Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Practice efficiency: drills vs scrimmaging

I felt bad that Martin was the only one posting here these days, and since I've recently gotten back into coaching I figured I should try to get back to posting some...

While setting up a plan for Southern Revival's 2014 season there were a few restrictions I had to keep in mind. We were incorporating a bunch of new players and we didn't have a ton of practices (3 practices before the series) so the efficiency of practice became really important. Traditionally I tried to break the game down into the simplest level possible then gradually build up complexity. So maybe we'd start with footwork while pivoting and then add in a disc (without throwing), then throwing, throwing with a mark, throwing to a moving cutter and eventually scrimmaging. The idea being you focus on the individual pieces then put them together.

However, I'd read recently that this 'common sense' approach to learning was flawed. Instead of focusing on individual skills, you should work on multiple things at once. That way your overall skill increases more, even if an individual skill may not reach the level it would if you focused solely on it. Also, working on multiple skills together you improve the coordination of the skills together.

So, I ditched drills (almost) completely in favor of scrimmaging. Practice consists of a brief warmup which may include a drill or two, then scrimmaging broken up with throwing drills (no running) and/or whiteboarding time to allow for recovery between games. The games themselves have different rules to try and focus on different skill sets we want to work on. I'll stop the scrimmage occasionally to point out what we should do in particular situations, and frequently pull individual players aside for some one on one coaching. Players also keep track of how many games they win throughout the day and when we run sprints at the end of practice they can subtract their games won from the total sprints.

Here are some of the games I pull from when planning practice:
  • 3 on 3
  • 5 on 5
  • 7 on 7 with shorter stall counts
  • 7 on 8 (man or zone d)
  • 10 (or 5) pull
  • extra points for specific tactics (breaking the mark, dump/swing, etc.)
  • double score
  • redzone scrimmage
  • start with the disc trapped, start from deep in own goal, etc.
It's worked out fairly well so far. My biggest concern was having enough bodies to scrimmage but we've had fair attendance so far so it hasn't really been an issue. Number of touches was also a concern. Some players are naturally going to be less involved in full 7 on 7 games whether because they are less skilled or new to the team, and I was worried that this might slow development for those players. To help combat this, we run a fair amount of 3 on 3, particularly early in practice to get everyone involved. I also keep an eye on involvement as practice goes along. 

I do think drills have a place and we'll occasionally have voluntary skills/drills practices where we typically don't have enough to scrimmage and we focus more on individual skill development. However, I think it's still important to try and make those drills as game-like as possible and try to incorporate multiple skills into each drill.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Ways An Ultimate Team Gets Better In The Off-Season

How's that for a click-bait title?  I'll go back and change it, but I think is still pretty fitting for the topic at hand.  This is something that had been mulling in my head since sitting on Chain's meeting about the upcoming season last Winter.  I was listening to a lot of basketball/football podcasts over the summer and I think I may have heard Bill Barnwell mention these three things at one point or another.  Maybe not, though. Fortunately, I got a wall to bounce some ideas off of (thanks Jeremy Goecks) this past weekend at Master's Nationals and I feel a little bit more confident in the ideas.

Basically there are three ways to improve your ultimate team during the off-season.  Those would be drafting, development and free-agency.  To add more detail:

Drafting:  Getting college players previously on a weaker team or not playing in the club series to join your team.  This could also be the case for out of college players, but the idea is that they aren't really part of the elite-club ecosystem yet.

Development: Improving the skills and athleticism of the players currently on your roster.  Anything that improves your existing team during the off-season counts a player development.  While this may seem like the most common way for teams to improve, there is still a pretty wide variance on how well teams develop existing talent.

Free Agency: Bringing in existing elite-club talent from other teams to play for your team.  This could be a result of a job-change/move or just two buddies talking about playing together and then living the dream.

I guess the point of defining these three methods is so teams (particularly emerging or mid-level teams) can think about these methods and approach all of them during the off-season to make the most progress before practice begins.  There is also the side benefit of being able to look at a team's off-season in terms of these three modes of improvement, and really understand how some teams got better.  For example:

The biggest headline for the off-season was Bravo's acquisition of what felt like every free agent in the galaxy.  They got a big free agency signing last year bringing in Eric Johnson and Nick Lance, pouring it on with Kurt, Matzuka, Lokke, Keegan and your Mom just felt unfair.  But here is the thing, it just completed the trifecta of their off-season performance.  Bravo is traditionally a strong development team, getting quality points out of players that started young on that team and grew into star positions.  Then, they get a bomb draft class for national champion UC-Mamabird.

Everyone seemed ready to proclaim Bravo as the frontrunner for a national title and 8th seed in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs and that kind of made sense.  But wait a minute, Revolver wasn't exactly sitting on its heels either.

The Moon Men are traditionally an insanely strong development team.  After all that was kind of the whole point to the team (Nick Handler, please tell me if I am wrong about this).  And they got good through development.  Sure, they hit a great free-agency class a few years ago as well, and that propelled them to the top, but don't discount how strong their development program has been.  Players like Little Buddy (Tim Gilligan) and Jordan Jeffrey feel like development successes for Revolver's program.  Revolver also had a strong draft class this year, pulling in more former-Polar Bear's players Eli Kerns and Simon Higgins.  I am biased, but both of those players a top notch players.  I guess you would need to include Cahill in the draft class since he wasn't on a team in the division last year.  He's not bad at ultimate and I hear he's a nice guy.

The whole point is that if you were looking at all three of these methods of improvement you would get a better sense of what is really happening during the off-season and not just big reactions to free-agency moves.  Bravo had a great off-season, but it wasn't like Revolver was staring at the stars the whole time.

Back to the first point rationalizing these three methods as pillars for off-season grading.  If you look at your team through the lens of these three modes of improvement you might learn a little about your team and be able to make some improvements you wouldn't have otherwise.  Let's go around the division and see what trends exist:

Ironside: strong free agency, good development and occasionally an excellent draft class

Sockeye: perhaps the best development in the nation(!), decent in terms of free agency and draft class

Doublewide: used to be a development heavy team, is still in the hangover from a previous free agency bomb and gets solid drafting from the giant state of texas

GOAT:  Great international drafting, I can't really speak to much else

Chain: Good free agency, baseline drafting and development (wait, isn't that my job . . . shit)

Ring: Typically strong development, middling drafting and free agency

Machine: good development, leaning on free agency this year

You could keep doing this for a while and if you did it for your team you might learn of a deficiency or strength you didn't already know about.  I don't think there is really anything all that special in coming up with these methods, but it might help start some conversations that end up being worthwhile.  Are you having a down drafting year?  put your chips into development.  Free agency class not looking so hot?  Scour the college to improve your draft class.  Back to watching Kill Bill 2, we're at the coffin scene.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Revisiting Film Technique

Holy crap there is a lot of video of ultimate available now!  It is like the first time I walked into a Toys 'R Us and I realized that a whole store could just have toys.  I didn't know where to look because everything was awesome.

With all of the video out there it now become so much easier to get content to support whatever it is you want to do.  Team scouting, instructional videos, highlight reels, etc.  But the technique of how to breakdown your film from a technical standpoint is still a barrier.  Outside of the coaching skill (and it is a skill that you can get better at) required to see what you need to see in the film, the process of clipping, telestrating and reforming film is tough.  I wrote about this for Worlds last year and it garnered a whole 2 comments!  So either no one reads this blog anymore (which is likely) or there aren't a lot of people really spending time on film study techniques.  I know that with the vast amounts of film out there most if not all elite teams are using film to scout and probably to improve their own game.  But the extent of that use might be pretty basic (throw the tape in the VCR and press play).

But since I have been doing a lot of work editing film I've learned a few more things and I thought I would post them here so future film-breakdown-wannabes will be able to stand on my shoulders and still not break 5'.

  • MPEG Streamclip has become my favorite editing tool again.  Mostly because of its superfast clipping mechanism.  Basically you watch film, press "I" and "O" to place clipping markers.  Then CMD+T (on a mac) trims the clip for you.  Save it in any format you want then the special thing is CMD+Z undoes the trimming and you have the full movie back.  This basically allows you to live-clip video the first time watching it, especially given MPEG's solid scrubbing tools.  There are some glitches, but it sure does beat my original technique (writing down time markers while I watched).
  • AVCHD is an awesome format for image quality, but it sucks for editing.  I've struggled with different AVCHD converters for the MAC.  They all feel like 1990s shareware and don't reliably get me the quality I want.  But it turns out that iMovie '11 can read AVCHD as a Camera Archive.  Then when you import the movie to iMovie it converts all of the clips in the AVCHD file to separate .MOV files.  The .MOV files get saved under your Movie Events folder so you don't have to actually "make" a movie in iMovie to get those files out.  Once you have the .MOV files you can go to town in whatever fancy editor you like
  • Explain Everything is an educational iPad app that has a really good recording feature.  I'm still green with getting it to work well, and its drawing tools aren't as great as other programs, but the ability to draw directly on the picture might push it into the front sport as the telestrator of choice.

There is plenty of space for growth in this field.  Ultimate is growing in so many other ways (membership, exposure, coaching), this is one way that isn't going to get attention for a while.  But eventually how well and quickly you can breakdown film might actually be a thing that kind of matters.