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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paideia Cup Day 2

The 2nd day of Paideia Cup is over and was filled with ups and downs. Due to potential downpour later that day the first round of the day was played yesterday. That meant that we went straight to semis today which has us play Columbia HS (Anthony Nunez). Columbia had a tough game against Grady High School (Susie Mercer) the previous day so we knew they were ready to play and prove themselves today. The game was a great game, ending with us on top after double game point (9-8).

A few thoughts on Columbia. Kyle had mentioned their resets being particular good, and that was evident. At first I through it was another instance of our marks being too flat, but the Columbia players knew how to clear the reset and then fill in from the front of the stack. The thrower would almost always throw quickly around our mark hitting the reset and then swinging the disc. Their constant resets made our downfield defense difficult. They also threw what I call the "soft" (inside) break very well. In particular #6 did a good job moving the disc back to the breakmark side with soft breaks. Last compliment (although there could be plenty) is the level of athleticism that some of their players brought to the game. Number 3 (Jordan?) and #13 were just few of a number of defenders that really worked our cutters making it difficult to advance the disc at times. Fortunately we advanced, getting a few Ds after making some adjustments.

The next game against Hopkins (Jake Raisanen) wasn't so lucky. Word on the street was that this team was big and fast, and they lived up to the hype. With a number of players over 6' our short line-up was really going to be tested. In addition to their height they had a number of seniors on that squad, which became evident in the first few points. Our offense struggled to get open against older athleticism, and they forced us into poor decisions by taking away the easy ones. When they had the disc it was clear that they had been playing together for years. They threw deep often, typically to players that had only a step or two, and frequently with risky passes (through lanes and around marks). Almost all of these hucks connected, and what impressed me was the confidence with which they released the disc. During the game I commented that they were throwing the way that I would throw to my oldest friends, where you just know they are about to cut to an area so you throw it early giving the defender almost no chance.

We lost the game to Hopkins 13-5, despite playing very well. Our boys fought hard and did what they could, but we were out matched physically and experientially. I don't think they are attending Easterns, but I wish that they would. I'll question whoever wins the "Eastern" title if they didn't beak Hopkins at some point during the year. I guess that is just part of the wacky Junior Nationals scene.

Lastly, from a coaching standpoint: Both of the teams we played today ran an (at times) isolation based sideline stack offense. Creating the one large lane out in front of the thrower. Our original defensive adjustments were pulling people off of the players in the middle of the stack to potentially help with the isolated cutter. This worked well, but they still would get some devastating deep hucks off. I wondered if we wouldn't have had success with forcing back towards the sideline stack and using the dump defender to frustrate the open side and have them swing the disc to the side of the field with the stack on it. Hopkins probably would have just switched their stack-side, but in the transition we may have gotten them to throw something they weren't comfortable with. Maybe we should have just forced middle.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Paideia Cup: Day 1

Today was the first day of the Paideia Cup in Atlanta. It is a high school tournament that draws some of the best teams in the south east and up to New Jersey. The field was a little light compared to last year (where a Seattle combo team won it all), but it was still an illuminating experience for this first year high school coach.

We had been to Deep Freeze earlier this year, but it was a first tournament of the season and the competition was still covered in winter sleet. All three of the teams we played today (Page, HB Woodlawn/Yorktown, Red Bank) were well skilled and very intense. All had coaches, and clearly had an offensive scheme of some sort. We aren't exactly the most defensively diverse team out there (we run a zone . . . AND a man), however we were able to make defensive and offensive adjustments that really opened up the games. It seemed like other teams adjusted slowly to our tweaks, but those adjustments were happening. The teams that I've had the most success with were teams that were able to defensively make on opponent change from Plan A to Plan B. We were able to do that today, and it rallied us 3 wins by more than 8 points each.

The competition was very good (despite the somewhat lopsided scores), but it seems like playing against college teams has really paid off. We were so accustomed to getting few chances with the disc on defense that we learned to be more frugal with the disc after an opponent's turn. That was the difference in most of the games today. It wasn't that we were getting tons of blocks, but we didn't give them the disc back after getting possession. It was refreshing to see our players be that intelligent and patient. Our captains also did a (slightly) better job with subbing. We kept productive lines on offense, while getting our secondary players chances to get blocks on defense. As a result it seemed that everyone felt involved and was making plays. Morale was really high, but that is easy when you are winning.

Weather permitting we will play again tomorrow, so hopefully we will continue to play well and take home a title. I'm also hoping that we can teach the team one or two more defenses to try out. There was a time that a good poachy force middle would have wrecked a team.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Coaching at the elite level

So . . . why don't top level teams have coaches?

I've run into this question often, and while I can easily cite why college and high school teams need coaches (have to develop players with potentially little experience in a short amount of time), I don't know why or if elite teams need coaches.

Perhaps I am just in the dark. I know that Fury is coached my Matty Tsang, but that has only been for the past three years and they have been kicking people's asses for a long time. I think Machine has a coach, but I can't name another team that has a coach (again, I will point to my possible ignorance).

I've constructed arguments around where the knowledge-base is in our sport. The smartest people in the sport are still playing. In some cases those are the younger players in the open division, but even our older/more experienced players are still on the field. Why would a great ultimate mind be trying to coach an open team when they could be playing masters. But surely there are people out there like me who's careers got cut short due to injury, what about those people? Maybe it is the financial commitment? I kind of find that hard to believe since people pay out of their own pockets to be a part of this community (at tournaments, UPA regs, etc.) we've established that we are willing to shell out coin to stay competitive and involved.

An interesting case against my points would be Stu Downs coaching the University of Georgia. Stu is definitely one of the most experienced and smartest people in the game, so it made sense that as his family developed and age (finally!) caught up to him he would stay involved as a coach. But in that case it was college, where the reasons to coach are much more obvious and the effect he would have is obvious as well.

This leads me to a second question: do elite teams even need coaches? My gut reaction is to say yes. A coach can orchestrate the game play, can see what the opponent is doing and create adjustments to maximize his/her team's chance of winning. There is nothing about ultimate that wouldn't benefit from that . . . but then again I've never played on an elite team. Surely those teams already have captains that do the things that I mentioned, so why bother with a coach?

So that's 2 questions I would love to hear so opinions on?

Why do most elite teams not have coaches?
Would elite teams benefit from coaches?

Ultivillage Videos

I'm trying to live up to a bargain I made the Florida women's coach of posting more. I hope I am not boring people.

I just got 2 more videos from Ultivillage: 2008 UPA Championships and 2008 WFDF Championships. My first reaction was disappointment in the UPA video. They trimmed down to 1 DVD rather than 2, and it seems to be at the expense of content. There was no menu structure for pool play, and you didn't get a chance to see more of the games (even if only highlights). I'll comment them for going back to an elevated camera instead of the ground level cameras that have been used for the past few finals. They even used sideline cameras, which offer some great views of spacing and depth that end zone cameras can't give. Unfortunately the editing left a bit to e desired. The first half of the men's game the sideline cameras were almost always zoomed in on the thrower so close you couldn't even see the dump well. The second half was better, but they we to the end zone camera which was typically more zoomed out. The other problem I had was that the play felt stunted. We didn't see many pulls, and they disc would just magically appear on the field without any idea of what happened before. The commentary provided was good commentary, but it also felt stunted as there was no down time (between points and turnovers) for the commentators to add any color or discussion.

Contrast this with the excellent job in filming and editing for the WFDF video. The pool play and most finals were the same style Ultivillage has employed for the past few years, giving us a few extended plays during a game, but jumping from point to point. The finals (at least the men's) were excellent. There were three commentators (Match and 2 guys from that did an excellent job. The video was from an angle and elevated, with multiple cameras so they could bounce around as needed. But best of all we saw pretty much the whole game. The benefit of that, from a coaching standard, is huge. I can sit down the the kids and we can actually see what a team is doing on the field, we can discuss strategy and since there is relative down time between each point we can discuss before we have to start watching again. I would love to spend time this coming Tuesday (Tape Tuesdays) talking about Ironside's implementation of straight stack, but I can't see it on the videos. Or how Fury staged their incredible comeback, but the commentary doesn't add anything more than play by play. Instead we will be watching, and listening to the 2008 WFDF finals and talk about how team USA started calling fouls when they were down.

Hopefully Ultivillage (who I love for making these videos) will cover more events like WFDF and give us more stuff to talk about. I can watch highlights online, I buy the DVDs because I want to watch a full game and see as many of the games from a tournament as possible. I sent Rob an email to see if there was any way that I could get the full film from last years UPA finals . . . we'll see if that gets me anywhere.