Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Producing Instructional Film

This is the second part of my reflection on film from this summer's adventures.  The last piece was about using film on the same day to help the U-23 Mixed team this summer.  This post will be about some of the film work that I did helping Chain during the fall.  They are distinctly different types of film, and there is still a third type (watching the film) that I would love to do a piece on with Lou, Kyle, Matty, Bob or Whit.  That is a long list of people, and an open invitation if anyone is interested.

This summer Chain Lightning asked me to help them out a little.  The scope of the help was left somewhat vague (intentionally on my part) because I didn't think that stepping in as a full Coach was the right thing to do.  My job involved being at team meetings, planning some practices, and being a bird in the ears of the captains as they steered the ship.  One thing that I wanted to do was to film practices/games and use that to improve individual players and team mistakes.  It is a practice used in all sports, so why not use it in ultimate.  I had experience doing similar work with Olympic Athletes earlier in life, so I knew a little bit about what I wanted to be able to convey to the players with this video.

Chain has a certain reputation and so my first task was to use film to either reinforce or refute that reputation.  The team also had certain strategic goals they were trying to achieve, and the film was a good way to determine if they had achieved those goals.  Then there were specific player goals that could be checked with film.  All of these things required me to get film, go through it, edit it and then add commentary as needed.

Acquiring film was pretty easy.  I didn't have time to sit and film all of the practices, but Chain set up cameras for me so I got some film from practice.  In the future having a "camera man" feels pretty key. That can be a tough thing to find since most people who want to be involved with ultimate want to play, and unless you are paying them (or they are related to someone) people aren't likely to give up their weekends to stand behind a camera.  Ultiworld made getting prior game film easy since they were filming at tournaments and for a cost you could get the raw files.  The film on NexGen and ESPN was perhaps of better "quality" but was often shot a little too close for my taste, and was streamed so you couldn't edit a file directly.  More on that later.

With film in hand it just took time for me to go through it, and finding an editor that I could use.  MPEG-Streamclip is a quick and dirty editor for mp4 files and became the editor de jour since I could trim quickly and convert between file formats with little problem.

Finding the right pieces of film to cut was difficult at times and easy at other.  If I went in with a narrative in mind it became easy to find the film that supported what I was thinking about.  When I was approaching film with a broad mentality (not knowing what I was looking for) it took significantly longer.  Out of the average game I was pulling somewhere between 20-30 clips dealing with a range of topics (defensive positioning, offensive structure, red zone, choices, etc.).  Breaking down all of those clips into a meaningful message was difficult at times, but felt like the important part of the film.  It became an issue of seeing what clips fit with a theme and then pulling them together.  Usually I would be able to break the film down into 2 or 3 themes.

With themes determines I would then combine all of the video (again in Streamclip) and start the annotation process.  If I were using iMovie I could have added captions to the video, but that felt like it was going to take too long.  So instead I used a Wacom tablet, Quicktime for a screen recorder and a piece of software from my job (teacher) called ActivInspire to allow me to draw over the screen using the tablet.  I would then go through the video, pause at certain points, telestrate the image then continue, all while providing audio commentary.  It was very easy for these videos to be long, but I tried to keep them under 15 minutes.  We as coaches have the ability to drone on about tactics and strategy for hours if we are allowed to, so I needed to prevent that tendency.  From that I would upload the film to a site and let the captains know about it.

At times the film was used to inform the next practice.  Other times it was forwarded to the team for everyone to watch.  Now that I have a mechanism for producing these videos the challenge from a coach perspective feels like learning how to integrate this as part of the overall process.  The questions that I left this summer with were: How do I improve the quality of information I get from watching film?  How to I speed up the process of editing and annotating the film?  How to I best deliver the messages I am trying to deliver? And finally, how do I establish that using film is helping the team rather than hurting the team?

I will have a chance to work on those questions during the upcoming high school season.  Instructional tape will be important for those players since they are so you and haven't played/watched as much ultimate as the rest of us.  Also with scouting being less important it is something that I can work on during the year.  My plan is to record practices, break down some of the film and watch it on rainy day (of which there always seem to be plenty).  Then I can have the players decide which sections of film should be put into a legacy bin that we use for years to come as an example of our our style of play.  I want to get away from highlights, of which there will be plenty and players understand what they look like.  What I am hoping to find is film of things like Baccarini's history 100+ pass zone point, so that players understand how our team operates and see things on the field they don't normally see.  I'll check back in on occasion to see how that is going.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Day-of Filming for Worlds

This post was prompted by an article that Lou wrote for Skyd regarding a conversation that he and Bob Krier had.  The gist of the conversation was Bob asking Lou what his setup was, Lou explaining that he didn't really have a great solution yet, but was interested in Hudl and thought it might work if you could get multiple teams to pay for it.  Bob said thanks and that was that.  Aside from being a little hurt that Bob wouldn't email such a question to me (after all he did see me tirelessly work through film this whole summer) I realized that I have a lot to say about the topic.  Not everything I have is best practice by any means, but it is something that I have spent a lot of time with.  So I figured I would put some of those thoughts down here.  It will be long-form, and probably in multiple parts, but since the words/minute rating on this blog is more like words/month I don't think that is a problem.

As you may have guessed from previous posts, I have put some time into film work during my coaching career.  It was something that I picked up in 2003 when I was working at the USOC Training Center in Colorado Springs.  Most of our job back then was about finding ways to quickly get coaches quantitative feedback for their athletes during training and competition.  We were figuring things out as we went along, and were having to mesh data collection with video to meet demanding coaches' desires.  It was stressful, but I learned a little about video production and a lot about the value of live feedback and film for athletes.  On the pre-Olympic level (many of the athletes involved were right on the cusp of making the trip to Athens) the margin for error was slim and any advantage a coach could find was worth it.

Dealing with film was difficult back then, so when I left the USOC I stopped for a while.  Eventually I picked it back up in 2007 during Emory's first and only Regional Championship.  The finals were against FUEL (University of Florida) and because I had two other head coaches for our Semis I was able to leave early and film FUEL's semifinal game.  This was basically me with a tripod, a slight elevation and a camera that shot in 480 and output MPEG-2.  That night I was able to hook it up to the hotel TV through component cables and watch.  Watching that film I realized that FUEL's defense was checking in with the thrower too much and losing sight of the offender.  But our straight stack cutting system typically left those cutters stationary as they waited for things to clear out.  So we knew we could exploit FUEL's defensive strategy with breakmark cutting when the defender wasn't looking.  While that wasn't the only thing that allowed us to win that game, it was the first time that I really felt like the film played a direct impact in a result (there were 2 other adjustments on defense that led to two breaks).  From then on I have tried to figure out how to best do game tape.

When I applied for the U23 coaching position last fall I started thinking about film again, and explained in the interview that film was going to be a large part of what I wanted to do.  Once I got the position it became increasingly more important that I figure out a way to deliver on that promise.  I dug out my old camera from 2007 and found it useless.  The resolution was too low and the format was terrible.  I decided to get a better camera (Panasonic V-201) a few months in advance to see what I could accomplish.  This camera isn't really the solution to my long term problems, but it worked in a pinch.  I knew that I wanted 1080p so that I could actually distinguish players from far away.  I also wanted a decent frame rate and aperture speed.  After talking to a film producing friend of mine I was pointed towards this Panasonic and a few other options.  The V-201 won because it was cheapest while still having decent features.

Getting the V-201 up an running was difficult at first.  There were two main formats for video recording: .mp4 and AVCHD. I had good experience with .mp4 from work in the classroom and knew how to do decent editing with MPEG-Streamclip.  The downside with .mp4 work in the past was that a camera designed to be plugged into a TV has a different interlacing order than a computer focused camera.  This meant that when tracking moving objects there was a strange line-splitting effect that occurred.  In order to get around this the film had to be processed/deinterlaced, which could take a while in streamclip.   I knew that at Training Camp I wanted to be able to view film with a turn around of less than 1 hour, so this type of codec wasn't going to work.

In came AVCHD, as a new format it promised good resolution and the capability to go directly to a computer.  Unfortunately it came with its own headaches.  The biggest one was that the files were large.  I could easily get into the GB range while filming 45 minutes.  But I guess that is what you get for a higher resolution. That would have been a real bummer if I had to do any processing.  Fortunately this format could be read directly by a computer, so I wouldn't need to do any processing to view it.  Unfortunately it wasn't readable by the basic version of quicktime.  So I had to upgrade to the pro version for $30.  It wasn't that big a deal and it allowed me to plug the camera directly into the computer and open the files straight in quicktime.  That part was a success.

Having successfully figure that out we went to Buffalo and filmed a practice.  I had Jason Simpson stand atop a 20 foot ladder leaning against a goalpost so that we got a good angle and decent amount of field without panning too much.  We were able to directly view all of the film on a large flatscreen in a common area, and used it that night in front of the whole team.  It worked as well as we had hoped.  While I don't think we did anything that amazing, it served the purpose of helping get people on the same page quickly.  It reminded me of working at the USOC where we would literally have a weightlifter finish a C&J then walk 2 steps and watch it again from two camera angles, in slo-mo and with force plate and bar velocity data coupled.  It seemed like overkill at the time, but in reality it allowed a coach to point out that the athlete was generating force unevenly (between their feet) and also a bit late compared to the bar velocity.

In Buffalo the advantage was clear because I was able to show these 26 players from all across the country what I was seeing on the field and how that shaped what I wanted to do offensively.  It made it easy for me to display the idea of functional space to players in terms of disc movement, and allowed Eli Kerns and I to go back and forth on the cost/benefit of a throw-and-go driven offense.  **I would like to point out that neither of us "won" that conversation, but the film allowed me to see what he was talking about and him to see what I was talking about in such a way that we both moved towards the middle**  From that point on we filmed every practice, and while the players were getting dinner the coaches would often be watching the film in order to figure out what to talk about that night or what to do with the next practice.  At times we would use the film to show players tendencies that we wanted to stress/diminish, but mostly it became a diagnostic tool for the coaches.

There was one hitch with the process, and it was quicktime.  An annoying feature of quicktime's AVCHD compatibility is that it opens a preview window from which you can select any of the video clips that are in the AVCHD file.  But once you select a video and watch it quicktime will kick you out so you have to do the whole thing over again.  It made hunting and pecking for specific video very slow and a momentum-kill in a film session.  If we had even a night to prepare we could have clipped all of the sections and made a unique video, but as it was we were trying to find specific plays in 1-4 minute long clips.

That hitch could have really been a damper for the process if it wasn't for one of the players (I think it was Justin Norden) that pointed out we could use VLC.  While VLC doesn't have some of the scrubbing features that QuickTime does (in quicktime the arrow keys will let you go frame by frame in either direction, in VLC you can only easily go forward) it will queue all of the individual videos in an AVCHD file so you can jump around with ease.

The use of day-of film became more evident in Toronto.  We had no prior knowledge of opposing teams going into the tournament (which is not that uncommon in mixed), so being able to scout opposing teams was vital.  We apparently got a reputation for being the CIA because we would bring a camera to other fields and film opponents, but it was worth it.  We also filmed most of our games so that we could watch the film that night and see if we were falling into bad habits.  All teams fall into bad habits, and having the ability to recognize that is important.  Having film showing a person displaying those bad habits goes a lot farther than just telling them after a point.  We used film often to show that we weren't running the team's end zone offense but rather each person's end zone offense, which explained why scoring from the red zone was taking so long.  Or to show how well we cleared out space in front of the disc as it swung to a sideline.

By the time we made it to power pools to play Canada we had film on all of our opponents, had broken down all of their offenses and all of their defenses.  But here we fell into a trap. Being all club players, the coaching staff felt that we needed to tell our team as much about our opponents as possible to be ready.  If we could use that to produce even one break that could be the difference between a win and a loss.  So the night before the game we spent a lot of time explaining everything that Team Canada was likely to do and how we were going to stop it.

The trap was that we unloaded too much information on our players.  I believe the captains accurately described it as "making the game more about Canada and less about US."  That was a problem that came from having access to so much film.  The well was so deep it was easy to drown in.  In the past, my page of scouting notes could have been finished quickly, but since we had film of everything we could go over too much.

The lesson we learned was that controlling the amount of film was important.  That is easy to see when making instructional film, but we lost sight of it in the day-of film process.  We continued to film everything, and use it for the coaches in bulk, but for the players sparingly.  By the time we played Canada in the finals we were able to refine the message to just a few clips of specific things we wanted to do.

So where does this leave me with day-of film going forward?  With the high school season ahead of me, we don't really scout as much as we do in club/national competition.  So I imagine the film will turn introspective and we will film our own games.  Then that night I'll go through stuff, pull some clips for the nightly team meeting and try to improve our game for the next day.  This film will most likely get kept for later use during rainy days, but at that point it will turn into "stale" film and I should be able to edit and telestrate it for particular messaging/instruction.  That feels like it should be another post.

I think the benefits the coaching staff and players got from day-of film was worth the headache, but it was easy to go overboard.  Players are tired after a day of ultimate, so forcing them to sit through film sessions may not be the right idea.  But that answer might change from team to team.  Getting a system up and running isn't terrible from a technical side.  You should be able to purchase a decent camera and software for under $350.  If done correctly you can then just plug it right into a computer (coupled with an HDMI out or AirPlay you can go to a TV easily).  From that point on you actual get to focus on coaching and can figure out how you want to use that video to convey a message to your team.

I'm sorry if this has been a rambling mess.  I have had so many thoughts about this topic they kept getting stuck together.  One thing that I would like to end with is a huge thanks to Kyle Krumwiede from Orlando.  He helped us with tryouts and traveled to Toronto in order to help the team.  He was my camera man for the entire week and without him we wouldn't have been able to get as much film as we had or been as prepared as we were.  He wasn't formally affiliated with the delegation, but he made a big impact and deserves credit.  USX.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quick Thoughts on USAU Nationals

As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon at home, freshly off the plane from Frisco, I wanted to put down some quick thoughts from this year's USAU National Championship.  For a little context I have served as Chain Lightning's consultant this season.  It isn't really a coaching position, but for USAU Nationals I was listed as a "coach."  My role was really to chirp in the ears of the captains with ideas and occasionally talk to the team.  I showed up to Nationals on Thursday in the middle of Chain's second round game against Machine and stayed until Saturday morning before all of the Semi-Finals.  That schedule left me in the dark on some things, so the following opinions are not entirely informed opinions.  I will apologize in advance for any facts I get wrong.  These are just things that popped in my head during the flight.

-First, the site was very good.  Each field getting its own small soccer field was excellent and provided ample room to move through and between fields.  Having them in a grid was much better than in a long line for getting from field to field.  Since I was spending my time between games trying to find friends and catching up that was appreciated.  There was plenty of room for vendors and other things around the fields.  This was probably the best tournament site I have every been to.

-Having five rounds on Thursday seemed fine.  It was a little strange that there were people on byes wandering around, but that was generally nice because you could see your friends.  It was a little strange that not everyone was playing because some people left when they were done playing.

-There were a handful of elements about that tournament that weren't about the tournament.  At some point USAU was touting a group of middle (?) school kids that came in on a bus to watch games.  While I think it was cool that these middle schoolers came in on a weekday to watch it felt like I was hearing about it from USAU a little more than would casually happen.

-In general USAU felt (or perhaps feels) a little to self-serious.  There was apparently some tiffs about the captain's meeting that seemed silly and unnecessary.  There were multiple times that it felt like the level of seriousness was getting ramped up faster that I personally was ready for.  

-Playing a game that starts at 7:30 pm felt strange.  While the game was still "important" for reasons I'll get to later, one of the really strange elements was what it meant to end so late.  The game wasn't over until 9:30, which meant we didn't get home until 10:30 so our clocks were all sorts of messed up.  Not that it really mattered, but after a little bit at home we realized it was already 1 am and we had just finished "dinner."  Late games are not fun.

-I don't think my earlier argument that Thursday games had less value was supported as the day wound down.  It looked and felt like everyone played hard every game.  While there were some major movement in the pools I don't think anyone did that intentionally.

-Interesting fact:  In each division the pool winners advanced to the semis.  I don't know when the last time that happened, but it feels really strange and has a unclear significance.  I think you could look at this two ways.  On one hand it lends more significance to Thursday's games because finishing at the top of your pool (Henry Thorne will deservedly be happy about that) has a distinct advantage.  On the other hand, does it give too easy a road to the pool winner and therefore force more accurate seeding going into the tournament?  It feels pretty clear that the advantage of playing an easy pre-quarters by winning your pool is pretty strong.  Not a single quarters game had an upset and usually the pool winner won by 2-4.  Was this because the 2 seeds from each pool (or 3 seed in case of Machine) were so gassed from their pre-quarters?  Hard to say at this point.  Still, all quarters games going to chalk in all divisions is strange.

-Non-surprising fact:  The consolation game format was, for lack of a better word, dumb.  While it had been argued about since it was originally released (only a handful of weeks ago) once teams were eliminated from the quarters it again came into light how strange that format was.  The losers of the quarters were segmented by their regular season rankings.  The top two would automatically play a 5-6 game, while the bottom two would get a by in a quarter-final bracket for 7th.  I don't remember the last time previous data was used in the middle of a tournament to decide placement into a bracket.  In this case Chain and Sub Zero were immediately placed behind Machine and Doublewide based on regular season results.  Actually, not even on regular season results, but regular season rankings.  If it were based on results Chain was 2-1 against Machine at that point.  So Machine and Doublewide are automatically in the Pro Flight while Sub Zero and Chain both had no chance to fight for a potential 5th bid to Worlds.  Maybe looking at it this way will help: once Chain and Sub Zero were set in the quarters, there was never a way for them to finish 5th or 6th.  The options for them were 1-4 or 7-10.  That feels strange.

-Seeding REALLY matters:  The last two items make me feel like they have to get seeding correct going into the tournament.  I don't think they did a bad job this year, but since it plays such a role in determining who is likely to make quarters and then again who is going to get placed where in consolation brackets, there can't be the common mistakes with tournament seeding or regular season ranking.  Both of those systems are going to need some reworking because their failsafe mechanism (power pools for nationals ranking gaffes) has been removed.

-I'm fairly positive that USAU achieved what seemed like its #1 goal: visibility.  I'm confident that there were more spectators at this Nationals compared to last year, although I would love to see numbers to back this up (and have no doubt that USAU will be tweeting those out if the have them and are "good").  That there were more people and press paying attention to ultimate is great.

-Mike Couzens is much taller than I thought.  The height difference between he and Evan Lepler is significant and now I see it every time they are on TV.

-Seeing all of the U23 players at the tournament was great.  I think Ian was the only person I wasn't able to find.  They are wonderful people and I love them all very much.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Gender Contact Ratio

I went back to watch the U23 Mixed final because Jason and I watched it last night and were struck by how seldom the women on Team Canada touched the disc.  We knew that going into the game, but figured once we established a defensive strategy to limit their guys that the women would touch the disc more.  So I decided to track the number of touches by each gender during the game.

The number of touches by the Canadian Men were 141 while the number of touches our guys were 129.  The Canadian women touched the disc 24 times while our ladies touched the disc 51 times.  If you turn those into ratios (here's looking at you Sean Childers) then the ratio of male to female touches was 5.875 for Team Canada and 2.529 for USA-X (yes, yes, yes).  What does that mean, I don't really know.  I guess one way to look at it is the number of men that were likely to touch the disc before a lady touched the disc.  In a 4:3 game actual parity of touches would be a ratio of 1.33.
We knew our strength was in our women and the match ups we could get with them.  We also felt the Canadians didn't look to their women enough (#4 Truong and #44 Bussin are ballers).

This metric isn't really meant to be an explanation for wins and losses, but more an interesting way to looking at the mixed game and the way the offense worked.  I think that excellent teams can play different ways in mixed and be successful.  But when I interviewed for that job I said that I wanted a team where the women were an integral part of the team.  Looking at that number makes me feel like I did my job.

I'll try to get back into the Film Room and see what I can find from the NexGen stuff.  I've got some work to do with Chain as well, so that might slow me down.  Fortunately I don't have formal work to do for another two weeks so I'll have time on my hands.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

NexGen Filmroom: Ring of Fire

There are few teams that I enjoy watching as much as Ring.  I think it comes from being from the south and playing against many of their now gone players in college and club.  There is something that the old Ring teams were able to do that was both frustrating and impressive.  Many of those faces are gone now (and are instead beating me in the masters division) but some of these kids still have that Ring flare, and when I heard Puolos' name from the commentators I knew there was a chance that the old Ring would show up.

Nexen was coming off of a loss and in need of a win.  When teams have their backs to the wall the do what they think they do best.  It is incumbent on a defense to know what the opponent does best and have a game plan to tackle that.  I don't think Ring was able to do this and instead responded by doing what they do best defensively.  That worked a little bit but NexGen responded back in a way that Ring could not (or did not) counter.  Ironically it was by doing exactly what Ring started doing to them.

Figure 1: Ring comes down and tried to hide their 3-3-1
According to the commentator (Mario O'Brien) Ring decided to run open lines.  They also decided to run some zones.  The Ring I remember was all about hard man defense and force middle, so seeing this zone was surprising.  They would often run it shadowed as a poachy man but it was pretty clearly a zone and NexGen handled it just fine.  Figure 1 is a picture of their zone which usually took the form of a mark with sagging poaches on each side.  Kind of a 3-3-1 or maybe a 1-3-3.  They never had it working for long enough to really tell.  Unless you can bring a zone that really slows NexGen down and forces them into lateral passes they are going to get trough it pretty quick.  They like to break the mark and that is what they see when a zone comes at them.  If you are going to be effective against them you have to force them into a zone where swinging and handler work is required.  A 3-3-1 is fine, but you have to be able to shut down their poppers and over the top throws (which Ring doesn't do).  The two times Ring tried zone were both failures.  I would have liked to see them run something that changed NexGen's offense rather than play into it.

Figure 2: Ring's starting man defense giving a slight cushion.
Fig. 3: Ring's ending defense.  3 out of 5 cutters have a hand on their  back.
So Ring did what they should do, play man defense.  But their tone changed through out the game.  In Figure 2 you can see the defenders are giving a slight cushion.  In Figure 3 (towards the end of the game) the defenders all have a hand on the cutters.  This is a common tactic that Ring employs and is successful in ways that you don't always see.  The obvious advantage is giving the cutters less free space to run (which is something the NexGen cutters thrive on).  But the lingering effect is that it slows down the desire to cut.  Ring's defense, which is atypical for some of these college kids, will bump you and seal you to take away angles.  At times it will blatantly foul you, but not as often as you (the cutter) might think.  This slowly saps the cutter's desire to move away from the ball and shuts down continuation cuts because cutters aren't in the right space.

NexGen had no problem getting open through most of the game because Ring was letting them run in motion.  But towards the end of the game it turned into a battle of "dominators" where only 2 or 3 people were producing for NexGen.  This wasn't because Ring had effectively stayed with NexGen's cuts.  It was because Ring employed (starting in the second half) their standard, tough defense that required NexGen to work hard to get anything.  The result was a tired NexGen that wasn't moving as well as it did in the first half.  That is a win for Ring.

One of the other ways that Ring's defensive style allowed them to stay in the game were through plays like the one in the video below.  Puolos (black #14) is guarding Mickle (white #23) in the middle of the field and is clearly leaning on him, preventing him from getting to the open side.  Mickle doesn't really do much to respond.  He doesn't try to move Puolos out of position, or break the contact Puolos is using to position the cutter. But when the break cut (the easy one to cut for) is open Mickle instinctively pushes against the contact as part of getting open.  Puolos is a savvy player who calls the foul and stops the effective play.  Classic Ring of Fire, aggressive ultimate where your counter to their strategy results in a foul that seems (but isn't) unfair.  The camera angle isn't great, but I'd be hard pressed to believe Mickle didn't push off of Puolos in this play.  Based on how hard Puolos is leaning into Mickle in order for Mickle to hold his ground he has to be pushing back at least a little.  What Mickle needed to do was move away from the contact and get Puolos in motion and unable to maintain the contact Puolos is using.

So Ring employed their defensive strategy to stop NexGen's easy offense.  The counter that NexGen came up with was to run what O'Brien called a "dominator" (20 years ago we had a different, less intimidating name for it).  Handlers run a weave forcing the handler defenders to control space well as the handlers are given 40 yd x 20 yd to work with.  In this case the dominator was run between Dylan and Simon and excessively used Beau-and-gos and high release backhand.  The video below is an example of that process.  While other cutters provide forward targets during this point no one makes a forward pass other than Dylan and Simon.

Beating that two man show is tough and you have to use a team defense in order to do it effectively.  Toward the end of the video the Ring defender on Dylan (Weeks) is so far off of Dylan he isn't able to contest anything and allows the Beau-and-go to happen without any trouble. I would have expected Ring to have those adjustments ready since Chain used them effectively in the previous game.

Ring also employed a more straight forward dominator out of an H stack that gave three handlers (Saul, Green and then Puolos) plenty of room to work.  In the video below it is clear that the NexGen defenders don't know how to stop that offense.  It requires a technical defender who can triangulate lanes well and use that to stop the cut back look.  The dominator runs at its most effective when the thrower makes on fake to get the mark off balance and then throws to a cutter moving from open side to break side at the moment of the fake.  As a defender it is tough because if you are guarding the cutter you have to pursue the open side cut hard enough to stop that, but remain close enough on the break move to stop that as well.  If you are just chasing your cutter then you need to be really fast and change direction well.  Those of us who are slow and have bad knees know that what you really should do is pursue the open side move well, read the fake early and seal the cut back with your body.  Very few of the NexGen defenders do this instinctively.  They are just too fast to be concerned with playing technical defense.  They will jump on the mark and over pursue on the cuts.  But Puolos and Saul are smart and use that against them effectively (especially towards the end of the video).  They see the angles quickly and use fakes and positioning to maximize the angles and pushing the NexGen players for trying to pursue hard rather than well.

NexGen wins this on the backs of Dylan and Simon and their ability to create offense despite little motion from downfield.  Ring lost the game because they didn't have an adjustment to take that away effectively.  Ring was able to stop the bus from cutting effectively and was able to get some points from  an effective dominator and good breaks.  But Ring made some mistakes late that gave NexGen a chance that they capitalized on.

One number of note:  NexGen was throwing more hucks, catching 11 out of 15 (73%) while keeping Ring to 5 out of 10 (50%).  Most of those hucks were from a stand-still or after a simple forward pass.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

NexGen Filmroom: Chain Lightning

I'm skipping the Doublewide game for two reasons.  First, the film was terrible.  It jumped and skipped often and made it difficult to watch.  Second, the effort put forth by DW was not impressive.  They looked lazy and uninterested.  I hear it was stupid hot for the game so that probably played into it.  All the same DW lost despite what looked like a terrible performance by NexGen.  Dylan had something like 3 drops which is remarkably uncharacteristic.

But with that game behind them NexGen took on Atlanta's Chain Lightning to hopefully go over .500 for the first time this season.  Unfortunately they ran into a Chain team that had a solid game plan and just had a good game from its rookies. (Note: I am a biased commentator here since I am from Atlanta, have worked with Chain in the past and was at this game).

I have already written about NexGen's defensive strategies.  But Chain wins this game on the back of stellar hucks and a well communicated defensive scheme.  Normally NexGen is able to keep defenses on their toes by attacking forward.  They commonly run an open side reset and go (what is being called the Beau-and-go by Mario in the Revolver commentary).  Straight up man defenses struggle with this play because it requires the mark to be incredibly mindful and then also as fast as the person they are defending.  Both of those are hard to accomplish this early in the season against college players still close to prime after Nationals.  The first video shows how NexGen uses this strategy.  Here Chris Kocher (NexGen #7) and Simon Montague (NexGen #8) run it by Chris throwing to the open side reset and immediately cutting to the far side for the give and go.

This is a hallmark of their offense, run best when Dylan is playing the role that Kocher is playing.  They ran this play 11 times during this game.  Chain was playing a team defense that reduced the efficiency of that play.  In the following video you can see the play shut down in the same way a good pick and roll can be squashed on the basketball court, by switching.

In this case Byron (Chain #8) was the original mark and as Simon threw to Dylan in the center of the field Byron and Jared (Chain #13) perform an easy switch to neutralize the give and go.  This doesn't eliminate the benefit of the play.  Dylan correctly responds by throwing around the switch to the break side.  This reversal is still very useful, but isn't what NexGen wants to do and doesn't facilitate offense for them in the same way.  NexGen is at its best when they can run downhill, get the disc in power position and huck it to speed (see their first point against Ring last night and the first point after a timeout in this game).  By taking the reverse option rather than the desired give and go they are getting the disc in the hands of weaker throwers going the wrong direction.  This is a win for Chain even if it isn't directly a turn.

Back to some numbers.  NexGen ran the Beau-and-go six times in the first half with it being successful four of those times.  In the second half they ran it five times but only successfully twice.  This was the result of better defensive switching in the second half by Chain.

Chain's team defense slowed The Bus down on set plays as well.  In the next video Arenson and Snow (defenders at ~30 yard line) handle switches after a time out to prevent NexGen's timeout play.  The result is a hammer to the breakside and a whole lot of effort put in for the NexGen squad.  While these switches and defensive sets didn't produce direct turns (only one coverage sack on good reset defense by Mark Poole) it did require effort for NexGen to overcome.

So what does all this mean?  NexGen is a team that likes to attack the break space, likes to run give and goes to get to the power position and then huck it.  Chain implemented a defense that slowed the first two down and coupled that with a solid possession game to win a close one.  It is easy to look at the score (15-12) and forget that it was 12s at one point.  But a sound team defense was the adjustment that made a difference in an otherwise close game.  Here are the numbers:

The huck percentages work out to 57% and 58% for NexGen and Chain respectively.  We all know that Chain likes the long ball, even from a stopped disc (twice in this game if I recall).  Neither of these are percentages that I think are very good, but are to be expected with teams that throw a high number of huck attempts (14 for NexGen and 12 for Chain).  

Both teams hit a variety of receivers on their hucks (5 for NexGen and 6 for Chain) so it wasn't the same match up over and over.

Four Chain rookies caught hucks and 5 scored goals.

Chain forced only one coverage sack while NexGen forced two.

Thanks again to NexGen for getting this video out quickly and in high quality.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

NexGen Filmroom: Revolver

I'm going to try to more formally analyze the NexGen tour this year.  Last year was pretty haphazard but I got some benefit from it.  First, kudos to all of the U23 Worlds players who are on the team (Simon, Tim, Jimmy, Elliott, Eli and Dylan).  I had decided not to pay for the streaming option this year because I was disappointed with the quality of the games from last year's tour (that was entirely on the club teams, not on NexGen) and I was tired of watching people spike the disc.  But with some of my players (and U23 Open) on the team I felt like I should.  So with the games bought I also thought I should do some analysis.  If nothing else I get to watch more of my players and hone my film skills for worlds.  This round I'm going to focus on NexGen's defensive efforts with a little commentary on Revolver.

Defensively NexGen seems to give Revolver (and teams last year) fits.  They get a number of point blocks and poach off of cutters to get the disc.  Figure 1 is how they come into their defense off of the pull.
Figure 1: NexGen is always looking at the disc

Nothing to suspicious here, you have the handler defenders poaching the lanes, but the thing to notice is that every NexGen player is looking at the disc.  Jimmy is playing behind the far (rail) cutter in the H, Jay is playing behind the close (rail) cutter.  The two cutters in the center (lane) are being backed but at least playing man.  Both Chris and Neal are effectively sagging into the lane by not closing on their handlers.  By looking at the disc they are hoping to see the cutting lanes and get a jump on the disc.  By playing loose they are trying to stay in good position to pounce on a cut, but also are looking to help and switch often.

Figure 2 shows the result of this poaching.  Jay has drifted off camera to help Will (far left in black) bracket Beau.  Mac (offense: towards the right) has just thrown an invert flick to a slashing cutter who will effectively reverse the field.  This is a great way to abuse the poaching defense.  Using upfield breaks (where is Bart with is hammer when you need him) will facilitate getting the disc to the break-side poached players.  Especially when we see another common NexGen tendency.

Figure 2: Revolver attacks the poach by reversing the field.

The video below shows what NexGen wants to do with their defense: poach or sag off of inactive players to clog the throwing lanes.  In this situation (after a forward pass) Dillon stumbles to recover at the mark, but rather than find his man the first move is to go straight to the reset poach position.  This allows him to constrict the cutting lane and force the disc to move backwards.  He is still playing his man (or at least facing him) but his primary role is to clog this lane and in this case prevent any under cutters from slicing towards the open side.  Revolver correctly counters by moving the disc quickly, but if they have  handlers that aren't thinking with that mentality this can stymie an offense pretty quickly.  The key is not just to recognize the sag and keep your reset further back to exploit the poach, but to have something beneficial for the reset to do once they get the disc.  Just swinging to the open side is fine, but having something that is attacking the defense would be better.

Towards the end of the game (10s) Revolver has successfully pulled the sagging reset defenders out of the lanes.  In the picture below (Figure 3) both of the resets are off screen to the right and their defenders are no where to be seen.  
Figure 3: Defenders have been pulled out of the cutting lanes

NexGen's downfield defenders have started playing tight defense with the exception of Dillon closest to the screen.  Revolver feels the flick force and sweeps the open side cutter out of the way maybe to get an inside break but really to get a cutter in the open lane.  The defender stays with the initial cutter, but that is the last bit of good defense for a while.  What follows in the video below is terrible open side defense from NexGen players as three defenders over commit to deep fakes and lose positioning on the under cut.  The first cutter has an easy route because Jay's back is to the cutter, so a simple juke convinces the defender to cover the deep (it is Beau, though).  The second cutter has a better defender, but when Dillon turns his head to check on the throw the cutter blows right past him.  There is even a third open side cutter that loses his defender, but the disc had already begun to swing.

In this case Eli (the last defender) sets his positioning on the engaging cutter too high so the cutter can attack his back.  If Eli drop stepped into his positioning then the cutter would have to take a deeper line to attack his back which would slow down his overall cut.  But instead Eli turns to his best athletic stance level with the cutter so a shallow juke deep attacks Eli's back and the cutter can just push off of his foot to come back in without having to really negate his forward momentum (a more vertical cut would require multiple steps to stop the momentum making it slower).  But the worst thing here is that Eli turns the wrong was as the cutter fakes deep.  But taking the wrong turn (away from the cutter) Eli loses sight to see that it is just a jab-step rather than a full cut and can't recover because he loses his athletic stance.  I could talk about this play forever, but I'll get to my main point.

Figure 4: Jay helps Will cover Beau deep
Figure 4/5 will be my last point.  NexGen is often looking to help defenders.  With a roster of only 15 that will quickly whittle down to 14 if Elliott can't keep his hamstring in check it is no surprise that they want to reduce defensive effort (despite how athletic they are).  In Figure 4, Jay (circled) is correctly pulling off of his offender to help Will cover the deep option for Beau.  This will eventually lead to a switch for the two.  What is perplexing is why Jay's offender is running to him.  In Figure 5 we have what NexGen will often try to set up.  The disc is trapped and every one (even the circled player who is guarding the reset and again dropped to level with the disc despite it being trapped away from him) is looking at the disc.  In this case Revolver will swing the disc.  On the swing two people are wide open because their defender was so far on the open side.   This eventually leads to an unmarked backhand huck for the score.  

Figure 5: Everyone is looking at the disc


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What ever happened to space?

Apologies for the quality of this post.  It was written off of the top of my head and I am two lazy to fix it right now.

I have been watching all of the footage I can this Nationals weekend.  Mostly it is to see the U23 Mixed players and get a feel for where they are right now (I was also rooting a fair bit).  And while I have seen a number of things that are good and bad this weekend I have noticed one thing that most teams do that I don't like.  I don't understand the point of catching the pull and then throwing a 2 yard pass.  I saw UCF do it plenty in the finals. I saw Tufts do it in their quarters game.  I saw Iowa State do it in their barn burner of a game.

I think I can kind of understand the rationale behind it.  IF you have a dominant handler you want the disc in their hand no matter what.  But that is the strategy of a cowboy team where your gunslinger is going to be throwing dimes all over the field.  More often than not these teams are running more motion  based offenses.  What confuses me even more is when vert stack teams do this.

Again, I understand the argument that in a vertical stack you want the disc to be in the center so that you can attack both lanes.  But what I think is lost on teams is that when the disc is pulled even slightly to one side the defense (if coming man) is running down that side.  So it is beneficial to move the disc away from the defense.  Mike often describes ultimate as a game of keep away (sorry Lou, but I think Baccarini is older than you) so why aren't we getting the disc away from the clutter.  If the disc lands on one side you should almost always motivate the disc to the other side because that is where there is space on the field. 

This is the premise of a vertical stack, so I really don't understand it when vert teams do this.  The basic idea of a vertical stack isn't to create two lanes so the initial throw can go to either side.  That is a benefit, but isn't the main focus.  Instead a well run vert swings the disc from side to side to get away from the defense. 

If we imagine defense as a cloud that is trying to blanket the "open" space.  After a pass to one sideline defenders adjust to the current disc position.  That can create a density in the cloud because the defenders are all on one side.  When the cloud density increases in one area it is at a deficit somewhere else.  So the offense should try to get the disc over there before the cloud has time to cover that part of the field.  Keeping the disc in the same location doesn't accomplish that.  So on a pull, when the cloud density is high because defenders are running at the disc, we should get the disc away from that density and not just throw a two yard pass.

I see the same problem often in zone handling.  The goal is to spread the zone out.  A two yard backwards pass between handlers in a zone does nothing to affect the defense.  You have to get the disc outside of the containment either by losing enough yards to guarantee a swing, getting the other handler just outside of the cup (laterally) to ensure the swing, or by crashing through the containment.  All of those are fine options.  Two of them value space highly and that leads to good things. 

In the end I put this on the coaches of these teams.  They are all good coaches doing great work for little or no money.  But having been involved with this sport for a long time I find it interesting how you can tell what a program values by small things that they do.  I didn't see enough teams valuing space on the pull this weekend.   But I did see a lot of good defense!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Pro Leagues, Officiating and Youth

I've stayed out of this conversation for a reason.  I've followed the discussion pretty avidly but wanted to see how things worked out once the leagues were in place.

Two things made me write this.  First was Hector Valdivia's article about youth and its impact on pro leagues.  Basically Hector states that due to media attention the pro leagues will get more mindshare with youth players and decades from now those are the plays/players/games ultimate players will remember.  

Second was watching some "highlights" between the Portland Stags and Vancouver Nighthawks and seeing #6 (Cody Bjorklund) respond to a play in the end zone.  The play (around 0:44 in the video) was a nice catch by one of the Stags players with some contact by a Nighthawks player.  Basically it was a running jump where the Nighthawks player was behind the Stags player.  But I don't want to get wrapped up in the play and whether or not it was a foul.  What I want to focus on was Bjorklund's response to the play prior to knowing the resolution (a catch).  Cody threw up his arms and looked at the ref.  Watching the video it did not look like he was signaling a score but instead was appealing to the ref to make a call (it is impossible for me to know for sure, but my point is about how it looked to an observer).

I don't want to get into the "should we have refs" debate, but I think this goes back to the nature of the game that BVH commented on in his highly divisive article.  Changing the game is fine, but we should spend some time thinking about some of the subtle impacts it has. 

Hector and BVH are both correct when they mention that youth is watching.  As a high school coach I am particularly aware of that.  That is part of what makes me nervous to see Dylan Freechild referred to as Spikezilla.  When I see Bjorklund throw up his hands asking for a foul from a ref it isn't new.  I have seen that done by basketball players time and time again.  But I have also seen it done by 10 year old siblings appealing to a parent or teacher to correct bad behavior.  By adding a third party the MLU has changed the dynamic of problem solving.  It has moved from an interaction between two peers trying to abstractly find what is "fair" to an appeal to a third party to agree with your side of events.

I coach a lot.  I don't want the latter to be how things are done.  That doesn't mean that I disagree with all third party options.   But I worry that in 10 years I will be coaching players that are always looking to a third party to fix how people are unfair and coaching against coaches who are always trying to appeal to an omnipotent third party.  Both of those take away player control and responsibility, and those are things that I value about this game.  Sorry this was so long.