Monday, November 09, 2009

Thoughts from the Championships (mostly Open finals)

I'm a little late to the game here with post-Nationals thoughts, but if you haven't yet you should check out the articles at U Catch, '87 til Infinity, and Match's blog. All of them have some interesting comments.

- I may need to rewatch Mike Payne's interview that was shown at halftime, but my impression of what Mike said was different than what I've been reading in other places. Match said that Mike indicated that they were going to sub deeply in the finals. I came away from the interview thinking that Mike had said that Revolver had been subbing deeply all tournament long so that their studs had the legs to run a bunch of points in the finals. I don't think this is crazy - with one game on one day I don't think going only 14 deep is necessarily bad strategy.

- What I do think is questionable was the length of Revolver's warm-up. Revolver was cleating up about two hours prior to game time. By the time Andrew and I interviewed Mike, they were already well into their warm-up. We then walked over to Chain and found only about half the guys lounging in the shade putting on their cleats. We were looking for AJ and he wasn't there so spent another few minutes looking for them and found another group of Chain guys lounging around behind the tournament HQ looking like they were in no hurry to get going. I'm guessing Chain's warm-up was about 45 minutes.

- Back to the interview with Mike Payne. I walked away from that interview dumbfounded that Revolver actually believed they could go toe-to-toe with Chain's athleticism but also excited to see what would happen with two teams that thought that they could win on athleticism.

- My question to AJ about Chain's offense was a bit tongue and cheek: "a common criticism of the Chain offense is that you just put it up to your athletic receivers. Is there anything more to your offense than that?" This has been a bit of an ongoing discussion between us. But I have to say, I loved his initial answer "that's a criticism?"

- On that note, I have to say I was wrong about Chain's style. I've been a vocal critic of Chain's offense since I left the team in '07. I loved saying that Chain only has one way to win and if that one way is shut down they don't know how to create other options (i.e. reverse the field and threaten the break side). But here's the thing, Chain's style works for the players that they have. (I'm going to mix in a little of AJs thoughts from another discussion this past Saturday night, so if you like anything about what I say here, credit goes to AJ). The goal of the game is to get the disc in the endzone. I love to talk about using the "width" of the field. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it's where I feel I'm valuable as a player. But "using the width" is a method to achieve a goal. Ultimately what a team wants to do is eat-up as many vertical yards on uncontested throws as possible - throwing to someone who has steps, ideally on the open side. The more margin for error the thrower has the higher the chance that you retain possession. Teams break the mark to set up the easy yardage gaining throws on the break side and to reduce the amount that downfield defenders can sit on the open side of their cutters. But break mark throws themselves are lower percentage and are typically not yardage gaining.
What Chain does well is open up huge, yardage gaining under cuts by threatening deep so well. In doing that they force teams to mark flatter opening up the width of the field if they choose to attack that way as well. Chain spaces well downfield - a lot of their deep cuts come from the middle of the field allowing the thrower to decide which side of the field to throw to.

Let me be clear, for a team that is significantly inferior athletically, there is no hope that the Chain style of offense will help them. But for teams with superior or similar levels of athleticism to their opponent the Chain offense works.

- This is the essence of what broke Revolver. Revolver thought they could play a Chain style game but beyond Beau (who Chain had good match-ups for) Revolver's O gave up athleticism on every single match-up. I see a lot of opining that it was the subbing that got Revolver. To me it was that their offense in the first half focused too much on the open side and not enough on breaking the mark. Had Revolver broken the mark more in the first half Chain's downfield would have had to respect that and given up more on the open side. As it was, Chain's athletic defenders were able to sit on the open side and generate turns.

- Ok, I'm not putting too much weight on the subbing, but do we have any points played stats here? I think Joel Wooten played all but one D point (13 points) while Beau played all but 5 or 6 total points (let's call it 20 points). Beau's D points were against Dylan who played every O point and maybe 3 or 4 D points (14 points). I'd guess the points played for Cahill and Mac are similar with Wiseman being a little less for Revolver. I don't think Revolver played too many points.

- Now, I do think that subbing might have led to a chemistry issue for Revolver. Unfortunately I didn't see enough of Revolver early in the tournament but since we know Revolver subbed deeper the rest of the tournament, it's a safe assumption that Revolver's D had very different personnel the rest of the weekend. Considering that Revolver's defensive offense was only 2 of 6 - that could have easily been a result of chemistry problems from their D line as much as Chain's o-line's d pressure.

- I hope that Chain's D-line gets the recognition they deserve. It's easy to talk about Zip, Dylan, Swanson (who had a great tourney), AJ (who seemed to get the disc at will), Asa, Jay, Cricket, and Paul V. As a commentator you often notice the O line guys since they touch the disc, throw and score goals. But Chain's d-line was off the hook. So on that note:

- Joel Wooten played Beau as well as anyone I've seen. He fronted him but was ready to go deep with him whenever the disc moved. Getting that early block seemed to immediately affect Revolver's confidence. Wooten and Colin Mahoney are the only two players in the game that can contain Beau.

- Mark Poole, Robert White, Robert Runner, and Peter Dempsey should be players that aspiring defenders look up to. Dempsey played tremendous dump defense in the second half. Pool and White were played great coverage D all game. And Runner was great on defense as well as anchoring the d-line's offense.

- Also, Josh Markette and Jason Simpson have been playing with Chain every season since the fall of 1998. At the time they weren't even getting out of the region. So, there's every reason to hold out hope if you are on the third or fourth best team out of a not so great region.

- Finally, I wasn't terribly excited initially about covering the Masters division in Sarasota. But I really enjoyed the play of all of the semifinalists and have to say that it was a treat watching DoG beat OLD SAG in the quarters on Friday afternoon. DoGs offense had two turnovers in that game and it was great to see the Count, Jim, Coop, Bim, and Simon among others working that classic DoG style offense. I realized while doing the voice over for the semis that it may be the last time that this core of guys would play in Sarasota together. So, thank you to them for so many great years of Ultimate.

- Oh, one last thing, Matt Kromer (coach of Brute Squad) texted me after the women's finals and said "Can we retape my interview? I meant to say that we are going to spot them 11 points, get their confidence up, and then see how things shake out." I'm not sure if there is anything you can do after a game like that but shake your head and chuckle. But congratulations to the Brute Squad women for making it that far and keeping Canada out of the finals. And congrats to Fury for winning - I love programs that can bottle championship magic.

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.

Monday, November 02, 2009

This is off the record...

First things first, if you have any feedback from the live webcast of any of the UPA games specifically regarding my commentating you can put it in the comments of this blog. I really do appreciate the criticism (even from you, Toad) as it helps me improve. And the praise is nice because it makes me feel good :).

So, for those of you that don't know me, I've been "involved" with Ultimate for a pretty long while. I first started playing the game in the fall of '93 at Paideia (HS) and went on to play for the US Juniors team in '94 and '96 and Brown from 1998 through 2002. During that time I played a lot - starting at Brown all five years. All that I was was an Ultimate player. My parents used to joke that I was getting a degree in Ultimate. In many respects it wasn't far from the truth.

After graduating I moved out to Colorado to work for the UPA running the youth program. I tried out and made Johnny Bravo in 2002. After my first season, I had a pretty serious skiing accident that left me in the hospital for a month. I lost thirty pounds and didn't regain it all for several months. I continued to play for Bravo through 2006 but was always working to regain the speed I had prior to the skiing accident and didn't play much or at all in big games for the team. I loved being a part of the team though, especially in 2006 when we made semis, and prided myself on my contributions to the team in less tangible ways - being a good sideline player, helping with scouting other teams, helping newer players understand and develop with their potential strengths, and working hard at the track or at practice.

During this time I also started to coach Ultimate. I coached for three years at Monarch HS.

After the 2006 season I moved back to Atlanta and tried out for Chain and made the team. At the time, I was probably playing the best Ultimate of my career. I wasn't quite as fast as I had been when I graduated college but in my eyes the game had slowed as I had gotten older and spent more time coaching and could really see what was happening on the field. But I found myself frustrated with my Chain experience for reasons I won't get into now and quit the team before the '07 series (as an aside, before my interview with Dylan Tunnel after the finals I told him that my first question was going to be "so, if I hadn't quit Chain, would I have been cut before this season?" His response - after a good laugh - "it's probably good that you left when you did." And he's probably right. I think with the talent they brought on over the last two years, there is little chance I would have made the team this season). I ended up observing at Nationals that year. In '07 I also began coaching at Paideia (first the JV Boys and then for the last two years the Varsity girls) and have spent the last three years on the UPA Board of Directors.

The following year I picked up with Bucket, a non-practicing team that finished 16th at Nationals in 2008. This year, I didn't know what I wanted to do so I told the Bucket leadership not to add me to the roster unless they didn't have anyone else who they wanted to play with them since the roster limit would be an issue. They ended up adding me just at the roster deadline when former Chain player, Sam Gainer fell through. I played Regionals but then chose not to play at Nationals for various reasons, one of which was because I was really interested in doing the Ultivillage commentating.

Ok, I'll now apologize for that very self-indulgent rant and get to the point of my post.

Somehow over the past seven years since graduating college I've moved almost completely from being an Ultimate player to something else all together - a hanger-on of sorts. I love the sport. I love the people. All of my closest friends are Ultimate players, but something hit me this weekend when I was doing the commentary for UltiVillage - I spend considerably more time talking about Ultimate than I do actually playing it. This transition hasn't been a fast one. It started when I started playing for Bravo and stopped playing a lot of points at tournaments. But it certainly was clear this year when I skipped Lei-Out, Poultry Days, Nationals and in two weeks the Brown tournament, Huck a hunk o' Burnin' Pumpkin (HHBP), to talk about Ultimate.

And even more strange has been the idea of moving in to the "Ultimate media." In 2002 I started writing articles for the UPA magazine and in 2005 started commentating for CSTV (later CBS College Sports) and for the past two Club Championships Ultivillage. I've started posting more frequently on this blog.

I really enjoy this aspect of the game - I feel like elite Ultimate at all levels is a very closed off thing and there are a lot of people who are hungry to understand the top level of the game more. To get beneath the surface. As a HS and College player I was always hungry for information and have had a long documented addiction to RSD. But as a player, I always found it hard to talk about the game. I couldn't make predictions or talk critically about teams or strategy when I played for Bravo or Chain without feeling like I was putting up locker room material or giving away information.

But what I find scary about this transition is how it will affect my relationships with players both friends and those I don't really know. If I'm talking to a friend of mine on a top team, is he or she not going to be open with me because of what I may later post on this blog or say in some commentary? Can I critique teams and players without putting friendships in jeopardy? Can I praise them without seeming like some ridiculous fanboy instead of a mutual friend?

In the Master's final webcast, I went off on how good a player I think Brian Snyder is. Now, I don't know Brian Snyder but I like the idea of a giving the spotlight to player who is really talented but isn't terribly well known because of the teams he has played on. But I'm pretty sure now it would be awkward to talk to Brian after the praise I lavished on a guy I don't really know. Perhaps I could just go over the top with the fanboy side of it and ask him to sign my face as an icebreaker.

It's weird, talking about the game almost necessitates being apart from it and the players. I guess I'm going to try and strike the balance between the two, but if it puts my relationships at risk, I'd pick those relationships over being a respected commentator on the game any day. Because, no matter how much I actually cleat up and play, in my heart I am an Ultimate player.

And so, if you're an Ultimate player - friend or acquaintance, and you want to talk with me about the game or your team but don't want me sharing your thoughts with the whole world, just use these five words "this is off the record..."

And I'm going to try to keep bringing more of Ultimate to everybody out there who, like me, is hungry to always know more about the game.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Questions Answered (Womens, Mixed, Masters, Open) and Friday Predictions

Well, first, I'd like to point out that (so far) most of my questions were spot on. Specifically:

- Ozone could play with Riot (they were up most of the game)
- Showdown was able to beat Ozone after they lost a disappointing game to Riot
- Chase has come to play and Axis and MTF look like strong finals favorites
- AMP is not that good (meaning at the tier of Axis and MTF) and/or Bucket is better than most people think. I'll guarantee that if they meet again Bucket will not lose to AMP.
- The Beyondors are the clear team to beat in the Masters division. It's like watching an open team play masters teams.
- Despite Ironside dropping a game to Streetgang, all top four open seeds are going into the power pools with wins and look to have relatively easy roads to quarters.
- The two significant upsets came out of the Truck Stop - GOAT and Ring - JAM match-ups which I pegged as the ones to watch

What I didn't catch:

- Real Huck - surprise team of Thursday. Going 3-0 so far in pool play.

All in all, I'd say a pretty solid preview so far. There's a chance that CLX is at the MTF/Axis tier of teams (and I didn't see them play) but I'm guessing that they fall in to the Bucket/AMP tier.

Predictions for tomorrow:


- Pool E: Revolver, Ironside, Truck Stop, Double Wide
- Pool F: Chain, Sockeye, Ring of Fire, Bravo

Pre-quarters: JAM over DoubleWide, Bravo over GOAT


- Pool E: Riot, Capitals, Showdown, Zeitgeist
- Pool F: Fury, Brute Squad, Backhoe, Lady Condors

Pre-quarters: Zeitgeist over Traffic, Ozone over Lady Condors


- Pool E: MTF, CLX, Barrio, Quiet Coyote
- Pool F: Axis, AMP, Bucket, Doh!

Pre-quarters: Slow White over Quiet Coyote, Doh! over One Trick Pony


- Pool A: Surly, Troubled Past, GLUM, Boneyard
- Pool B: Beyondors, Real Huck, Mileage, Old Sag

Quarters: Surly over OLD SAG, Troubled Past/Mileage (toss up), GLUM/Real Huck (toss up), Beyondors over Boneyard

For all of you Ultimate junkies out there, where am I wrong?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nationals: What to Watch For (Womens, Mixed, Masters)

First, sorry for the Southern focus of this post. It's easier to write about what you know.


While the odds on favorites for the finals are still Fury and Riot, I think for the first time since 2005 it's not inconceivable that we'll get a different match-up this year. These two titans of the decade and the top two seeds look significantly less invincible than in past years. Riot has won the season series between the two teams 3-2 and Fury-to-Riot transfer Gwen Ambler adds some significant firepower to the Seattle squad. I'll definitely be watching Riot to see how Gwen is fitting in to the Riot line-up. I'd expect adding Gwen would allow Miranda to have greater flexibility in her role and better match-ups generally.

For Fury, I'm most interested to see how Georgia Bosscher is fitting in. I've enjoyed watching Georgia's aggressive and confident play at the Youth and College level for years and am excited to see her take her game to one of the premier club teams. Despite being the 4th consecutive year a Riot-Fury final has a whole lot of great match-ups to watch - especially if we get a non-windy final with more man-to-man defense. And if we do get that final, we'll get to see if Gwen is able to change the balance of power or if Fury can still edge Riot out with a superior mental game.

Despite their low seed, I'm really hoping to see my hometown favorites Ozone make the finals and I believe they have the firepower to do it. They've been inconsistent this season with a good Labor Day, barely losing to Fury. They faltered against Showdown in the finals of Regionals - I was playing on the next field over and was not impressed by what Ozone was showing when I did look over. There was one point that lasted around 8 minutes with several turnovers by both teams in little wind. Ozone has a lot of big name players between Deb Cussen, Angela Lin, Shanye Crawford, and Katherine Wooten. Throw in some great young talent in Rare Air pick-up Heather Waugh and home grown future stars Sophie Darch and Haley Reese and if they are able to put the pieces together at the right times Ozone could make a run. The first opportunity is the first round Thursday morning when Ozone faces top-seeded Riot. This is probably the game of the tournament to watch this round. I have a hard time imagining Ozone winning consecutive games against Riot and Fury but if they can win against Riot on Thursday and put Riot and Fury on the same side of the Saturday bracket...

Capitals brings the only undefeated season to the table. That's not saying a whole lot since, beyond Brute Squad, they haven't seen any top tier talent. Beyond the gifted Anne Mercier I have no idea who these players are. So the question is, who are their playmakers and can they match those of Fury and Riots? We probably won't get an answer to that question until a likely Capitals/Ozone game in power pools on Friday morning. That game should shed some light on what will happen in the Riot/Capitals game which will likely be for the top seed at the tourney going in to Saturday.

Perhaps I'm putting too much weight on how good I think Ozone is and their Regional final win over Ozone, but I think Showdown is also better than seeded. Their season results are overall terrible, but my understanding is most of these were without Cara Crouch who is arguably the top player in the division currently. I'd love to watch them some to see where they fall. Unfortunately, they have a tough road. If they are unable to beat Riot or repeat their success against Ozone on Thursday they'll be trying to climb up from the power pools only to play Fury in quarters if they are able to do it. If they can pull of a repeat against Ozone, I could see Showdown possibly putting some pressure on the top seeds and making a run for semis. Ozone could be coming off of a disappointing loss to Riot which may make this easier for Showdown.

As for Brute Squad, Backhoe, Zeitgeist, and Traffic, frankly I expect them to be about as good as they are seeded. I am curious to see how good a coach Brutesquad's Matt Kromer is - currently he's dominating in today's game in our fantasy football league so that bodes well.


I think the mixed division is a little more clear cut than it's been in past years.

The big question in Mixed is how seriously is Chase taking it? If he takes it seriously he will dominate and you can pencil Axis into the finals. But frankly at Chesapeake he appeared to lack focus. And somehow Axis lost to a less talented AMP team at Regionals. Axis isn't all about Chase either - Tyler Conger and Kevin Kusy are formidable players themselves, Conger being particularly hungry to show that he's a great player. He was the most impressive player on the field for Axis at Cheapeake.

Of course the Flycoons look good, but I don't plan to watch them play until at least the semis. I'm guessing they won't be involved in much drama until at least that point. They are athletic and skilled. Last year at one point while watching them play from a distance I was impressed by the middle-schooler they had out there playing big points - had to get closer to realize it was Tim Murray.

Finally, the other big questions for me in this division are: Is everybody going to request observers for Jukebox games? And are teams going to psyche themselves out when they play them because of all the talk on the interwebs about their style of play?

And can Bucket hold on to half time leads this year? They certainly have more talent than last year. I'll definitely try to catch a little of their game against AMP. At Chesapeake they were up 8-3 before giving the game away in the second half.


Masters gets more interesting every year. Maybe that's because as I get older I actually know who these guys are and saw them when they were dominating in the open division. The strange thing about Masters is that the newest players are typically the best so looking at past years' results is often misleading. And then there are so few masters tournaments that current year results aren't really helpful. So beyond the rosters, you don't have much to go on.

OK, the big one, is there really any chance that the Beyondors won't win this thing? I mean that roster looks like a quarterfinal open division roster to me. This team is stacked with talent, young, and have dominated divisions since they were in college together. Who seeded this team fourth?

That said, defending champions Surly don't look too bad either. They don't have the wealth of championships in college and open that the Beyondors bring but they've got a lot of former top tier open players including Eric "Turtle" Lonsdorf and Dave Boardman. But as noted, in Masters past results are no indication of future performance.

Like with most Canadian teams, I have no idea who GLUM is. Same goes for Mileage even though they are in my region (although I do know that big Tom Etchison is a serious deep threat and that Rex loves throwing to him). Both teams could be great or they could be average. I'll definitely be watching them early on to familiarize myself with their games and who their big players are.

Can DoG field a grandmasters roster of 20+ players with their masters team? I think so. They used to win open championships when their average age was masters eligible though. But at some point the physical decline quickens. As as side note, I think this is the first year that a college teammate of mine is playing in Masters. Yeesh... Go Josh Blouwolff!

Finally, Troubled Past is a little intriguing. With the old North Carolinian Brians (Snyder and Linkfield) and the Monohan brothers they've got some recognizable talent. I'm certainly curious to learn more about what they are bringing as well.

Games to watch in Masters:
Round 1: GLUM vs. DoG - Regional finals rematch and the loser will have a very tough row to hoe. This was a one point game in pool play at Regionals.

Round 2: Beyondors vs. O.L.D. S.A.G - Are the Beyondors that much better than the field? This will be our first indication.

Round 3: Take your pick of the 1v2 match-ups. I think Surly vs. Troubled Past will be the more interesting one.

Round 4: Definitely Surly vs. GLUM. Pool A looks to be significantly harder. And winning it (to distance yourselves from the expected pool B winner Beyondors) is critical.

Round 5: Troubled Past vs. DoG. Same comments as round 4.

Friday Quarters: I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 4th place finish for DoG because I would love to see a DoG/Beyondors quarters on Friday afternoon (or a 2nd/3rd place finish would work as well - I just think it's less likely). While most players in the other divisions and fans will be watching the typically uninteresting open pre-quarters game - this would be a classic throwback game to the late '90s/early 2000s.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nationals: What to Watch For (Open)

I'll be attending Nationals this year as a commentator for UltiVillage. My focus will be on the Master's division, but hopefully I'll get a chance to catch games in all of the divisions as there is intriguing competition and compelling storylines in each. What I'll be looking for in the open division:


Day one of Open is generally uninteresting. Teams are typically well seeded, the top teams don't show everything they've got. Given the format, teams don't have any incentive to come out with their full guns until quarters. And if they come out with the guns before that, you can bet they won't make semis. So the big question on Thursday and Friday is who tightens up the roster to try and get a win to either make the power pools or avoid the play-in game. I expect the top four seeds to cruise to the quarters avoiding pre-quarters. The Thursday games I'm most interested in are: GOAT - Truckstop and JAM - Ring. I think all four of these teams have outside shots at semis but being tossed to the lower pools will make it virtually impossible. I can only recall two pre-quarters winners that were able to win their quarters game - Sockeye in 2004 (who ended up winning it all) and Bravo in 2008 (corrected).

I think if JAM can make power pools their shot at semis or further is very good. I'm not sure what JAM figured out on Saturday and Sunday last year but for three games they played the most beautiful Ultimate I'd seen since Furious in '02. It was true team Ultimate, efficiently identifying and moving the disc to their opponents weak spots regardless of player or position. If they've managed to bottle that and can get through a rough first day with Chain and Ring at 2-1, I'd be nervous if I were crossing over against them.

I'll also hope to catch some of Chain. I've watched a game and half of Chain's this fall and while very impressed with the athleticism they bring I have not been impressed with their style of play - in the finals of Regionals, they seemed to really constrict the field and narrow their cutters' space and rarely used the break side of the field. Despite this they possessed this disc, turning it over only twice on offense. AJ has assured me that Chain attacks both sides of the field. I'd like to take a closer look. Considering Chain's athleticism, teams aren't going to beat Chain if Chain can create good space for their cutters, move the disc quickly to change the angle of attack, and force downfield defenders to account for the full 40 yard width of the field.

I'm interested in watching a bit of Revolver. I saw their come from behind victory against Chain (down 8-3 and won 12-11) at Chesapeake. Obviously I got to see a lot of their defense, and while their handler D was impressive (I really enjoy watching Jit Bhattacharya guard and mark handlers) Chain made a lot of unforced errors. Of course in a comeback like that I got to see little of their O-line. I've generally loved the Revolver offense but am curious to see how Mac and Beau integrate into it. Does Revolver step back and create space for the two of them to just make it happen or do they continue to rotate their downfield threats by position - meaning that sometimes Beau is creating space for others and timing cuts as fill instead of primary cuts?

After watching Doublewide at Regionals, I frankly don't believe the hype around them. Outside of their win against Revolver at Labor Day, their season looks pretty mediocre. Kiran Thomas has got to be in the top 3 or 4 in terms of speed in the division and he dominated Chain's Rob White early in the Regional finals but as soon as Chain put Joel Wooten on him it seemed like DW's offense stalled out. So I'd like to see if DW has a second top tier offensive threat. Without that they'll have difficulty against teams with deep defensive talent.

I have seen no Ironside or Sockeye this season. I'm curious to see how Ironside is working without Fortunat in the middle of the O and how Hodag pick-ups Matt Rebholz and Jim Foster, Bravo transfer Adam Simon, and Sockeye transfer Seth Crockford are fitting in. Looking at the Ironside roster, I see more specialists and fewer complete threat players than the other top seeds but no Ultimate city has historically put pieces together better than Boston.

As for Sockeye, they are probably happy that the focus is not on them. Here's a team only two years removed from the Championship, with a still stacked roster, and it seems no one is talking about them. Last year they had the challenge of gearing up for the "triple peak" between Dream Cup, Worlds, and Nationals. This year they were able to focus their mental energy and training on a single goal. Sources say Sockeye's year began with some turmoil over personnel but that has smoothed out over time and they know as well as anyone that the only games that matter in a season are the ones in October. This is also the last year that the 1993 NOMS middle school all-stars will be playing together as CK has moved to Atlanta and looks to be playing with Chain next year. I'm curious to see the role CK is playing without being a regular at practices. It sounds like Sockeye may be employing more vert stack as well and I'd love to see how they are running it. Like most people I expect to see Chain and Revolver in the finals but it wouldn't be wise for any of these teams to sleep on the Fish.

Mixed, Masters, and Women's post to follow.

Watch Nationals coverage at UltiVillage!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Which teams have coaches?

Of all the teams going to The Show, which have coaches and who are they? I'll update the post as people add comments.

Open Division:
1. Revolver -Chris McManus
2. Chain -No Coach
3. Ironside -Ted Munter and Greg Connelly
4. Sockeye -No Coach
5. Bravo
6. Doublewide
7. Jam
8. GOAT - No Coach
9. Truck Stop
10. Ring of Fire
11. Bodhi -No Coach
12. Madison Club
13. Machine -Brady Meisenhelder
14. Streetgang
15. Madcow
16. Pike

Women's Division
1. Riot -Karlinsky Brothers
2. Fury -Matty Tsang
3. Capitals
4. Brute Squad -Matt Kromer
5. Backhoe -Tully Beatty
6. Zeitgeist
7. Traffic -Cruikshank (Jeff?)
8. Showdown -Allen Clement
9. Ozone -No Coach
10. Lady Condors
11. Nemesis
12. Rare Air -Scott Gurst (limited roll)
13. Scandal
14. Safari -Cliff Smith
15. Pop
16. Wildcard

I took out the Master's and Mixed because we weren't getting any info on them, but things are shaping up nicely for Open and Women's. I'm fairly certain (especially with Gwen's help) that JD is coaching Zeitgeist, and then if someone is coaching Capitals all of the top 8 Women's teams have coaches. Meanwhile 2 of the top 4 Open teams have coaches, maybe as few as 2 of the top 8. In my personal experience with college I found it much easier to coach women than men, but presumably the reason for the discrepancy isn't because there aren't people willing to coach, but rather that Open teams don't actively search for coaches the way women do. Or I could be wrong. Thought?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Open Nationals Seedings

Here’s my first shot at Open Nationals Seedings:

1. Revolver (NW1) – Revolver is the pretty easy 1 seed. They have to be ahead of Sockeye based on regional results and they are undefeated against Chain (2-0) and Ironside (1-0).

2-4 Ironside (NE1), Chain (S3), Sockeye (NW2) –Sockeye’s seeding depends on how much weight you decide to put on ECC results vs. Labor Day results. At ECC a banged up Sockeye lost to both Chain and Ironside. At Labor Day Sockeye rolled through the competition and as a result have the highest RRI of any team. I think the options for Sockeye are either give a lot of weight to Labor Day and make them the 2 seed overall, or give less weight to Labor Day and make them the 4 seed overall. I can’t think of any reason to put them at 3 in between Chain and Ironside. I’m putting Sockeye at 4, but I can understand 2. That leaves us Chain vs. Ironside. The two teams have had essentially identical seasons. Ironside beat Chain 15-11 at ECC, Chain beat Ironside at Chesapeake 13-8. Ironside has a slightly higher RRI than Chain, but Chain’s victory was at a more recent tournament. It’s close, but I think you have to go with Ironside as the 2 seed based on last year’s nationals results, Ironside eliminated Chain 15-10 in the semi-finals. Also, Ironside is 1 point away (15-14 loss to Revolver in ECC finals) from being the consensus 1 seed. So:

2 Ironside (NE1)
3 Chain (S1)
4 Sockeye (NW2)

5-6 Doublewide (S2) Johnny Bravo (SW1)
Doublewide and Bravo are 1-1 against each other. Both of their games against each other were on the same day at Colorado Cup with Doublewide winning 14-13 in the morning and Bravo winning 13-10 in the finals. If you only look at Colorado Cup it seems that you should go with Bravo 5 and Doublewide 6…but I think Labor Day (the only other tourney both teams attended) results push Doublewide over the top (DW finishes 2nd, Bravo finishes 5th). So:

5 Doublewide (S2)
6 Johnny Bravo (SW1)

7 Jam (NW3) – This seems like the spot for the defending champs (0-1 against DW, 0-2 against Bravo). Truck Stop’s regional victory over Ring helps Jam since Jam is 1-0 against TS and 0-1 against Ring).

8-10 Truck Stop (MA1), GOAT (NE2) Ring (MA2).
This grouping is a little messy with GOAT being 1-1 against both Truck Stop and Ring. Also GOAT’s wins over the two MA teams came earlier in the season than their two losses to the MA teams. So you could definitely make an argument that GOAT should be below both TS and Ring. The problem with going with GOAT at 10 is that it forces all three MA teams into pool A (Pike has to be 16). So, you have to push GOAT ahead of 1 or both of the MA teams. I’m going to push them ahead of Ring but not ahead of Truck Stop. It’s kind of arbitrary, but basically, I’m gonna disregard GOAT’s 1 point win over Truck Stop at the Boston Invite (in June) while still giving them credit for their win over Ring at ECC (in August). So:

8 Truck Stop (MA1)
9 GOAT (NE2)
10 Ring (MA2)

11-15 Bodhi (NE3), Madison (C1), Machine (C2), Madcow (C3), Streetgang (SW2)
This grouping is a huge mess. Bodhi and Streetgang have mixed results against the Central teams. Streetgang (1-0 against Madison, but 0-1 against Machine). Bodhi (2-0 against Madison, 0-1 against Machine, and 1-1 against Madcow). I’m not really sure the best way to handle this, but given the confusing results I think one strategy is to keep the Central teams out of the same pools (since we “know” the order of the central teams based on regionals) and let the games on Thursday sort out the best way to order the central teams in relation to the non-central teams. Bodhi is definitely the team that gets hosed the most doing it this way since we end up valuing Bodhi’s loss to Machine more than Bodhi’s 2 wins against Madison. If someone has a better plan for this grouping I’d love to hear it. So I’m gonna go with

11 Madison
12 Machine
13 Bodhi
14 Streetgang
15 Madcow

16 Pike – has no results against nationals teams this year, but has losses to South 6, NE8, NE9…as well as 2 losses to MA4 at regionals.

To sum up:
1. Revolver
2. Ironside
3 Chain
4 Sockeye
5 Doublewide
6 Johnny Bravo
7 Jam
8 Truck Stop
10 Ring of Fire
11 Madison
12 Machine
13 Bodhi
14 Streetgang
15 Madcow
16 Pike

Which gives us the following pools:

Truck Stop


Johnny Bravo


Let me know what you think,


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bottom 7 (when losing is your optimal strategy)

This past weekend in the finals of the mixed division at South Regionals, Bucket jumped out to an early three break lead. Pulling at 7-4 I turn to a teammate and say,"if we score this point or the next one, Jukebox will start subbing deeper so they can rest their studs for the backdoor final." My teammate tells me I'm crazy, a team's got to play all out in a game to go . Jukebox ends up scoring that point and getting a break back on the following one to bring it to 7-6 before we take half 8-6, receiving to start the second half. Jukebox continues to sub tightly through the remainder of the game as we trade out to win 13-10. Jukebox then goes on to face Rival (in a game that has been written about elsewhere), a team they had beaten the previous day 11-4 and that on paper does not match up with them. At 6-6 in that backdoor final my teammate turns to me and says "maybe you were right." Jukebox ends up pulling the game out 15-14 (in controversial fashion) but I believe they could have locked up that second bid much easier by resting their top players in the front door game.

In most tournaments it's rarely a question if winning is your best strategy. But in some formats, particularly those where multiple teams advance to the next round are there times when losing is your best strategy? There are some obvious downsides to pursuing a losing strategy - the obvious one is that in most cases you are giving up an opportunity. In the Jukebox situation, sitting their studs in the second half means giving up the opportunity to take the front door bid and pinning all of their hopes on winning the backdoor one. Maybe a bigger downside than reducing your opportunity, there is a mental challenge to admitting defeat. How does it affect you and your team's mental game to at some point say "we have no chance in this game, let's rest up for the next one"? This can be discouraging to some, and it may be impossible to convince some teammates that losing is the best strategy. Finally, no one will ever fault a leader for trying to win. You try to win the front door and fail and then fail in the backdoor because you put your efforts in the front door and most people understand. But if you give up in the front door to put your efforts into the backdoor and then go on to lose the backdoor? ...well, I'll bet there'd be hell to pay for that one.

I don't have the games in front of me, but there were multiple situations in the late '90s in the Atlantic Coast college open division where the loser of the front door game to go would go on to lose in the backdoor game to go. Given UPA regional formats this is a frequent occurrence in two bid regions where the top three teams are around the same level and then there is a drop off. The front door finalists battle tooth and nail, while the back door finalist cleans up waiting for the front door loser to finish exhausting themselves in a tight finals game.

Another situation where I've experienced something similar is in the Club Nationals format. Club Nationals is a brutally long tournament where there are a handful of games that have little to no meaning beyond keeping a teams confidence up. As long as you are able to make quarters without going through the play-in game your chances are pretty much the same. In 2005, Bravo faced Jam in the final power pool game on Friday. The game was to determine who was the 2nd overall seed and who was the 4th overall seed going into the quarterfinals on Saturday. The winner had a marginally easier road in elimination play - either way though both teams would have to beat 3 good teams to win a title. The game was hard fought with Bravo subbing tightly throughout most of the second half. After we turned over three game point possessions Jam was able to punch in the goal on a sort-of greatest to win 17-16. Bravo was crushed. We had completely invested emotionally and physically. After the game finished the team acted like it had been completely eliminated from the tournament. Even though the champions the three previous years had each lost at least one game going in to bracket play, it felt like our season was over. At that point, playing DoG in the quarters and losing (15-8ish) felt like a simple formality. My take was that the investment in Thursday's Jam game had drained our ability to play. This probably was not a situation where we should have intentionally tried to lose, but in my estimation it was one in which we should have not put such weight on the game, subbed a little more openly, and kept better perspective of the long run goal. Others on the team have said that winning would have given us an easier game against Pike in the quarters and the mental boost from winning the tight game, winning the power pool, and beating a team we had frequently struggled against would have pushed our confidence and game to where we needed to be to make a run at the title. How should teams deal with games like this, both subbing wise and mentally?

In some situations, there is literally no format advantage gained from winning a game. In a four team pool if the 0-2 team plays the 2-0 team in the final round of pool play, the result of the game has no impact on the team's tournament match-ups going forward. In some situations, a team locks their pool play position up with point differential before winning a game such that points moving forward in that game have no practical impact on the teams chances in the tournament. One interesting situation like this occurred at 2008 UPA College Nationals. Pool D (as is often the case in this format where the 4, 5, 9, and 16 are in a pool together) was a mess going into the final game of pool play. The seeding stood like this:

D1. Michigan (1-1) (Loss to Georgia 13-15, Win against Harvard 15-12)
D2. Texas (0-2) (Loss to Harvard 16-17, Loss to Georgia 13-15)
D3. Georgia (3-0) (Win against Harvard 16-14)
D4. Harvard (1-2)

As it sat with the Michigan v. Texas game still to be played, Georgia had won the pool. In order to clinch second in the pool, Michigan had to beat Texas or lose by 1 point. Texas had to win by a point to clinch third in the pool, and two or more to clinch second. For Texas, at any point in the game the strategy was clear: win by as much as possible.

This game was an all out brawl with both teams going point for point. Harvard stood on the sideline, their day finished, knowing full well how the point differential worked out. They needed Michigan to win the game. At 13-13 Michigan held on offense to take the lead 14-13 and wrap-up the second seed. At this point, Michigan could gain nothing from fighting on. Like all of the teams in the pool they'd had a brutal day with all of the games being decided by three or fewer points. Michigan's top players including Will Neff, Dave Fumo, Ryan Purcell, and Ollie Honderd, were starting to show signs of wear only overcome by their competitive drive to win the game. Texas of course, had to continue to push. Without a win they'd be relegated to consolation, a bitter pill to end a promising season.

Michigan, either unaware of the situation, having decided that winning trumped the effort they would need to put in to win, or feeling like it was their duty to Harvard to play as hard as they could, kept their rotation at around 10 players. Neff, Fumo, Purcell and Honderd played almost every one of the remaining six points as the game dragged on to the final score of 17-16, with Michigan winning. And those six points looked like the hardest of the day for Michigan, long points with lots of turns. At one point Fumo got a goal saving lay-out block and landed hard on his hip. Neff was clearly struggling between points only to put his all in to each meaningless point.

Well, meaningless for Michigan. Michigan's win sent the Harvard team, watching on the sideline, into pure joy as they rode their own one point win over Texas in the first round to Saturday elimination play at Nationals falling to eventual champions Wisconsin in the quarters. Texas meanwhile, with 3 losses by a total of 4 points, wound up battling in the 9th place bracket. For Michigan, the fight at the end of the game seemed to have taken a real toll as they lost to Illinois, a team that Michigan had handled 15-11 in the finals of regionals, the following morning in the pre-quarter round.

I apologize for the length of this post. I thought it would be a good discussion following Martin's earlier one about when to play your top 7 and I've been wanting to write about that Michigan/Texas game for a while now. But I'm interested to know others' opinions on coaching/leading in situations like these. Have you ever found yourself in a winnable game but chose to pursue a losing strategy intentionally because of larger goals? What would you do in these types of scenarios? As a coach or captain, how did you communicate with your team so that they understood the choices being made?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Top Seven

So I'm walking on the sidelines of the backdoor finals, feeling decent about the game. Our defense got one break early, but our defense gave it back just before the half to keep things on serve (our opponent's advantage). Now we're in the second half (8-9), and things are still on serve when I walk by AJ. He asked me something along the lines of "when it is time to go top seven." My first reaction was the honest one . . . we don't have a top seven. I wasn't trying to make some bold statement about our team and how we'll play everyone regardless of the situation. We just really don't have a top seven. Realizing that was a somewhat unsatisfactory answer I was able to give it a second try and say somewhere around 11. AJ thinks earlier, but I worry about going top seven too early, getting a small push and then not being able to finish it out because our top line is too tired.

Rival has always been a team that uses its depth. Part of playing mixed in Atlanta is that between Chain and now Bucket, we're not grabbing insane talent that just shows up. We've got to grow our talent, and deal with the fact that we are going to have relatively few players that are awesome everywhere on the field. We maybe have a top 4 or 5, but after that we've got a stable of people who could fill in those remaining two spots. As the game pushes on to 9-10, I go with AJ's advice and tell our sub-caller to put in the best line we got. We score the O (10-10) point, and then keep pretty much the same line in for D. They work hard, but are unable to get the block (10-11).

Many of those players (top-seven) are cores to the offense, and we just ran them hard on a unsuccessful defensive point. So they go out there and get broken. Then it happens again. Now they are even more tired, and we're running into problems. We're down (10-13) and our best offenders have run the last four points at the end of a nine game regionals and have to go produce again. Say what you want about how we should have run more track workouts, our people are tired and we have to come up with a solution. We put in other players for this O point. None of us are two way threats when cutting, and we're not the best defenders on the team (just ran the last 4 and one of them is about to tear his hamstring). I'll reference my other post about mixing it up, but we score this point with relative ease, putting us back on defense.

Now comes the big question: who do we put in one defense? We're down 11-13 in a game to 15 and our best defenders have just gotten a point rest. Surely this is a time when we put in our top seven and get the breaks we need. But when look at the line, I see some of our youngest, least experienced players out there and another captain who I don't think will be upset when I call him "not fast." Players on our sidelines are getting antsy asking "is this the best line we can put out there?" I'm curious myself, and look to our defensive captain (who is on that line) and he gives me the "it's cool" hand motion.

That D line, featuring a slow guy, two girls around 5'2" and two guys around 5'8", threw a 3-3-1 zone and got the turn then the break as that "slow guy" lays out on an in cut for the score. Then they keep the line and do it again. The game is tied 13-13 and our best line has just gotten 3 points of rest.

The lesson I take from that experience is that "top seven" is the best seven at the time, factoring strategy into the mix. We hadn't been very successful against their offense all game. The players we put in (while good) were no where near our best players, but they knew how to run this one D (that we put in for rare occasions). By mixing up the defense (which we had done before) with different personnel we maximized the confusion as their handlers held the disc for a long time looking all over the place. Maybe when you have a lineup of people that can't be stopped the idea of top seven becomes less situational, but there is no doubt in my mind that our defensive captain (Michael Wood) knew what he was doing and that was the best seven we could have put on the line at that time.

One last thought. This reminds me of a post on Zaz's blog about all racing for the same end point. Zaz points out that many teams seems to be playing the same style which turns the competition into who is the best athlete or at least who is the best at Style X. Throughout the game Wood had learned that we weren't necessarily going to beat them at Style X, so we switched it up and learned that they weren't very good at Style Y.

Offensive changes

This is part of 3 different posts, but it's the first one so all the prep work is done here.

Unfortunately my team (Rival-Atl mixed) will not be attending the big show this year. We lost 14-15 in the backdoor game to go. I'll come back to that later. What I want to talk about now is some of the situations we were faced with as captains, especially on the Sunday of Regionals.

We had a huge amount of turnover from last year. Over 60% of the team wasn't on the rosters last year, and we went from having the oldest average age to probably the youngest in the country (we had a number of freshmen/sophomores in college as well as 4 high school players). The big question all season was whether or not we were going to be able to come together and play up to our potential. This was a particularly big question for our offense since none of our offensive players played those positions last year.

We struggled with offense all year, some times giving up 7 (!!) breaks in bracket play. I run the offense, so it was a tough puzzle for me to figure out. We tried line-up changes, but nothing seemed to work consistently. Towards sectionals we started to get things working, and we limited our breaks. Same with the Saturday at Regionals, up until we (pool 2 seed) played Jukebox Hero (pool 1 seed) and folded like a house of cards. Our offense looked inept, and we got rolled 11-4. This was still pool play, but we were out of the front door game to nationals and had to try to find a way to take the backdoor, which always seems to involve playing every team that has a chance.

Regionals was at home, so I got a chance to watch some tape from Above and Beyond, and read Jim's Mixing it up on offense. I decided that part of our problem offensively was that I was frequently using our "best cutter" as the first person out of the H-stack, and in general the sequences were too similar. My goal was to change that on Sunday, so we went in with a new offensive mentality. Almost every point we changed up the type of stack (vert, H, split, sideline) and we frequently put one of our handlers out in the string, with our "best cutter" back to handle.

On Sunday I believe we gave up a total of 6 breaks in 4 games. Never did we have sequential breaks and we went from being a team for whom pressure was put on the defense to stay on the field to a team that could bide our time until D could get us one. It was a satisfying experience, and it bodes well for the future since much of that line-up is young.

I can't directly explain what part of mixing things up strategy-wise tipped us over the edge. I think part of the problem previously was that as our main cutters got tired they would settle for bad away cuts, attempting to finish the point too early. I don't have a lineup of Zip and Fortch out there that can run full-tilt for a whole weekend and will be open no matter what. By shifting who our cutters were we gave up some options (no one fears me deep at 5'8" and 31 years old), but it also allowed our go to people to rest, or initiate from a different space. I should try to remember to do more of that in the future.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Team USA Interview--Dylan Tunnell (part 2)

Here is the continuation of our interview with Dylan Tunnell. Ultimate Strategy & Coaching would like to thank him for his candidness and eagerness to participate in this piece.

You mentioned versatility as a key component of the Team USA selections. In your article for The Huddle, you talked about deep threats also needing to be able to throw. In recent years, is this something that you’ve consciously developed in your own game?

I've always tried to be a good thrower. I think my throws have just become more consistent in games within the last couple of years. Whether that was just a function of experience or something else I'm not sure.

As individual players, do you think Team USA was the most versatile of all the teams?

Yes. Although I would say that Japan was close. Canada and Australia both had a few well-rounded players but a number of people who played specific roles.

One of the weird things about the Japanese team was that most of their taller players handled and their shorter players were downfield cutters.

Considering all 20 players selected, was Team USA deeper than any other country’s team?

Yes and I don't think it would have been particularly close. Canada has two very strong teams in each division and after that they fall off a lot. I talked to a couple of the Australians about this and they gave me the impression that each of the cities in Australia has two or three good players. I think Japan may actually have the second-best depth. I know that Sockeye traveled there for a tournament and had a number of difficult games against teams other than just the Buzz Bullets.

Four years ago, someone else said something similar about what would have happened if the World Games rosters had been twice the size. Any indication on what is leading to the strength or growth of ultimate in Japan and Australia?

I can't say for sure. If I had to guess, I would say that because ultimate is such a fun sport to play, once you get a few people in a place who know what they're doing, are pretty cool, and are interested in teaching others to play, it’s pretty easy to get growth. I would also say that the increased accessibility of ultimate media online helps with growth. Players around the world can see videos of the top U.S. teams playing and can learn a lot from that.

Also, it’s worth noting that ahead of either Japan or Australia, ultimate is probably growing most quickly in Colombia. From what I understand it’s blowing up there. In Mejedin (sp?), where the 2013 World Games will be held, they have an entire ultimate-only field complex and stadium that have been built.

Are there any expatriates working with the Columbia program?

Seth Wiggins, from Team USA, has spent a good deal of time in Columbia teaching ultimate. He's going back down for a few more months soon.

It was noteworthy that outside of Japan and the host team, everyone was from English-speaking countries. I don’t think this has been the case in previous World Games. It will be interesting to see what the landscape is like in four years. Team Japan was all Buzz Bullets players, correct? Were their women from the same area?

I expect that unless they increase the number of teams to more than six, it will be the same teams minus Taiwan, plus Columbia. I think there is a chance that Sweden or Germany could knock off Great Britain.

Yes, I believe all of the Japanese guys were Buzz Bullets. I think the women came from the same team as well but I'm not sure.

What if the US had taken a similar approach, sending seven guys from Jam and six women from Fury? Could they have won it all? Do you think there is some merit to this approach, given what it took to have you all practice together?

I believe they could have won it all. As it was, there were three Jam guys and three Fury girls on the team. I think having a team made up of players from around the country, however, is a much better way of doing it. More teams and cities feel that they're being represented as the best players are spread out to some extent. If you have as many practices as we did there is plenty of time to develop chemistry. Although it was a big commitment for all of us, I'd be shocked if anyone said it wasn't worth it.

Besides, the WUGC that happens every four years is already for the team that wins the UPA Championship.

Given the circumstances, do you think buy-in is higher because of the level of commitment?

Well, I think no one would have tried out in the first place if he or she wasn't prepared for the commitment. There were a couple of players, Moses Rifkin and Jeff Graham, who applied and would have had had excellent chances of making the team but withdrew their names before tryouts because they couldn't make the commitment.

Physically, how does one prepare for an event like this? Especially since you were geographically separated from your team-mates and on the final roster there would be so few players.

Aside from the four practice weekends and two tournaments we went to as a team, we did a lot of stuff on our own. We were never given a team workout regimen but we had an online group where we would share our workouts with one another. Most people had someone to work with. The most challenging thing was finding opportunities to actually play ultimate in the late winter and early spring before club season had started. I scrimmaged Emory a few times.

What kind of workouts were people doing?

Most people were doing a mix of running either on the track or on grass in cleats and lifting weights. There were a lot of shuttle runs, sprints, agility drills, and other exercises that focused on explosiveness.

In one of last week’s updates, Matty Tsang said that Team USA had “very few true handlers.” Miranda Roth mentioned a similar issue with the 2005 team. Was preference give to athleticism over disc skills when selecting the final team?

I believe so. While I think that almost all of the players on the team could be only handlers, they are fast enough that they are better served as cutters and receivers most of the time.

Was this role adjustment something you all addressed in practice?

I never felt like we were short on handlers. More often I felt like it was a shame that some of the people who were having to handle weren't getting the opportunity to run the field.

Do you think the line between handler and cutter was blurred in the horizontal offense you all were running?

I felt like as we developed better and better chemistry there was a lot more switching between the positions. Someone would catch a pass on an in cut and one of the people who had been handling would run through and get downfield.

Despite the high-level of play, all the games looked very clean—Spirit of the Game looks to have been extremely well-represented. To what do you attribute this?

I felt like almost everyone on all the teams was pretty into the ideas of spirit and self-officiating. This may have been because everyone was anxious and to show our sport in the best light on the international stage but I think it was more likely genuine respect we had for one another. It felt like the cleanness of the games was a strong argument for self-officiating working at the highest levels of the sport.

I heard inklings that observers of some sort may be required for the next World Games but I hope full-fledged officiating isn't on the horizon. I think the fact is that when you have outsiders who aren't directly involved in the plays making calls, you're bound to have a less well-called game. Look at the NBA.

What role did the gray-shirted officials have during the matches—similar to that of the UPA Club Championships? Were the just making active line calls? One couldn’t tell from the video.

They were making no calls. Their main job was to give hand-signals to the public-address announcer about what calls were being made so he could relay it to the crowd. If players appealed to them, they were allowed to give advice on up/down and in/out calls, but their advice was not binding in any way. Players had final say on all calls.

Given the venue and the amenities afforded to all of you, it looks like ultimate was really showcased at the World Games. Do you think there is a future for ultimate at this level? I heard the Olympic Games representatives were impressed with what was displayed by all the teams and participants.

I would love to think that ultimate could be in the Olympics in the foreseeable future but I think there are a few big obstacles. For one, we are still a good number short on national governing bodies. For another, the Olympics are not too keen on adding more team sports because more athletes necessitates more money. I think the fact that ultimate is growing so quickly helps, however, and I believe the idea of Spirit of the Game fits in well with the Olympic ideals of diplomacy and peacemaking. That being said, I'd be surprised to see ultimate in the Olympics in the next 25 years. For the time being, the World Games are pretty sweet.

Was the stadium where you all played the same as for the opening ceremony? Was upwind-downwind a factor in the stadium?

Yes, it was the main stadium and it was awesome. The first two days were very windy—comparable to Sarasota. The last day was fairly still.

Even on video, the crowd noise was chilling. What was it like playing in that stadium during higher-attended games? Was a mental adjustment necessary?

It was awesome having the energy from the crowd. I think some people may have gotten jitters a bit early on but for me it just helped me keep up my level of intensity. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the distractions.

What about the ambassador experience? It looks like you all spent a lot of time interacting with the locals and the other teams.

It was pretty cool meeting the players on the other teams. After each game we'd have a circle with the people we just played and talk about the game and what it meant to us. As far as interacting with the locals, they really seemed to like us a lot. I think the fact that we were large and American had a lot to do with it. We were asked to sign a lot of autographs and have pictures taken with people. It was unlike anything I've experienced before.

Are there any drills Team USA did that you think our readers would be interested in learning about?

We did a lot more scrimmaging at our practices than drilling. Most of the drills we did were pretty straightforward. Stuff just to get our legs and throws going.

What would you say to someone watching the World Games coverage right now who wants to be on the next Team USA in four years?

Go for it. Play high-level ultimate as often as you can. In practice and games, match up against the best players whenever possible. Hit the track and the gym with a well rounded approach to improving athleticism. Throw. Throw. Throw. Good luck.

How does Team USA stay on top for four years from now?

I think ultimate in the United States keeps getting better and better. The other national teams will definitely improve but I feel confident there will be plenty of American players who are excited to make the commitment in 2013. I may be one of them.

Do you have any final impressions about the experience to share?

It was incredible. I got to play the most fun sport in the world with some of the best and most fun people I have ever known. I will cherish the memories for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Team USA Interview--Dylan Tunnell (part 1)

In only a decade of competitive play, Atlanta’s Dylan Tunnell has assembled an impressive ultimate resume, taking home bronze at Junior Worlds in 2000, winning the UPA Juniors Championship with Paideia Gruel in 2001 and 2002, and being Callahan Award candidate for University of Georgia in 2006 and 2007. He has made semifinals at both UPA College and Club Championships. This summer he competed at the 2009 World Games as part of Team USA, where they won gold. Currently, Dylan plays for Atlanta’s Chain Lightning and works as a firefighter for the City of Atlanta.

Congratulations and welcome home.

Thanks. It's good to be back but I'm definitely experiencing some withdrawal.

Withdrawal from which part—people, playing? How was it trying to bring together a group like that from all over the country?

Mostly withdrawal from the people. The people on the team were awesome and it sucks that we won’t get to be a team again. It was really pretty easy for us to come together. On field chemistry took a little while to develop but off the field we immediately bonded.

A big part of it was that we all shared a love of playing and that made it easy for everyone to buy in early on.

Can you identify a specific point in the season when this "buy in" happened?

I think it happened as early as the tryouts among everyone who was there—those who made the team and those who didn't.

Everyone seemed to be excited just to be a part of the process.

Had Team USA won its last pool-play game against Team Japan and all other results remained the same, then Team Japan would have advanced to the gold-medal game out of the three-way, head-to-head tie (with Team Canada and Team Australia) for second based on point deferential, correct?

Yes. Going into our first game with Japan we knew that no matter the result of the game we'd be playing them again for the gold, even if we lost.

Going into the tournament, did you all expect Team Australia to be your biggest competition, both because of the level of play that they have displayed in recent years and because you all had not faced them over the summer? What about Japan?

I think we expected Australia, Japan, and Canada to be our biggest competition in no particular order.

We knew each would provide different challenges match-up wise. Personally, I was most concerned about Japan because they are a small, quick team and a lot of our players were on the bigger side and not used to guarding little guys.

In preparing for the tournament, you all played Team Canada multiple times along with seeing Team Great Britain and Team Taipei at Poultry Days. In pool play, did you all have specific game plans for each team or did you start out the same and adapt later in the game?

We had some specific defenses we used against Canada and Australia to stop their long game. Against Japan we knew we had to stay very close on defense because they use big cross-field throws to the break side well. Also we knew we had a height advantage we could use against the Japanese. Otherwise we were pretty confident that if we went out and played our game we'd be successful. Against Great Britain and Japan we made a few in game adjustments to the defenses they were playing against our H-stack.

From the video, it looked like Team Great Britain played very tough defense on you all.

They did. That was without a doubt our most physical game of the tournament. The Brits played a gritty style and they were close to upsetting almost all of the top teams. They just couldn't quite put it all together.

What adjustments did you all make in between the two games with Japan? What about half-time adjustments in either game?

We made a few specific adjustments. Notably, they really try to get blocks on dump passes and succeeded a couple of times against us in the first game. We learned that if you pump-fake the throw, they'll bite hard and you can get an easy up line pass. Also, their downfield cutters don't do a lot of change of direction. If they start running, they're probably going to continue in that direction until they are thrown to or not. We learned to sell out in running with them on D. The biggest change for us was just that we were super focused and fired up for the finals. Even though we were trying hard in the first game, I think it was in the back of everyone's head that the game didn't really matter. The intensity of focus wasn't all there, I think for that reason.

Personally, I'm not sure I have ever felt as intensely focused as I did in that finals game.

One of the updates mentioned that people would prepare mentally for the matches in different ways. During the break, did you all do anything as a team to get up for the gold medal game?

I think losing to [Team Japan] in that first game served as a wake-up call for us. I'm not sure we would have been complacent had we won the first one but having lost it we were hungry to get back out there and redeem ourselves. We followed basically the same warm-up routine we used for the other games only before the finals everyone was extremely dialed in. I think we all felt like we were just waiting to get on the field to be able to unleash the energy that was building inside of us.

The best example of this for me was when I passed Beau in the hall and asked him how he was feeling. He said, "I feel like I'm ready to blow the fuck up. You can either sit back and watch me or help me do it." After that, I had no doubt that we were going to win.

Ultimate is still at the point where having a coach is not a given at even the highest levels of the sport. What influence did Greg Connelly have on both unifying the team and determining its style of play?

I think he was good about allowing a style of play evolve among us naturally rather than impose something he had in his head that not everyone would necessarily be comfortable with. The first practice or two he just let us play and then afterward asked people what they liked and based the offense off of that. He was aware that there were a lot of smart players on the team and that he didn't need to over-coach. The players had a lot of say in the way our game plan developed. I think what came out of that ended up working pretty well for us.

For a moment, to go back to what Beau said to you and what you said at the beginning about being bonded off the field . . . I don't know what competing at this level is like but it sounds like as a team you very much supported one another and this was key to your success—is this correct?

It really was. I think what made us a great team on the field more than anything was the love we had for each other. When we were out there we were playing for one another. For me, and I think for the rest of the people too, caring about teammates is the best motivating force you can have. That way, you don't get caught up in your own head because you're playing for something outside of yourself.

In the mixed game, teams are always searching for the best ways to use their men and their women. How did Team USA approach this issue? How did you all prepare for your opponents using different mixed-specific game-plans against you all?

To begin with, and I mean this in the least sexist way possible, our girls were so good it felt more like playing open than mixed. We didn't have a whole lot of plans that pertained specifically to our coed nature other than the obvious things like not having guys hanging out deep when women were making long cuts. Because about seven of the nine women on our full roster were more in the mold of downfield cutters we used our women more as receivers than as handlers. Some of the other teams used their women in more specialized ways but our women were versatile and adjusted well to whatever was thrown at them.

On defense, it looks like Team USA often played transition zone. Was this to counter horizontal-stack plays off the pull? Overall, were the conditions or opposition not right for whole points of zone defense?

Yeah, we played transition Z mainly to disrupt pull plays. Actually, that was the area in which being coed was the most difficult for us because we had to match up according to gender after the transition rather than just with the closest people. We got better at it but there were a couple of times in Kaohsiung when we messed it up. We didn't play much whole-point zone mainly because we thought our person D was very strong. Also our zone just wasn't that great. Go figure.

How did Team USA prepare for playing person-to-person defense in the mixed game? How was playing mixed ultimate at this level different than playing open? Did you all find yourselves employing different strategies and tactics than in the single-sex games?

It really wasn't that different from what I'm used to playing open. When matching up the men would figure out their matchups and the women theirs. Against some teams we realized that we might have better matchups with the women than the men or the reverse and look to exploit our advantage on offense but that was about the extent of it.

As players, what qualities were shared by the final selections? Physical ability is obvious but one thing I noticed from the videos was that everyone was excellent throwing against—and often breaking—strong marks.

A lot of times we did set up plays where we'd be throwing to opposite genders throughout our sequences but I think that may just have come out of trying to involve everyone.

I think all twenty of the players on the team were confident breaking the mark. In fact, the four guys who weren't on the final roster, Jared, Steven, Adam and Jolian were as good or better break-mark throwers as any of the final seven. I think the selections had more to do with versatility than anything else. I'm not really sure though. You could have taken any 13 of the 20 and made a great team.

You’re known as a receiver, but in the footage it looks like you played almost every defensive point and frequently handled the disc. Initially, how did Greg perceive you role on the team?

Everyone on the team was capable of either handling or going downfield. I almost always started downfield but sometimes after catching an in-cut pass whoever was behind the disc would go run and I'd stay back for a bit. I played a lot of D because I could pull and I think because I am fairly aggressive throwing the disc and catching hucks after a turnover. He never really told me why I was playing D. I just assumed those were the reasons.

From the footage one would think you pulled every disc.

Pretty much whenever I was on the field. Jolian pulled a lot before Taiwan though.

Given that there were only two short games in a day with a substantial break in between, what were the sub rotations like?

Except in the case of really short points it was mostly play a point-rest a point. Obviously one guy had to stay on from the point before but that got spread around. There was pretty equal playing time for everyone.

It was hot and humid as hell so even though games were short they were fairly exhausting,

Everyone was healthy through the three days? I don't remember seeing any Team USA players go off with injuries, but I heard about people suffering from heat exhaustion.

Deb hurt her ankle in the first game but was able to play in the rest. Gabe had a mild concussion that kept him out of half a game. One of our ladies got heat exhaustion in the first Japan game but was fine for the finals. We were pretty healthy all things considered.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Drill Baby, Drill!

Yesterday I attended the Ozone try-outs. One of the girls I coach during the spring season is on the team and three others were trying out. The first drill the team ran to get everyone going was the standard "Endzone" or "Mushroom" drill. The past two years, we've run this well-known drill on Paideia but with a small variation - the goal thrower after throwing the goal, moves to the sideline to receive the disc back from the goal scorer while the next player from the front line steps out to set up a game-like reset* cut (starting 10-12 yards laterally from the thrower, driving up line and then coming back in order to receive the reset).

While I was watching the drill yesterday, every one of the Paideia Girls after throwing the goal automatically moved to the sideline before remembering that the drill was not the same. Seeing how all of them automatically executed an element of a drill without thinking reinforced the power of drills.

I was talking to Tiina Booth at HS Easterns while watching the Paideia Boys play Columbia HS. We were talking about goal setting for games (the Paideia girls set goals for each half of each game). She said that she used to do this but has stopped because it increases the amount of thinking that players need to do on the field and she doesn't want her players to think.

This to me, is the primary value of drills. Running well-designed drills over and over again eliminates the unnecessary thinking that results in mistakes and miscommunication on the Ultimate field. In order to eliminate thinking all together drills must be run to the point where they become boring and feel repetitive. Teams will often try to run a lot of different drills in order to keep players engaged, but the irony of it is that the keeping players engaged only happens when players think and as long as players have to think think your team will not receive the full benefit of the drill.

So, identify the skills and tactics that your team needs. Design as few drills as possible that train those skills and tactics. And run those drills until everyone gets bored with them- while focusing most on the ones that give you highest value for time spent. If everyone is bored with your drills and can execute them with their eyes closed or while having a conversation (or while trying to run another drill) you'll know that the lessons of your drill have become ingrained.

*Just so everyone is clear, whenever I say "reset" I mean "dump." I prefer the term because it doesn't have the somewhat negative connotation that "dump" has. "Dump" also implies that the disc goes backward when a good reset changes the attacking space of the offense by moving the disc laterally, or in some cases, upfield.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The BEST drill for players at all levels

There are a handful of drills that I frequently use while coaching but none of them do I use more frequently and that have a higher return on time spent than the three-person marking drill.

There are a handful of criteria that drills need to meet to be great. The best drills:
- replicate an element of your team's offense or defense
- provide for a high number of touches to all players
- serve to also condition players
- can be challenging to players at different points in their development
- emphasize solid fundamentals

It is difficult for a drill to meet all of these criteria. When you are drilling a full team tactic that requires a full team or defense there may be only one disc for 7 or more players. When drilling some skills or strategies where you are trying to limit uncontrollables (particularly with players that haven't developed strong throwing skills) you may not even have a disc at all. When drilling a brand new skill or strategy you should probably limit the amount of conditioning as the focus of the drill should be squarely on the new skill or strategy.

Any drill that does not emphasize solid fundamentals should be thrown out immediately. Drills that encourage players to turn the wrong way when receiving a disc, throw to tight spaces, or make bad cuts (like short away cuts or horizontal cuts) should be immediately eliminated from a teams repertoire. I know this is going to come of as elitist, but anytime I see a team running the box drill (where players make short away cuts starting from right next to a thrower) I know that they are being poorly coached. This drill runs counter to every one of the criteria listed above. It shocks me that this drill is still being used. I'm sure if it has any impact at all it is negative.

So back to the three-person marking drill. The drill is straight-forward. Two players (one with a disc) stand 12-15 yards apart. Marker marks the thrower with the disc straight up with a stall coming in at 4. The thrower breaks the mark to the other player. The marker runs to mark the new thrower. This continues for a minute and half (time can be varied) at which point the marker switches out with one of the throwers.

The focus should be on the mark:
- Getting the butt low
- staying balanced: feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and able to move in both directions at any time
- taking away throws with the feet and body by short, quick shuffling (not lunging) to get into position

And the thrower:
- Pivoting
- Faking
- Staying balanced
- Increasing extension/varying release points
- Not travelling

To increase focus on the marking aspects, this drill can be done with the mark having their hands behind their back so the only way they can take away throws is by shuffling in front of the thrower. What players will find is that considerably more work is done with their legs than their arms.

To increase focus on the throwing aspects, this drill can be done with the marker fouling the thrower. Throwers can learn about how to appropriately call "disc space" and "foul." More importantly, if a thrower can get comfortable throwing the disc while being fouled, they will be composed when they aren't being fouled and even more so when they are throwing to the open side.

Every practice I run begins with this drill. As soon as warm-ups and stretching is over my team knows to get a disc and a group of three. I usually run through it twice with two of the variations but sometimes will run through it three times. In the beginning of the season I typically run it with no hands and then normal. Towards the end of the season I run it normal and then fouling. In 10-15 minutes the team has broken a sweat and gotten in some conditioning and put in quality time on the most fundamental aspects of both offense and defense.

By the end of the season even the newest players feel comfortable with the disc and a mark and are fundamentally sound markers. The more experienced players have expanded their repertoire of breaks on both the backhand and forehand side and have developed additional release points and extended their release points away from their bodies. All players are able to instinctively call "disc space" and "foul" at appropriate times.

A significant part of the Paideia Girls success over the past two years is directly a result of this drill and how productive it is for the time that is invested into it.

The drill is not just good for HS Girls (although I would argue that it is particularly productive here), the Brown men used to run this drill at most every practice back in the early 2000s. It's also a great drill for small groups of players doing work-outs in the off-season as you only need 3 people to get the maximum out of it.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Fundamental Drills for Offense (question)

Growing up in a straight stack (originally with no backfield reset) offense I feel pretty comfortable stating that the 2 drills that I find fundamental to that offense are the mushroom drill and the 3 line drill. Clearly there are more drills that can be done for a vertical offense, and there are many variants of these drills depending on how you want to run your offense. These 2 drills focus on the two main parts of the offense, resetting the disc and cutting downfield. I can easily explain the transition between those drills to play on the field for a young/new player.

I feel like I've been floundering with the horizontal offense. I can run it just fine, but coming up with drills that teach the basics of the offense has been difficult. Just like vertical I'm sure there are tons of variants of drills depending on how each teach specifically runs their H, but I was wondering what some common drills are that teams use to teach players how to cut in a horizontal offense. Especially stuff that people have tried with new players to get them to see the space created in an H-stack and learn how to cut in that space. Thanks.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ga St Champs/Coaching in the Gaps

I wasn't going to post after just one day of the boy's Georgia State Championships. I'm sure many people are currently focused on the college regional battles (I know I am). But after thinking about it there are a few points I would like to make.

The state of Georgia High School ultimate isn't as weak as the girls. While average disc skills were lacking (usually 1 or 2 handlers on a team except for the top 3), the athleticism present was impressive. We (Paideia) managed to go 4-0 and will have another 4 games tomorrow if all goes well (last round of pool play followed by quarters and up). This seems like a lot of games for high school boys on a hot weekend, but everyone else is in the same boat. I'd be happier just playing 2 or 3 games on Sunday.

Pool strength presented an interesting scenario that I can't believe I haven't thought of before. Our JV team (in the other pool) seems to feel like the other pool was stronger. This might be the case, which would mean that we have a tougher road ahead for us since we will see their 2-seed in the semis and their 1-seed in the finals after they have (presumably) an easier game. So I guess it pays off to be in the tougher pool (??) if you feel pretty good about advancing, especially if there are 3 quality teams. Again, I can't believe I haven't thought about this before.

Lastly, I again realized how much I love coaching/teaching during a bye. Our trap zone was not looking particularly good, so during the "bye" for lunch we gathered the guys around, drew up our trap zone, then went shirts and skins while we walked through the transition of the trap a few times. It is such a great time to learn because everyone is cleated up, you have direct references to experiences in the past games to remind people about things, then you can directly apply those lessons to a game where the opposing team doesn't always know what you are doing. As much as I (selfishly) think timeouts are meant for strategic adjustments, I think byes are for coaching (although scouting and hydrating should be in there as well).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Girls State Championships

I got to coach at the Girls' Georgia State Championships today. The level of play in Georgia is still relatively low, and there aren't many teams. Groove (Paideia Girls) have dominated all of their high school opponents this season, and a good number of the college ones they have played. They are an excellent group of girls with incredible talent. That is why we were surprised to find ourselves down to a combo team from 2 high schools (told you there weren't many teams) 0-2 at the beginning of the game. Our squad was depleted, so we didn't have the handlers that we normally did, which presented a problem. We started on D with the wind blowing pretty strong cross-field. Our opponent ran zone and we fumbled the disc after a number of swing passes. This gave our opponent a short field and the scored. Same thing happened again next point. Our girls were starting to get frustrated. The only time they had been down 0-2 recently was when they were assessed 2 points, so we talked about it really quick between a points and settled down. We scored the next point and then we rattled off the next 12 doing basically the same thing (getting short field through zone and weak passing skills).

When coaching at Emory there came times where it was obvious that we needed to basically huck and play zone because of the wind. When completing passes becomes a variable the value of the field position gained by the huck increases. I'm glad the girls got their poise together and just completed passes the way then know how, but it made me realize that at the lower levels (perhaps with new players) offense is a burden that can really bury a team. It wasn't that our opponent's zone was so devastating that we couldn't beat it, we just weren't completing easy passes and giving them short yards (i.e. few passes) to a goal. Sometimes you just have to jack it to gain as many yards as possible and then hope that you can get a turn over down there so that you get the short field.

It is tough to get players with a bit of experience to buy into this at some point, perhaps because it doesn't feel like good ultimate. After all, how can hucking to no offender with 2 defenders poaching deep be a good thing? Don't we hope to not have to worry about completing the easy passes and playing keep away as long as it takes? Our opponent starting going to the same strategy (hucking) as the game got away from them, which was the right decision in my opinion. Again, I'm glad our girls ended up not having to switch to that strategy, but in the back of my head I kept wondering that if we didn't manage to pull it together and march it down the field to make the score 1-2 and get on defense ourselves would we have been willing to go with the huck & D strategy and would it have felt like defeat?

Lastly, I really can't say enough about these girls. Kyle has done an excellent job coaching them the past 2 (?) years. There are number of excellent seniors graduating this year which will be good for the college game, but the cupboard wont be bare when they leave since there is also a number of phenomenal sophomores and juniors behind them.