Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How Reckon lost to Boneyard

The short of it is that they played better.  I want to extend my congratulations to those guys.  I've been on the other side of heated games/arguments/fights with some parts of that team in the past.  Over the weekend they were consistently a class act and they clearly deserved the win.  I'll talk about how Kevin and Ray dominated the game, but they got valued contributions from a wide array of people.

Since most people don't know the story of the game, here it is.  Reckon took the first two upwind points, and sealed them on the downwind to take the lead 5-1.  But the weekend had established that no lead was safe, and that was the case.  Their offense had given us easy chances upwind through some miscues and Boneyard quickly made the correct adjustment to start bombing the disc and force our upwind offense to work 70.  They brought the game close during half and then we traded points (some upwind) until we were at 11-11.  There was a long point with them going upwind which they managed to score.  Then we had a long upwind point that we failed to score.  The final count was 15-11, but it felt closer than that.

That is the breakdown, but it doesn't really talk about the strategic adjustments.  To start the game they gave us some short yardage upwind points that we were able to capitalize on.  They were tough, but doable.  Downwind was fine for us.  Jay wasn't always connecting on his big throws, but often seemed to be good enough.  They did get some clean upwind passes, which prompted us to go with a zone to force them to throw more passes for their upwind score.  I don't think that was a great adjustment.  But at first it worked.

They had realized that much of our upwind offense was structured around inside break-mark passes, so they were changing their man D at the front of the stack accordingly.  One thing we didn't do that probably would have been successful was pull the front two people in the stack out of the way with open-side deep cuts.  That would have allowed more space for the inverted throw or the around backhand.

Relegated to trading they made the next big adjustment coming out of half.  Having realized that our zone was forcing too many passes upwind, but they couldn't just bomb it, Boneyard employed a smart strategy.  Going upwind the gusts were coming from right to left.  So what they did was place Kevin Kusy in between the wings/short deep (who were pulled in to prevent through passes) on the right side.   No one else was in between the 2nd and 3rd defensive lines and Ray Parrish was pulling the deep pretty far back.  Then rather than try to make a throw to where Kevin was and have it turn out bad it felt like they started to throw the best pass they could to a space and let Kevin go get it.   It only worked about 40% of the time, but when it did Kevin had clean upwind shots to Ray.  Again the percentages were low, but given enough chances and good luck it would work.

Our zone defense failed to make an adjustment in the second half to take this away from them and it became a game of who could score more upwind breaks.  With their defense on to our upwind game plan and our defense not really adjusting to theirs the odds were in their favor.  Also (and I said this before) Kevin and Ray had a good second half.

It's hard not to be upset about the failure to adjust, but hind-sight is 20/20.  In retrospect I would have liked to have tried to mix up the zones a little.  We ran a cramped, standard 3-3-1 and were able to get some turns from it.  I don't know if our personnel would have been ok with changing things, but maybe throwing in a 4 person cup, 2-3-2 or 1-3-3 would have produced more turns.  Personally I think the 1-3-3 would have been pretty effective, but we had never run that all season.

Aside from Kevin and Ray playing well I think the problem was that we gave them too many upwind chances.  Eventually they were going to connect on those 40% passes.  Maybe different zones would have helped, or maybe it would have hurt.  Either way we had our chances to win the game and weren't able to seal the deal.  I'd say better luck next year but that as the last trip to Sarasota so who knows what the heck will happen next year.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unknown Opponent

Just a few days to go until the last Masters Nationals in Sarasota.  While my body has decided to pick up some sort of headache inducing virus, my head seems to be working well enough to collect some more thoughts.

This weekend at Nationals, Reckon will be confronted with a common problem for Master's (and Mixed) teams: the Unknown Opponent.  We haven't previously played any of the teams we are scheduled to play.  Of the entire field we only have played regional opponent Tejas (good luck this weekend, boys).  From last year our two losses (Boneyard and Surly) have had significant roster turn over.  So the question is how to you game plan for an important single game against an opponent you don't know much about?

This is a common Worlds problem and one that is particularly unique to Mixed and Masters.  Roster turnover and the possibility of big name players dropping in for a year can create chaos.  There aren't many unknown commodities in Open and Women's, but if Robbie Cahill or Alex Snyder decided to play Mixed this year it would radically change the landscape.  The same thing happened when Wheelchair's roster came out last year.

Back to the problem at hand.  You don't know the strengths/weaknesses of the opponent and have to win the game.  Beating an Unknown Opponent requires both the coaching staff to be on their toes and the players to be adaptable.

Microscouting becomes really important in this game.  Any piece of information can hopefully be used to generate an easy score or break so the coaches need to be looking for those clues.  Release points, cutting methods, reset strategy and defensive schemes are all things that you might be able to use against an opponent.  The coaches need to be able to spot these things, discuss them and come up with a strategy quickly.

The players need to be maleable.  Beating an opponent that wont allow you to use your bread and butter requires everyone to be able to adjust and without 2 hours of practice time.  This isn't a skill that teams naturally have.  I must have been practiced previously in order for it to go well.  An adjustment has a lower chance of success if one player isn't making the adjustment well.

The players also need to be willing to experiment and often that can mean playing from behind.  Sure you don't want to go down by much, but en route to a defensive adjustment that finally gets an opponent out of their comfort zone you might give up an easy score.  In that time you might also lose a break as the offense is reacting to a better D.  If your team is only comfortable with a 2 point lead then this game can get very stressful.

The script for a game against the Unknown Opponent goes like this:

-Offensively you try to assert what you are comfortable with but ask for bigger windows from your cutters.  If you like to huck often you might be surprised at how fast an unknown defender is, so make sure it is a pretty huck at least in the beginning.  I'm a big fan of running to set up the pass and visa-versa, but for the first few offensive points you need to score.

-Defensively you start with a junk D to get them out of their set play and hopefully dictate match-ups that are what you want.  It gives you a good idea of who their handlers/cutters are and what their standard response to a zone is.  The second part will help figure out what type of zone you want to throw at them next.  Assuming your offense can keep things together you want to try a few defenses, even if one is proving successful.  You only get one shot at this game, so it may seem odd to pass on a successful defense.  But early on you are trying to get as much information on the opponent as possible (while keeping the game close).  In the second half you make the transition to the defense that was successful.

Finally, at some point you are going to have to give the game over to your players.  Adjustments are great, but just like waiting for more-open receivers can stymie an offense, too many adjustments will get your players out of a rhythm.  Once you have a few strategies in place it is necessary for your best players to go out, implement the adjustments and prove that they can respond to the opponent's challenges.  Even if the people lining up on the other line are better than yours, eventually you have to let the kids have the keys to the car and hope that what you taught them (in 3/4 of a game) stuck.

I'm not in charge of Reckon, so I doubt we will be doing this at Nationals next week.  Based on my last post, I'm going to be actively not thinking about this stuff.  Still, I think it is important.  Preparing to beat the Unknown Opponent is not something that all teams do.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Mindfulness

With nationals just around the corner I have been spending more time thinking of a speaker that came to Paideia last year.  His topic was mindfulness, and although the focus on was education he also had a sports angle to the discussion.  For now we will just leave the definition of mindfulness as being in the moment.  I wanted to write about three instances of mindfulness from the past three years and the different impact each of them had on my playing ability.  I'll then tie it into coaching and what a coaches role is in a player's mindfulness.

Two years ago was my last year on (and was the last year for) Rival.  It had been a long road and I had stepped down as a captain to have more time to spend with my new daughter.  The entire season wasn't fun.  I liked the people I was playing with, but I never felt like I played well and more importantly I was never really present for any of the games.  While my body was there I was always torn with having left my daughter to go to some tournament for the weekend.  With my mind split my level of play was low and we lost in the game to go.  It was a bummer not going to nationals, but I was happy to be at home with my baby girl.

Last year the time commitment was much lower since I was playing Master's.  I suffered some injuries during the season, including a partially torn ligament in my throwing hand.  At nationals things went well and we broke seed.  In the last pool play game on Friday I injured my other hand (just a bad sprain) and while we were able to win the quarters immediately afterwards the next day was different.  Sure, we were playing eventual champs Surly, but given a night to think and worry about another injured hand I wasn't mentally present for the semis the next day.  My play wasn't terrible, but was muddled.  I was always thinking about my hand and not present in the game happening on the field.

This year I was talked into not retiring late in the season.  While I knew physically I wouldn't be in as good a shape as last year (10 months off nursing injuries will do that) my goal was to be more mindful of the game.  I did the things that I was taught to do and focused on listening to signals as they came in and not searching for them.  While we dropped a game in pool play we had a stellar finals against Tejas.  We (the offense) were never broken.  When we did turn the disc over we got it back quickly (in one case by me getting a run through Callahan).  We have more studs on the offense than last year, but for me the difference was the game felt slower (and not just because I am slower).  I was taking things in as they came and able to react quickly and effectively.

For our players to be at their most successful they need to be able to process information and react quickly.  This allows them to use their training to the fullest extent.  The previous years there was always something else going on in my mind and that slowed my game down.  This year my focus was not to ignore those erroneous signals coming in (I still missed being away from my daughter and worried about my body) but do allow them to pass quickly because they are not in the present.

This will be particularly important at nationals this year.  We (Reckon) are likely to be seeded 3 or 4 overall, and therefore a 2 seed in our pool.  The last game of Thursday will be against the 1 seed and will be tough.  Success in that game will require us to play our best and to be in good health and good spirits.  Looking forward to that game during the first two rounds will reduce our mindfulness.  By thinking of things that will happen in the future we are no longer as in the present and it will have an impact on our performance.

But as coaches we know that we have to think about the day as a whole.  How will we manage legs, what strategies are working, and are we getting people enough reps are all things that we coaches consider.  I'm not advocating that coaches stop thinking about those things, but rather the players.  What a good coach can do is talk to his/her team ahead of time and prepare them to be mindful in the games.  This may involve some training of how to be mindful (I've heard rumors of excellent things Tiina used to do with her boys to work on this), but also should involve a discussion where the coach indicates that it is their job to worry about the whole day.  If players are used to being un-coached then whole-day management is a concern for them.  But with a good coach the burden of the whole-day strategy should fall on the coaches should and that should allow the player to focus on the game at hand.

I know I will be continuing to work on being mindful in Sarasota this year.  I can't guarantee that it will mean more wins, but hopefully it will allow me to play better and have more fun.  This is the last year I'll be going to Sarasota after all.  I might as well have a good time while I am there.