

Jim--the way the Japanese got blocks on dump passes was not through playing tight dump D, it was through playing off early in a stall count and then using explosive speed to get into the passing lane once the thrower committed to throwing a dump pass. Both against the Japanese zone/junk Ds and their person D, faking was really essential to expose what the defenders were really taking away with their positioning.

heacox said...

Are there no defensive scores under WFDF rules? A couple times I saw what looked like Callahan goals go to the front of the endzone.

Any comments regarding playing under WFDF rules as opposed to UPA rules?

gref said...

WFDF rules have Callahan goals.

I'd go with the much simpler answer: they just weren't in.

heacox said...

Never do I prefer the simpler answer.