Thursday, November 05, 2009

Coaching Questions

Recently Allen posted as a comment the following questions regarding coaches at UPA Club Nationals. They are all questions that have come up before, but given the breadth of commenters on this blog it might produce some insightful results if we re-hash those questions directly to this audience. I imagine that we could all take a stab at answering these questions in our own posts, with differing results. I'll try my best, keeping in mind that I have never coached a club team to UPA Nationals. Hopefully those with more insight can fill in the gaps of my answers.

(1) What are the coaches doing and how are they helping? (In both divisions the coaches are disproportionately working with top teams): I imagine that a bulk of elite coaching is system installment and getting people to avoid bad tendencies. I'm confident it changes from Open to Women's a bit, but I can't imagine Greg or Ted having to teach someone how to throw a pass. Maybe they tweak it a bit, but even that seems like something everyone knows how to do if they are playing at this level. When I was coaching with AJ we had enough coaches for me to only be a "throwing coach." It was nice because I didn't really care if we won or not, I would just take our players aside when they came off and got them to focus on a specific pass the made and how to make it better. Many coaches have to wear this and many other hats as they develop their players. I imagine the elite level coach can focus on overall strategies, match-ups, more global things as their players can micro-manage more than lower level players can.

(2): Why are women's teams more open to having coaches? Stu Downs wrote in a post here that coaches should be aware of a team's (and their own) ego before coaching. I've coached both genders at the college and high school level, and I've always had an easier time getting women to pay attention and buy into a system. When coaching men it was difficult to manage egos (often you need them to get the most out of your players), and early on it was also difficult to convince them that I know what it takes to win. Of course this would change depending on the school and level, but I feel pretty confident that it is easier for women to put their egos aside for a greater cause.

Second, I'll say that coaching makes more of a difference in women's sports. In the women's game the relative size of the field, the average ability of the throwers, the margin of error all make it so strategy can make a larger difference in a game than in the men's game. I've had more "great coaching" moments coaching women than coaching men. Situations where I look at a win and think about the adjustments we made and the effect it had.

(3) Why are the bulk of coaches men? Most coaches are asked to coach and are (in many ways) on a shorter leash than professional coaches. With no financial investment from an owner, a coach can be dismissed whenever players become dis-satisfied. This less the case at some High Schools, where coaches are paid by the administration, but a majority of coaches out there are at the mercy of their teams. With that being said, teams ask for coaches and maybe they just happen to ask men more than women. There are a number of successful female coaches (Jennifer Donnelly and Tiina Booth are the first that come to mind), but there are a disproportionate number of male coaches. Perhaps this is a similar ego problem, but it doesn't explain why so many women's teams have male coaches. I would ask the question: since the largest base of coaches is retired players, where are the retired female greats and what are they doing that isn't coaching?

I know there are better answers out there, so let's hear them.


allen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
allen said...

Coaching history: Texas TUFF (03-07), Showdown (09)

(1) I did two things with both teams.

First, I taught--individual skills and team strategy/structure. With the college guys it was much pretty much a dictatorship, Calvin Lin and I would say "we're doing this" and that's how we would play. With the club ladies, it was more of a negotiation and refinement of their existing strategies and desired play style. I think this difference is consistent with Martin's expectations.

Second, I took care of most of the game/tournament management. This largely meant tracking PT, calling lines, and suggesting defensive/offensive adjustments. I think these management aspects, specifically the PT tracking and line calling, are the most tangible (and positive) effects I had on the teams. Of course, I had the benefit of working with teams that were strong and had solid a very solid ultimate foundation.

allen said...

(2/3) I didn't really have a good answer to these questions until after Martin posted, but his observations about ego really struck a chord with me. I think the reasons that more women's teams have coaches than open teams and that there are more men coaching than women are intimately tied together.

Taking a step back, its important that the team respects the prospective coach and believes in what they are saying. Most qualified coaches with the experience and knowledge to earn/deserve that respect are ex-players. And coaching candidates are frequently ex-players for the team/city that they are looking to coach in. I imagine that it can be difficult to accept somebody as a coach if they were recently a teammate and are no longer playing because they can't cut it on the field anymore. This presents a problem where most qualified coaching candidates (based on experience) are not good fits for the team based on politics (being a former member of that team).

This explains why women's teams are more likely to have coaches and also partially explains why men are more likely to be coaches --- they can look to former open players that have the experience/respect in the community without having the baggage of being a recent teammate. Open teams, on the other hand, have to reach out to women to get outside of the "recent teammate" pool of candidates; the simple reality is that there are very few women coaching men's sports in general.

I suspect that as ultimate matures and the coaching pool grows/becomes more separated from their playing days, that we will see more open teams with coaches and more women acting as coaches.

Gambler said...

I want to throw a shout out to Robin (Knowler) Davis as another great woman coach. She's coached Stanford since 2002 with great success.

In club, another reason beyond those already mentioned for why there are fewer women's coaches out there is that women often retire from ultimate because of other time commitments (babies, job, etc.) rather than because they weren't able to hang anymore. If relatively recently retired women had the free time to commit to ultimate, they'd likely still be playing. Women who have been retired for longer have found other things to fill up their schedules during the interim years.

Martin said...

I don't know if I included this in my original post, but I completely agree with Gwen that there is a "coaching window" that exists for recently retired players. That window can be closed due to outside factors (kids, jobs, relationships, etc.). Becoming a coach when you have that spare time means that in the future you are more likely to keep it a part of your life.

The window can open up again, but later in life and only if the circumstances are right. We have 2 great coaches (Paddi White and Fred Peruvier) who are coaching middle school teams here in Atlanta since their children are now of that age. Both of them played club for a number of years with Ozone and Chain, and are married to other serious ultimate players.

allen said...

Two more questions

(1) Is there a higher representation of women coaches at the high school/college level than at the club level?

(2) What gets a coach "in the door" so to speak? Playing experience? Personal history with the team? Other?

Gambler said...

Here's an article I wrote last year on coaches in the women's college division.

There are a lot of women coaches once you move out of the club division. During the course of my time on Fury, a dozen of my club teammates coached a college women's team at some point. On Riot, almost half of this year's team has coached women/girls in middle school, high school, or college.

Obviously, all those players were coaching while they were still playing club. Coaching youth is also an attractive option for retired players who have less time to devote to ultimate, but still want to stay involved.

For the most part, I would say that coaching youth teams is less time intensive than coaching club or college teams because coaching in youth is much more about a practice plan and teaching the fundamentals. Coaching a top college or club team involves lots of time outside practice developing specific player roles, designing and redesigning plays and defensive schemes, analyzing stats or other metrics, talking with the team leadership to coordinate messages, and evaluating how to get the most out of the team given its strengths and weaknesses. Let alone all the time it takes actually going to tournaments.