Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A Response to What is Strategy

I was just reading the discussion on about “what is strategy.” It’s something I haven’t really thought of before, interesting. When we think about things in the abstract, it seems like we should all be looking to make the Perfect Choice every time we have the disc. By Perfect Choice I mean the choice that gives your team the highest percentage chance of scoring this goal (not necessarily the highest percentage pass). I also think it’s probably a rule that the more options that I have the less likely I am to choose the Perfect one. It’s too much to ask of your players/teammates to tell them to just go out there and throw the pass that’s going to lead the highest percentage scoring opportunity every time. In game situations a guys being stalled, he’s probably being fouled, if he’s on Chain he sees guys running all over the damned place – bottom line - players aren’t going to select the Perfect Choice every time.
From this perspective, I would argue that strategy is an elimination of options – or perhaps hopefully the establishment of a hierarchy of options. For example, when x happens our job is to first look deep, if that’s not there look for the under, if that’s not there let’s dump it and hit the swing, etc. In a sense, strategies replace the search for the Perfect Choice with the search for the Correct Choice. The Correct Choice is the throw that the team has decided in scenario x because experience has shown the Correct Choice to lead to a high percentage chance of scoring.

From the perspective of strategy being the elimination of options, I think it’s possible to see the danger of over-strategizing. Over-strategizing would be setting up a system that eliminates too many choices. Our strategies need to be flexible enough to allow our players to be creative within the framework of our system.

I realize that I’m rambling a bit so email me or post if something’s not clear, or if you just think I’m nuts.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Random Thought of the Day

I was watching the UGA men play Michigan last year at Terminus, and a Michigan defender (I think his name is Craig) was doing a really good job of making Dylan work to get open. After a particularly frustrating point, Dylan came over to me and told me, “That guy’s a really good defender.” The next point the guy is covering Dylan again and being the obnoxious jerk I am, I start yelling, “Dylan kill that chump!” I happen to be standing next to one of the Michigan coaches, Ricky, (who I have a lot of respect for, both as a player and as a human being) who tells me that the guy covering Dylan is not a chump. And of course, Ricky was very much right, the guy was definitely not a chump – he was doing a great job covering a very good player. But the point is this - it doesn’t matter if the guy on you is a great defender or not, when you’re on the field you have to believe that the guy covering you is a chump that can’t possibly hope to cover you. If you start walking back to the line thinking, “how am I going to get open on this guy?” you’ve already lost.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Random Thought of the Day

One of the really fun things about ultimate is that our game is so new that all of the best strategies have not been figured out yet. From this perspective, I think it’s important to be open to new ideas and new strategies. For this reason, it was kind of disappointing that Billy Berrou was so insane in trying to get out his ideas. The community really could have had an interesting discussion on a new way of looking at the game, but it didn’t really materialize. I keep meaning to go through all of his stuff in an attempt to separate the good from the bad. If I ever get around to it, I’ll post it here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Random Thought of the Day

I’ve never really heard anyone talk about this and I wonder if it’s something that all good cutters do. I find that I rarely hit full speed until the disc is in the air. When I’m cutting back to the disc I’m generally running at about 90%. When the disc is actually thrown I try to explode to it, but I feel like if I’m running at break-neck speed towards the disc I lose my ability to adjust to the frisbee when it’s in the air. Deep cuts are a little bit different because a lot of times just throwing it into overdrive before your opponent does will give you enough separation to be open for the big one. However, I still often times find myself heading deep at 90% speed. Generally speaking one of two things happens – 1) either your defender is afraid of getting beat deep and accelerates to try to stop the big one – if this happens and you’re running at 85-90% you should still have enough body control to change directions quickly leaving yourself all alone coming back under or 2)the defender just kind of matches your speed to prevent you from coming back under – in this case when you throw it into overdrive you should still be able to get separation. Anybody care to comment on this?

The Fundamentals of Man Defense

I initially posted this on the forum in July 03.

The offensive advantage in ultimate is often described using the metaphor of a two person race in which the offensive player decides the starting time and the ending point. Therefore, the story tells us, given two players with the exact same attributes, the offensive player will always win. The job of the good defender, then, is to prevent the offender from making all the choices and thereby regain some of the lost advantage.

I would argue that man defense can essentially be broken down into three fundamental components: 1) establishing position, 2) using your body to dictate to the offender, 3) going to get the block.

Establishing Position – Establishing position can be sub-divided into two categories: 1) where to establish position, and 2) the actual physical technique of how to stand.
Determining where to establish position is the result of answering two questions: 1) how close is the offensive player to the disc? 2) where is the help?
How close is the offensive player to the disc? The general rule is that the closer an offensive player is to the disc, the closer his defender should be to him. The reason for this is two-fold. The first is simply an issue of time and distance. Clearly, longer throws take more time to get to where there going, thereby allowing a defender more time to make up the distance. The second point is that offenders close to the disc are generally more of a risk to receive an inverted break; therefore defenders should be closer to cut off the angle on this break.
Where is the help? Depending on the level of play/players familiarities with their teammates, this question can either be a very simple or very complicated. At its most basic level, this question is simply where’s the force? The question becomes more complex as you learn your teammate’s tendencies. For example, if I’m on the field with Joel, and I’m covering someone in the front of the stack, I’m going to overplay the in-cut even more than I might normally. Why? I’ve played with Joel long enough to know that he’s going to help me if my guy goes to the house. Similarly, if I’m on a guarding the guy who’s fourth in the stack, and I see Seto guarding one of the guys in the front of the stack, I will be more likely to force the cutter into the open side lane. Why? I’ve played with Seto, and I know that he’s going to poach way more than is healthy, so I may as well use that information to my advantage.

Now I’ve determined how far I need to be from my guy, and also where my help is, and I’m ready to dig in and shut my guy down. The first thing I try to do is put myself in a position where I can see both my man and the disc. I’ve heard this called triangulating, and that makes sense to me. The next thing to do is assume a good defensive stance. The mantra for defensive backs is “chin over toes,” and I think that’s a good approach for ultimate as well.
Congratulations, you’ve now established position. Using your body to dictate the offender – Going back to our original metaphor, this is where the defender gets to start picking the races. After establishing position, the defender should mentally pick a place where he wants the offender to run to. The defender should then position in such a way that the offender finds the defender’s pre-picked spot inviting. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is for the defender to stand very close to the offensive player and physically force them to run in the direction that the defender has picked out. This is a very effective strategy, and the way I played defense for a long while. Unfortunately, you’ll run into the occasional cutter who is either inexperienced or just mad at how close you are to them and you’ll subject yourself to some nasty collisions. After one too many bloody lips, I decided to alter my strategy slightly. Now, I just give my person a cushion in the direction that I don’t want him to go. I still put my body in the path that I don’t want to give up, but I just stand further back. Any movement that he makes is met by a corresponding lateral movement that keeps my body in between the cutter and the path that I’m defending. I realize this is confusing, so here’s an example. Let’s say I’m covering the last cutter in the stack, and I want him to cut back to the disc. First I’ll mentally pick the spot I want him to run to. Then I’ll put my body behind him. Most likely, he’ll see me behind him, makes some sort of deep fake. As he makes his deep fake I’ll move laterally so that my body is between him and his path deep. Any deep cut that he makes will have to be through my body. I’ll be careful to not rock back on my heels, and then I’ll race him back to the spot that I picked out earlier. If I win the race to the spot, most likely I just caught the disc (more on this in a second).
In any event, the main idea is to pick out a spot that you want the offender to cut to, and then use your body to force them in that direction. Offenders are able to get open by forcing the defender to commit to a cut, and then changing direction. The idea behind this style of defense is to only commit to enter the races that you want to enter, and never get suckered into running the offender’s race.
3) Going to get the block – the final point is getting the block. Basically this is just winning the race to the spot you picked out earlier. Utilizing this style of defense, you’ll find yourself on an opponent’s hip as the disc goes up time and time again. Now it’s just about who wants it more. Go get it. One last thing…I see this happen all the time – A defender plays great d – shuts down an in-cut and forces the offender to go deep, now they’re both running deep stride for stride, the defender hears “up!” looks back to find the disc, and loses pace as the offender runs to where the disc is going. I think the way to avoid this is to always assume that the throw that went up was the most reasonable throw. In other words, as I hear “up!” I immediately think, where should this frisbee be going? I then assume that’s where the frisbee is going and adjust my path to go to that spot, and then as I’m running to that assumed spot I’ll start looking to find the disc. You’ll get more d’s this way, but occasionally get beaten by a bad throw. If this happens walk back to the line and tell your teammates “it’s too bad they don’t have anyone that can throw” or yell “great vision” to the opposing thrower, it may not change anything, but it eases the pain.