Sunday, January 31, 2010

On the eve of the 2010 spring season...

Tomorrow starts another year of Paideia Ultimate. It marks the beginning of the 18th year of Ultimate at Paideia. I believe this is the 9th year that the school has had a girls team. It is my seventh season coaching HS Ultimate. My fourth coaching at Paideia. And my third coaching the Paideia Girls.

This year will be a very different year than last year. In 2009, we had a very strong returning group and only a small number of new players. We graduated eight players last year, all of them knowledgeable and contributing members of the team.

This year we only have four players who have played for more than one season. We've got a handful of second year players and a large number of first year players.

The four players with experience, however, are very experienced. Two of them (both seniors) have played with Ozone (one for one season and one for two). The other two (a senior and a junior) played with Rival last season.

There will be a much higher level of focus on fundamentals this season - particularly throwing. The team will be expected to work on throwing outside of practice - and all of this work will need to be outside of their comfort zone - extending the distance on their throws and extending the release points away from their body. It is easy to casually throw in your comfort zone, not subject yourself to mistakes, complete the throws that you know you can make. But your progress will be much slower. We'll spend more time doing throwing "clinics" at practice and I'll be expecting my four most experienced players to contribute a great deal to teaching to allow for more personalized feedback.

We will be jumping into a high level of competition at practice very early on. One area where the team has been very successful in recent years has been their mental game. They consistently bring game/tournament like attitude to practice. With such a new team it will be critical to instill that culture early on. We will break drills in to multiple groups and have them compete. We will set goals for scrimmage teams that align with skills we are building (marks broken, # of players that throw scores for goals, extra points for goals from over a certain distance) and keep stats to meet those goals. Most of these stats will be offensively focused at the beginning of the season since possession is the most critical part of the game at this level (how valuable is a d, if there are 14 turnovers in a point?). As we gain offensive consistency we will start working on the defensive side of the game at a higher level and adding those to the scrimmages. I will work to split teams for scrimmages in ways that aren't equal so that players don't expect that games/match-ups should be even. I want them to understand how to focus on their own game regardless of whether they are winning by a lot or losing by a lot (because I'm sure we'll be in both of these positions a lot this season and it will be important for us to continue to improve regardless of how much better/worse we are then our opponents).

Along with this, I will be working with the captains early on to instill a culture of positivity. We will recognize small gains in improvement of newer players. There will be a ban on communication which is divisive and fosters negativity (sarcasm, put-downs - even joking ones, side comments about people, complaining). We'll work to identify and promote language that is constructive and positive (e.g. change "We can't keep turning the disc over" to "We're going to improve possession of the disc.")

Teaching strategy will be very limited the first few weeks. Where there is strategy discussion it will be about the space that we are looking to create and move the disc to. I'll let the players explore those ideas for a while before creating further definition around specific movement.

Our first tournament is scheduled for March 6-7th. If by then we 70-80% of the players with basic throwing and catching skills, a basic understanding of space, and have created a culture of competition and positivity we'll be where we need to be.

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