Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What ever happened to space?

Apologies for the quality of this post.  It was written off of the top of my head and I am two lazy to fix it right now.

I have been watching all of the footage I can this Nationals weekend.  Mostly it is to see the U23 Mixed players and get a feel for where they are right now (I was also rooting a fair bit).  And while I have seen a number of things that are good and bad this weekend I have noticed one thing that most teams do that I don't like.  I don't understand the point of catching the pull and then throwing a 2 yard pass.  I saw UCF do it plenty in the finals. I saw Tufts do it in their quarters game.  I saw Iowa State do it in their barn burner of a game.

I think I can kind of understand the rationale behind it.  IF you have a dominant handler you want the disc in their hand no matter what.  But that is the strategy of a cowboy team where your gunslinger is going to be throwing dimes all over the field.  More often than not these teams are running more motion  based offenses.  What confuses me even more is when vert stack teams do this.

Again, I understand the argument that in a vertical stack you want the disc to be in the center so that you can attack both lanes.  But what I think is lost on teams is that when the disc is pulled even slightly to one side the defense (if coming man) is running down that side.  So it is beneficial to move the disc away from the defense.  Mike often describes ultimate as a game of keep away (sorry Lou, but I think Baccarini is older than you) so why aren't we getting the disc away from the clutter.  If the disc lands on one side you should almost always motivate the disc to the other side because that is where there is space on the field. 

This is the premise of a vertical stack, so I really don't understand it when vert teams do this.  The basic idea of a vertical stack isn't to create two lanes so the initial throw can go to either side.  That is a benefit, but isn't the main focus.  Instead a well run vert swings the disc from side to side to get away from the defense. 

If we imagine defense as a cloud that is trying to blanket the "open" space.  After a pass to one sideline defenders adjust to the current disc position.  That can create a density in the cloud because the defenders are all on one side.  When the cloud density increases in one area it is at a deficit somewhere else.  So the offense should try to get the disc over there before the cloud has time to cover that part of the field.  Keeping the disc in the same location doesn't accomplish that.  So on a pull, when the cloud density is high because defenders are running at the disc, we should get the disc away from that density and not just throw a two yard pass.

I see the same problem often in zone handling.  The goal is to spread the zone out.  A two yard backwards pass between handlers in a zone does nothing to affect the defense.  You have to get the disc outside of the containment either by losing enough yards to guarantee a swing, getting the other handler just outside of the cup (laterally) to ensure the swing, or by crashing through the containment.  All of those are fine options.  Two of them value space highly and that leads to good things. 

In the end I put this on the coaches of these teams.  They are all good coaches doing great work for little or no money.  But having been involved with this sport for a long time I find it interesting how you can tell what a program values by small things that they do.  I didn't see enough teams valuing space on the pull this weekend.   But I did see a lot of good defense!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Pro Leagues, Officiating and Youth

I've stayed out of this conversation for a reason.  I've followed the discussion pretty avidly but wanted to see how things worked out once the leagues were in place.

Two things made me write this.  First was Hector Valdivia's article about youth and its impact on pro leagues.  Basically Hector states that due to media attention the pro leagues will get more mindshare with youth players and decades from now those are the plays/players/games ultimate players will remember.  

Second was watching some "highlights" between the Portland Stags and Vancouver Nighthawks and seeing #6 (Cody Bjorklund) respond to a play in the end zone.  The play (around 0:44 in the video) was a nice catch by one of the Stags players with some contact by a Nighthawks player.  Basically it was a running jump where the Nighthawks player was behind the Stags player.  But I don't want to get wrapped up in the play and whether or not it was a foul.  What I want to focus on was Bjorklund's response to the play prior to knowing the resolution (a catch).  Cody threw up his arms and looked at the ref.  Watching the video it did not look like he was signaling a score but instead was appealing to the ref to make a call (it is impossible for me to know for sure, but my point is about how it looked to an observer).

I don't want to get into the "should we have refs" debate, but I think this goes back to the nature of the game that BVH commented on in his highly divisive article.  Changing the game is fine, but we should spend some time thinking about some of the subtle impacts it has. 

Hector and BVH are both correct when they mention that youth is watching.  As a high school coach I am particularly aware of that.  That is part of what makes me nervous to see Dylan Freechild referred to as Spikezilla.  When I see Bjorklund throw up his hands asking for a foul from a ref it isn't new.  I have seen that done by basketball players time and time again.  But I have also seen it done by 10 year old siblings appealing to a parent or teacher to correct bad behavior.  By adding a third party the MLU has changed the dynamic of problem solving.  It has moved from an interaction between two peers trying to abstractly find what is "fair" to an appeal to a third party to agree with your side of events.

I coach a lot.  I don't want the latter to be how things are done.  That doesn't mean that I disagree with all third party options.   But I worry that in 10 years I will be coaching players that are always looking to a third party to fix how people are unfair and coaching against coaches who are always trying to appeal to an omnipotent third party.  Both of those take away player control and responsibility, and those are things that I value about this game.  Sorry this was so long.